Editor's column: TMH in Richmond a good news story

The news media is frequently, and often rightly, criticized for our relentless deluge of bad news — if it bleeds, it leads.

I’m often at pains to point out all the good news stories we run in the Richmond News. In today’s paper alone, we have an inspiring story about our local Muslim and Jewish communities finding common ground and another about initiatives to save the planet.

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Yet, I can’t deny journalism and news investigations tend to lean negative. There are reasons for that, and they don’t all have to do with playing to people’s most base instincts. Focusing on crime and corruption, comes, in part, out of the journalist ethos, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” In other words, exposing a problem can lead to transformation.

The catch is that transformation doesn’t always happen and people start feeling overwhelmed with all that’s wrong with the world. Perhaps the best example of that is climate change. Reams have been written on that issue. And while changes are happening, we continue to head in the wrong direction.

Recently, a movement has emerged referred to as “solutions journalism” that challenges journalists to not just spotlight a problem, but also illuminate a path forward.

The Solutions Journalism Network writes on its website, “We like to say that journalists who add a solutions-oriented lens to their reporting aren’t only watchdogs, but also “guide dogs.” Providing rigorous coverage and evaluation of responses ... gives audiences ideas, even working playbooks, to make their communities better.”

If there’s any Richmond story that calls out for a “solutions-oriented lens,” I would say it’s temporary modular housing (TMH), because, frankly, I’m still scratching my head as to how we got from there to here?

Just over a year ago (March 8, 2018) our front page pictured hundreds of residents in a vacant lot, fists in the air, under a big, bold headline “Not welcome!” I admit, it was a provocative front page, which we took some flak for, but nothing could have summed up the general sentiment better.

Some residents in the Brighouse area were adamantly opposed to the 40-unit complex, that would provide housing to the homeless, in their neighbourhood. Some complained it would attract ruffians who would steal or damage their expensive cars; others said they need the city-owned lot to walk their dogs and let them pee; yet others said they’re all for housing the homeless, just put them in an industrial zone.

Fast forward 13 months. Last Friday, the city hosted a celebratory opening of the complex, where one of the project’s most ardent opponents was there saying he was hopeful the project could work. I’m sure some are still wary. The homeless have yet to move in, so things could still go sideways. Even so, something happened in those 13 months that we should pay attention to. I suspect it had to with listening, addressing people’s core fears and seeing those on all sides as worthy.

But whatever it was, it resulted in a remarkable feat — not just the construction of TMH, but the building of a bridge of understanding that allowed opponents to be somewhat at peace with the project, while giving others a roof over their head. A story on how we got there is on the whiteboard.

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