Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tales from the Road

The past three weeks I've been away. Andrea and I took our annual trip back to Ontario to remind our relatives what we look like, catch up with old friends, enjoy the fall colours, and do a bit of sight-seeing. I've noticed that, since I've been on council, I look at the places we visit slightly differently. I see things that work in other communities, and wonder if the same initiatives might help to solve some of Prince Albert's problems.

We spent a couple of days in Stratford, enjoying three plays and just walking around one of the prettiest cities I've ever been in, with lots of old trees, beautiful gardens, and big old houses. More than fifty years ago this city, which had relied on manufacturing and being a centre for rail transport for its livelihood, was starting to die. Visionaries, including its city council, thought of starting a Shakespearean festival. Sensibly, they started small, with just two plays, over a six week season, in a large tent. They were able to build on a series of small successes, to a point where the season now runs from May to November, during which four theatres present about a dozen plays of various types, from Shakespeare through musicals through experimental. And the festival and its theatres do not rely on taxpayer support. The hospitality industry essential for the festival - restaurants, hotels, bed and breakfasts, an amazing variety of stores - also thrives. It's a very clean city, I think partly because residents are very aware of the importance of keeping streets attractive to keep tourists coming back, and partly because it's easy to find a spot for your garbage - the downtown has many attractive garbage receptacles that have a similar design to the many benches and bicycle racks. We felt very safe there - we picked our B&B so that we could walk to the theatres, and even returning late at night from the downtown, we had no concerns. It's a great example of how a city can reinvent itself and become a major tourist destination for people all across North America.

We spent a few days in and around Toronto, and had the chance to read the papers there to find out what the issues are in the mega-city. One that hit home for me was the current initiative in Toronto to help solve their garbage situation - a serious problem for a city of almost three million people without any empty space close by. They are starting to charge residents for garbage disposal, but have a three-level system. Residents select what size of garbage container they think they will need - small, medium or large - and are charged accordingly. They are also given a couple of extra tags to use during the year, for occasions when they may have more garbage than usual. Anything that is put out that doesn't fit in the bin or doesn't have a special tag - the resident is charged extra. Of course, Toronto also has blue bins, which take a great deal of what we would consider as just general garbage - not just paper, cardboard, bottles and pop cans, but also tin cans, glass jars, egg cartons, and similar materials, which would greatly minimize what had to be put in the garbage, especially if you compost. The other thing that I found interesting was that the city realized that they were going to be short of bins, and were careful to explain that nobody would have to pay for a bin before they received one, and that they would be given additional tags so that they wouldn't be charged extra. They expected to have enough bins within a couple of months - I sure wish that Prince Albert could have found their supplier.

One of the things about travel is that, wonderful as it is to see different places and have different experiences, it also makes you appreciate your own home. I don't miss the traffic, or the noise, or the crowds, of southern Ontario. I appreciate being only a five minute walk from City Hall, unlike the much longer and more frustrating commutes of most of our relatives. And I like being greeted by friends when I go downtown, to the library, or grocery shopping. Prince Albert is a good place to live; we need to work together to make it even better.

"There's no place like home; there's no place like home." - Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz)

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