Professional Profiles

Sustainability certificate helps city councillor build a better community

Jonathan Coté by the Fraser River in New Westminster. Photo by Fabrice Grover Photo.

By Amy Robertson

UPDATE: Jonathan Coté was elected mayor of New Westminster in November 2014.

SFU Continuing Studies’ Sustainable Community Development Certificate, which the City Program offers, is helping a city councillor in New Westminster make his community more environmentally and socially sustainable.

Jonathan Coté was elected to council several years ago, at only 26 years old. He’d always been passionate about cities—how people work and live, and how they deal with urban issues.

He saw the potential of New Westminster, and wanted to revitalize the downtown area and restore it to its “former glory.”

“There was a real desire for someone to come forward and talk about cities differently,” Coté says.

Sustainability has always been part of Coté’s platform—but a few years ago, he felt compelled to dig deeper into the issues he was facing around the council table.

“When I found out about the City Program, and looked at the different courses that were offered, every single one of them was highly applicable to the work I was doing as a city councillor,” Coté says.

“Sustainability is a word that is often overused, but rarely truly understood. The program helps you dig down to what it really means and allows you to genuinely apply the principles of sustainability to urban issues.”

Sustainability studies deliver results in New Westminster

Coté’s work in the program has helped him achieve results. He used to chair New Westminster’s community and social issues committee, and he currently chairs the parks and recreation committee as well as the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee.

In the last seven years, he’s watched his city transform. Thanks to a project called “Housing First,” homelessness has decreased by 45 percent in New Westminster. “You can’t deal with the complex issues that surround homelessness, like addiction, until you provide people with a home,” Coté says.

Pointing to a beautiful building in New Westminster’s downtown core, Coté notes that low-income people aren’t segregated from the rest of the city—most people likely don’t even know that the building houses low-income units.

Crime has also decreased, the city has become more walkable, a beautiful waterfront park and a new outdoor pool have opened, a civic centre is in progress, and plans are underway to change a parkade that will open up the waterfront view and breathe new life into small businesses along the water.

Over seven thousand new people have moved to New Westminster in the last seven years—even Coté has moved downtown with his wife and two young daughters.

“Seven years ago, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable moving into this neighbourhood…now, it’s much more family-friendly.”

Coté, who found the Sustainable Community Development Certificate so rewarding that he decided to enrol in SFU’s MA in Urban Studies, highly recommends the certificate program to other people engaged in municipal politics and community development.

“In my mind, Metro Vancouver would be a better region if more municipal city councillors took the lectures in the City Program.”