Queen’s Park gets its very own master plan

Queen’s Park will turn 125 next year, and city council thinks it’s high time some changes were made. So, because it’s terribly en vogue right now, they’re drawing up a master plan for it.

Much like the city’s Transportation Master Plan, the QPMP development process will span several months and involve lots and lots of steps, committee meetings and public consultation. The parks and rec department is calling the first public input session an “ideas event” and it’s set to take place this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the QP arena lobby (and remote locations around the park — intriguing.)

Queen’s Park is kind of a funny place. As a kid, it seemed huge. The section east of the road was so wild and expansive and ripe for exploring. Now? Not so much. Finley and I can do two, sometimes three loops of the Millenium Trail/1st Street in a 40-minute run. I’m familiar with every tree, every picnic table, every tennis court, every squirrel. I know the pathways and roads, paved and unpaved, like the lines that crisscross my palm.

So, as someone who has played, walked, ran, tobogganed and become very, very well-acquainted with the park over the past 20 years, do I have any ideas for how the park could be improved? Why yes, yes I do. I’m glad you asked.

Let’s start with the buildings. For a so-called green space, Queen’s Park has a lot of concrete. The main gate at the foot of 3rd Avenue is probably the best/worst example: swathes of cracked asphalt parking lots, the arena and arenex (WordPress is telling me that this is not a word. To me, it simply means “gymnastics”) and the stadium. I’m not suggesting we get rid of these historic landmarks (with the arena’s new wooden floor, heaven’s no!) but I do think the area could be tidied up a bit, made to look a bit more presentable, given that it’s most people’s point of entry to the park. The parking area behind the arena is especially hideous.

I also think that the playground areas have gone downhill since my merry-go-round days. Queen’s Park used to have one of the best playgrounds going, with its high wooden platforms and super fast zip line, but all that has been traded in for the same cookie-cutter play structures you see everywhere else. Even the swing sets have shrunk (and not just because I got bigger). Safety is important, for sure, but so is risk. I happen to be writing an article all about this, so I won’t get into it here, but if I were in charge, I’d bring back the ladders and the merry-go-round and the firefighters pole and the fun.

And in a surprise move, I think I’d also vote to get rid of the petting zoo. I know, I know, baby bunnies. I love them too, but I honestly feel that the petting zoo is past its prime. It sits empty for 8 or 9 months of the year, and it kind of seems to be… rotting? In a park where so much space is taken up by unnecessary concrete and maintenance yards, green space is at a premium. We don’t need the potbellied pig barn. And the baby calf they get every year just seems really, really unfortunate. Let’s let it stay in Aldergrove this summer where it belongs.

Ultimately, I’m pretty happy to have a place like Queen’s Park a 3-minute walk from my house. It’s changed very, very little in the 20 years that I’ve lived here and if it were to remain the same for the next 20, I don’t think I’d have much of a problem with that. But as a gem in New Westminster’s royal crown (oh god…) I also think we have a responsibility to keep it polished and pristine. It’s pretty great as it is, but it could be even better.

Sittin’ on a fence post, talkin’ ’bout the living wage

New Westminster led the way in April 2010 when it became the first municipality in Canada to adopt a living wage policy. Set by the Candian Centre for Policy Alternatives at $16.74/hour, the wage reflected the minimum rate necessary for a family of four with working parents to cover the cost of food, clothing, shelter, child care, education and health.

Since then, the cost of living in Metro Vancouver has continued to inch skywards, and accordingly, the living wage has been bumped up to $18.81/hour.

This means that all firms contracted directly or indirectly by the City of New Westminster are required to pay their employees almost double the provincially mandated minimum wage of $9.50/hour. (Or, put another way, significantly more than I have ever made ever. Including the summer I was solely responsible for the health and happiness of eight 5-year-old girls and was paid something absurd like $3.50/hour… while my friends at the arena concession gorged themselves on free pop and pizza to the tune of $150/shift.)

And while the policy certainly has it’s supporters (who isn’t favour of putting dinner on the table and paying their utility bill on time?), it also has it’s critics (and, to the surprise of no one more than myself, I’m starting to think I might be one of them).

When the Record ran a story about the allegations of one New Westminster resident who said that the policy was being violated by a firm contracted to work on the future civic centre on Columbia Street, John Ashdown wrote a letter to the paper saying that the man had “only touched the tip of the inequalities of the city’s fair living wage policy.”

According to Ashdown, who is the president of the West End Business Association and ran for council in the November municipal election, fair wage legislation impedes the contracting out of services to private companies and increases unions’ ability to compete for contracts.

“It’s time for this council to justify the real cost/benefits of this policy now and into the future,” Ashdown wrote.

“Tell us the benefit of adding $40,000 for a union position to provide sandwiches for staff, which was previously contracted out. Tell us about the $60,000 cost to bring jail custodians up to fair living wages. Tell us now what we can expect at the civic centre or Pier Park? A tube steak vendor forced to pay $18 per hour instead of allowing free enterprise to survive and prosper?”

Despite his attention-grabbing closing line (“stop trying to turn New Westminster into a bedroom of socialists”) I, um, kind of think he has a point. A few points, actually.

But since I also can’t quite convince myself that something so seemingly glorious is actually a bad thing, I’ve done what I often do when I have to make a tough decision: I’ve drawn up a list of pros and cons. Behold, figure A.

I did take first-year economics in university (I got a C!) so clearly, I know what I’m talking about.

Truthfully, there are a lot of much more authoritative, educated supply-and-demand types out there who are a lot more qualified to make a case for or against the living wage than I. You should check them out. And then report back to me. I’ll be here, sitting on the fence, when you get back.

Note to the curious: The title of this post is a throwback to my camp counselling days, referring to the beloved campfire song Herman the Worm. The original lyrics are “sittin’ on a fence post/chewin’ my bubble gum”. You can watch a 4-year-old sing it here. He kind of botches the lyrics, but I’ll forgive him because he is four.