Celebrating What We Have

Wellington X decided to start out the summer season in a spirit of celebration.

Last weekend we hosted a plant swap in Doug Fluhrer Park that exceeded all expectations. People brought whole tarp-loads of perennials and flats of tomatoes — others left with new treasures. We had nothing left at the end. We met new people. And we celebrated the lovely green parkspace, habitat to plants, people, turtles.

This weekend we set up a sequence of signs on the K&P Trail during the launch day, just in behind Quattrocchi’s, and talked with scads of people who were surprised and shocked to hear that the City proposes to build a road having just built such a promising trail. We served lemonade and basked in the sun, surrounded by birds and newly applied grass seed. Down behind the legion, cycling enthusiasts traded tips and watched a softball game.

 

It was such an affirmative and lovely start to the summer. Here’s hoping that now that the K&P is open, more people from all parts of town will want to keep this corridor of the city’s transportation and recreation infrastructure car-free.

— Laura Murray

Improved NKT Visioning Report

DIALOG Map

Last November we asked you to write letters suggesting changes to the North King’s Town Visioning Report and Preliminary Market Analysis. Boy, did you ever come through! WellingtonX was copied on more than 65 letters, and planners received about 120 submissions altogether.

Because of the extensive public input, the revised draft report is now a solid foundation for the next phase of planning. We would like to thank all of you. If there are further changes that you would like to see, you can send comments until Monday, April 24th to nktplan@cityofkingston.ca. Just remember, the real work will have to be done in the next phase of the Secondary Plan, and we probably don’t want to slow this down any more at this point. 

We would like to thank City Staff in the planning department and the DIALOG team for the work that went into making substantial improvements in the revised report, and for responding to community feedback. 

Significant improvements were made with regard to the proposed Wellington Street Extension, the Waterfront, Transit and Active Transportation, Natural Heritage, Wildlife Habitat, Cultural Heritage and Social Equity. 

For example, compare the descriptions of the transportation study that will be completed during the next phase of the Secondary Plan:

Before revision (p. 81):

“The transportation study should revaluate the need for the Wellington Street Extension, in consultation with the public, using a study framework that balances transportation, place-making, and urban design objectives. The study framework must also prioritize the Vision’s objective to create a pedestrian-oriented environment and multi-modal street network.”

After revision (p. 100):

“The transportation study will re-evaluate the need for all portions of the proposed Wellington Street Extension, in consultation with the public, using a study framework that balances a variety of objectives that are important to the community and that will be given emphasis over accommodating the transportation demands of personal vehicles. These objectives include, but are not limited to:

  • protection of the waterfront, parks and open spaces;
  • protection of natural heritage resources;
  • protection of cultural heritage resources, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for the Rideau Canal;
  • promoting environmental sustainability;
  • promoting active transportation and transit;
  • improving access and multi-modal connectivity within NKT and to adjacent neighbourhoods; and,
  • prioritizing the Vision for NKT to create a pedestrian-oriented environment and a multi-modal transportation network.

The City should also consult the public health unit about health impacts as part of the review and analysis of the proposed road extension. The study will ultimately consider alternatives to the WSE, including maintaining the right-of-way as a multi-use path as suggested by members of the community.”

YES! We will have to keep watching and providing input in the next phase, so that the ultimate product, which will guide the future of this part of Kingston, fulfils this promise. 

Speaking of input, community feedback is incorporated extensively within this version of the report, and the full summaries of the public consultations are included in Appendix A, providing a permanent record. But we would have liked to know what some of the other “stakeholders [who] contributed their perspective” said. Maybe in the next phase we will get something like Appendix B:  Consultations with Land Owners, Developers and Real Estate Professionals. Full transparency is very important. 

 — Mary McCollam

A Sampling of Other Changes:

The report now acknowledges that the decision to undertake a secondary planning process for North King’s Town was due not only to the age of planning studies, but due to community concern over the proposed Wellington Street Extension. As well, it states accurately that a majority of the public who provided comments were overwhelmingly opposed to the WSE, whereas the first draft only stated that opinions varied, with some opposed and some in favour.

The new Executive Summary includes the following: “With respect to DRF Park, many people would like the park to remain as it is. They want to protect the urban wilderness that exists along the shoreline, and they do not want the proposed WSE running through it or next to it … The K&P trail was generally noted as a positive addition to NKT’s open space network, but some people expressed concern that it would be negatively impacted by the proposed WSE.”

Vision

Before revision (p. 51)

“…home to walkable neighbourhoods, with strong connections to jobs, and amenities, so families can grow, thrive and age in place.”

After revision (p. 61)

“…home to walkable neighbourhoods, with strong connections to jobs, amenities, open spaces, the waterfront and neighbouring communities, so residents from a variety of backgrounds and income levels can grow, thrive and age in place.”

Maps

Before revision (pp. 54, 75, 77), the maps showed a dotted line with question marks and the legend “Potential Wellington Street Extension:  subject to further study during next phase…”

After revision (pp. 64, 91, 95), the legend reads “Former rail right-of-way:  proposed WSE or multi-use trail (subject to further study during next phase…)”

Natural Heritage

Before revision (p. 66)

“Develop a conservation strategy for natural heritage resources … that sets out mitigation measures where natural areas may be redeveloped.”

After revision (pp. 76-77)

“Develop a conservation strategy for natural heritage resources … that sets out mitigation measures where natural areas may be redeveloped, such that natural heritage features and areas are protected.”

Inner Harbour

Before revision (p. 73)

“There is some potential for higher density development along the waterfront.”

After revision (p. 88)

“There is some potential for higher density development within a short walking distance of the waterfront, with the waterfront protected for ecological functions, wildlife and public access. Land use compatibility and protection of the waterfront, including the area’s ecological function, will be necessary and will be reflected in the policy framework established by the secondary plan.”

Outer Station

Before revision (p. 84)  

The report stated that a developer had proposed relocating the stone structure of the Outer Station, a designated heritage property, to Doug Fluhrer Park and stated that the City should continue to work with the developer.

After revision (pp. 103, 104)

The report gives far more information, including that now the application to the federal government is to relocate the property instead to 2 Cataraqui St, north of Doug Fluhrer Park, and that the majority of people in the community wish to see the Outer Station redeveloped and re-purposed in its existing location.

Bailey Broom Bylaw: Confusion at Council

WellingtonX has had a lull in our interactions with City Hall as we’ve been waiting for the revised draft of the NKT report: recently, however, there was a little flurry of excitement over the request from Engineering that council pass a bylaw to designate a small strip of land beside Cataraqui Street and the former Bailey Broom factory as Highway. (Here ‘highway’ just means public road.)

The broom factory was recently sold to RAW Design Ltd. of Toronto, but the City of Kingston withheld a slender wedge of the property in order to conserve it for the possible widening of Cataraqui Street. They also kept aside a “sight triangle” that would accommodate a right turn onto Cataraqui from the proposed Wellington Street extension. (See the shaded piece in the image below that looks like half a golf tee on its side. 305 is the broom factory building.)

Unknown

Because the municipality owned that parcel of land in 2014, before Council directed that no more land be acquired for the Wellington Street extension until the secondary planning process is completed, the City’s ownership of this piece of land did not contravene the motion passed in March 2015. After the reading of the bylaw was deferred twice from previous council meetings, it was withdrawn altogether on Tuesday evening. Councillor Hutchison moved for withdrawal, in order to return at a later date with a motion of direction for staff to reconfigure Part 3 (as the piece of land is known on the reference plan) to separate the potential sight triangle. Hutchison said his primary concern was the public perception that the City might be facilitating the construction of the WSE while the secondary planning process is underway.

Staff have said that the bylaw is nothing more than a necessary piece of “housekeeping” associated with the future redevelopment of the broom factory and the necessity that services for that building come from Cataraqui St. However, we are not quite sure why it is necessary. And we are puzzled at the timing: why has this come forward now? RAW purchased the land last fall. As yet, they have not submitted a development application. The response from staff to a question from Councillor Boehme was that there would be no immediate implications for the new owners of the broom factory if the bylaw wasn’t passed that evening.

After considerable head scratching and discussion, Wellington X’s position is that if the bylaw would create extra cost or hassle if delayed, and if it is merely a land use and development requirement to allow the building’s new owner to establish access and services from Cataraqui Street, and if it has nothing to do with advancing the Wellington St. Extension, there is no harm going ahead with it. However, it is indicative of our strained relationship with the City’s Engineering department that we are indeed suspicious of their every move.

— Anne Lougheed

The People Speak

WellingtonX was cc’d on at least 65 letters to the Planning Department concerning the Draft Visioning Report for the North King’s Town Secondary Plan, Phase One. The neighbourhood must be rich indeed to draw forth such eloquence and insight. We hope some of your vision makes its way into the final draft of the Visioning Report. Here are excerpts from what you wrote.

At the meeting that I attended, and at the music festival  (and even in the photos included in the report) one of the key words that people were using as a principle to guide any changes to the waterfront was “wild.” I don’t see this principle elaborated in the report. While improved access to the waterfront is important — it should not come at the cost of the unique urban wildness along the shores of the river. By using the term ‘wild,’ I think that people were trying to communicate a desire for absolutely minimal interference with natural shorelines — as opposed to the kind of  ‘parkified’ green spaces that are designed for humans rather than plants and animals.

The opposition [to the WSE] makes sense given the strong support expressed for preservation of the natural heritage of North King’s Town. However  it seems to me that this position was not clearly reflected in the Draft Report. I draw your attention to the section about the Wellington Street Extension on Page 21- it sounds like there was equal support for a variety of positions, but that is not the case. I suggest that this be edited to reflect widespread opposition to the Extension.

I was unable to come to yesterday’s meeting, but I have reviewed the recently released draft North King’s Town Visioning Report and I participated in some of the activities that form its basis. It is my observation that this draft does not adequately reflect the repeatedly and clearly expressed desires of the public to emphasize protection of the natural features along the waterfront and to NOT build the Wellington Street Extension.

I’ve attended numerous events at Doug Fluhrer Park and appreciate that its location is critical to the growing vitality of the area.  I also know the importance of Belle Park and of Belle Island (where my kids went to day camp).  Protecting and improving our waterfront and waterfront area parks for full use as parks for walking, cycling, community events or just being with each other and nature without being dissected by a full street should be a high priority or those other activities aren’t likely to be enjoyed. My understanding is that this same message has been what the public has communicated almost exclusively to the consultants.

It is great that the city hired consultants to complete a North King’s Town visioning study and report which recognized the importance of walking and cycling in the area, but I was very disappointed that the draft report does not reflect the strong neighbourhood opposition to the Wellington Street Extension.  In all of the meetings I attended, this is what was said again and again: “No Wellington Street Extension!”

I would like to suggest a symbolic change be made on page 6. This is where the list of Community Stakeholders appears and I was struck by the fact that it begins like this: “Landowners • Developers •    Land development professionals •    Real estate brokers •    Property owners…” Not until the middle of the list do we see “Residents of North King’s Town” and “Indigenous Community Stakeholders”. And nowhere does it list Residents of Kingston. Now perhaps the list was just randomly generated, or perhaps it reflects the numbers of submissions from these groups? Or does it unintentionally reflect the priority we tend to give to these voices? (Landowners and developers topping the list)  I suggest that this list be rewritten so that the City’s report puts the voices of the people who live here front and centre.

I attended various public consultations and most of what was said was that people opposed the WSE.  Yet again, developers and business owners were not present at these meetings. This is an ongoing challenge and reproduces the notion that certain people with power get a back door to city hall and never have to publicly disclose their interests. A transparent consultation has been a concern for many residents. It would strengthen the public’s relationship with the city for the Planning Department and Dialog to disclose who you spoke to and the data gleaned from these consultations.

The vision statement included in this report does not emphasize that our neighbourhoods should be a place for current and future residents and people of all incomes. It seems too focused on the economy and not enough on residents’ quality of life.

The vision for North Kingston should cross-reference other city policies such as the  Sustainability Plan, the Culture Plan, the emerging youth employment strategy, and so on — and it should state that — if need is demonstrated for them — alternatives to the WSE need to be found.

Some critics may dismiss aspects of the Visioning Report as idealistic. I think that that is wrong, and that the North King’s Town area presents enormous opportunities. In particular, Montreal Street is at the centre of this area, and as a result holds the most potential. Take, for example, the stretch of Montreal Street between Russell and Rideau Streets. There are a number of empty lots, some unused or under-used industrial buildings, and the occasional industrial, commercial or residential building. But this stretch is only a twenty minute walk to downtown! That’s the length of walk (shorter on bike) I make to and from work every day, so I know that it is feasible to imagine this stretch of Montreal Street closely connected with downtown Kingston.

If you’re going to keep the language of “big moves,” I would like to see a “big move” that would value and acknowledge and build on both built and intangible heritage. This would allow us to think more holistically about Belle Island and Belle Park, about the Outer Station, about Fluhrer Park, for example, and about ordinary streetscapes and recreational spaces around the neighbourhood – all of them with historical and social meaning, and generations of human activity and social relations that should not be lightly changed, developed, or moved.

Almost all the maps in the document show the third crossing as if it were in place. This is disingenuous because it serves to promote and legitimize a huge public works project that has not been approved by City Council. Acting as if the third crossing is real influences the decision about the Wellington Street Extension. The two projects are linked, and implying that one (the bridge) is going to be built, adds weight to the pro-Wellington Extension arguments, undermining the report’s supposed ‘neutrality’ on the issue.

I am not against development in principle. I want a safe and economically viable neighbourhood like everyone else. But I’ve grown very fond of this area and I take exception whenever I hear it referred to as nothing more than a “corridor.”

Also, moving the Outer Station seems like a ridiculous idea that would send a message that the City would prefer to appease developers’ interests rather than invest in protecting its own heritage resources, as it claims is a priority in this draft plan.

My travel requires choices.  Sometimes I make the wrong one and end up sitting in a Kingston “traffic jam” for 5 or ten minutes. Usually I’m able to make a choice that gets me home without delays.

As a car driver I know that my right to travel more quickly by car into more areas of the city ranks far below local residents rights to healthy quality of life. I also know that the health of this world-class ecosystem is more important than automotive convenience. As someone who uses the K&P trail for biking and walking I want more incentives to park my car in the outskirts of the city and access the downtown through a physically active, less polluting, and more responsible way.

I appeal to you, and your department to work with Dialog to address the many components of this report and subsequent decisions around this project to better embody waterfront and parkland protection, environmental sustainability, a strong focus on active transportation, and the preservation of cultural heritage character.

If the WSE were to be built, it could not be undone. We need to do our utmost to protect green space, our climate, and natural/recreational opportunities for future Kingstonians, not invest precious resources into something with no evidence of benefit, no public support, and very grave possible consequences. I believe the plan should reflect this spirit of careful stewardship for North King’s Town and its future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Keep our valuable waterfront quiet, with no roads”

map_wse_davistannery_wellingtonmidblockYou may have attended or received notice of one of the nine consultation sessions associated with the Community Visioning Exercise and Preliminary Market Analysis to launch the North King’s Town Secondary Plan.

This was an ambitious and wide-ranging consultation. Probably about 1000 Kingstonians took part in the consultations. DIALOG consultants were present at three of the consultations and city staff were at all of them.

You may be wondering what the community said at these meetings, or whether records were kept of what they said.

Happily, the summaries of the consultations have been posted on the city website.

There were valuable, wide-ranging comments from the public on social, business, cultural and environmental issues, and many specific suggestions for the area. On issues especially related to the WSE (Douglas Fluhrer Park, waterfront and wildlife, parks, roads, transit, trails and bike paths), comments in all nine of the consultations were in favour of:

  • more and better transit
  • more walkability and biking, including to work
  • more bike paths, trails and sidewalks
  • the K&P trail a bike/walk green corridor not next to roads
  • fewer cars; less reliance on cars
  • improving existing roads
  • renovating the Outer Station at its current location rather than moving it to Douglas Fluhrer Park
  • quiet waterfront parks with no roads next to them
  • increasing and preserving community green space and public waterfront, including the wild feel of the waterfront
  • protection of wildlife, nature, the land and the water
  • quiet, natural, safe walking paths and bike paths through green space.

No comments opposed any of these.

Many people spoke specifically about the Wellington Street Extension. ALL of the comments summarized in 8 of the 9 consultations were against the Wellington Street Extension; there were ZERO comments in favour.

The one consultation with comments in favour of the WSE was the “Old Industrial Area Visits to Businesses, Social Service Providers and Residents,” for which, unfortunately, city staff did not record the number of people consulted. Rationales given for the WSE in that consultation were to bring more people through the Old Industrial Area and increase property values, to take traffic off of other streets and to provide an access other than Montreal Street for the area. While these goals may be important, they could clearly be met in other, less damaging ways.

It is clear that Kingstonians want a greener, less car-oriented city and no Wellington Street Extension. We await DIALOG’s report and hope that it reflects the feedback they have documented. City staff and Council, please listen and only implement plans that fit that vision!

– Mary McCollam

A sampling of the comments from the public:

  • Keep our valuable waterfront quiet, with no roads.
  • Waterfront should be for everyone, including wildlife.
  • Keep the “wild” feel of the waterfront.
  • Put in a bike/walk green corridor instead of a road.
  • More people will use the K&P trail if they are walking and biking among trees instead of cars.
  • Don’t put trails next to roads.
  • Replant lilacs along the K&P Trail.
  • It would be nice to go for a walk at lunch, but there’s nowhere nice to walk in the Old Industrial Area.
  • Keep the Outer Station where it is – it belongs there. Make it a community hub.
  • It should be easy to walk to work within NKT.
  • I’d like to cycle to work.
  • Improve transit to lessen commuter reliance.
  • The vision should state that alternatives to the WSE need to be found.

Blurry Vision?

Last night at City Hall, Dialog consultants presented images and posters of their vision for the North Kingstown area. The problem was, they were out of focus. It was as if they were looking with binoculars from a great distance and hadn’t quite slid that wheel in the middle to the sweet spot. You know how disorienting it is when you can’t quite tell what you’re looking at, where that tree and branch and bird is that you just saw with your naked eye? That’s what it was like.

Dialog presented eight “Emerging Big Moves,” and they wanted to know if people agreed with them. Here they are:

  1. strengthen connections between the waterfront and a network of public realm destinations
  2. extend and enhance a finer grain network of streets and blocks
  3. plan for compact mixed use intensification around nodes and corridors
  4. cultivate a new hub for entrepreneurial, craft, and knowledge-based employment
  5. protect Belle Island from development and conserve it as a naturalized area sacred to Indigenous peoples
  6. shape character areas to guide appropriate growth and change
  7. continue to intensify the Division Street and Montreal Street corridors
  8. sustain a vibrant industrial employment area, anchored by greater access and connections

OK, some cool ideas here. But the first thing I would ask is whether these are in fact all “Big Moves.” And the second question would be whether “Big Moves” is what we want. Big Moves are showy, risky, and expensive. They might work, but if they don’t, you’re screwed. Instead of a golden fleece, you might end up with a white elephant. Small Moves, on the other hand, a cluster of them, under the radar, are often what win the game.  Small Moves can be agile, responsive, experimental, diverse, reversible, sustainable. I am very skeptical about the Big Move label. Sounds kind of like old-style urban renewal to me, really.

I’m sure we will all look forward to responding to the individual “Big Moves” and the relations between them when the written report is made available within the next month. I am assured by city staff that they really want us to weigh in on which of those moves are most and least attractive, what the priorities should be, and whether the vision and principles the consultants have framed are the right ones. But for now I want to point out how incredibly abstract, how out of focus, these “big moves” are. Other than the specific (and welcome) mention of Belle Island, and the names of a couple of (long) streets, this could come straight out of any planning textbook of our day. So I ask the question, are they really looking at Kingston? Are they looking at where we live and work and play?

If I had to craft a “Vision” for the area — which is what Dialog was asked to do — I would fiddle with that binocular wheel for longer. Or even better, instead of staying that far away I’d ditch the binoculars and look close up. I would say, ok, what specifically are the places we cherish? The places we worry about? The places that could be different or better? The places we don’t want to change at all? This area is not a blank slate, but the map we saw last night kind of made it look that way. The map didn’t for example show the K&P Trail, or the tannery lands as such, or the Outer Station and its trackbed. It showed roads and proposed roads very clearly, but only faint unlabelled shadows of buildings, as if they might not really be there. The consultants didn’t give any specifics or even examples about where the “nodes” suitable for intensification might be or what intensification or “appropriate growth” might look like. Consultant Antonio Gomez-Palacio said that the next phase, the Secondary Plan proper, would “add meat to the bones” of what this first report offers. I don’t know that I see a skeleton here yet. I hope the written report will take us a bit further.

But, you are asking, WHAT ABOUT THE WSE ALREADY!? Well, you could see that alright: a dotted line, all the way from Bay Street to Counter Street. So, what gives? I understand that studies need to be done to assess traffic needs and how to address those, in order to “properly” remove the WSE from planning documents. Fine. But Council explicitly requested investigation of alternatives to the WSE (see here and here). We have been assured time and again by city staff that the Secondary Planning process can result in the removal of the WSE from the City’s plans. In the spoken presentations yesterday we were assured that the consultants do understand there is a lot of opposition to the road — and indeed, there is absolutely no doubt that the large majority of those they heard from oppose it.

Consultants and staff were likely frustrated that so much of the public feedback last night had to do with the WSE and not about the Big Moves. But if this is indeed a “Visioning Exercise,” and it is based on what the consultants heard, and the consultants heard that the WSE is not part of the community’s vision for itself, then why is this line on the map? We’re tired of this topic too, believe me (in fact, this is our 100th blog post on the subject!). But it shouldn’t be surprising that seeing that line on the map — still! — really drew people’s attention, and thus limited our ability to engage with the broader issues we all really do need to discuss.

I look forward to reading the report and coming across a sentence like this, black and white, nice sharp definition:

“The WSE does not form part of our vision for North Kingstown because it endangers waterfront and parkland and entrenches a car-centric view of transportation. We expect that the next stage of planning will a) do a thorough study of multimodal transportation needs in and through the area and b) provide full and transparent rationales for any changes to the road network that may be deemed necessary.”

Then we can all get back to those moves, big or small.

— Laura Murray

 

 

Heard in the Harbour on World Listening Day

wind

feet crunching on gravel

sandals slapping the sidewalk

muffled sound of sneakers on pavement

boots tapping

traffic

clunk of manhole cover underfoot

Food Basics doors opening and closing

grocery store music

shopping carts

refrigeration units

fluorescent lights

conversations

cash registers

sprockets clicking on a bike

masts creaking

pulleys clanging on boats

rustling leaves

window AC units

songbirds chirping

dogs panting

dry grass crunching underfoot

voices carrying from boats on the river

pump at water treatment plant

ball game

party

the Moody Blues

city bus’ hydraulic brakes

children playing

bicycle bell

cars on asphalt

car engine revving

the sound of a water bottle being opened

coughing

flags flapping in the wind

breathing

ducks quacking, geese honking

the very faint hum of the causeway, for just a moment

laughter

whispers

train whistle

— Anne Lougheed & Justine Scala, July 18 2016

IMG_1701

Fluhrer Park a Community Asset: Letter to Editor

Metroland Media (Heritage/EMC)
July 2, 2016
Dear Editor,

Last Wednesday (June 22nd), a happy 500-plus crowd made it clear Doug Fluhrer Park is a community asset and deserves to be treated as such.

Part of the Visioning for North King’s Town became a huge family affair.   Most of the 500-plus walked there safely with children and no one had to cross a road to enter the park.  Once there, small children ran freely with no danger from passing cars and the loudest noise was the entertainment.  No vehicle noise and no exhaust fumes.

Doug Fluhrer Park is a valuable, neglected section of Kingston’s waterfront.   It is, and should continue to be, a safely accessible community park.   Many who have never been there believe it to be dangerous and full of discarded needles.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  No needles have been found in the annual (Volunteer) park cleanups over the last several years and children play there freely all the time.

The Visioning Exercise has already produced the suggestion of a green link between North King’s Town parks and green areas.  Excellent.   In addition, we suggest simplifying the (expensive and complex) 2014 Doug Fluhrer Park Master Plan to open green space that would allow walking, games, free-running children, gatherings like June 22 – and wildlife.

Upgrade the surface of the old railbed to allow for grass, wildflowers and space for turtles (a far greater population than initially suspected!).   Provide more trees and a few fixed barbeques.   Consider a roofed, open-sided structure that would permit shaded picnics and/or outdoor entertainment – as on Weds June 22nd.   Leave the station building where it is, restore it there and upgrade the immediate area.   And tidy up the Doug Fluhrer Park current car park area and turn-around loop.

Doug Fluhrer Park is a community asset, please let’s treat it as such.

Mike Cole-Hamilton

Hoping for Dialog on North King’s Town

On 24 May, the City of Kingston Planning Department and the consultant the City has engaged, Dialog, hosted a public consultation about visions for the Old Industrial Area and the Inner Harbour. It was a solid turnout, perhaps 60 people. Dialog’s principal, Antonio Gomez-Palacio, has a good record asserting the importance of public transit and meaningful public engagement; he started the firm Dialog with Jennifer Keesmat, now the Toronto chief planner, who is known for her outspoken support for mid-rise development and a walkable city. So on the face of it they look like a promising choice for this consultation. However, there were a few mis-steps, one being that after we sat quietly through a pretty long slideshow, Gomez-Palacio said something to the effect of “we are eager for your feedback, and this ends the meeting.” It didn’t, quite, because it turned out lots of people did stay and had quite a lot of chance to talk with consultants and staff around large maps and other posters — but in the light of past experiences Kingston residents have had with non-consultative consultations, the statement was a bit jarring.

People were invited to put sticky notes on maps, and they did, like this:

DSCN4929

They were also invited to put red or green dots on posters which had images of features one might imagine for the “North King’s Town” area — features such as community gardens, hotels, schools, and so on. Much one-on-one or small cluster discussion took place between residents and between residents and staff or consultants. I met some people I had not met before and enjoyed talking with them.

The problem was, it wasn’t and isn’t yet clear how those post-it-sized ideas will be documented, digested, and compared. A sticky-note by its nature makes every idea sound simplistic and dogmatic. The dot-sized stickers are worse: some of us didn’t realize that the red dots were supposed to mean “no” and the green dots “yes” and merrily just used the colour of dot at the top of the pile. This format is quite infantilizing, more or less asking us to stick up our hand when our favourite ice cream is called. In the consultation summary posted online, ideas were simply listed, with no sense of which were most often or most forcefully articulated, or how they related to one another. For example, the summary reports that there were “a range of comments about the Wellington Street Extension.” And yet, to my ears at least, that range may have consisted of 2 people in favour, and 30 against. And in fact, we were not encouraged to discuss the topic (sound familiar?) — despite the fact that City staff were instructed to do this planning process specifically to consult on the WSE.

Is this “inclusive” sort of reporting, making sure to nod to outliers, actually accurate? Is it productive? If we have to choose between ideas, we should surely do it by some combination of considering which ideas are held by the most people, and which ideas are best supported by evidence. And that evidence must be gathered according to current best practices, not old-school traffic management assumptions. Will Dialog and its consultant partners help Kingston up its game in terms of quality and transparent evidence? Will it include facts about how much Kingston has to reduce greenhouse gases to meet national targets? Will it help Kingston improve the ways it fosters productive and democratic participation by residents?

Such questions are why it is so important for people to come to the next meeting on this secondary plan, Monday June 20, THIS Monday that is, at 630 at the Portuguese Cultural Centre (the old bus station) at 959 Division Street. We were told that at this meeting Dialog will present some beginning ideas for the visioning arising from what they have heard so far.

There is also opportunity for public input on Wednesday night at Fluhrer Park and on Saturday in Skeleton Park, but we are told that consultants will not be present at these events. If you actually want to hear from and talk with those who will be formulating the outcome of this process, come on Monday! We might have expected one of the consultation meetings to take place in the Inner Harbour/Swamp Ward area — Mulberry School? St. Pat’s? Calvary Church? — but that is not planned. So, come on Monday!

Remember: this process could have a huge effect on the downtown core of Kingston and the places we live, work, and play. That effect could be good, or it could be bad. Let’s dialog with Dialog so they can come up with the kinds of change and preservation that are best for those who live here.

Did I remember to say come on Monday :)?

— Laura Murray

 

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