The public meeting for Ward Three, that I talked about a month ago, was held last Thursday evening. This is one of a series of public meetings, arranged by the Director of Planning for the city. His current plan is to hold a meeting in each ward (so far meetings have been held in Wards One, Four and Three), with the last meeting held in late October for Ward Two. He then intends to complete the community plan, and bring it to council for approval. Councillors were not involved in the planning of the meetings, and although I made some suggestions as to meeting content and notice, for the most part they were ignored.
Attendance at the first meeting in Ward One was quite good, probably because flyers were dropped in all the mailboxes in the ward well before the meeting. There was no such notice for the Ward Four meeting, which resulted in only about four ward residents being at the meeting - the remainder of people there were either city staff, councillors, or political candidates.
On Thursday, the day of the meeting, Andrea came home at lunch to find a flyer about the meeting in our mailbox - not the best timing, but better late than never. As a result, about fifty ward residents showed up, although I did get a couple of emails after the meeting justifiably complaining about the short notice.
I had suggested that if we wanted to focus these meetings, it would be helpful for a large map to be made, showing where city amenities are. Not only would this provide a starting point for discussions, but it would also illustrate the disparity among wards - and perhaps get council to a point where we could agree that there should be a baseline of amenities for all wards - not all wards have all paved streets, for example, or sidewalks, or parks, or city-built splash parks. Unfortunately, this didn't happen, but I still think that it's a good idea.
Most of the issues raised were issues that I have raised at council - the lack of roll-out garbage bins, derelict housing, poor back alley maintenance, discarded needles in streets and playgrounds, lack of police presence. The only new thing that I heard was one resident asking about the possibility of raising chickens. While I agree that there may be issues with trying this out, I also know that one of my daughter's neighbours in Saskatoon keeps chickens (yes, contrary to bylaw), and they cause no problems at all. Rather than just say no, how about we look at the potential issues, and see what policies need to be put in place to solve those issues before they start. Knowing the woman in question, I'm quite sure that her chickens would not be a nuisance to anyone.
The city manager was at the meeting, and I hope that one of his takeaways from the meeting was that it's not just me raising these issues - they are legitimate concerns of the people that I represent. The people of Ward Three pay taxes like other city residents, and their concerns deserve to be heard and addressed just like those of residents in other parts of the city. For example, for several years I've been advocating for an increase in the budget for back alley maintenance. It's a little discouraging to hear other councillors refuse to support such an increase, because they don't have the same number of back alleys, and in any case, the back alleys in their ward are paved. We're supposed to have a broader perspective than that.
I was also glad to see Councillor Miller and Councillor Orr at the meeting, as they were at the other two meetings. It's good to see that some councillors realize that their job isn't just to represent the residents of their wards, but also to see and hear the concerns of other parts of the city. I plan on attending as many of these meetings as I can, and I hope that the director of planning realizes that if you want people to come to meetings, you have to let them know about the meetings, well in advance, and not rely on social media to do the job for you.
This meeting was just a starting point. I think that we need more meetings before any recommendations make it into the final community plan, which is the director of planning's goal for using this information. Rather than making assumptions as to what the best solutions to the various problems identified would be, I think that it would be well worth the effort to come back to each ward with a draft plan, to confirm with the people who live there that these are ideas that are worth trying. That's because no matter how much expertise city staff may have, the people who have to live with the results are the residents. Otherwise, these meetings will turn out to have wasted everybody's time.
"If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be 'meetings'." - Dave Barry