While sitting down to eat dinner on October 11th my phone rang. I figured it was the ubiquitous telemarketer but I did answer the phone this time. On the other end was a recorded voice, inviting me to the inaugural NPA telephone town hall meeting. I accepted the recorded voice’s offer and put her on speaker phone. I was interested to hear what Suzanne Anton had to say and hear from the hopeful park board candidates. I might even think of a few questions to ask while chewing on my dinner.
I was told by the recorded voice that the conversation was to focus on issues related to the parks, recreation and green spaces of Vancouver as the NPA “Park Board candidates were eagerly sitting and waiting” to answer my questions.
Suzanne Anton started the conversation and she often nudged and dominated the discussion throughout the hour long event. She didn’t say much about parks and recreation while the people who called in complained about bike lanes, the sewer in front of their house; street trees being cut down and one person mentioned the need for space for off leash dogs in the city. A moderator periodically interrupted, breaking the flow of discussion when she asked a series of six questions. After each question, this same person invited me to punch in a number on my phone for the option that best correlated with my opinion. The questions gauged listeners’ response on a range of issues like removing bike lanes, locating affordable housing in the city and if park services had improved in the last three years. I immediately wondered what the NPA would do with this information and realised I was probably just participating in a free NPA focus group.
As I was getting close to finishing my dinner I thought of a few questions and prompted the recorded voice to get into the queue. I was determined to hear what these hopeful candidates had to say. I noticed that a few callers slipped in more than one question so my strategy was to talk fast and be concise. After I was quickly “screened” by a real live person on the other end of the phone I was put in the queue. A half hour passed and then to my surprise my name was broadcast over the phone. Below are the questions I asked and a summary of the response I received;
Q1- Gardening has become a very popular pastime and demand for community garden plots is growing. What is your strategy to incorporate more community garden plots in Vancouver parks?
A1 – no answer
Q2 – Park service fees have consistently increased over the past few years. How do you propose to keep park service fees affordable for residents while balancing the budget?
A2 – Melissa De Genova answered – “ We want to keep park service fees low so we’ll look at creating more ways to generate revenue like more restaurants and business opportunities in parks.”
Q3. The traditional ratio of developing new park land in the city is 2.75ac (1.1ha) for each 1000 people. The current proposal for the large development area in North East False Creek is only 1/3 of the amount of park space typically provided for new development. How will the NPA maintain this ratio and increase park space throughout the city?
A3. John Coupar tried to answer…and it was something vague like… “we want to preserve park space in the downtown area and we really think parks are important.”
I wasn’t impressed with what the prospective candidates said or how Suzanne Anton responded often with “call me” or “email me” to the people who called in. However, as an experience this didn’t really matter because as any seasoned politician will tell you – people want to know that someone listened and as a participant, I feel that someone took the time to listen to me.