New Westminster supports action to implement national resiliency declaration

New Westminster wants to put its personal stamp on the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities.

Mayor Jonathan Cote is among the politicians, academics, architects, planners and urban planners, real estate developers, business leaders, nonprofit and foundation leaders, environmental leaders, authors, filmmakers and musicians who recently signed the declaration.

“We cannot return to the old normal, when we already face massive challenges and urgent crises,” states the declaration. “This declaration should be considered a starting point: a series of clear and distinct actions that Canadian municipalities can take right now to address the sustainability, mobility and equity issues that the pandemic has highlighted.”

According to the declaration, the COVID-19 pandemic provides a once-in-a-lifetime responsibility to accelerate the change required in Canadian cities.

The City of New Westminster has formed a NWThink Lab to develop a strategy to implement the declaration. The staff committee’s first step was to review the declaration from New Westminster’s perspective and to review amendments proposed by Metro Vancouver.

At its Aug. 10 meeting, council endorsed the city’s commitment to accelerate changes included in the declaration and to support Metro Vancouver’s proposed revisions, as well as feedback from the NWThink Lab. Council also endorsed terms of reference for the NWThink Lab, which aims to develop a strategy for quick implementation of items in the declaration.

“Considering the declaration itself was so broad-based and the amendments and the feedback from Metro Vancouver were a little bit more specific, but still very, very broad, we really have to make it relevant to our own local level,” said Coun. Chinu Das. “So I really appreciated the effort of the committee.”

In addition to approving the staff recommendations, council members suggested some wording changes they’d like to see incorporated into the declaration.

“I am thankful that staff has given this so much thought,” Das said. “It is ambitious. We will see how it’s rolled out.”

The Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities includes 20 commitments, including:

* Updating zoning policies to allow more households to access existing neighbourhoods by permitting and encouraging appropriately scaled multi-tenanted housing, co-housing, laneway housing, and other forms of “gentle density” to be built, as-of-right, alongside houses in low-rise residential neighbourhoods.

* Restricting short-term rentals to ensure rental homes aren’t removed from the rental market post-COVID-19.

* Prioritizing the use of existing municipally-owned land and public funding to create affordable and accessible housing that incorporates universal design principles, remains affordable in perpetuity, and enables strategic public green space that supports increased density.

* Prioritizing the transformation of existing streets and roadways for active transportation both for the immediate, post-pandemic recovery period and as permanent measures by adding additional space that meets the needs of pedestrians, individuals with mobility challenges such as the elderly and people with disabilities and cyclists.

* Enhancing transit service levels, recognizing that interim social distancing requirements will demand high levels of accessible public transit service on existing routes, since passenger limits on buses, streetcars, and subways will be required.

* Enacting a funded, detailed plan to achieve a 40% urban tree canopy.

* Adopting universal design principles to ensure everyone including an aging population and the quarter of Canadians who have a disability can participate in their community.

 “I really hope that this committee will be helpful for staff in working through some of the priorities of the city,” said Coun. Nadine Nakagawa. “I know we have really big dream and visions here, and always much more limited staff than we need to achieve those dreams and goals. I just hope that we are not moving to death by committee, that this is actually going to be helpful for staff. … I do know that staff capacity is already an issue.

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