Thursday, October 11, 2012

Listen In - a UNA sponsored community engagmeent forum

Listen In – a series of public forums where UNA Directors and Staff will listen to you.  Tuesday, Oct. 9th, the new UNA Board wasted no time in putting into place a plan to expand public engagement.  A series of forums, called Listen In, will be held over the the coming year.  The objective of Listen In is to expand and develop upon the UNA’s community engagement and public accountability in the area of emergent and longstanding issues of resident concerns.

We want to hear from you – our community members.  The first Listen In forum will take place at Tapestry in Wesbrook Place, Oct 30, 7pm-9pm.  The topic of concern:  community planning, density, and the public realm.

UNA Directors and Staff will be present to listen to your concerns.  The forum will be moderated and structured to allow each person a chance to participate

为增强UNA居民在有关UNA社区发展事宜上的参与, 新组成的UNA 理事会于10 9 日一致通过并决定,在未来一年内举行一系列的公开的居民意见听证会,使得在有关社区发展及开发的决定上有效地听取居民的意见和建议
UNA 新理事会诚恳地希望听到您- 我们社区主人的声音!首个居民意见听证会将于 10 30 7点到9点在TAPESTRY 举行 (老年公寓,Wesbrook Place)。会议 议题包括社区发展规划,人口密度 及相关公共事宜。
UNA 理事会成员及工作人员将于会听取您的意见,每个参与者都将有机会表达您的想法 (在会上,您可选择使用中文发言)。期待您的参与!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

One way road causing driver confusion

New road signs in front of Save-On Foods at UBC
Recent road sign changes are resulting in confused drivers.  While listening to Campus Planning Staff explain why this section of road in Wesbrook Place was made one way more than 3/4 of the drivers drove around the barrier and exited against the do not enter sign.

While it is not clear to me that the explanation for turning this road into a a one way road makes real sense, the current reality is that it's a hazard for all concerned.  At the very least drivers will have to accept that the road has changed and commit to following the rules.  
Awkward barrier set to be changed.

According to Campus Planning staff and long time traffic design consultant, this was supposed to always be a one way street.  The issue concerns traffic exiting the round point off of 16th and Wesbrook into Wesbrook Place.  According to staff the stop sings sometimes lead to a traffic back up into the round point.  To solve that problem they felt the need to remove the four way stop signs at Wesbrook and Berton.  To make that flow better they needed to prevent traffic from exiting from Save-On Foods.  Thus the one way road.

A number of problems have emerged.  What are bikes supposed to do?  Ride counter flow on the sidewalk?  The barrier looks as temporary as it is and likely compounds the issue as well. This is just one of the local traffic issues that are currently being reviewed by the UNA Transportation sub-committee.

UNA Elects Officers

Richard Alexander was elected Chair and President of the UNA at the first meeting of the new UNA Board, Tuesday October, 9th.  Also elected were:  Shaohong Wu, Vice-Chair and Charles Menzies, Secretary.  In a move that shifts authority into elected directors hands and breaks with a longstanding practice, Thomas Beyer was elected UNA Treasurer.  This is the first time that an elected director, as opposed to a UBC staff appointee, has filled the critically important position of Treasurer.  Beyer, an independent businessman, was elected to the UNA Board last year on a platform of bringing more resident control and greater democracy to the UNA.

Newly elected Chair Richard Alexander advised the audience that the UNA standing committees would be revised (sustainability will become a free standing committee, governance and operations will be linked, and a new civic engagement committee will be established).  In the meantime the following were elected chairs of the current committee: Human Resources, Richard Alexander; Governance, Charles Menzies; Finance and Audit, Thomas Beyer; Sustainability, Erica Frank.  It was also announced  that Shaohong Wu will become the chair of the new Civic Engagement Standing Committee.

After some discussion and a series of technical questions from UBC Appointed Director Nancy Knight, our proposal for the Listen In series of forums for community engagement was approved.  Knight asked about the purpose of the community engagement forums, what would be their direction, how would they be organized, what would they cost, what would come from them, etc.  Th final vote was 7 in favour, none opposed, one abstention.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Manhattan by the trees

It's not a village any more!
The revised plan for South Campus (Westbrook Place) includes a massive increase in housing density and significant change in building type.  The 3D image (provided by Campus Planning) gives a graphic representation of the massive build up planned for South Campus.

The ramp-up of density is an unfortunate by-product of saving the UBC Farm.  UBC's development arm insists on maximizing all possible profit from potential development.  For the developers 'saving' the farm cost them profits.  The only solution?  Shift the 'lost' profit generation elsewhere on campus.  

While there are good augments for increasing density there is a problem inherent to the process whereby these changes were proposed, reviewed, and then approved:  all by UBC.  This is a unique situation in our contemporary world.  Perhaps market conditions will slow down the development long enough so that more a more reasoned approach to development and community engagement can take over.

Draft Proposal for a Series of Community Forums

Listen In –a series of community forums.

Proposed Motion

That the UNA organize a series of public workshops and forums on neighbourhood specific issues commencing on November 6, 2012 and running every 6-8 weeks through to May, 2013 in order to enhance and expand the democratic practice and community consultative processes of the UNA.

Explanatory Notes

Objective:  to expand and develop upon the UNA’s community engagement and public accountability in the area of emergent and longstanding issues of resident concerns.

Who: UNA Directors and Staff will participate as listeners and observers.  Community volunteers will moderate and facilitate the forum/workshop. Community residents will provide comments, direction, and input.  

What:  a series of community forums/workshops loosely organized around neighborhood specific concerns that allow for direct participation by community residents in the development of UNA policy and practices.

Why: The UNA manages the delivery of services, such as community centre programs and community services cards, with reasonable effectiveness.  However, there are a series of more direct municipal like services that, while outside of the direct authority of the UNA (i.e. community planning), are of critical importance to our constituency.  These forums and workshops will provide a direct, public, and transparent mechanism to build and enhance the UNA’s democratic reach and practice.  Information and feedback from these workshops and forums will also provide direction and support to the policies decisions taken by the UNA.

When:  Commencing November 6, 2012 and continued every six to eight weeks through to May 2013.

How: Using the device of a discussion circle in which each participant's voice is respected and dialogue, not debate, is prioritized, community direction on emergent and longstanding issues of resident concern will be solicited. 

A discussion circle involves each person having the opportunity to comment on the topic at hand.  For this to work it is important that the discussion not be a debate nor should the participants respond to other commentators critically. It is important to create an environment of respect and toleration. If there are 20-30 people in attendance we keep the discussion in the large group.  If there are more than 30 people the audience should be divided into small groups of about 5-8 people each.

A team of community volunteers will act as moderators and meeting recorders.  It will be important to have at least one Mandarin and one Korean speaking volunteer to facilitate targeted language-based discussion groups.  During the school campaign of several years ago this model was used to good effect by the UNA Schools Action Committee.

Specific Instructions (this is followed whether in the large group or the small group):
1.     Each person is asked to offer two statements related to their concerns.  Go around the room giving each person a chance to respond (the following are provided by way of example and would be adjusted to mesh with the overall topic of the specific forum).
·      Describe a current concern;
·      Describe an emergent concern.
While each person speaks a second volunteer is recording the comments on a white board or flip chart where everyone can see.
2.     There are several ways to proceed next.  My favourite is to spend a few minutes looking at the assembled comments.  Have a discussion with the audience as to whether any of these could be grouped together because they are the same or similar.   The objective is to try and create a set of grouped comments.
3.      After discussing the similarities now ask the audience members to go up to the board and put a plus sign on the group of comments that they feel best capture (1) their concerns.
4.     Review these final results.  The moderate then summarizes these concerns.
5.     The UNA Directors thank people for the contributions etc.
6.     UNA staff, in collaboration with the chair of the Governance Standing Committee prepares a report on the meeting within 7 business days of the workshop.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Do titles matter?

Since being elected I've added the following signature to my gmail account:

Charles Menzies
UNA Councillor (Elected Resident Director, 2012-2014)
University Neighbourhoods Association

The UNA positions it self as a municipal-like agency.  Elected municipal officials are Mayors and Councillors (some places still prefer Alderman).  Some UNA Board members did try, a few years ago, to officially change the title.  That proposal didn't go very far.

The use of the title Councillor does seem to cause concern in some quarters.  I'm not sure what that concern might be, but for the time being my email signature will continue to use the tag Councillor - hopefully it prefigures a future democratic governance structure.  In the meantime it's just a word in my email signature file.

For reference, I'm using gmail for UNA business:  my email is:  charles.r.menzies [at]

A New Day for the UNA

[updated october 6, 2012]
There’s an excitement that comes along with winning an election on the promise to expand the democratic structure and community engagement of one’s local government.  It’s rather like that first day of school: eager anticipation, a little nervous, but excited about all the great things that will come.  But, sometimes it turns out to be a bit different then what one may have expected.

The University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA) is our erstwhile local government.  However, as has been pointed out in this blog and by others many times, the UNA serves at the pleasure of the Univeristy of British Columbia’s Board of Governors (BoG).  That limits what can be done and how it can be done.  But, and this is the critical point, the BoG doesn’t have any direct control over whether or not the UNA Board actively engages with our constituency.  What does slow things down is a kind of institutional inertia that has built up over time.

Over the years the UNA has created a series of Standing Committees that typically meet behind closed doors.  Each committee meets at least once a month.  The membership of the committees consists of UNA Directors and staff who attend as a resource. This is where the policy business of the UNA gets down.  By the time a project or issue has wound its way through the committee structure – sometimes an item has to pass through two or more committees- it can be several months and still nothing has happened.  We'll need to move these committees out into the public eye and develop more efficient timing mechanisms.

This brings me back to the excitement of the first day at school.  There is always, it seems, that let down that comes the day after.  That first day wasn't quite what one expected.  The older students were rather sanguine about the whole affair.  The teachers get down to business and picked up where they left off last summer.  Out in the playground the rules have been set and any attempt to change them is met with resistance.  Yet, there is always that one person who still sees the half full glass and doesn’t get it when he’s told that’s not the way we play here. That's where the new directors come in.  We can see that a few new rules won't upset the playground fun all that much.

Our UNA has much that is good and it clearly has well-established informal and formal rules.  Despite the gentle push backs against the ideas of expanding and enhancing the UNA’s consultative processes – I know that my colleagues and I will keep working on breaking down the UNA's resistance to expanded democratic practice.   

One of the first things that we are going to get up and running is a series of community wide consultations – series of neighbourhood-based workshops where the UNA will listen to our resident constituency.  It’s time to remake the UNA into a democratic forum that always stands up for community interests and isn't seen as just the place that gives you the Community Service Card.

Next Tuesday, at my first UNA board meeting I, with the support of my fellow elected directors, intend to introduce a motion to establish a series of community engagement forums where the UNA will listen to residents.  As long as the rest of the board agrees, we’ll be able to get this up and running by November! 

Let’s hope the playground naysayers don’t try to extinguish the excitement of the first day.