Civic centre makes news - all year
Remember that scene in Miracle on 34th Street when the bags of mail get dumped out in the court room? The controversy around the city's civic centre loan might not have garnered quite as many letters as Santa did, but it was close. On the scale of public engagement (or enragement, as the case may be), there's no doubt that this one wins hands down. Our letters to the editor page was kept hopping for months over the city's decisions to take a $59 million loan to finance the multi-use civic centre, and the so-called alternate approval process in which those opposed to the plan needed to make their position known by signing and submitting forms by a mid-summer deadline.
Former mayoral candidate James Crosty was the most vocal of the opponents, helping to collect and then submit hundreds of signed forms from fellow city residents.
He argued the summer was a bad time for a process that most people knew little about, and took it upon himself to get the word out about residents' rights. In the end, the effort fell short (just shy of 2,100 signatures were collected, a far cry from the 4,528 threshold required to re-visit the decision), but the public engagement on the issue proved one key point: people weren't happy with the 2012 way the decision was made.
It's a tricky concept at times, but we've seen over the years that even the most upsetting of public decisions go down a lot better with a spoonful of honey: adequate and genuine public engagement.
Ramming through decisions, particularly unpopular ones, never flies well - and we have a feeling that this whole debacle will raise its head again when the next municipal election rolls around.
Hometown hero of the year: Jon Cornish, grace under pressure
Good guys do finish first
Our hero of the year is no stranger to the pages of a newspaper - but usually, he's front and centre in the sports section. Jon Cornish, a lifelong New Westminster resident, has more than made a name for himself in the CFL. His star days go back to the field at St. Thomas More, before he went to the University of Kansas (where, for the record, he set the university single season rushing record) and continued on into the CFL, where he was drafted 13th overall in 2006. Now 28, he's currently with the Calgary Stampeders; last year, he was the Calgary Booster Club Male Athlete of the Year and a CFL West All-Star selection.
And this year, he was named CFL's most outstanding Canadian.
He made headlines last month when he talked to media about his mother and her partner, calling them his "two moms" in his thank-you speech for the award. Even in 2012, a topic like that can ruffle feathers, and his grace under pressure in answering the firestorm of questions showed a great deal about his personality off the field.
Though Cornish and his Stampeders lost in the Grey Cup final, we consider Cornish to be the clear hometown hero winner this year (even if we don't entirely approve of mooning rival fans.)
A nod has to go out to another sports hero and hometown favourite in this year's roundup: Bill Ranford. Ranford brought the beloved Stanley Cup to town earlier this year, spending a day with local residents (and allowing The Record along for the ride) and Cup in tow. The fun was all thanks to the tradition of allowing the cup to travel to the hometowns of each member of the winning team at the end of the playoffs - and for Ranford, that chance came when the Los Angeles Kings won in June, beating the New Jersey Devils. It was a rare chance for most New Westminsterites to get up close and personal with one of Canada's most well-loved trophies.
Good news story of the year: compassion
The little city with a big heart
It's often said that New Westminster has the best of both worlds - the small-town feel of a tiny community and the buzz and prosperity of the big city. This year, we saw that small-town reputation pull through as community groups, faced with unexpected challenges or changes in the city, stepped up to do what was needed.
When Fraserside Community Services was no longer able to offer the adopt-a-family program, local service agencies put their heads together to try and find a way to continuing offering the program. Family Services of Greater Vancouver took over the program and enjoyed the experience of playing Santa to local families.
Similarly, the Salvation Army determined it no longer had the resources to operate the extreme weather shelter program that offers shelter on nights when the weather is particularly nasty - and poses a risk to the health or lives of those who are homeless. Lookout Emergency Aid Society, which operates several housing and shelter programs in the city, offered to take over the program to ensure these folks would have a warm place to stay.
At the end of the day, we saw that the spirit that helped grow New Westminster from a small settlement on the banks of the river to a bustling city is alive and well - and that spirit has just one name: community. Without community, it doesn't matter how successful a city is, how much it grows, how many newcomers want to settle there, or what the house prices are like - because without a sense of community, a place may as well be a ghost town.
Social media #whiz of the year: @NWIMBY
We'd argue there are few communities in B.C. that have taken the social media format and made it so successfully local and useful. The #new-west hashtag on Twitter is well used by a core group of "Tweeters" who share tips, debate politics and policy, and simply connect over funny stories or interesting pictures - and many of those folks have gone on to connect IRL (in real life, for you newbies) which enhances community relationships. And that, frankly, is a good thing. But the problem with social media is the very spontaneity that makes it so successful - sometimes, people don't take a long enough pause to wonder if what they're tweeting adds to the discussion, or if it's offensive (or at times, simply TMI - "too much information" in case you don't know.)
So we have to give Patrick Johnstone our social media #whiz of the year award for the contributions he makes to the #newwest discussion: level-headed, interesting, with a balanced and calm tone and, most of all, approachable.
At times, the Twitter-verse can feel like a redux of high school, with in-cliques, heated and hurtful comments, mean girls and a lot of chest-thumping. Johnstone stays above the fray (most of the time) and maintains a solid and interesting presence in the local discussions. Kudos to Johnstone for using social media to its most valuable benefit - and for overcoming the urge that most people seem to have to share things about their private lives that didn't need to get shared beyond the front door of their own home.
The 'alright already - we get it' award: New Westminster is the new Brooklyn
We hope we've heard the last of this phrase: New Westminster is the new Brooklyn. File this one under "OK, OK, enough already!" We get it - New Westminster (like Brooklyn) once had the reputation of being the less desirable corner of a larger urban area, known for having a little bit too much crime but also for having lower housing prices. New Westminster (like Brooklyn) has seen the boon that comes from young professionals and middle-class families, priced out of bigger markets in Vancouver (like Manhattan) bringing their youth, vision and enthusiasm (not to mention renovation money) to the neighbourhood. And now, New Westminster (like Brooklyn) has this growing hip cachet, characterized by the sentiment "I didn't have to live here; I chose to live here." Which is great, it really is - we wouldn't be a community newspaper if we couldn't, and didn't, boost the city when we could and give kudos where it's deserved.
But frankly, this "New Brooklyn" thing is getting a bit pretentious and sounds less hip and more clichŽ the more often it's dragged out in newspapers, magazines and blogs and in local talk. Let's let it go - the city is successful enough to stand on its own two feet without comparisons to a far-off city that really, when you get down to brass tacks, don't make sense.
It sounds good, but it doesn't really mean very much in a literal sense. And while we're happy to look ahead to the city's future, let's be cautious about stripping everything that has made the city what it is - like this recent brouhaha over re-branding and losing the "Royal City" moniker. We don't need to throw the baby out with the bathwater - or lose our history for the future.
The "We'll see more of this in 2013" award: Judy Darcy will move to centre stage
Expect to see more of this in 2013: If there's one name you'll likely see more of in the coming year - and one person you'll see more of around the city - it's likely to be Judy Darcy. Darcy is the NDP candidate for New Westminster who's hoping to take Dawn Black's seat in Victoria. (Black has already said she won't be running again.) Darcy was the president of CUPE from 1991 till 2003, and most recently was business manager of the Hospital Employees' Union from 2005 to 2011.
She's been an outspoken advocate for various causes going back to her university days (rumour has it she jumped on stage during a women's pageant in the early '70s to protest exploitation of women), and she's no newcomer to politics. She also has a solid presence on local social media channels and seems to follow the golden rule: think before hitting "post." If she wins the May election, she'll be one of the most well-known faces in the province; if she doesn't, we predict she'll still prove a powerhouse in some way for this city.
A runner-up in the "one-to-watch" category isn't a single person, but an entire entity: the New Westminster school board. As the deficit issue continues to loom large and various other issues evolve, expect to see plenty in 2013 from the board. Mind you, we can't remember a year that the board didn't have something big, explosive, unexpected or unusual in our pages - from battles over potential conflict of interest to the issues surrounding the business company, the last decade has been an interesting one at the district level, and we don't expect that will change any time soon.
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