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Community Vision

August 18 2014 |

How a proposed neighbourhood in Blackburn could shape the future of the city


This November, the people of Prince George will be asked to vote for a new mayor and council. And the people asking for those votes are going to lay out their vision for the city. Is there a performing arts center? An engineering program at UNBC? But for my money, one of the best chances to understand how our current council envisions the future of Prince George will be in the discussion surrounding 85 new homes proposed for a small neighbourhood east of the city.

The proposal is to take a 45.5 hectare piece of land and divide it up into 85 smaller lots. The land is in city boundaries but outside of “the city”, past the airport and in what might be more accurately characterized as the “country” part of town. In fact, the land is currently classified as agricultural, something that would have to change for this development to go ahead.

Let’s go back to the notion of “vision”. Back in 2009, the city started a process called “MyPG.” It was a comprehensive set of community consulations basically asking people “what kind of city do we want this to be?” Hundreds of aspects of life in the city were looked at, and an overall plan with lots of smaller plans were put into place to help guide future decision making.

Fast forward to 2014 and this proposal. City staff receive the request for the 85 new lots and they prepare a report to help the mayor and council decide whether to support it. That report was presented back in April. In it, city staff recommend that the new lots not be approved. Why? Because of the city vision.

One bullet point in the report given to council was about something called “Complete Communities.” The vision for Prince George is that it be easy for people to work, play, and shop close to their home without having to rely solely on cars (ie that they be able to bike, walk, and take the bus to the places they have to be). Staff warn:

“The Blackburn neighbourhood offers limited services beyond an elementary school and a community hall. The lack of services results in residents having longer vehicle trips to meet everyday needs. The proposed development would be considerable distance from common destinations such as highschools (Duchess Park – 12.3km) or commercial centres (Parkwood Shopping Centre – 12.1 km). Without any conventional public transit routes in the Blackburn neighbourhood, these longer trips are almost entirely dependent on the private vehicle. There are also no formalized pedestrian or cycling routes serving the Blackburn area at present. The Active Transportation Plan (2010) identifies the potential to create a shared Bike/Traffic lane along Blackburn Road and Giscome Road in medium term forecast, but any trail or cycling connection from the Blackburn area to the Downtown is a low priority.”

To put it more simply, approving this development would contribute to urban sprawl. In fact, the staff report says exactly that later on:

“The term sprawl often refers to settlement patterns that feature some or all of the following characteristics: subdivision of unused agricultural land; large residential lots; tie-in to municipal services; lack of public transit and pedestrian connections; and, considerable distance to other land uses. The proposed rezoning and subsequent subdivision has the characteristics of sprawl.”

There are other concerns surrounding this: the cost of building and maintaing new roads and sewer, the problems of taking agricultural land and making it residential, that sort of thing. But to me the real interest is in the question of how we want the city to grow.

Right now we have roughly 80,000 people. There is an unofficial target of 100,000 in the next decade or so. How do you make space for those 20,000 new people? You could do it by focusing on making smaller lots, apartments, and duplexes in what we already consider the “urban core” of the city: downtown, the Millar Addition, and ‘the bowl’ generally. Strategic building can accomodate quite a few people in urban centers.

Another method is to keep on expanding. If you drive from the university to College Heights, you will see a number of new and developing neighbourhoods that have been created in the last decade. You can see empty space in all directions of town that could be turned into large family homes. We have the space to grow out and out and out.

It’s not an either/or scenario, either. There can be a combination. Certainly, one of the selling points for a place like Prince George is that you can own a home with a yard and still be a few minutes drive from the city proper. One of the supporters of this project argues that by developing Blackburn you will support downtown, because it will be the closest shopping center for anyone who moves there. To hear the case for this development as a counter to the staff report, I recommend listening to this.

None of this is a science. You can’t say for sure that any single subdvision or highrise is “right,” and certainly one highrise or subdivision does not a city make. But listen to the discussion around those subdivisions and highrises and you might get a sense of where the vision’s looking.

On Luck

August 6 2014 |


I am a lucky person. I was born in a safe, stable country during a safe, stable time. I have no major health or genetic issues and come from a supportive, loving family. These are huge contributors to succes that I did absolutely nothing to earn– pure luck.

Recently, though, I’ve realized that attributing any success I’ve ever had to pure luck isn’t entirely helpful. For example, a few aspiring journalists have asked me for any advice I might have on how they, too, can work in the exciting world of broadcast journalism. Telling them “be lucky!” isn’t exactly useful. So I’ve started re-examining the narrative I tell myself about how I got to be where I am today.

The short-hand version that I use to tell people about how I started working at CBC is that I happened to apply for a job at a time when the local bureau was looking for someone to fill in, and I was lucky enough to be given a chance, which was followed by several other circumstances that led to more openings that I was able to fill. And boom, here I am. Lucky.

But let’s analyse that a little more. I’m thinking about luck because I was just re-reading some research on it from pyschologist Richard Wiseman. He’s spent time studying the difference between “lucky” and “unlucky” people and has come to a number of interesting conclusions including the fact that so-called “lucky” people are more likely to look for and find opportunities:

“I gave both lucky and unlucky people a newspaper, and asked them to look through it and tell me how many photographs were inside. On average, the unlucky people took about two minutes to count the photographs, whereas the lucky people took just seconds. Why? Because the second page of the newspaper contained the message: ‘Stop counting. There are 43 photographs in this newspaper.’ This message took up half of the page and was written in type that was more than 2in high. It was staring everyone straight in the face, but the unlucky people tended to miss it and the lucky people tended to spot it.

“For fun, I placed a second large message halfway through the newspaper: ‘Stop counting. Tell the experimenter you have seen this and win £250.’ Again, the unlucky people missed the opportunity because they were still too busy looking for photographs.”

So, spotting opportunities. Now let’s go back to how I started working at CBC and my luck at applying for a job at the exact right time.

I was applying because I had started looking for work several months earlier, while I was in a temporary position. Rather than wait for it to end, I was hunting for a new job four months before I needed one. I updated and honed my resume, I scoured the job market in several cities, I cold-called, I networked, I applied. I sent out dozens of applications and had multiple coffee meetings, and it still only led to two interviews– a success rate of less than 5%. Oh, and I didn’t get either of those jobs. I was unemployed for the next four months.

Eventually I got an interview at CBC… and did not get the job. The rejection continued. But then I got a call saying that I had performed well enough that I was offered some casual work to fill in when other employees were away. And we went from there.

Yes, I applied for the right job and the right time, but not before applying for the wrong job at the wrong time (and the right job at the wrong time- I didn’t get an interview at CBC the first time I applied) far, far more. I was looking for opportunities… and only eventually found one.

And even then, it’s not entirely true to say my luck had begun. I had no training in radio, so I spent spare time teaching myself new skills and finding, listening to and analyzing award-winning radio so that I could have a better sense of where I could go next. When my job was to answer calls and manage the office supplies, I used spare time to learn how to book and write stories. When my job was to book stories, I used time to learn how to do investigative journalism and file for news. I started asking questions about how other jobs work, including the producer role. Eventually, this meant that when the producer was away, I had the skills to fill in. If I had just kept my head down and answered phones, I wouldn’t have gotten to that point. I showed an interest, asked questions, and learned, a process I’m still involved in.

Another part of Wiseman’s research that intrigues me: how lucky and unlucky people view their own lives.

Here’s an unlucky person:

“We had a subject named Carolyn. When she would come to the unit to be interviewed, it would be just this whole string of bad-luck stories: “I can’t find anyone. I’m unlucky in love. When I did find someone, the guy fell off his motorbike. The next blind date broke his nose. We were supposed to get married, and the church burned down.” But to every single interview, she’d bring along her two kids. They were 6 and 7 years old — very healthy, very happy kids who’d sit there and play. And it was interesting, because most people would love to have two kids like that, but that wasn’t part of her world, because she was unlucky in her mind.”

And a lucky one:

“Lucky people tend to see the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse. In one interview, a lucky volunteer arrived with his leg in a plaster cast and described how he had fallen down a flight of stairs. I asked him whether he still felt lucky and he cheerfully explained that he felt luckier than before. As he pointed out, he could have broken his neck.”

Again… there are a number of major factors in my life that I absolutely attribute to luck. I did nothing to earn my parents, where I was born, or my genetics. I live in a country where you can be unemployed for months and be taken care of, and my support network helped me. I don’t subscribe to the view that anyone and everyone with problems in their life just needs to work harder and be better to fix them.

But if I attribute everything I have to luck it gets me nowere. I can’t believe that I’m completely subject to the fates and nothing I do can affect where I am.

Even when I was four months unemployed, I don’t remember thinking to myself about how unlucky I was. I just kept looking. And it’s worth mentioning that the first time I applied for a full-time job at CBC (while working there), I didn’t get it. And that a couple years ago I applied for a host position, and didn’t even get the interview. Still didn’t consider myself unlucky, just tried to get better so I would have better “luck” next time.

And eventually, I did.

Image: “clovers” by groovysui

Further Reading:

Next Steps

August 5 2014 |

A while back I posted about my last day as a host of CBC Daybreak North. That post came a little early because, as it turned out, I was back on the air the next week and stayed there until early last month.

At the time I wrote that the next steps for me were back to my original role as an associate producer, helping put together the show. But that didn’t last long.

I’m happy to say that for the next nine months I will be the producer of Daybreak North, the most-listened to morning radio show in northern British Columbia.

This is an interesting step for me. When I started as a part-time fill-in researcher four-and-a-half years ago, my goal was to get a job. When I got that, I thought that maybe a decade or so down the line I might make it up to producer. So to be stepping into that role now is, well, humbling.

A few things. First, this isn’t permanent. The regular producer is great at his job and the only reason I’m doing it now is because he’s taking some time off to spend with his family (for real, this isn’t one of those haha-there’s-really-a-secret-plan-here-we’re-just-not-saying lines, he’s legitimately spending time with family. This has been planned for years). So I should only be doing this job until next spring.

Second, I’m still super nervous about this. I’ve done the producer job before, but only a few days or maybe weeks at a time. There was always a very nearby window when this would end. This is far longer. It’s big.

Third– HOLY COW, I’M THE PRODUCER OF A CBC RADIO SHOW. Do other people ever feel like this? Where you mostly just do your job but every once in a while realize how crazy it is that you’ve actually achieved it? I have so much respect for what CBC is and stands for. I still think of myself as more of a fan than an actual part of it that I have these moments every once in a while. This is one of them.

Fourth, my viewpoints of what a producer/manager is have definitely evolved the closer I’ve gotten to taking on this role. My uninformed outsider view is that you’re “the boss”, giving orders and shaping things to your vision of how they should be. Not true at all. Yes, the buck stops with you, but it’s not as simple as being a top-down manager. I’m working hard at having the decisions I make be based on agreed-upon values, ones given to us from CBC mandates and agreed-upon locally. This isn’t “what does Andrew want to do?” but “how can Andrew best make sure what we’re doing aligns with what we should be doing?” So now a lot of the stuff I used to think was kind of silly, copororate talk has a lot of value for me: mission statements, pillars, etc. These can easily devolve into pointless mumbo-jumbo, yes, but if you hone it down and focus I think they can be a valuable tool. So learning to use them well will be a challenge.

Finally, I’m learning how to help other people do their jobs. The last five years my role has been to get a task, do it, and find ways to do it better. Now I’m still doing that, but I also have a direct impact on the ability of other people to do their jobs. I want to be good at that. I don’t want to be an obstacle-creator, over-assigner, or micro-manager. This means a lot more paying attention to how I interact with others, and how I can do simple things like ask questions and have conversations better. It also means getting out of the way as much as possible, and getting other annoying things out of the way, as well. A lot of my job is going to be making sure technical things are working, mailing letters, and washing dishes. For more on this line of reasoning, see this piece by Sash Catanzarite called “Wash the Dishes When Nobody Else Will.”

Anyways, this isn’t a real thought out blog post, more of a status update of where I’m at professionally and how I’m feeling at this point in time. Excited, nervous, hopeful. Here goes.



July 25 2014 |


One of the first questions I get asked when I meet someone new is almost always about my name. “How do you spell that?” “What nationality is that?” “Where does that come from?” So today I’d like to share the story of what the name “Kurjata” means to me.

The first thing I associate with the name “Kurjata” is my grandmother. Mary Madeline Oster was born in 1930 in St. Walburg, Saskatchewan, and later met and married my grandfather George Kurjata. He passed away when I was just one year old, so my vision of the family is a matriarchy- with “Grandma K” at the top of the family tree.

And it is quite the family tree– my grandma had fifteen children, most of whom had children, and many of those have had children, too. Over the span of my memory the number of people in my family has climbed from in the fifties, to the seventies, and ever so closer to the one hundred point as spouses, cousins, and cousins’ kids have been added to the fold.

So, not surprisingly, the second thing I associate with the name “Kurjata” is large family gatherings. Christmas, weddings, Easter: when I was really young it was out on the family farm, but most of my memories are of a large custom-built house in Dawson Creek some of my uncles made for her. It was specifically designed for entertaining: a huge kitchen overlooking a second living space so that you could easily fit a full gathering, including lots of young kids running around.

* * *

We just had another family gathering. My grandmother moved out of her large home about twelve years ago, into a smaller assisted living unit. Earlier this year it was into a care home. A week ago she passed away there, peacefully, at the age of 84.

* * *

And so we gathered, in the church I used to attend on family visits. It was smaller than I remember, but big enough to hold my extended family – 101, according to the going count.

When I was a kid I didn’t think much of these family gatherings. I knew it was a big group, but beyond that I didn’t see anything special.

Today, there’s something that impresses me more than the size: the closeness. There are smaller families who refuse to be in the same room with each other for any length of time, or who just don’t make the effort, even if there’s no particular animosity.

That my grandma and grandpa raised fifteen kids who still wanted to see each other into their adult years is a testament to the kind of people they were. You have to have a certain amount of patience… and love. As one of my cousins said while looking at everyone gathered at the funeral, there was no need to talk about my grandma’s legacy. You could see it in the room.

* * *

One more thing I think about when I think about Kurjata, and about the grandmother who bore the name: socks.

With so many people in the family, we went towards having a gift exchange system at Christmas where you would draw a name and that was the person you would get a gift for. It was a lot easier than trying to remember everyone in the family.

But inevitably, each grandkid would get a gift from grandma– and during my formative years that gift was socks and a bit of money. When you’re younger the money’s the exciting part, but today I have no memory of what I spent it on. I remember the socks, though. I also remember the hand-addressed cards I would get on my birthday, and I think about the fact that my grandma did that for fifty, sixty, seventy people as time went on. I have a hard time remembering to get birthday cards for about a dozen people in my life. But she took the time to show she cared about every one of us individually.

She made us feel loved.

That’s legacy.


Mary Madeline Kurjata



Filed under: personal


June 5 2014 |

Bob Greenaway is retiring.

Almost every Wednesday for over 19 years, Bob has made juice, muffins and granola bars for students at Duchess Park Secondary School as part of a breakfast program aimed at making sure no students go hungry. He also runs breakfast and lunch programs at other schools throughout Prince George.

The principal of Duchess Park recently wrote Bob a letter of commendation, saying he has made a difference in the lives of generations of students by running this program. “Our students are seldom exposed to selfless generosity with ‘no strings attached,” it reads. “Undoubtedly, as a result of Bob’s example, many of them have made a conscious decision in their own lives to help others.”

Lecia Beetlestone lives in Prince George. She has always loved animals. Her husband Tony, not so much. But over the years, she’s got him to be more interested in helping them out. Right now he’s working on the road and while staying in Pemberton he found a stray, scraggly cat hanging around his motel room. A few years ago he would have never gone near the cat, but now he decided to help out. He started feeding him, and eventually got him to come for a truck ride to a shelter in Whistler, run by volunteers who give their time and money to helping animals in need.

I had never heard of Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, or the Whistler shelter before I started writing this. I found them by going onto community event announcements and Facebook groups to find out what else was going on in the world aside from what was in the news.

You’ve heard the news, right? Today it’s mostly focused on the 24-year-old who shot three RCMP officers in Moncton. It doesn’t take much digging to hear about him. I have heard interviews with friends on the radio. I have seen his image on TV. I have learned about his Facebook statuses from national publications, and that one of his former co-worker believes he wants to go “out with a bang”.

If he does go out, it will be in the style his former co-worker believes he desires. Already there has been more than 20 hours of near-continuous coverage, his image plastered on the front page of every national media site, a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter. “What is this world coming to?” reads one of the statuses in my Facebook feed.

34.87  million Canadians woke up yesterday and didn’t go on a shooting spree. One did. Guess whose name will be in the most headlines.

* * *

We (and I’m saying this as both a member of the media and a person who gets information from the media) pick and choose which stories and individuals shape our understanding of what the world is and the type of people who are in it. We pay rapturous attention to the actions of a lone gunman while Bob Greenaway, Tony Beetlestone, and the stranger who smiled at you in the grocery store are largely ignored.

Does this make sense? For the people of Moncton, I absolutely understand the up-to-the-minute coverage. This is a matter of public safety, and the reporters who are there are completely right to help the public understand what they need to do in order to best stay safe.

But why do I, here in Prince George, British Columbia, need to know every detail as it unfolds? What purpose does it serve? If I were to hop in my car right now, it would take me 58 hours to drive to Moncton. I could be halfway through Mexico before then. I have no idea what happened in Mexico today.

I’m not asking these questions because I’m absolutely certain the mass coverage of what’s happening in Moncton (or another mass shooting in Seattle that’s unfolded as I write this) shouldn’t be happening. I’m just not certain it should, either. Obviously there are people who want to follow along, but I have a sense that responsible media should strive to go beyond just chasing eyeballs. I believe there’s more to our job than that, and it involves weighing questions of ethics and responsibility and representation and so many other considerations beyond “will people click on this?”

We cannot offer a perfect summary of the world as it stands. The world is a messy, complicated place with so much happening at any given moment that it’s impossible to contemplate. And so we, as media, filter. We look around and we choose to present a few people and events out of near-infinite possibilities, and we call that the news.

It seems almost inevetiable that the tragedies and the horror stories will get more coverage than the mundane, everyday kindnesses of people just doing their best. But it is important to remember that the tragedies and horror stories are just one part of what the world is coming to, a part that has been filtered through hundreds of other stories that might have been chosen, as well.  It’s important to remember that there are bad things in the world, but there are good ones, too, and the volunteers and animal-lovers and people smiling at you at the grocery store are just as representative of humanity as anyone else. Even if they never make headline news.

Filed under: journalism, media


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