While the City of Vancouver’s park board battles with community centre associations over resources and control, Coun. Harold Steves, said Richmond has struck a balance between allowing local autonomy while keeping a level playing field.
Vancouver’s parks board recently proposed a motion to centralize community centre resources so funds could be more equitably distributed. Currently, some community centres have far greater resources and more extensive programming than others. The move has outraged some citizens, who call the proposal a power grab.
Steves, chair of the Richmond’s parks and recreation committee, said Richmond was confronted with the same issue a few years back when financial discrepancies surfaced as certain community centres were able to collect greater funds from fundraising than others.
That situation raised city staff’s concern and there was an interest in finding a way to make the centres more equitable, said Steves.
A number of meetings followed, in which a redistribution of wealth was on the table.
“Our recommendation was to maintain the existing structure, (which allowed local control) and the Council agreed,” added Steves. However, community centres were encouraged to work more closely with each other.
A “minimal shift” from a decentralized approach where community centres are run entirely by locals volunteers, to a more cooperative arrangement where the city has a role in coordinating programs among the centres took place, which, in turn, helped centres that were experiencing financial difficulties.
But the key has been to help community centres work with each other as opposed to taking over.
“It’s surprising they’re taking the alternative route in Vancouver, because we decided against (a centralized approach). When community centres have control, they don’t like to give it up,” said Steves.
Moreover, the advantage of leaving centres in local hands is that “volunteers show a stronger commitment when they have a say in what activities are developed,” according to Steves.
In addition, “each neighbourhood knows better what activities should be integrated in its program.
Steves did admit community centres in Richmond have developed a rather unified program, yet the approach was agreed on by volunteers, instead of imposed by the city.
So far, Steves has not received any complaints of community centres being underfunded or certain activities being unavailable in the volunteer-run facilities.