June 19, 2012

Building Community–Social Connections Matter–Metro Vancouver Sustainability Dialogue

I enjoyed the above event this afternoon, and there are a couple more in the same series coming along over the next few weeks, so sign up and participate if you can.

There were thought-provoking and succinct presentations from the following panel:

Opening/Closing Remarks:
Wayne Wright, Director, Metro Vancouver Board of Directors and Mayor, City of New Westminster

Facilitator: Peter Holt

Panellists:

This particular series of dialogues was prompted by a Vancouver Foundation study on alienation in society in the lower mainland of BC, which has been heavily reported on in the press over the last few days. The report can be found here.

Some of the results were troubling in the sense of many respondents reporting feelings of loneliness, disconnection from their community, difficulty in establishing community relationships, etc.

I may question what Metro Vancouver can do about such issues, but I laud it for confronting the situation and inviting the public to meet and share ideas along with experts in related fields.

There were lots of questions and comments from the audience, and I didn't have a chance to speak so I'll share a few thoughts here:

  • if I look at my own micro-community, a townhouse complex with 101 units, I can understand some of the concerns. People drive out of their individual garages in the morning, and drive back in when they return, and few linger on the streets and some seem to never use their front doors or the shared walkways.
  • the free local papers are delivered right to all 101 doors, and I'd guess that on a regular basis, about 90 of those end up flying around in the wind, accumulating in eventually soggy piles against those unused front doors, etc. Partly language issues, but mostly I think people don't care about their wider community and what's going on around them.
  • I was on the strata council for over five years, with, if I recall, three as president, so I know more people than most folks here, but I still interact with only three or four of those 101 units on a regular basis.
  • How do you get folks involved? Strata AGMs rarely attracted more than 10-15% of the ownership, with perhaps a maximum of 30% (including proxies) showing when special levies were in the wind.
  • In my neighbourhood, there are over 100 home languages in the local schools.
  • I think the immigrant experience has changed dramatically. When my grandparents came to Canada, they knew it was a one-way trip with no return. And, to bear this out, of the four of them, only one ever made it back to the "old country" for a visit, and that was 40 years or more after the initial move. Now, immigrants can readily access TV, movies, music and news in their home languages, video-Skype relatives and friends for free around the world at a whim, and travel back "home" from, er, "home", on a regular and frequent basis.
  • I have always been a proponent of multiculturalism, but I sometimes wonder at the linguistic shift over the last several decades. When I was growing up, the big linguistic issue was the loss of the "old country" language over the generations, but now the issue seems to be becoming the lack of learning the new/host country language.

So, I'm not a Burnaby native or even lower mainland native. I was born and raised in Saskatoon. I spent 14 years working in Japan, married a wonderful Japanese woman, and we moved to Canada some 12 years ago. So how did we integrate and make friends? Volunteering. Our first couple of years here were pretty quiet, but then we discovered streamkeepers, and that made all the difference. From initial contacts in streamkeepers, I joined the local business & community association, the Burnaby Board of Trade, became involved on City of Burnaby committees. . . 

You have to make the commitment, you have to give before you get, you have to learn about and respect your community's history, get to know its "elders", and then you can start to receive, and be embraced by others.

Posted by Paul at June 19, 2012 09:19 PM