BOOTH: Rasode’s community hub idea has big potential in Surrey

Labelling something as "a hub" implies that it is central to surrounding activity.

Hubcaps cover the centre of a wheel; airlines centralize their operations around hub cities; a USB hub allows multiple devices to be plugged into a single port; and a transportation hub allows passengers to connect to assorted means of transit.

Surrey Coun. Barinder Rasode clearly had this definition is mind when she opted to name her latest enterprise a "community hub."

In this case, the hub is a rented space in a strip mall at the junction of Highway 10 and 152nd Street (#103-15385 Highway 10), a location Rasode proudly notes is roughly 15 minutes from every neighbourhood in the city. As far as hubs go, it is definitely centrally located.

It is an unassuming space with green and blue balloons in the doorway to greet visitors and announce that something is happening within. The community hub contains several couches set to one side as well as desks in a work area lined with artwork. It is equipped with WiFi, allowing people who drop by to access the internet and work remotely.

According to Rasode, the purpose of this particular hub is to draw people from different parts of the city together. Her goal is to create a gathering space where people can discuss issues, stage events, hold public forums and simply have a cup of coffee and connect with other Surrey residents.

Rasode’s community hub is an interesting idea. By taking a city councillor out of city hall and into a neutral pseudo-office space, she is making the political process more approachable.

For all its esthetic charms, the new Surrey city hall remains a cold glass, concrete and steel structure that is intimidating and somewhat unwelcoming to visitors. You have to pay to park there and as soon as you are finished with your business, you want to flee the premises as quickly as possible. Lingering just costs more money.

Contrast that sterile and intimidating environment with Rasode’s comfy couches and it’s easy to see why people would be more relaxed and comfortable in her community hub.

Of course, Rasode’s space has not been created for purely altruistic purposes. Although she has split from her former colleagues in the Surrey First civic party, she intends to run again in November’s civic election. Whether it’s for a third term as a councillor or a run for the mayor’s chair remains to be determined.

What is also undetermined is Rasode’s electoral platform and that’s where the community hub comes in. Rasode wants to hear from Surrey residents to collect their opinions and ideas of what issues are important to them. The feedback she receives from the people who drop by her community hub will help frame her electoral platform in the November election.

Rasode tries to be at the space daily and every Wednesday evening specific issues are addressed complete with guest speakers on the issue (visit the "Surrey Community Hub" Facebook page for details).

If you want a politician to hear what bothers you, this is your chance. No unanswered phone messages filtered through a receptionist, no brief words passed on to a councillor in a meet-andgreet, no impersonal generic responses mailed out weeks later. The community hub offers one-on-one discussion with other members of the community including an elected official.

And while Rasode will operate her community hub throughout the summer, she has big plans for the idea. Voters willing, she would like to see other community hubs created throughout the city to provide valuable feedback for Surrey civic leaders.

It won’t take much – just a WiFi device and a couple of couches and desks and your neighbourhood hub is in business. And with all of the community halls scattered across the city, these forums could be staged monthly with councillors spreading out to hear the concerns of residents.

Of course, Rasode’s community hub idea will only work if the politicians are willing to actually listen. We know Rasode will, that’s the mandate she had in mind when she opened the space for the summer. But for a citywide network of these spaces to work, you need similarly motivated politicians willing to donate their time to drop by these hubs on a regular basis. Councillors are busy enough with their careers and their civic duties that such a request might not be well received.

Unless it’s an election year…

Michael Booth can be reached via email at mbooth@thenownewspaper.com

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