Canvassing: Fall Results and Spring Prospects

Now that spring is (almost) here, isn’t it the perfect time for canvassing?

In the fall of 2015, ten Wellington X volunteers went out in pairs to knock on doors in the Inner Harbour and Old Industrial Area to talk to people about what they thought about the Wellington Street Extension (WSE).  We knocked on 406 doors in total, and spoke to 141 people over all. It was an insight-producing and even heart-warming experience. Then winter came. We’re going to start up canvassing again soon, so we thought this would be a good moment to share our interim results.

First, the numbers: of the 141 people we spoke to, 105 said that they were against the WSE; 8 said they were for it; 25 said they were undecided; and 3 were indifferent.

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We were very encouraged by these results.

But the exercise produced far more than polling numbers. We were struck by how willing and even eager people were to talk with us. Through conversations ranging from a few moments to over half an hour long, we heard all kinds of things, including:

  • a desire to maintain and protect green space
  • a concern that the WSE would reduce safety in the park for kids who play there, especially those who live in the Rideau Street townhouses, whose back yard is essentially the park
  • a concern that the WSE would cost a lot of money and that its need hasn’t been proven
  • a desire for the city to create separated bike lanes to ensure cyclists’ safety
  • a concern for turtles and other wildlife
  • a concern that Fluhrer Park will no longer exist with a road, because of how narrow the park is.

We also heard about other issues going on in people’s lives. In the Old Industrial area, one woman was keen to share her thoughts on the federal election, because no candidate had canvassed her neighbourhood (we listened to her ideas once we had finished with WSE issues). Another told stories of difficult city rules that made it hard to start a small business. We also heard broader concerns about climate change and the need to reduce our dependency on cars. People who grew up in the Swamp Ward told stories about how it has changed over the years. One woman lived in a house that has been in her family since the 1940s. One young man talked about playing in what is now Fluhrer Park, back when it was what he described as a sewer. All in all people really seemed to want to engage in discussion about where we live.

So this is an invitation. If you have 2-3 hours to spare on a week night or weekend afternoon, please contact us at wellington.x.kingston@gmail.com to find out more about how our canvassing efforts work, and to get paired with another volunteer.

It might seem scary at first to knock on strangers’ doors; however, it is a lot easier than it may seem before you start. Besides, it’s important: a community that takes time to connect and interact can build trust and a stronger mutual understanding. Yes, we are opposed to the WSE. We are also committed to understanding what we individually and collectively want rather than letting outsiders decide for us. And that understanding happens best one conversation at a time.

— Sayyida Jaffer

Spring Wildlife Tour

On Sunday April 10th, 30 people braved the unseasonably cold, spring morning for the Spring Wildlife Tour of the Inner Harbour, co-hosted by the Kingston Field Naturalists and Wellington X.

Our tour guides, Lesley Rudy and Gaye Beckwith, took us on a lovely walk along the water in Douglas Fluhrer Park, and then along the trail to Belle Island. Various Kingston Field Naturalists, including Paul McKenzie, Janis Grant and Mike, were kind enough to bring and share their telescopes and binoculars. Thank you!

Along the route, we also stopped at the narrowest point in Douglas Fluhrer Park to note that if the Wellington Street Extension were to be built, that with a 26 metre right-of-way there would be no park left. We also talked about the City of Kingston’s upcoming Community Visioning Exercise that will feed into the Secondary Plan Process, and the importance of community participation in upcoming city meetings, so that we can not only strongly articulate our opposition to the WSE, but also affirm our support for public waterfront access, public green space, sustainable transportation and so much more.

On our walk, we saw and heard 31 different species of birds, including red-winged black birds, golden-crowned kinglets, goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals and woodpeckers. We also saw the handiwork of some beavers.

2016-04-10 spring tour beavers

Gaye also told us about ebird.org, a website where you can document the species you see in different locations around the world. I was curious, so I logged in and saw that in Douglas Fluhrer Park 78 species of birds have been reported being seen. And in Belle Park 87 species have been seen. It’s pretty amazing that we can see this level of biodiversity in our neighbourhood. Gaye and others reported the 31 species we saw that morning. The list is below.

If you would like to do some bird watching, Kingston Field Naturalists are hosting bird walks every Wednesday in May at Lemoine Point (south entrance near the airport) at 6:30 am and 6:30 pm. Please bring your own binoculars. For more info about this, please contact Gaye: beckwithb(at)sympatico(dot)ca or 613-376-3716.

– Sayyida Jaffer

2016-04-10 spring tour group

31 species total (reported on April 10th). Note that an x is indicated when the number of that species was not able to be verified (i.e., too many in a group, etc).

  • 10 Canada Goose
  • 1 Gadwall
  • 6 Mallard
  • 200 Greater Scaup
  • 12 Bufflehead
  • 1 Common Loon
  • 35 Double-crested Cormorant
  • 2 Great Blue Heron
  • X Ring-billed Gull
  • 6 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
  • 2 Mourning Dove
  • 1 Downy Woodpecker
  • 1 Hairy Woodpecker
  • 2 Northern Flicker
  • 1 Pileated Woodpecker
  • 1 Blue Jay
  • X American Crow
  • 2 Black-capped Chickadee
  • 3 White-breasted Nuthatch
  • 3 Brown Creeper
  • 5 Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • 9 American Robin
  • X European Starling
  • 1 American Tree Sparrow
  • 1 Dark-eyed Junco
  • X Song Sparrow
  • 4 Northern Cardinal
  • X Red-winged Blackbird
  • X Common Grackle
  • 5 American Goldfinch
  • 2 House Sparrow

Visions for the Outer Station Area

Carl Bray’s graduate students in Planning at Queen’s presented three proposals yesterday for what the area around the Outer Station could look like. Invited guests were Paul Schliesmann from the Whig Standard, Greg Newman and Chris Wicke from the City of Kingston Planning Department, developer Ben Pilon who was unable to attend, and Anne Lougheed and myself from Wellington X (Sayyida and I had presented to the class in January). One group of students was charged with being “green,” a second with planning for minimal intervention, and a third with including the WSE. The event was really interesting as a way of framing issues that will come up in Secondary Planning consultations that will include this area of the city. Thanks very much to Carl and the students for their work!

Here’s an aerial view so you can orient yourself (Counter Street is at the north, Harvey at the west, and Montreal to the east):

outer station area

The “green” group proposed a big swath of park and trail along the old railway lines, some affordable “growhome” row housing and raised community gardens on the old Frontenac Tile site, a Community Enterprise Centre, and a bus stop cafe on Montreal near a public art space. They suggested keeping the train station as a “curated ruin” rather than restoring or moving it (actually, all three groups kept the train station in place). Industrial uses to the west of Harvey and south of Hickson were left unchanged.

The next group put in quite an intensive grid of small streets in the area north of Hickson and east of Harvey Streets to “make connections.” They proposed a school and a library in the Frontenac Tile area, and a mix of walkup apartments, townhouses, and so on. They suggested an existing Steel fabricator could become a training facility associated with St. Lawrence College.

The last group suggested the largest changes to the area, including the WSE. This group imagined the WSE at its northern end as a “destination”: a commercial/residential corridor rather than just a thoroughfare. The goal of the road (two lanes each direction at peak hours) would be to “calm Montreal Street down” and to separate the industrial part of the area from the mixed-use part. This plan had the least parkland, erasing the curve of the old train track, though the greenspace there was hooked in nicely up to Counter Street by the existing apartment buildings.

Needless to say, the WSE-centred plan seemed the most problematic to us. In the question period, I said that the commercial-residential WSE was a lose-lose proposition: it would both channel traffic through residential neighbourhoods further south (not to mention Fluhrer Park), and steal business from downtown or prevent the commercial rebirth of Montreal Street. Or maybe neither the shoppers, tenants, businesses, or traffic would materialize, and then it would become an empty liability. The planners in the audience seemed to share my skepticism. One pointed out that the fact that the WSE doesn’t go through to the 401 would make it less desirable for commercial tenants than Montreal or Division Streets.

Another area of skepticism that emerged during discussion was about the combination of brownfields and residential development. It was suggested that single family homes require the maximal level of soil remediation, so are likely to generate insufficient revenue per square foot of land to be feasible. Would higher buildings be more financially viable and/or appropriate? Perhaps higher buildings could help fund cleanup in parkland? Otherwise, how could the City on its own afford to do that parkland remediation? One of the rationales of the WSE is that it would “unlock development.” But it seems there are a lot of reasons why this isn’t prime industrial park or residential land; the WSE seems unlikely to  be a magic bullet. It might be a draw for a big box store or some storage lockers, but… please tell me that’s not worth it!

As one student said near the end, this area of Kingston is both close to downtown and close to the 401: it should be more valuable than it is. But maybe this dilemma invites us to think of what value (and values) we are seeking. The value seems to me to lie in the space this area provides for trades and light industry near downtown, and also in its unofficial greenspace that feels somehow far away from urban life while in fact being very close. It’s pretty exhilarating to be up there, as this photo of our bike tour last summer shows. Hopefully the Secondary Planning process will help us see this part of town as more than a void to be filled, and will generate some ideas that are within the realm of financial viability too. DSCN4002

— Laura Murray