Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

Candidate Profile – GWEN GIESBRECHT – #201 – (COPE)

Top 3 priorities (from City of Vancouver Election webpage)

  1. Active transportation
  2. Finding housing solutions
  3. Real reconciliation

Platform (from City of Vancouver Election webpage)

My priorities:

Improving access to Stanley Park for active transportation as well as for all park users.

Working with other levels of government in finding acceptable solutions for unhoused residents, ensuring that forced eviction from parks is never an option.

Maintaining and creating green spaces through a decolonized lens with First Nations knowledge of stewardship and by restoring the natural ecology.

2022 Park Board Candidate Questions

1. You’re speaking to a friend from out of town, and they ask for a quick overview of “where things are at” with Vancouver’s parks and recreation facilities. What do you say?

Things are pretty exciting with some of the work being undertaken through a lens of Decolonization/Reconciliation through the PB and with the leadership of the department Decolonization/Reconciliation Arts & Culture, & Manager Rena Soutar.

2. The topic of equity features heavily in both VanPlay (the Parks Board Masterplan) and the recently approved Vancouver Plan. What’s your take? Does Vancouver’s park system need to be more equitable and accessible? If yes, what changes would you propose and/or prioritize to make this happen?

Yes. A number of ways, some already in progress and lots of space to expand. One important equity piece is creating East-West equity in the areas of green space & canopy, facilities & amenities. For too long there has been emphasis on development of park/waterfront/street & boulevard trees that support better canopy, and a concentration of out door aquatic facilities on the west side. Increasing these feature to create better East-West equity it would follow that there would also be better equity across socioeconomic divides and would allow better support for the work of community centres in providing community development opportunities in neighbourhoods that have disproportionate numbers of vulnerable and at risk residents.

3. As a general principle, should parks aim to accommodate cycling paths within their boundaries? What are your thoughts on bikes and bike lanes in parks? (Please note: this is not specifically a question about Stanley Park).

Yes. In general there has been an uptick in the desire for residents to opt for more active transportation modes for health individually and environmentally. In order to accommodate these trends ways need to be found to allow safety and accessibility for all users. Separating rolling and wheeling traffic from walking or automobile traffic makes sense. No user group is more entitled to enjoy parks than another and over time and with good planning I feel ways can be found for safe enjoyment for everyone, whatever their mobility requirement.

4. What role, if any, do you see the Park Board playing in responding to the needs of people experiencing homelessness/houselessness and encampments?

Over the past four years the majority of the elected board, myself included, has endeavored to take a more humane approach to address the very real difficulties in balancing the needs of the city’s unhoused that find shelter in public parks and the desire to maintain safety for all users. There are no easy solutions. Increasing sanitation and washroom access, more outreach to help people find shelter or housing that is acceptable to them. Under the law people who are not being offered alternate choices have the right to shelter overnight in parks. When those numbers swell decampment is a long and very complex matter involving all levels of government to participate. The current situation in Vancouver in regard to the number of people who have not been offered housing has developed over decades and will not be resolved in short order. What the PB can continue to do is seek to support those individuals in the ways they are able and continue to press for the need for an integrated approach to resolve.

5. Should Vancouver’s parks and recreation facilities play a part in supporting climate resilience or ecosystem restoration? If yes, how?

Yes. In terms of recreation facilities co-location of rinks & pools that allows for heat exchange systems is very much a topic for consideration. Programs initiated over the past term that I supported in low turf maintenance and modifying water features so that they are not being fed with potable drinking water, park renewal planning that promotes restoration of the local ecology in parks are some of the ways. Community Centres and water play parks are important cooling destinations in extreme heat and opening community centre space for overnight warming in extreme cold. Design of new parks that work within the guidelines of the RainCity Strategy to better utilize rainfall run off.

6. Is having a Board of Parks and Recreation the best way to govern and manage Vancouver’s park system? If yes, why? If not, what would you propose in its place?

Yes. Having a team of well informed and forward thinking managers, planners and designers whose task it is to maintain, renew and expand the city’s parks, recreational and community centre system would not be well replicated without the current degree of autonomy. City Councils come and go with varying degrees of support for the work in Vancouver that falls under the jurisdiction of the Park Board. An elected board is made up of officials with a dedicated mandate to ensure that there is a focus on the work done within the jurisdictions of the Park Board.

7. What, if anything, do you think the Park Board should do to support/facilitate community activation/events and stewardship of park spaces and facilities?

I think quite a lot is being done through various programs, both directly through the Park board office and as well through the partner Community Centre Association boards and their widespread programs and liaisons with other community groups and public schools within the VSB. Where I see huge potential for growth in this area is through stronger partnering with the Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh to know and incorporate traditional learning and teachings of the original stewards of these amazing lands.

8. In the past few years, the Park Board has taken steps towards reconciliation, decolonization, and co-management with MST First Nations. Would you continue this work? If yes, how?

Yes. This work needs to be undertaken in a true spirit of Decolonization-Reconciliation. As I am not an Indigenous person my role would be to ensure that these undertakings were achieved through leadership by the Musqueam, Squamish & Tsleil-Waututh Nations and the Urban Indigenous population.

9. If you could make changes to one park in the city – which park is it, and what would you do?

As an elected I don’t feel my personal opinion is what is important. There are too many moving pieces in any change that all must be considered. What are the needs of the community? What are the environmental and ecological considerations? How does this fit into the goals of equity? What is the input from Indigenous partners? All of this and more is what I use to inform my decisions on changes proposed.

10. Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your platform?

I would say the past four years on the Park board has been very rewarding. The extent to which my own knowledge has grown inspires me to seek a 2nd term. I look forward to continuing if re-elected and thank you for your support.

Biography and Contact

Biography (City of Vancouver Election Webpage)

In my first term on the Parks Board I have held leadership positions, including Chair of Committee and, currently, Vice-Chair of the Board. Prior to election to the Park Board in 2018, I served as Chair of the Vancouver Parent Advisory Committee and as President of the Britannia Community Centre board.