A small turnout greeted the downtown councilor and city staff for a public meeting this week to discuss waterfront development and traffic issues. We know residents care about these issues – more than a 100 people have attended each of our last 2 meetings – so what gives?
Two thoughts come to mind. First, the meeting was poorly publicized at the last minute – a recurring theme at City Hall. Most of us only learned days before about the meeting, held Wed. Nov. 25, and a number of people heard about it from an email we circulated. Turnout would have been even lower without our efforts to spread the word. The city needs to do a better job.
City Talks, But Doesn’t Listen
Second, and this is more likely, residents have heard this song and dance before. These public meetings are mostly about residents listening to city officials defend their plans, rather than an opportunity for city officials to listen to the views of residents. The format is mostly question and answer – we ask, they answer – and there’s virtually no opportunity for dialogue and debate.
Wednesday evening was more of the same. We heard how Burlington is growing, that we need more people downtown, that the Old Lakeshore Road area of our waterfront is an eyesore waiting for redevelopment.
We get that. In fact, we even agree. This may come as a shock to our city council and staff, but it shouldn’t if they’ve been paying attention to the comments from our 2000 members across the city.
City Needs More Faith in Community Input
What’s the right development? Ask residents. The community wasn’t meaningfully and broadly consulted before decisions were made. If councilors sought opinions of residents not just downtown but across town – and really listened – they’d find a lot of diverse and creative ideas. We’ll be posting an online poll soon, for you to weigh in on what you’d like to see along the waterfront. Watch for that.
What’s the right place for development? A number of possibilities exist, even in the downtown. This isn’t about moving growth to someone else’s backyard, although many of our members – 70% of whom live outside the downtown – have said they would welcome growth in their areas if it meant protecting the waterfront for the whole city.
The right development in the right place – these are exactly the conversations and debates we need to be having city-wide. One of the side benefits of Save Our Waterfront has been to foster and encourage that debate. As a result of our efforts to raise awareness, many people have emailed or met with their councilor and city staff, read information on ours and the city’s website, and attended public meetings. Even if we ultimately agree to disagree on some issues, this dialogue and debate is good for our democracy.
More Waterfront Challenges
What to do along the Old Lakeshore Road area is just one of several issues in the downtown and along our waterfront that we need to be discussing. Some of the others include:
- plans to plunk the historic Freeman Station in the West end of Spencer Smith Park. At the public meetings I’ve attended, residents have rightly suggested there are better places for the station, and we need to figure out what we’re going to use it for before selecting a site. But filling up our waterfront park with more buildings isn’t a good idea.
- plans for a $9 million expansion of the Joseph Brant Museum, just beyond the West end of Spencer Smith. The massive expansion would cover almost all the greenspace on that corner, a prominent intersection of North Shore, Maple and Lakeshore, and key entry point to our waterfront.
Watch for more details about these developments in an upcoming post.
Clearly there is a lot to talk about. That’s one of the reasons Save Our Waterfront is asking for a Citizens Advisory Committee on the Waterfront – to seek and capture the creativity of residents to develop a better plan for the waterfront, beyond the narrow interests of developers and a dozen people on staff and council at City Hall.
It was particularly troubling, one of the residents told me after the meeting, to hear our city planner talk favourably about the need to make deals with developers. What about making deals with citizens – to protect our interests?
The city’s vision for towers on the waterfront is not the community’s vision of the right development in the right place. We can do better.
We learned that at one time Old Lakeshore Road was envisaged as a heritage-based “entertainment district,” and staff originally proposed lower densities in that area. One thinks of the Distillery District in Toronto and elsewhere that have revitalized historic neighborhoods and made them tourist attractions. We’re wondering how that dropped off the table in Burlington.
Request for a Citizen’s Advisory Committee
There are so many possibilities to get it right along our waterfront, and there are many issues beyond the Old Lakeshore Road area. That’s why we’ll continue to press for community consultation.
Members of Save Our Waterfront are meeting with the downtown and Ward 5 councillors on Monday, Nov. 30 to find out whether they will support an Advisory Committee. So turn up the pressure this weekend. Write or call your councillor to:
1-support a hold on development in Old Lakeshore Road, until
2-meaningful city-wide consultation can take place, including but not limited to
3-a Citizens Advisory Committee on the Waterfront.
We’ll keep you posted on what happens.
But we know we have our work cut out for us. At Wednesday’s meeting the downtown councilor said he is “not about to ask council to reverse the Official Plan.”
If our council won’t change as a result of public feedback, then the public needs to change council. We’ll have our chance in 2010.