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

 

 

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A double standard?

A letter to the editor of the Whig-Standard (2 Sept. 2016) from Anne Lougheed.

The Whig butchered the letter: here’s the original.

 

Over a year ago, opponents of Kingston’s proposed Wellington Street Extension were informed that the WSE cannot be removed from the Official Plan and other city policy documents without a secondary planning process for North King’s Town. This spring the visioning for that process began, with a launch in May at the Royal Canadian Legion on Montreal Street. In June, a well-attended brainstorming session led by Dialog (the consultants hired by the city) was held at the Portuguese Cultural Centre. With Skeleton Park Arts Festival organizers, city planning staff co-hosted a very successful barbecue and concert in Doug Fluhrer Park. City staff were on hand in McBurney (Skeleton) Park on Saturday June 25 to solicit input from festival attendees on the North King’s Town visioning, and set up an information booth at the Princess Street Promenade on July 30th. More pop-up consultations took place August 4th, and the process is just getting started.

All this is necessary, apparently, because although running an arterial road through a waterfront park is an unpopular plan that is neither consistent with good planning practices nor Kingston’s own policies, nothing can be changed without at least two more years’ work and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent.

In contrast, if a developer wishes to ignore city documents (the Official Plan, its specific policies, the architectural guidelines, zoning bylaws etc.) and propose a high rise development for an area of the city where building height is restricted to preserve the human scale and historic fabric, there are fewer obstacles in the way.

Removing the outdated Wellington St. Extension from the Official Plan and other documents is proving to be an enormous challenge. Residents respect the process, however, and have seized the opportunities to engage with city planners and the consultants. Meanwhile, the owner of the Capitol Theatre property has jettisoned our guiding documents and is poised to stomp on our downtown.

The City actively encourages us citizens to participate in city planning, but fails to demonstrate to us why we should even bother.

 Anne Lougheed

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

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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

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

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:

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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

 

Screenprinting Parties Coming Soon!

Join Wellington X and Barb Danielewski on Thursday June 9 and Thurs June 16 for a screenprinting party! No experience necessary. Barb will be on hand to show us the ropes! We will be printing t-shirts and pennants with groovy sayings and images to sell at the Skeleton Park Arts Festival and on other occasions.

This event is free, however, and if you come help us out you can walk away with your own t-shirt and banner. We do encourage people to bring their own t-shirt and/or piece of fabric if they have ones they want to use, but if not, we will have a good selection on hand.

On that note, we are looking for t-shirts and fabric to add to our collection. If you would like to donate, you can drop them off at Minotaur (78 Princess St.)

Both Thursdays we will meet from 6-9pm at 75 Queen St (ramp entrance).
You can RSVP on facebook here.

Keep Parkland, Don’t Swap It

While the proposal to move the Outer Station into the Inner Harbour may not lie at the core of Wellington X’s fight, it is closely related. Just as putting a road through the park deprives people and animals of free and quiet and ample use of the park, moving this building there to house private tenants would do the same. Also, Hank Doornekamp of ABNA investments is on record as supporting the Wellington Street Extension, so it would seem that moving the station to the park is part of a bigger plan he has to connect his various properties (9 North Street, the Woollen Mill, and as he hopes, the Outer Station) with a road. In my opinion, relocating the station poses a threat to the waterfront and to the idea of public space and, therefore, is not acceptable.

On Monday May 16th I attended the City Open House for the proposed ABNA land swap at the Central Library Wilson Room. It was not clear at the outset that this meeting was just an open house, meaning no time was scheduled for the public to ask questions and hear responses as a group. Many of us did want a meeting so we asked for one and staff responded by creating one in the moment.

I initially went to express that I thought the discussion about a land swap in order to move the Outer Station to the park should be rolled into the North King’s Town Secondary Plan. After listening to the other attendees speak, I now think that the discussion should not be happening at all.

One attendee asked if this process itself was not premature in that ABNA does not yet have permission to move the Outer Station to the park. Why were we talking about this issue now, he asked. When staff replied that the heritage questions would be addressed later, he asked, how can we talk about a land swap without specifically discussing what the swap is for? I think we can’t and should not.

Below, I have attempted to summarize the various questions and ideas that came up during the meeting, for your information. I hope that City Staff will answer these questions in any next steps for this process.

Special thanks to Commissioner Hurdle and other staff for being responsive to residents by adapting the open house to a meeting, and to Councillor Schell and Councillor Hutchison for attending the meeting and staying until the end to hear the public questions and comments.

– Sayyida Jaffer

Questions from members of the public about a potential land swap in Fluhrer Park

  • Is it likely that ABNA will receive permission to move the Outer Station given the federal laws and rules that apply – e.g. the Heritage Railway Stations Protection Act and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board? Is it likely that the federal government will agree to separate out one of the three buildings that together have a heritage designation and that functioned together at the site?
  • Why have staff recommended this project? Shouldn’t the first step be for ABNA to buy the Outer Station property? Isn’t this proposal premature? Would Council be “putting a thumb on the scales” by agreeing to the land transfer before the station is ABNA’s property? Could ABNA use this in negotiations with the federal government to show community support when that is not necessarily the case?
  • Why would the city agree to any exchange of land when it already holds an easement on the ABNA land and can re-build the waterfront trail on it without any permission or land swap with ABNA? How is a land trade here – when the city already has everything it needs – in the best interests of the city?
  • What justifies reducing the size of Doug Fluhrer Park and allowing a private development in a public park?
  • When would land pass from city ownership to private ownership? Would the property owner have to pay property taxes? Is this property a brownfield? Would clean-up be required? Would property taxes be waived for ten years as has happened with Block D?
  • What effect would having an office building at the edge of Doug Fluhrer Park have on the surrounding buildings and uses? Would this lead to gentrification in the area?
  • If the city is considering reducing the number of parking spaces for the Park to make room for this project, could the city, instead, turn some of the parking spaces into a green space to extend the Park?
  • Shouldn’t the city wait until after the North King’s Town Secondary Plan process before deciding anything? Could the Outer Station be a jewel in the redevelopment of the north end? Is it right to take away this opportunity from the north end? Is it right to have this discussion now when the community has been invited to participate in the community visioning exercise as part of the Secondary Plan process? Has the city asked the company hired to conduct the first stage of the Secondary Plan about the possible role of the Outer Station in the revitalization of this area of Kingston?
  • Since ABNA owns other vacant land in the area, why does the company need to acquire city parkland for this project?
  • What is the actual size of the Outer Station and of the parcel that ABNA wants from the city? How much land around the ABNA building will be for parking and building-related uses? Will there be enough bicycle parking which is a good way to get to a building in the park? (Noted that the city Q and A sheet combined metric and imperial measurements, with inaccurate information, and that the drawings were not to scale.)
  • How would putting a building in Doug Fluhrer Park respect the heritage of the Park which was the site of the K&P roundhouse and had many industrial train-related uses and which would not have been an appropriate place for the Grand Trunk passenger station?
  • What impact would the building have on the park and park users?
  • Would the building include lighting and a public washroom?
  • Have any studies been done to show that the Outer Station can be successfully moved? How long will it last in its current location?
  • How does this proposal interact with the Official Plan? Would the old or new Official Plan apply?
  • What would stop ABNA from adding more storeys to the building as part of the project plan?
  • What impact would the building have on wildlife?

Weighing in on Official Plan Draft 3

Here are the remarks Anne Lougheed made on May 18 at the (last?) Public Meeting about the Official Plan. We really appreciate Anne’s dogged and eloquent attention to the many drafts in this protracted process.

Thanks to the committee and Planning Staff for another opportunity to engage in the process of updating our Official Plan.
As we in WellingtonX wrote to you after the second draft, we appreciate the addition of section 4.6.35.1-“The feasibility of the Wellington Street Extension, listed in Section 4.6.35(e) and (g), will be examined through a future Secondary Planning process. The approximate boundaries for the Secondary Planning Area are identified on Schedule 13.”
We still have concerns about section 3.18.17.b (8 Cataraqui St.) which in draft 3 is on page 248, and it states that “the site design incorporates appropriate streetscaping treatment along the proposed Wellington Street extension. This treatment is to include hard and soft landscaping elements, in keeping with the importance of the Wellington Street extension being a major pedestrian and vehicular access to downtown.”
In the comment and response matrix, both myself (#92, page 54) and Mike Cole-Hamilton (#48, page 35) asked for a change to this wording. We were referred to issue 3 in section 2 of the matrix, which indicates that this section of the OP will be amended, if warranted, after the secondary plan is completed.
However, we’re still hoping for an adjustment that would reflect the uncertainty around the WSE. Maybe the last bit could be changed, the bit about the “importance” of the road. Perhaps remove the last phrase- “in keeping with the importance of the Wellington Street extension being a major pedestrian and vehicular access to downtown.”
At the very least, a cross-reference to the new Section 4.6.35.1, which acknowledges that the WSE will be examined as part of a secondary planning process, should be added here.
In Section 4.6.35: road “extensions” are now called “improvements”, and I don’t think that this change is appropriate. The WSE is included here, which in the minds of many in the community, and on council, is no “improvement”: as well, many of these projects involve the widening of roads or intersections, which may improve these spaces for vehicles but may also make them more difficult and dangerous for pedestrians. Please consider an alternative to the word “improvements”: perhaps renovations, alterations, changes, or possibly just “projects.”
Thank you very much.

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