Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Looking on the sunny side
May 19, 2006

One of the perks of working in the non-profit sector are regular gatherings where you get the chance to talk about how to improve our community. It’s a difficult discussion sometimes, and tough as hell to put into action. But at least people are talking.
At one such gathering this week - this time at the request of the Victoria Foundation, a major funder in our community - I took to heart the central message of the day’s keynote speaker, Gordon Hogg.
The former minister of children and families cited some mighty depressing statistics about the speed at which we’re disengaging as communities. But he noted that the challenge is to focus on what we’re doing right rather than only to lament what’s going wrong.
Putting too much of a Pollyanna spin on the issue would be a disservice to everyone, because real hardship is going on out there. Still, things do indeed go mostly right in our communities day after day.
Off the top of my head, then, an incomplete and randomly ordered list of things we’re doing right in our region, all of them proof that the issues that bedevil us now can also be sorted out if we put our minds to it:
*We have social services. Demand most definitely outweighs supply in the Capital Region, but our area is still significantly better off than any number of smaller B.C. communities. At least we’ve GOT a shelter.
*Mostly, people are nice. I’m struck by this frequently, in this region and anywhere I’ve travelled. There are days when it can feel like everything is going wrong all over the world when you take in the news. But in fact, most people on any given day are just going about their business, no harm done.
A stranger passes too close on a crowded street, a driver speeds up to a pedestrian in a crosswalk - the opportunities to do bad things to each other are endless. But for the most part, nobody does.
*Our downtown is still terrific. While no stranger to strife and disappointment these days, Victoria’s downtown nonetheless remains gorgeous. Sometimes I catch the sparkly eyes of a tourist taking in the spectacle of sun and water and fine old buildings, and I’m reminded once more of how beautiful the city is.
Seeing lower Johnson Street really springing to life again is exciting, especially for those of us who love browsing around a great downtown. The downtown will always need our attention, as the social problems of the entire Island tend to accumulate in it. But all efforts are worthwhile, because it’s just too pretty to give up on.
*Violent crime is dropping. The good news is, we’ve seen 10 per cent less violent crime in Canada than a decade ago. Youth crime is also in decline, down four per cent in the most recent year. That’s a welcome change from the escalating crime rates of the early 1990s.
Unfortunately, the bad news is that while there’s less violent crime than there was a few years ago, there’s still 35 per cent more than there was two decades ago. We’re on the right side of the trend now, but there’s still a lot of ground to regain.
*We know how to plant a garden. Thank God for ungated communities, because I’d sure miss the experience of wandering through local neighbourhoods admiring other people’s gardens. We live in a region where gardens that would command a hefty admission fee almost anywhere else are free for the viewing.
The University of Victoria, the Horticultural Centre, Beach Drive, the fabulous floral boulevards put together by Saanich municipality - in virtually every neighbourhood throughout the region, somebody’s growing flowers for other people to enjoy. The “garden city” moniker can seem a little overused, but we really do grow a mean flower garden, and with such public spirit.
*We’ve got the Goose. Having a flat, well-maintained trail that runs from north of Sooke all the way to Sidney is a wonder in itself, but having it set aside as a regional park is truly miraculous. The Galloping Goose and Lochside trail systems are daily joys for countless dog-walkers, bicycle commuters, young parents and meandering couples, and former New Democrat MLA Andrew Petter shall always sit kindly on my mind for his role in making it happen.
*We’re still talking. No problem is beyond our ability to address if we just keep the lines of communication open. OK, maybe we get a bit bogged down in all the talking sometimes, but keeping our community moving forward won’t happen without those conversations.
To that end, mark June 2 on your calendar and make a point to attend the free day-long Voices of Substance community forum at the Ambrosia Centre, which will look at the impact of substance use in our region. Life’s good in our town, but that’s not to say it couldn’t be better.

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