Meet Vision Vancouver park board candidate Niki Sharma
She laughs about her young age -- she's 32 -- saying that she's still quite a bit older than fellow Vision Vancouver park board candidate Trevor Loke.
“He's a decade younger than me!” she joked, bursting into laughter.
Sharma references the movie Miss Representation, saying that even today, women are still vastly under-represented in politics.
“When I read studies or articles about the lack of women in politics, it concerns me because as a woman, you bring different issues and viewpoints to the table,” she said. “For example, Constance Barnes really spearheaded the child care service for community centres. Before that, child care was not traditionally looked at as a park board issue.”
Sharma has also active been on the environmental front, with an environmental biology degree under her belt. As a student, she worked at community gardens in the Northwest Territories, testing sites for traces of arsenic that could be harmful to the population.
Making a long-term difference
Sharma said that when she first started working in politics, it wasn't a hard choice to choose Vision.
“I love that Vision Vancouver is focused on something that's long-term,” she said. “That's something that's usually missing from politics. The plan is something that looks at the city at the future and makes steps on how to reach goals and solve problems, whether it be homelessness or affordability ... I'm very proud to be part of the team that's putting that forward,” she said.
She said she's also optimistic about the party's work to include more aboriginal voices on the political level.
“For the first time, City Council passed this motion to set up an urban aboriginal advisory council,” she said. “One thing that I've found in my discussions with aboriginals is that a lot of the programming is really centralized. Urban aboriginals everywhere, even though stereotypically they're in the Downtown Eastside."
"But it all starts with listening, right? And asking more questions."
Affordability is one of the biggest concerns for Vancouver, according to Sharma. And it's one area where the park board can make a real difference.
“The park board has a big role to play because that's where people go to build community – the community centres, the beaches and parks. There needs to be a strong mandate to keep them affordable and accessible for everyone, especially today, when it's so expensive to live in Vancouver,” she said.
Sharma said she would like the park board to focus on keeping fees at community centres low to keep them accessible to people of all incomes. She also talked about maintaining the leisure access card to get discounts and free access to services.
“The leisure access card needs to be honoured across the board,” she said. “Unfortunately, there are certain centres that weren't honouring the card so that's something we're putting forward.”
Programs at community centres are important for many Vancouverites, she said:
"First Kids at Britannia Community Centre links refugee or new immigrant kids with somebody that's from Canada, and there's the Red Fox program for aboriginal and at-risk youth to engage kids in sports," she said. "Even if it's just families going on the weekend, these programs are really important."
She also talks about how voices in the transgender community about feeling safe in public safety, particularly in parks at night time. Sharma feels there are good examples of public spaces that feel safer for people due to the open design.
“For Grandview, there are site views that are built into the design of the project, so just by design it's a safer place. It's making sure that when you're walking through the park, you can clearly see in front of you and in the corners,” she said. “It's a passive thing you wouldn't even think about, but it's there.”
Sharma said she would like to work in the park board to distribute green spaces more evenly in Vancouver, bringing in more park space.
"The fact that these spaces public and inclusive to everyone is really important," she said, "and we're going to be working together to ensure that."