Hard-headed Royal City mayor is on a downtown clean-up mission
|Special to The Province|
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
On an otherwise pleasant morning earlier this fall, I was on the receiving end of a rude awakening — courtesy of an agitated drug addict just steps from my home.
This troubled woman was incensed that a nearby coffee-shop server had asked her to leave the store premises. She proceeded to launch into a loud, vulgar and racist tirade against the employee that lasted for several minutes.
The 5:30 a.m. wake-up call was as disgusting as it was annoying. But for the folks in my neighbourhood, it was nothing new.
Similar stories play out in communities across the Lower Mainland every day.
Let’s face it: Drug abuse, crime and vagrancy on our streets are sucking the quality of life out of our West Coast metropolis.
At least one Lower Mainland politician, New Westminster Mayor Wayne Wright, has had enough. He is on a mission to clean up his city’s downtown core.
Glittering new condo towers are rising from the ground, trendy restaurants are setting up shop and some of the heritage buildings that give the area its unique charm are being redeveloped.
“It’s unstoppable,” says Wright, of his city’s transformation.
“In 24 months, this will be a completely different place.”
However, the influx of drugs and vagrancy over the years into New West’s downtown — thanks in part to its central location and three SkyTrain stations — still threatens to undermine this apparent urban success story.
“I won’t put my head in the sand,” the mayor says.
“I see what is happening. I go downtown and people are shooting up a foot away from me.”
Wright refuses to succumb to the status quo. His city is busy trying to find shelter for the area’s homeless, plus rehab services and transition housing for local addicts.
Getting help for the down-and-out only solves part of the problem, however.
There’s still the criminal element to contend with.
Part of the city’s cleanup operation includes stepped-up law enforcement. And it is looking to secure “no-go” orders from the courts for busted drug-traffickers in the downtown core.
It’s a move that has upset some groups, including the
Vancouver Public Space Network, which has accused the city of promoting American-style policing methods that don’t respect civil liberties.
Some critics have even likened New West to the Wild West, given the battle against dope-peddling desperadoes there.
But Wright isn’t apologizing for this civic smack-down.
“If even one person influences a young child wrong, that to me is the worst breach of our civil liberties,” he says, refusing to back away.
“If this is tough love, then this is the way it’s going to be in this city.”
Whether they agree with him or not, this Royal City showdown is one to which politicians and other community leaders across Metro Vancouver need to pay close attention.