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More about the Sapperton/United Boulevard workshops: a Q&A with Gary Andrishak, workshop facilitator

We’ve got two Sapperton community/United Boulevard workshops [1] coming up soon, so to give us a bit of background, I talked to Gary Andrishak, who works with IBI Group and will be facilitating these workshops.

Gary and IBI Group [2] have been hired to facilitate these workshops to give some independence to the proceedings, aiming to ensure residents and businesses in New Westminster and Coquitlam are heard in the process of coming up with solutions.

In this interview, Gary talks a bit about his background, the goals for the workshops, and what people can expect when they attend. Read on for the full Q&A!

This consultation is sort of an expansion of the United Boulevard consultation we did before December. What exactly will happen and how is it different from the prior consultation?

Well, my understanding is that some local residents and businesses had concerns about the about the options presented at the time. But these new sessions are looking at the community of Sapperton, identifying what people value about it, and finding out whether there are solutions that satisfy both the community’s needs and the traffic flow issues that TransLink is trying to solve.

What can people expect to do during these consultations?

At these new sessions, I expect people to give us good ideas to work with, but in turn, it’s my intention that they do some work too. At the end of the first session, I will challenge them to get out with a camera and say what they will do better. Talk to people, do an internet search, come up with an answer to bring up to the second session. So with the first one, they’ll tell us what they don’t like, and the second they should tell us what they do like. That’s different than what happened last time.

If you don’t come to the first session, can you still go to the second one?

It’s four workshops and each one builds on the last one. But it doesn’t mean if they don’t go to the first one they can’t figure out what’s going on—we’ll do recaps of the earlier ones and we’ll play out what’s happening this week. I think it’s kind of an exciting way to do it. It’s hands on, and it’s honest, in that we really don’t know what the end result will be.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How are you suited to facilitating these types of workshops?

I’m a director with IBI Group, and we’re a multinational planning/architecture firm. The projects I work on generally integrate land use and transportation planning.

I got into this business honestly and by accident in the 1980s in Calgary. The City of Calgary wanted to build the LRT to the university through three inner city communities that were pushing back. They weren’t sure what to do and they hired me to intervene. I’d built up my credibility at city hall and I lived in the community, so they thought I might be a fair representative for both sides.

The first thing I learned was how to listen. In those days the transportation department didn’t understand that there would be anything beyond engineering criteria to any decision. They thought this made good engineering sense and they couldn’t understand why this did not make sense for the community. We worked over a couple years and I went to 600 meetings, but we found common ground.

There is an art and a science to this. I think that’s why I got called into this one. There’s a discipline called context sensitive design, which we’ll talk about at next Saturday’s workshop, and it addresses aspects of design beyond engineering decisions. It looks at building projects that are designed to fit into surrounding communities by addressing community values and needs.

That’s important and has to be factored into what we do. So that’s the kind of work that we will be doing when we embark on this process: really listening to what the community thinks, positively and negatively, and how they can be part of the solutions.

And what do you think you can ultimately bring to this discussion?

I think I bring experience. And the curiosity, to not mind getting thrown into tough situations and trying to find common cause to move forward. I have facilitated these things for 25 years, and there probably are solutions that will benefit both TransLink and the community. And for some reason, after all these years, I’m still an optimist. If I’m pessimistic, the game’s over before you start.

You’ve looked at the area: what are your observations on the region and its challenges?

On Tuesday [last week] I did a walk audit. The first thing that struck me was that if we look at both sides of this equation, you really look at Brunette Avenue differently if you’re walking along it or if you’re looking at it from a map. What hit me was, “What a mess traffic is as it goes eastward on Braid and to United Blvd.”

It’s a combination of the train track and the funny little single lane bridge and we were there when a mile-long train went by. And everything just stops. Everything backed up on Brunette past Columbia. It was noisy and it was uncomfortable.

By the same token, if you look at it from Sapperton’s viewpoint, walking on the west side of Brunette, it’s a really unpleasant walk. When you talk about the rarefied price of Vancouver real estate, you go, is this even in the same metropolitan area? But if you live 2 blocks to the west, you’ve got beautiful tree lined quiet streets. These are communities with great value. And I don’t want to prejudge because I want to hear what the community says, but we need to have better edge conditions there.

Are you on anyone’s side in this workshop situation?

Well, the answer is neither… or both. Out of this, I think the optimal one is where everybody feels they got what they want. I’m there to facilitate that, and use both my experience and enthusiasm to try to make that happen.

Thanks very much, Gary!

A reminder that the first two workshops will take place on Saturday, March 12, 2011 from 9:30 a.m. to noon, and Wednesday, March 16, 2011 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Sapperton Pensioners Hall (Google map [3]).

And again, you can find out more about these workshops in this Buzzer blog post [1] or on the TransLink Sapperton/United Boulevard consultation page [4].