Imagining the Future of North King’s Town

On the evening of June 20th, with a tornado warning in effect, about 60 people braved the storm to participate in the second public consultation about visions for the Old Industrial Area and the Inner Harbour, hosted by the City of Kingston Planning Department and Dialog, the consultant firm the City has engaged. About 1/3 of attendees had participated in the first public consultation held on May 24th. The session began with an open house format where we reviewed panels that included Dialog’s preliminary study area vision, principles and emerging themes statements, developed by Dialog after the first public consultation. That was followed by a presentation by Dialog’s principal, Antonio Gómez-Palacio, in which he expanded on the ideas and process used to develop this initial vision and showed maps of the study area with possibilities illustrated. We were then invited to provide feedback and discuss further options in five groups facilitated by the consultants at tables with large maps and markers.

At my table, we started with a round robin where each person was asked to say what “resonated most in their thoughts” when they listened to the vision and principles statements. The first statement by the first person (not from Wellington X) was “We don’t want the Wellington Street Extension!” Nearly all at our table immediately agreed. That was later echoed in the group summaries, in which three of the four other spokespersons stated that their table was unanimous in being against the WSE. At only one table did anybody speak out in favour of the extension. The message from attendees about no roads in the park was very clear.

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As always, I’m heartened by the people who attend these meetings and impressed by what they have to say. Smart people with good ideas. Here are a few key points that emerged from my table and from the summaries from the other tables:

  • Create a green space corridor (extend a walking/bike path) that connects the existing green spaces, instead of building the WSE. This would link up several of the existing parks, would provide enhanced waterfront access, increase ecosystem services, and would overall mesh with Kingston’s sustainability goals. Peterborough is an excellent example of a city that has green paths linking up neighbourhoods and more open ‘natural’ spaces.
  • Maintain the more wild areas of the waterfront and the Old Industrial Area. Be cautious about the green corridor idea and what that could turn into. New trails are likely to be very wide (for accessibility, etc.), most likely asphalt, and with severely cut back vegetation alongside, e.g., plans for the K&P trail. New trails would be good as active transportation routes, connections between neighbourhoods and public access to waterfront. We need to balance that with the need to leave as much of the waterfront as wild as possible (including leaving some of the wilder parts without formal trails for humans), and not ‘parkify’ all of the green spaces in the OIA.
  • Revitalize the Outer Station at its current location. The Outer Station (also called the Grand Trunk Train station) should not be moved into the Inner Harbour, not only because there should be no private building in a public park, but because the station could be a focus for the area where it is now. Imagine a brewery with a bistro. Young home buyers could be attracted to this area with lower housing prices, a hub around the Outer Station with food centres and small businesses, transit and bike paths to downtown and to parks nearby, both existing waterfront and new inland parks. Brownfield sites in this area are a problem, but the brownfield sites further south are also a problem. These sites need to be rehabilitated, as is specified in Kingston’s Official Plan.
  • Plan for a second “Innovation Hub” around the Outer Station, instead of only one large hub further south. The two smaller hubs could attract different kinds of businesses. Connect these hubs with active transportation routes: biking, walking, transit. Downplay the car. This ties in to the idea proposed by Dialog to create neighbourhood areas in which people can both live and work. Also, people are increasingly choosing life styles that are not car-dependent, especially young people, partly for life-style reasons and partly to save money.
  • Do not build roads in green spaces or near waterfront. Green spaces and waterfront within cities are a rare resource. Many cities are trying to reclaim their waterfront and add green spaces, including tearing out roads that were previously built. We should keep all of the quiet green spaces we have and add more where possible, not lose them to development. Businesses, as well as citizens, will benefit in the long run.

We did have some concerns with this meeting. Participants at one table were told that studies show an increased need for roads in the north section of the study area, so they asked what studies that was based on and were told that there were many studies (but not which ones) and that following the visioning work traffic studies will be conducted. It would make more sense to have the traffic studies performed in conjunction with the visioning. And all studies on which planning judgments are based should be shared with the public.

A second concern was the lack of note-taking by city staff or the consultants. An attendee was designated as note-taker during the discussions, but not while the spokesperson for each group tied ideas together and summarized. And no one was systematically recording what was said. Thus many of the comments and ideas were lost. (If we had thought of it, WellingtonX should have done an audio recording of all this!)

Overall, though, this was a well-organized, productive public consultation, and we would like to thank Dialog and the City of Kingston. We hope that during future consultations comments from attendees will be systematically recorded and that those comments and all studies used for planning will be shared with the public. We also hope to see many of the excellent ideas provided by the public incorporated into the vision for the Old Industrial Area and the Inner Harbour.

There are two further opportunities for public input this week:  tonight at Fluhrer Park and on Saturday in Skeleton Park. Tonight is a free bbq and concert in Fluhrer Park, 5:30 to 7:30 pm. This Saturday, June 25th, there will be an information booth at the Skeleton Park Music Festival in McBurney Park, 10 am to 6 pm. Come to one or both to say what you want for your city!

— Mary McCollam

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