Monday, September 7, 2009

Some Summer Reflections

For me, Labour Day always marks the end of summer, probably because where I grew up, school always started the next day. Technically, I know there's a couple of weeks left of summer, and certainly this year it didn't even feel like summer until last week, but to me, tomorrow will mark the first day of fall.

As if to emphasize the point, tomorrow's council meeting will be back at the regular time, 7 p.m. rather than 4 p.m. We were reminded at last week's executive meeting that we'll be expected to be back in "business" attire as well - back to the suit and tie.

So, looking back on this weather-challenged summer, what were some of my highlights? Well, I spent quite a bit of time working on the house this summer. After many years of thinking about it, we finally replaced our ancient boiler for a new, energy efficient model. Doing this required removing the old, asbestos-encased monster, which I did myself. I had to shave my beard (for those of you who might have wondered why I look different), so that I could have a tight seal around the safety mask as I removed the asbestos. The boiler itself had to be cut up - in total I hauled more than 600 kilograms of rusty metal out of the basement. The new boiler is about 1/4 the size of the old one, and is supposed to be 95% efficient. The plumber estimated the efficiency of the old one at maybe 20%. At the same time we replaced the water heater with an on-demand one that runs through the boiler. Although there were some glitches with start-up (when it's 29 degrees outside the rads inside shouldn't be warm), all appears to be working well. The guys from Mr. Plumber did a great job.

I also put in hardwood flooring in the upstairs hallway. Fortunately the subflooring was in decent shape, so I didn't have to remove everything down to the joists, as I did last year when I put in hardwood in the downstairs hallway. Much less inconvenience for everyone, and no cats fell through to the lower floor this time.

And if you've driven by, you may have seen me working to get an old Mercedes in running condition. I've always liked tinkering with cars, but this is the first major restoration I've done since I rebuilt a Volkswagen beetle when I was in high school. Actually, according to Andrea, when I'm working on the car I'm playing, since that's for fun. She gets an odd look in her eye when people ask about the Mercedes - if I'm not careful she'll pick up another cat as revenge.

I made it to the downtown events this year - the street fair in June, the Cinema for Change outdoor movie, also in June, and we're regulars at the farmers' market twice a week. Andrea's partial to the vine-ripened canteloupe; I've been picking up potatoes, beans, broccoli, zucchini. Despite the less than ideal growing season, the selection has been great. And Lyn Brown has some delightful flower-based spreads and dips that we have really enjoyed.

I make a point of attending these events because I believe that the only way to make the downtown a vital space is to use it as much as possible. I wish that I saw more of my council colleagues at these events. Council talks a great deal about revitalizing the downtown area, but we don't follow that talk up with enough action. I was very disappointed when the Business Improvement District lost their funding for the Downtown Ambassadors, who were a good, visible part of making the downtown a more comfortable place to be. While the city provides some funding to the BID, I don't think that we give nearly enough to a group that has proven to be very efficient and cost-effective, with their actions speaking more than their words. Perhaps if some of the old Neat and Clean funding had been directed towards the BID, they could have increased such things as garbage pick-up in the downtown area. Instead, Neat and Clean money went to such things as signs telling people not to litter (but without providing garbage cans), new furniture in the mayor's office, new carpeting and paint in City Hall, and new chairs in council chambers for both councillors and staff. And a program that was the focus of the first year of this council is sadly remembered as a considerable waste of money, and doesn't appear to have had any discernable effect outside of City Hall.

If I had a wish for the last eight weeks of this council, to try to improve our collective legacy, it would be that we become what we say we are - open and accountable, without discussing things secretly, then bringing them to council meetings as a done deal. We would be clear about what our goals are as a council, and, with the help of staff, set out plans for achieving those goals. Such things as setting out a timetable for paving all city streets, instead of continuing to oil in some areas, replacing lead service connections so that everyone's water is safe - these are the sorts of things that would give us a sense of accomplishment, and would make this city a better place to live.

"The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never scoring." - Bill Copeland

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