After 20 years, the West End Residents Association (WERA) has decided to wind down. WERA, an all-volunteer group, advocating in the West End on issues of sustainability, affordability and livability, has been a solid fixture of the civic life in Vancouver during this time.
The group was initially formed as an association to be recognized by the City of Vancouver as a community stake holder in discussions surrounding the 1996 Downtown Transportation Plan. There was concern the plan would treat the West End as the arterials and parking lot for downtown car commuters. WERA’s founders wanted to ensure the pedestrian realm was championed and to hold the City to its transportation priorities that first favoured pedestrians, then cyclists and public transit over cars.
When WERA was formed, there were no active organizations that were championing West End livability issues. This was a gap that had existed since the early 1980s When an earlier incarnation of WERA was instrumental in getting the miniparks, diverters and resident parking program implemented that still has a positive impact on the West End’s livability.
In monthly meeting held in various directors’ living rooms, the agenda of the association grew to incorporate many issues and projects over the years.
A positive voice for advocating for progressive change in Vancouver
There are many different approaches and purposes for residents associations. WERA, from the beginning, differentiated itself as a group by proactively advocating for issues and projects to be implemented in Vancouver. Unlike some residents organizations that form to oppose some particular action in the city, WERA from the beginning advocated an active agenda of change. WERA’s involvement in the Downtown Transportation Plan was an attempt to change the infrastructure of the city to develop safer and better conditions for active transportation. WERA, along with other groups, was a relentless advocate for separated bike lanes on the Burrard St. Bridge and can count the construction of the lanes on the Bridge as one of the organization’s great successes.
WERA attracted a variety of directors and volunteers over the years. Many had specific passions which sometimes steered the priorities of the organization. Many brought extraordinary skills and talents which were instrumental for the success of the projects. Some lasted for a short time and others lasted for many years – John Whistler was a director from the beginning to the end. A few directors subsequently were elected to public office (Aaron Jasper on Park Board and WERA founder Rob Wynen on School Board) and many more were active in various other political campaigns.
Methods and tools
WERA intentionally set to gathering a small group of like minded people who were able to function together as a cohesive group, based loosely on a model developed by Charles Dobson in his A Citizen’s Handbook. WERA attempted to effect change by participating in ongoing city planning process, but also attempted to influence the political discourse and agenda of the city. Directors and members of the group tracked agendas at city hall, studied staff reports, signed up to speak at city council and followed local papers to keep informed on issues. Early on the writing of letters to Mayor and Council and to editors of papers were tactics for influencing public discourse on issues. Many conversations with decision makers both at staff and political level gave WERA some access to suggest ideas and policies.
WERA was an early adopter of web-based technologies such as email, a website and social media which proved to be an effective way to communicate ideas and to influence community discussion on issues. While the website is no longer actively maintained, in earlier years the website hosted numerous links on a variety of West End issues and was an active go-to source of information and allowed for lively discussion and debate.
The website was an important enabler of media outreach. In addition to being a content source for other media it facilitated numerous media interviews. WERA was frequently asked to comment on West End and broader issues that impacted Vancouver.
List of projects and accomplishments
Over the years, WERA participated in a number of issues and projects, often in partnership with other organizations. In addition to providing comments on ongoing civic public processes and redevelopment proposals, particular accomplishments include:
- Co-developed the Mole Hill Community Gardens with The Mole Hill Living Housing Society.
- Co-developed the Stanley Park flower garden with the Stanley Park Ecological Society, at the foot of Robson Street at Chilco
- Participated in the Intercultural Community Garden on the roof of St. Paul’s Hospital with the YMCA
- Bikes and Community with King George Secondary School and the YMCA
- Mole Hill lane lamp community art project with artist Nicole May and the City of Vancouver
- Participated in community engagement process with the redevelopment of Nelson Park with the Vancouver Park Board. Was relentless in advocating for a washroom in the park (an automated washroom was finally installed a couple of years ago).
- Participated in a community engagement process with development of the English Bay Bistro with Vancouver Park Board
- Participated in the West End Integrated Neighbourhood Network
- Citywide Housing Coalition
- Impacts on the Communities Coalitions
- Co-Founder of the Save St. Paul’s Coalition
- Participated in the Renters at Risk group and campaign
- Participated in Mayor’s West End Advisory Committee
- Participated in the West End Planning Process
- Worked with city to build 16 pedestrian bulges along Thurlow
- Worked with city to redesign sidewalk alley standards to give priority to pedestrians (new design was first implemented in West End)
- Sponsored all-candidates debates for provincial, federal and municipal elections
- Developed an innovative online tool to match issues, parties and voters during the 2011 civic election
WERA was a small group of advocates and activists that attempted to effect change. While WERA advocated from a particular point of view, it also attempted to develop general awareness of and participation in civic issues that affected residents. WERA facilitated responsible public discussion about issues of environment sustainability, affordability and liveability in the conviction that it would make the West End and Vancouver a better city.
WERA divided its remaining funds of $3,000 between:
- Gordon Neighbourhood House has been a West End place-based community organization since 1942
- Streets for Everyone is a volunteer-driven community organization based in East Vancouver dedicated to vibrant streets that are designed for all people.
(Check out and support these worthy organizations.)
Thanks for your interest in WERA. We are hopeful that other organizations will form and advocate for West End livability issues and we look forward to their accomplishments.
For more information please feel free to contact:
Rob Wynen firstname.lastname@example.org 604 788 2758
Brent Granby email@example.com 604 716 2824
John Whistler firstname.lastname@example.org 604 691 5632
This website will remain active until early 2015 when it will be taken down. Thanks to Terry Lavender for developing it and maintaining it over the years. And thanks to everyone who has been involved in whatever way with WERA.