Before I registered as a candidate for this election, I checked the candidates list for Ward 5 and found one by the name of Eno Loci. He has since withdrawn from the race but his campaign website is still online where his banner slogan Etobicoke is Our Community – Let’s take it Back caught my eye. He didn’t back up these words up with any substance whatsoever so it’s hard to tell exactly how he would have gone about taking back our community. Nonetheless, I found it intriguing that someone else might have been thinking along the same lines as me.
Throughout this campaign, I’ve been talking about civic engagement which in a sense is all about taking back our community. But what does it actually mean and what would it look like?
If you Google “Civic Engagement”, you’ll basically get the same definition with minor variances. Leave it to a contributor to Wikipedia to summarize it best with the two following passages:
“Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern. Civic engagement has many elements, but in its most basic sense it is about decision making, or governance over who, how, and by whom a community’s resources will be allocated.
Civic engagement is a community builder. When civic engagement is done properly, you begin to build the community and the participation within the local side of government. Civic engagement and community work is basically a side by side concurrence that together can each help to grow your community and help start off with a strong foundation for the role of government.
I’m an optimist by nature and often argue that Canadians have generally been well governed; that Ward 5, Toronto, Ontario, and Canada just didn’t happen. Fundamentally, it’s the politicians at all levels of government that create the laws, institutions, and public services that allowed us to flourish. Of course there are peaks and valleys in the quality of our governance over the years and admittedly the last four have not been that great in Toronto nor in this ward. So it’s easy to understand how many residents become cynical and choose to tune out. However, trends are often reversed when the right set of politicians come along and that includes Ward Councillors. If people believe they can make a difference, then many of them will try. Cancelling the Spadina Expressway and saving Old City Hall come to mind.
As you know by now, my biggest election issue is the intensification of Etobicoke Centre. The Province and the City are determined to intensify it whereas I want to rally to the residents to plan a true mixed use community with as many urban amenities as possible including civic and public spaces. I refer to this loosely as ‘urbanization’. The same could be said about The Queensway but at a reduced scale. This process would require the following civic engagement by the residents of Ward 5.
1. There are just over 400 streets in Ward 5. Not all of them are residential and many include only apartments and residential towers. My staff and I would actively canvass and recruit a ‘Champion’ from each residential street and tower.
2. Champions would be volunteers or appointees that represent their respective streets or towers and would serve as consultants and communicators with the support of my staff. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect two or three hundred Champions to step up – especially early in the term.
3. The first order of business would be to get as many residents to sign a petition to stop the City from issuing any new development permits in Etobicoke Centre. Champions would play a key role in this effort. 20,000 signatures on such a petition would surely draw attention to our demands.
4. The next order of business would be to have the City Planning Department build a scale model of Etobicoke Centre as it exists. I spoke to a city planner and this can be done. The model would be displayed at various public locations for residents to view and formulate opinions on our requirements.
5. Several community town hall meetings would be held at various places throughout the ward attended primarily by the Street and Tower Champions but also open to the general public. The Champions would then relate the wishes and requirements obtained from their respective residents.
6. Using the Development Permit System, support of City Planning Staff, and community town hall meetings, we would eventually develop a new plan and scale model for Etobicoke Centre. If the plan meets certain targets and then gets approved by City Council, it would then replace the existing Official Secondary Plan for Etobicoke Center. If this process takes three or four years to complete, then so be it. This would be a brief pause given that whatever gets built should last a century or two. (Note that city planners would welcome this opportunity to apply their skills and training to real urban planning rather than mostly reviewing condo proposals and preparing for Ontario Municipal Board appeals.)
People have asked me if civic engagement at this scale is even a practical and realistic approach. My first response is that anything less would be throwing in the towel and hoping for the best. My fear is that we would simply be getting more of the same of what we’re already seeing. Second, the process, once in place, could be used to resolve other local issues as well. And finally, wouldn’t you prefer to live in a community where such civic engagement exists and works? I’m not proposing that 20 or 30 thousand people actively participate in this process and show up at town hall meetings. That wouldn’t be possible nor practical. But a critical mass of two or three hundred Champions each supported by five or ten concerned residents would surely produce better results than what we’re getting now. I’m up for the task. Are you?