A regular column of neighbourhood news from around the city.
“Not much has changed,” said my old friend Tom when I ran into him at the Westsyde liquor store recently.
After a decade of living downtown in the West End, I was glad to return to my sleepy old neighbourhood. Relocating was partly middle-age downsizing, partly sentimental journey because I’d raised my kids out in Westsyde. With other relatives residing there since the 1970s, I’d grown to know the place better than any other part of Kamloops.
Contrary to Tom’s observation, I can’t get over how much Westsyde has changed. It’s what I call the Rip Van Winkle Effect, when you return home as a stranger after a lengthy absence, feeling as though you’ve awaken from a deep slumber.
Little Westsyde elementary, where my kids attended school, is a neighbourhood centre. The meandering trail that used to take us to Deep Lake has been truncated by a new subdivision. Ponderosa pine that dominated the mountainside are gone, rotting on the ground, a climate change consequence delivered in partnership with mountain pine beetle.
Coopers Westsyde, the whole mall, really, has a new lease on life. Infill development and higher densities have brought a lot more residents to the area. There’s even a new park I’d not heard of — Rainbow Park.
Westsyde Road, of course, is faster and busier than ever. Where could so many vehicles possibly be going in such a hurry? It seems my sleepy neighbourhood is not so quiet anymore, as though someone has been chugging high-octane coffee, even without the Tim Hortons many had hoped to see.
To help fix my bearings — and to kickstart this column — I attended the final spring meeting of Westsyde Community Development Society. Again, more change, all of it for the better. The board was busily responding to the latest update on Westsyde Pool, penning a letter in support of the City’s application for federal funding. Jeff Putnam and other City staff were on hand to bring them up to date. There was talk of fundraising and ongoing improvements to Centennial Park.
The flurry of activity contradicted the impression I’d held about neighbourhood associations as loose affiliations relying on a handful of over-worked volunteers who regularly withdraw due to burnout. I was impressed with the efficiency and enthusiasm around the WCDS table.
This column isn’t about my neighbourhood, though, it’s about your neighbourhood, so I sought some background knowledge. Based in the parks and recreation offices on the second floor of the Tournament Capital Centre, Ben Chobater is community development co-ordinator with the City of Kamloops. He has been working with neighbourhood associations for the past four years.
WCDS has, in some respects, set the bar a little higher in recent years, but it’s not an exception. Others have also gained firmer footing. Brock is ready to bust out of the gates, Juniper is springing back to life and amazing things are happening in Aberdeen, Chobater told me. There are no fewer than 14 such groups around town.
“Our job is to try to support these groups more than anything,” he said. “Some are highly sophisticated and very well organized.”
He takes a gently supportive approach, feeling that its best to let groups decide for themselves once they have some ideas and incentives. The City provides a $500 startup grant to each new group. If groups raise 10 per cent of the cost of an improvement project, they can obtain the remainder from the City based on that show of support. Matching funds are also available from the United Way for staging special events.
Building strong relationships with groups is the best way forward, Chobater said.
“They have a good idea of what they want and when. You tell us the best way forward. They know the resources they have.”
While some groups still struggle with too few volunteers, he looks at the ebb and flow as a natural reflection of life itself: “These guys are volunteers. You have your full-time life.”
The idea is to rely on a dedicated core of volunteers to sustain the association and to call upon extra volunteers as the need arises and for relatively short periods. In Westsyde, for example, a volunteer stepped in to help organize The Amazing Race, raising thousands of dollars for a children’s spray park.
Chobater may be arm’s length, but he exudes the same enthusiasm conveyed around the WCDS table. It’s positively inspiring. He feels the same way.
“Since I’ve been doing this work, I’ve seen every corner of the city. This job makes me incredibly hopeful for the direction we’re going as a city and society.”
Feeling down, maybe a little isolated? Pay a visit to your friendly neighbourhood association. If you don’t have one, call Chobater.
If you’ve got something in your neighbourhood you’d like to talk about, send me a note at email@example.com.