What’s driving Vision to change rules on naming parks?

Guidelines approved in 2007 give community a voice over elected officials on naming parks. Monday vote will change that.

Names are important. They are how we identify ourselves, each other, and our community. The names of public spaces are equally important as they are identifiers of place, purpose, and sometimes historical perspective and significance. Nathan Philips Square in Toronto not only identifies a place, but also a centre of activity and a remembrance of a significant individual in the history of that city. Central Park in New York, Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Stanley Park here in Vancouver all conjure up images, for good or bad, in the minds of both users and visitors.

Names are important which is why in 2007 the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation changed its naming policy to better reflect community values and ideas. Prior to 2007 park naming was done by a staff report and a vote by the Commissioners of the day. This method can lead to political interference and the naming of parks and public spaces after friends and allies of the particular Board of the day with no recourse for the community.

This all changed with the naming of a small park in Marpole. Many people came out to a committee meeting of the Park Board with name suggestions for this new park. The ideas ranged from honouring environmentalist David Suzuki, and author and former resident Joy Kogawa, to the name of the street the park is situated on. There was no consensus and so the Commissioners put off the decision to another meeting.

At that follow-up meeting I prepared a draft policy resolution that would take the naming of parks out of the hands of staff and politicians and put it firmly into the hands of the community. This draft was adapted by staff and became the new protocol for park naming. The 2007 protocol was created to stop any hint of favouritism and to put the authority in the community.

Under this policy whenever a new park was to be named a committee of neighbourhood community members would be struck. They would solicit ideas, research the relevance, seek community input and then recommend a name to the Board. This process was successful in the naming of Ebisu Park in Marpole and Oak Meadows Park at 37th and Oak.

On March 26th the new Board wants to revert back to the old system, whereby staff will lead the process and the Commissioners choose the name.

It seems more than coincidental that at the last meeting of the Board Commissioners passed a motion to fast-track the naming of a park for former City Councillor and community activist Jim Green. In fact in this week’s Georgia Straight, Vice-Chair of the Park Board Aaron Jasper suggested that the new park at Trillium (in the Strathcona neighbourhood) would be good spot to honour Mr. Green. While Mr. Jasper might be correct, should it not be the community that decides this and not the Commissioners?

There are many individuals that could be honoured here. Milton Wong was a tireless advocate for both the Chinatown/Strathcona community and for the city at large, and could be a worthy choice for honouring. The park at Trillium is primarily a sports facility and could easily be used to honour the memory and accomplishments of track and field athlete Harry Jerome. The point here is that it isn’t any one individual or group of politicians who should be naming this or any other park, but rather that it should be named by members of the community to honour that community and reflect its values.

The proposal coming to the Park Board on Monday is regressive, and it would appear done in the name of expediency. The Staff report says the current process takes too long and involves too many steps. This is nonsense. Perhaps the current method takes a bit longer, but it is the way for the community to make the decision.

Sometimes democracy takes a little longer. But it is worth it.

– post by Stuart Mackinnon. Read a follow-up report by Georgia Straight: "Jamie Lee Hamilton criticizes proposed changes to park naming process in Vancouver"

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  • Mira

    Nice of you for choosing the picture of Milton Wong for this article. And I would him as top candidate for "Strathcona" no question about that.
    The present Park commissioners are a political group that have no shame. But being part of the Vision family that must be a requirement.
    Jim Green was a great guy. But he was also one who orchestrated the destruction of COPE, the only democratic municipal party that there was. For that he deserves nothing. Let Vision hang his picture in their offices. Period.
    Good take Stuart.

  • Great post Stuart, your original policy is far more democratic than this staff proposal. The staff report is depressing actually, for instance it complains "the current process requires at a minimum 3 separate appearances on the Board agenda". How terrible is that? One meeting to decide a park needs a new name, one meeting to meet with the neighbourhood committee and one meeting to make a decision. This is only one less meeting than the new process and it's the most important meeting. The new process renders park naming a decision by politicians who are just expected to be inspired and guided by canvassed public opinion but it's ultimately a political decision as any decision by politicans is.
    It might seem to be nitpicky to some that you're so interested in keeping naming rights apolitical but just look at Montreal, every second major street is named after a politician, it's like a debate just getting to work. I'm curious though if there are existing provisions to ensure that appointments to the neighbourhood committees are not skewed toward political friends say by requiring them to be appointed unanimously.
    The report also laments that the current process consumes volunteer and staff resources too much. First, volunteers like spending time volunteering, that's why they're volunteers, so this isn't even a problem. Second, what part of striking a committee of citizens and taking their recommendation stretches staff compared to this multi-pronged new approach?
    One last complaint, this staff report is not very sophisticated compared to Council reports. For instance, under "Policy" where it should be objectively explaining the current policy and the rationale behind it that allowed previous elected boards to support it, it says only one phrase, "The Park Board has jurisdiction over Parks, including the naming of Parks". If Commissioners don't know that the Parks Board has jurisdiction over parks then we have a problem.

  • Thought of The Day
    "The only thing I would ever want to be named after me … the BS Pill!'
    You give one to every politician before delivering their public speech and you'd be assured of at least, being honest.
    As for Parks, hmmm, this goes both ways, kind of like double-sworded, as every one can vote "strategically"  for a new name, for different resons, one may vote so they could push their "brand name candidate" other vote for the same name so they could walk their Fluffy, and take a shit, in the very same park, three times a day, every day.
    I guess you didn't think of this angle, Vision Park Board members, eh?
    That was excellent, Stuart!
    We live in Vancouver and this keeps us busy.

  • Everyman

    Well now it will be easier for Robertson & Vision to try and rename Stanley Park Xwayway or whatever it was.  After all, Gregor remembers all his friends calling it that as kids <snicker>.

  • Michael geller

    Stuart, you know I think very highly of you but if the best your new process could come up with was Oak Meadows Park, then I'm with those who want to change the process. :-). I look forward to parks and public places honoring Jim Green, Milton Wong, Art Phillips and others who are part of the city's history…Oak Meadows Park???

    • Stuart

      Michael! Why should your views be more important than the communities?

      • Stuart

        The point here is it that it should not be any one individual, a group of politicians or city staff who name our parks, but the community itself.

  • boohoo

    I'm frankly tired of naming parks after people–let's be creative!

    • Agree with that sentiment.

    • Andrew Browne

      Good call. Or at least we can get away from the FULL names (think Emery Barnes, David Lam) and get back to surnames at most (Stanley) and, ideally, names that actually have contextual meaning to the park.

  • Mira

    If it's not going to be named after a person, at least think of a nice name, please. Having said that, considering how the city council "appointed" the new A Director of Planning… good luck, as they are already painting the signs for the… "Jim GreenPark"!

  • Bill M

    When a park is named for an individual, that person should be one who has risen above and given back to the community.  In reference to George Wainburn who was on the park commission/board for 33 years and was awarded Freeman of the City of Vancouver and the Order of Canada.  He was deemed worthy of a park being named in his honour after his death.  In 1966, I was only 12, but I met Mr. Wainburn that year at Stanley Park, home of the railroad he worked hard to get going and built. and he treated me and the rest of our family like his own.  He was always remembered and when the City of Vancouver gave a park's name in his honour, I was thankful of that recognition.  He will always be remembered as " the Mr. Parks Man ".  

    Proper dedication of any park along with a memorial to the person explaining who they were and what they did also helps people in the future who stop for a look.

  • Stuart

    Update! A win for process and the people…for now. The report from staff on naming parks has been withdrawn from tonight's agenda. Hopefully forever, but I imagine they will tweak it and bring it back again.

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