Friday, November 19, 2010

The basis of sound dialogue: 'the engagement of qualified opinions'

This week, I've been observing a lot of 'discussion'. Online, on television, and in the real world.

Online, there's been some fascinating stuff unfolding at Raise The Hammer, notably how people address 'disparate opinions' (referred to there as 'dealing with trolls') as well as the tendency to leap to conclusions and condemn...or as I like to describe it, 'the rampant need to vent pent-up anger'...which I tend to see as just another aspect of the 'entitlement' trend.

On television, I got a lot out of the presentation on MSNBC that had Lawrence O'Donnell, host of the late-night show 'The Last Word' co-hosting a town-hall meeting addressing immigration, specifically the Latino issue. There, 'disparate opinions' were dealt with quite well, even though the participants often had wildly opposing beliefs.

In the real world, I've watched how denial and avoidance and distraction can manifest themselves into ordinary, workaday situations...almost always to the person's detriment: nothing impacts Life quite as much as -the dearth of- communication.

The thing about communication, or discussion, or dialogue if you will, is that in order for it to exist, there has to be an exchange.

So far, regarding de-amalgamation of The City That Is Hamilton, there hasn't been any.

Oh, there's been conjecture.

There's been head-shaking dismissal.

And there's been scoffing.

But I haven't seen or heard any actual discussion, no dialogue, not even from our elected officials.

Here's my bottom-line: I'm not declaring that de-amalgamation has to be pushed through, that we're going to Hell in a hand-basket if we don't. And I don't have at my fingertips a thorough, detailed examination of all the components. In short, I'm not an expert, I'm not revving up a bandwagon that I'm extolling people to climb aboard, I've not engaged in any sloganeering.

What I am declaring that it's impossible to deal with an issue, any issue, to either dismiss it or begin to act on it until you've actually acknowledged that it deserves to addressed. Otherwise, what's going on? Arbitrarily deciding what issues have merit? Based on...? Based on what, exactly? Based on what seems important to you? Based on what you feel the most interest towards? Based on what you feel most comfortable about?

And this is how we govern ourselves? Based on what tastes best?

Look; ironically, I don't believe that it's our politicians who should be generating the momentum to properly examine the issue of de-amalgamation. (Left to their own devices, they never would. The proof's in the fact that nobody's sincerely and genuinely been asking those people who have the most at stake how they actually feel. Why not? Go back and read what I was just yammering on about regarding comfort levels) I believe that it's these very citizens -not just in the five 'ancillary' communities affixed by legislation to Hamilton, but in the old city itself- who must provide the impetus.

After all, in order for the will of the people to be obeyed, it must first be declared.


So regarding de-amalgamation, what we need is the generation of engagement of qualified opinions by our residents.

What we need in order for the dialogue to for the people to speak up.

And this is where my cynicism kicks in.

Actually, that doesn't matter one whit.

McGuinty makes it clear to Bratina he's not interested in de-amalgamation

That's the headline on page 16 of the Stoney Creek News this week. I can't find the article online at the SCN site...though this is what the Dundas News has as the article's headline online:

Mayor-elect Bratina, premier McGuinty meet for half an hour

Regardless of these differences/glitches, here's what's in the article regarding de-amalgamation:

Mayor-elect Bob Bratina met with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty last week and talked about de-amalgamation.

But Bratina said he didn’t bring up the hot-button subject when they met prior to McGuinty’s announcement at JNE Consulting about a new $5-million project to build solar panels and add 300 jobs in the city.

He said McGuinty pre-empted the soon to-be Hamilton mayor’s issue about deamalgamation, by pointing out the Liberals are against any de-amalgamation talk.

And as my 'headline' says, 'Actually, this doesn't matter one whit.'

The fact is that it's a no-brainer that the Premier is (purportedly) going to say something like this. Why would he be so foolish as to proceed with any other sort of soundbite, especially from a position of authority?


However, if he had five or ten thousand impassioned people in front of him, sufficiently impassioned by the desire for de-amalgamation, were he 'meeting' with them, I do not believe for a second that he would be able (or be foolish enough) to say "Sorry, I'm not interested in de-amalgamation', see ya."

The Politician's Default is to take the most pragmatic approach. To risk only what's required to be risked at any given moment. And part of what informs this default process is the degree to which pressure's being applied. In other words, 'The squeaky wheel gets the grease.' The corollaries to this are 'If you ignore it long enough, hopefully it'll just...go away,' and 'If you provide sufficient bureaucratic bulwarks to the democratic process, more often than not you'll find that pesky constituents give up and go home.'

So there's a few things to say here, from my Editorial Soapbox, anyway. And two have to do with lameness.

The first has to do with the notion that an esoteric issue such as de-amalgamation of a municipality is of no interest to the Premier. Even taking into account something getting lost in translation...from McGuinty to Bratina to the media to the SCN to the printed's lame.

The second has to do with the 'herding' technique used by the SCN in their print edition, wherein it's presented to the sheeple via the bold headline that 'This is the way it is. Move along, folks. There's nothing for you here...' Me using my 'Lame' stamp is reinforced by the fact that the remainder of the article has nothing to do with de-amalgamation. So while the headline implies that something substantive has been declared by the province's premier to the city's new mayor, substantive enough to warrant an article being headlined this way, the fact is that this just isn't the case at all. So once again, nothing has actually been 'discussed', no information has been presented, none of the elements qualified...nothing. Nothing at all. This 'non-discussion' continues as it has thus far: lips barely moving...and not one shred of cogency being uttered.

So this is where we'll see just how entrenched the 'de-amalgamation' movement really is, whether people who believe in this option will push the issue...or allow the bulwarks to rule.

(As an additional source, here's a Spec article from October 29th...rife with all manner of play-it-safe, 'We don't want to touch that!' comments. The funniest? "If Hamilton wanted to change that rule, the city would need to convince the province that deamalgamation wouldn't cause any financial or political strain." Um... I think I'm stuck in permanent spit-take mode.)

Thirdly, here's my challenge to the Hamilton Community News group, or The Spec: do an article, or better yet, a series of articles examining the impetus behind de-amalgamation, the costs, the benefits, the drawbacks.

To wit: either take this issue seriously...or stop mimicking the behaviour of bad politics by paying lip-service to something that many people in The Amalgamated City of Hamilton take very seriously.

And finally, my challenge to those same people is to get a little louder in talking the talk...and be prepared to start walking the walk.

Or cleave to your mainstream media herders once and for all on this issue.

Addendum: I was remiss in not actually addressing my 'headline', the subject of this editorial.

Whether or not Premier McGuinty has any 'interest' in de-amalgamation reveals a ton about the current state of governance. How our elected officials set the tone...when in fact, they shouldn't be, not arbitrarily. (But that's fodder for another article.) So I'll put it plainly for the Premier:'

While you may not be 'interested' in addressing this issue, while your provincial Liberal party may be 'against' any effort to either examine or put into play a de-amalgamation effort, the truth is that ultimately, it's not your decision to make. If there is sufficient groundswell towards de-amalgamation, if sufficient energies are expended to push in this direction, then whether or not you are 'interested', whether or not your party is 'for' or 'against' the notion will be rendered moot. Because in the end, it's the people who decide what it is they want, not a 'disinterested' politician. History is rife with those who were not 'interested' in listening; they're the ones whose mandates got rejected at the polls.

I'm just sayin'...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Thanks for the world-record spit-take, 'Morris'

Anonymous said...

How true of Cal DiFalco and The Hamiltonian. Freedom of Speech, this is what The Hamiltonian is about. This is what our great country is supposed to be about. Great Job Mr. DiFalco. Thank you for allowing our views and input on so many topics that affect our wonderful City. You should be commended and nominated for Citizen of the Year!!!!

Morris on behalf of many many Hamiltonians and Canadians.


That's all I can say. least for starters.

Yesterday I had two different coffee-conversations at two different locations with two different sets of table-mates. In each conversation, the profiles, mandates and behaviour of two of the online 'civic' blogs that I read -The Hamiltonian and Raise the Hammer- came up and were discussed to varying degrees. I actually played the role of 'advocate' in both situations, being the one to point out the merits of each site, attempting to offer up sympathetic explanations (bordering on 'cheerleading' at times) as to their respective functions, etc.

You might be wanting to ask 'Why would you bother to do this? You're an independent blogger, aren't you in competition with them?' And my answer would be simple: I believe in community. I believe in all of us having something to contribute to things being 'better'. The times when The Hamiltonian and Raise the Hammer have 'joined forces'...even if just to encourage people to get out and vote...or when, for example, Cal has commented on Ryan's site, have genuinely made me smile. Not because a shared opinion is being presented, or like-minds are on display, but because I believe that this 'cross-pollination' engenders the non-partisan, lets-get-real-dialogue-going mindset that prefaces things actually getting 'better'. Even as I recognize what each of them do, how they do it...and provide clues as to their ultimate intent.

For example, almost in toto, what Cal does is provide an issue for discussion...and then has his readers provide most of the actual editorial content. Though things might have changed slightly of late, this is the construct The Hamiltonian has front-and-center. Ryan, on the other hand, presents articles and editorials written either by himself or by contributors. Then, of course, the mic is passed around and people 'let loose the dogs of war'. (I have to say that the most disappointing element of RTH is the voting. To me, 'voting' has no part in any genuine discussion. Would you do that in real life? No. If you disagreed with something someone said, you'd counter it with your own argument...presumably in a hospitable and convivial way. You wouldn't stand there and yell 'Who thinks this guy's point is SHIT?!? Hands up if you want to 'downvote' this twerp!' If I had one suggestion for Ryan, as a casual, yet engaged observer, I'd say 'Get rid of the voting. PLEASE.') As for each blog's ultimate intent... Well, you can read what they each say about their site's mandate...but I don't happen to believe this tells the entire story.

Having said all this, I'm brought back to the comment made by one of The Hamiltonian's readers, the one that opens this post. And I'm going to address the vacuousness of the suggestion that 'Morris' makes, by reminding you of how The Hamiltonian does what it does. It is not an editorial production machine in the way that Raise the Hammer is. More to the point, Cal is no Ryan. I do not believe that there's much of anything of who and what Cal DiFalco is on The Hamiltonian. (And if there is...then he's certainly not a candidate for 'Citizen of the Year'.)

I repeat: The Hamiltonian's 'M.O.' is to present a notion, an issue, most often linking to an external source such as The Spec (oh, and while I'm saying those words, a gentle reminder to The Hamiltonian's Team of Moderators, who seemingly insist that commenters refer to the publication's name in its full form, 'The Spectator': here's their URL. When you go there, at the top, to the left? 'The Spec'. Please, stop being so cloyingly anal. You come off as a '3' dressed up as a '9'.) and then lets its readers perform the actual editorial function. Putting aside the fact that I have no way of determining what role Cal actually plays on his own site...which is actually kinda odd, given that he's put his photo front-and-center, a move that would be far more apropos for Ryan to do over at RTH...the fact is that there is no extant editorial presence. There is no 'leadership' to speak of...other than someone posting these issues, suggesting these topics for consideration...and then letting everyone 'have at it'.

So it's a little bizarre to see the kinds of sentiments that 'Morris' and others throw up. (I am not using this phrase advisedly, by the way.) During the election campaign there were more than a handful of instances when 'Cal for mayor!' cheers arose, when he was lauded, when he was championed. (Clearly, 'Morris' hadn't initiated my first spit-take.)

Which quite frankly made me wonder if these people had any more on the ball than those who voted 'by name recognition' in our recent election. And then there's the notion of this behaviour, these expressions of political awareness...on a certifiably laudable civic engagement site. Oi-friggin'-vey.

Look; I've met Cal. We had coffee together earlier this year, during which we had a very pleasant, quietly-revelatory meeting-of-the-minds. Subsequent to that, I've been fortunate to have had all manner of input concerning him presented me by third parties. (He is very active in certain arenas within his own community.) And finally, not to put too fine a point on it, one of the credos of writers everywhere has also been put into play regarding Cal, the one that says 'A person's true character isn't revealed in what they say, but in what they do.' And I'll leave it at that.

Even understanding that what I've said here might come across as 'sour grapes' (despite this assumption being woefully inaccurate and wildly ignorant of who I am and why I do what I do), I stand by what I've said here. Because the sentiments expressed by 'Morris' indicate to me the propensity for ill-informed, lazy 'cult of personality' thinking (I'm being generous) that is the exact opposite of what I value: informed, qualified opinions, resulting in substantive engagement...and by extension, the hope that there's a better chance of making things 'better'.

So to paraphrase that cute kid from the old Heinz Beans commercial, 'More substance, please!'

Friday, November 5, 2010

At some point down the road...

...Downtown Stoney Creek will be developed.

Properly developed, that is. (Because I'm not talking about a fountain-area seating provision. Or gussying up store fronts. Or correcting sidewalk wear-and-tear.)

And when it is, I'm sure that what Marianne Meed Ward, a recent Burlington Council candidate (she's since been elected) says, how she goes about saying it and the background issues she's addressing should be taken notice of and utilized for our own sakes.

Yes, she's got a ton of experience in media relations under her belt and is a very solid communicator. But more than this, she clearly understands how the Internet...through the use of YouTube and via her community site A Better Burlington...can enhance the dialogue between resident and Councillor.

I believe that this is the kind of straightforward approach that could have benefitted (and still could, for that matter) everyone involved in the Downtown Stoney Creek paid-parking discussion. A clear voice getting the salient facts out there...rather than bad reporting, a constantly inaccurate dissemination of half-truths and rumours that manages to add little good to the situation.

The Looming Issue...The Great Paradox


Speak the word out loud and it's fascinating to watch the reaction.

A rolling of the eyes.

A shaking of the head.

A clearing of the throat.

Maybe all three. Or...

A brightening of the listener's mood.

It all depends on what they have invested in its propagation.

Here's one thing I've come to learn about modern Life as it's being lived: people are resistant to acknowledging that something needs to be changed.

That is, admitting failure, conceding mistakes, being able to deal with the guilt and shame attached to 'turning the ship around'.

I've witnessed it with the American economy, where greed saw people purchasing houses they could not afford, the banking system looking for unreasonable profits through sub-prime mortgages and Wall Street using leverage techniques as if they were the stuff of magic. Even now, people are resistant to being honest about 'what got us here', and therefore, sound, honest solutions are not being effected.

But I've seen it on a much broader level, where people refuse to fathom that a 'consuming culture', not only being prone to pretty horrible cycles magnifying inherent flaws in its very concept, is in fact, doomed. So they're incapable of considering alternatives.

I've seen it with people not being able to accept responsibility for the the personal financial morass they find themselves in. Until a calamity descends.

I've seen it with people not being able to accept responsibility for the personal health crisis they've created. Until a calamity descends.

I've seen it with people not being able to accept responsibility for how their kids are being brought up-

Anyway, here's my belief in a nutshell: people don't want to consider that how things are just aren't the way they should be, because that would mean that they've been 'wrong' in their behaviour...and people in this modern world of ours simply do not want that degree of 'feel-bad'.

Personal responsibility.

It's the opposite of what our culture seems to stand for.

There seems to be a pretty hardcore resistance to even considering that amalgamation isn't working, that it's never worked, and that likely, it never will. (Never mind that many in the communities that were 'affixed' to the City of Hamilton have every right to not want to be part of this 'super-city', that they shouldn't have to defend their desire to return to autonomy.) But the most bizarre aspect of this situation is that nobody chose amalgamation. We had it foist upon us. So it's not like the psychology I've just presented should be sufficient enough a factor to have people dig in their heels so heartily.

Nevertheless, it's there. Politicians, even before understanding the costs, even before considering the benefits (um...they'd have to be acknowledged, first...), even before assessing how things might be done regarding strategic uses of resources across the board...refuse to act like the elected officials they are, and instead roll their eyes, shake their heads and try to remonstrate the questioner. (Some in fact actually shift into 'lecture' mode.)

I think I've been pretty clear about how I feel about amalgamation in the editorials I've posted here. As someone who was born in Hamilton, brought up in Stoney Creek and lived a sizable portion of his life in the area-in-general, I can admit my loyalties are both split...and unified.

I believe that what Hamilton needs to do to secure a better future requires that its efforts, its resources be applied in a non-compromising way. That its reinvention, its rejuvenation -especially its downtown core- not be hindered by having to 'defend' its mandates to the peripheral partners in this current iteration of the city.

Similarly, I don't believe that the 'satellite' entities such as Stoney Creek should have to, for even one second kowtow to 'the greater good', nor should they have to apologize for feeling that they shouldn't. Further, that they deserve the right to continue their own standalone heritages, to be proud of what and who they are, and not have their own energies drained off...when it wasn't their choice to be corralled into the ├╝ber-dynamic in the first place.

Hamilton deserves to address its own needs. So do Stoney Creek, Dundas, Ancaster, Flamborough and Glanbrook.

Virtually nothing in our world is 'impossible'. (Though, as Hamilton has become the 'can't do' community, we all may have convinced ourselves that this is the case.) So don't for a second believe anyone who tries to tell you that de-amalgamating is 'impossible'. More to the truth: they can't be bothered to try to get their head around the notion.

But no decision regarding de-amalgamation can be made before a) investigating the costs, b) determining the possible ramifications and benefits of a new paradigm, and c) how the residents of all the involved entities genuinely feel about the prospect of a fresh, independent start.

At the end of the day, if we can be honest about everything associated with de-amalgamation, then we might just be able to forge a new, brighter future.

But I have to admit that the impetus will have to come from us, the residents. After all, if our elected officials can't do something as practical as choose a site for the Pan Am Games stadium, then it's highly unlikely that they're going to be able to deal with something as conceptual as how we feel about where we live and how we live our lives there.

Courage on the Periphery

In this week's editions of the Hamilton Community News (including the Stoney Creek News), there's a very thoughtful, well-considered...if essentially heretical staff-generated editorial entitled 'Bratina has mandate'. (I"m linking to the Hamilton Mountain News version because as I write this, the SCN site has yet to be updated.)

I heartily encourage you to read it, because the topic is de-amalgamation.

There are two things I know for sure about this subject. One, almost nobody wants to discuss it. They do not, under any circumstances, want this can of worms opened. (I tend to believe that most of these 'resisters' are from within the original City of Hamilton.) Two, that nobody I've heard respond to questions about it have any solid numbers at their disposal required to answer the questions 'Is it possible?' and 'What will it cost?' Therefore, the more prudent response to both questions is 'I don't know.' (But politicians have a very hard time saying those words. Clearly fodder for another editorial.)

Despite how some would like to shake their heads, mutter something like 'Other more pressing issues...' and the such, the truth is that, as the Staff Editorial declares:

"Failing to address the ails of amalgamation is poor municipal management. If there is a better way, why not seek to find it?"

As this discussion deserves a great dollop of attention, I'll leave you to read the HCN editorial, and return soon with more of my take on it all.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What are the limits to democracy? A few questions to ponder.

To what extent should any group of people in any particular place in Canada decide what happens in their backyard?

Why do we have people representing us at the various levels of government if not to execute the best decisions for the greater good of us all?

Is it possible for the average person to possess the scope, the perspective, the general understanding of sometimes nebulous contributing factors to be able to make decisions on all levels? (And if not, is there an identifiable level of general capability?)

What happens when people do not or cannot see -or comprehend- something, a concept, a strategic implication, how integral something is to a much, much larger plan, yet the ultimate truth is that this 'thing' is vital to their future welfare?

How would things unfold if almost everything was decided by plebiscite?

Is there an analogy to be made between 'the people getting their way' and a household of children running the show, constantly vetoing their parents?

Moreover, how would Hamilton look right now if a process had been in place over the past two decades where residents had been allowed more input into (read that as 'control of') the decision-making process?

Would the average person even want this kind of participation, given the 40% voter turnout rate for the election just past?

Mea culpa; I should have done my homework

Recently as a result of an article on Raise the Hammer, I found out that my longstanding suggestion of utilizing the 'superproperty' of Ivor Wynne Stadium and Scott Park for a 'new' stadium...has one major flaw: that the school is not vacant.


Here's the website for the National Art College of Canada (NACC).

Here's an article from The Spec.

And here's a topic at

For someone who is quite adamant about people forming 'qualified opinions', I really cocked things up this time.

Have faith that I'll come up with a suitable punishment for myself. (Maybe I'll force myself to have coffee with a cadre of defeated candidates from the last election. LOL)

Kudos to Cal DiFalco and staff...and a wish

The Hamiltonian has a great article front-and-center right now, 'Public Facades, Shadow Planning and Make Believe Consultations'. I strongly encourage you to read it, especially the Comments section.

In post-election discussions with friends, 'What's next?' has been the primary theme.

Not so much in regards to Mayor Bratina and the potential soap opera Council might become, but how the 'external players' in our city, those who have long held up torches consistently and admirably might be proceeding forward.

Specifically Ryan McGreal, Editor of Raise the Hammer and Matt Jelly, civic activist and candidate for Ward 2 in the election.

Well, this issue is certainly something I'd love to see both sink their teeth into next, because it seems to typify what's wrong with our system, seemingly going beyond the machinations of City Council. (I don't mean to exclude The Hamiltonian or diminish its importance in driving efforts forward, but they have a very specific approach to how they do what they do, and while I applaud the resultant efforts regularly, I feel the design has its limitations.)

Here's something that was said to me privately:

"This is something we should all be hammering on. It's good that they asked people to cite examples on The Hamiltonian...and as the comments come in, the main stream media should be hopping all over it."

Of course, MSM won't...which is why we need the Matt Jellys and the Ryan McGreals to be 'hammering on' this issue.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Yes, it's *that* topic once again...

Recently, I wrote an email. The subject was 'Regarding the Downtown Stoney Creek paid-parking issue...' I wrote it because of pointed references to the issue during the election campaign, notably during at least one of the debates, not because I have any desire to yammer on additionally.

I wrote it because these days I'm especially sensitive about information being passed around in discussions that has more in common with myth than it does with fact, about issues ending up being burdened by ignorance and emotion rather than understanding and a willingness to craft genuine solutions. I saw it in our election, but I've been additionally witnessing it the mid-term elections in the US as well as in pedestrian Life-stuff that unfolds unceasingly each and every day. I'm sensitive to it not because I want people to share the opinions that I have, but because I want the opinions they voice to be the result of having become sufficiently informed about a subject to be able to end up with what I have long referred to as a 'qualified opinion'. Otherwise, what we have is dialogue rife with inaccuracies, irrational thought and anger. What we have is a lot of inane shouting. And from what I've picked up so far on this journey, those aren't things conducive to much of anything constructive.

Anyway, here's an expurgated/edited version of the email:

1) Different areas of the City of Hamilton *should* be afforded the opportunity to be treated 'distinctly'. This is called 'good management', the idea of addressing each situation objectively, especially when you're trying to get the most out of it, and not just imposing some autocratic solution for expediency's sake. Clearly, even an enlightened approach requires limits. You have to have certain levels of consistency, and yes, given the tendency for certain human foibles to rise up, this approach lends itself to favouritism, etc. So yes, it should be safeguarded from abuse, its wielding requires discretion and insight, but to have a cookie-cutting philosophy where trying to foster vibrancy, where attempting to bring about resiliency in a vulnerable commercial area is incredibly ill-advised. (I won't inject the whole notion of 'this is Stoney Creek, not Dundas, not Ancaster and certainly not Hamilton'...but it's there, regardless.)

When an area has a specific personality, when it requires some degree of honest objectivity in its management, defaulting to an uninspired -and uninspiring- arbitrary approach is at the very least unwise, and really, to me, foolish. (No matter what your civil servants, your mid-level know, those who are not elected to serve the people...might tell you.) This is the case with Downtown Stoney Creek, which deserves to be looked at within the context of its own needs, its own requirements...which frankly might be vastly different in five or ten years. But to insist that 'We need to have everyone operating under the same set of rules', when the execution of such an approach might deleteriously impact an area, is folly.

2) The whole discussion of parking in Downtown Stoney Creek has elements that I suspect some are either unwilling to concede the existence or the examination of, instead relying on ill-founded grievances against The Big Bad City, yet another manifestation of the 'Us vs Them' mentality. Here's how I see the various elements at play:

-The Health Sciences building on Mountain Avenue South was not constructed with sufficient parking. Apparently they were granted a broad enough variance/exemption back in the day. So currently, visits to the professionals in this building make up an inordinate number of Municipal Lot #3 spaces being used. This skews the entire situation...especially given that 'There's no 'there', there' where the existence of an actual 'downtown' is concerned. (I'll deal with this presently.) To me, the bottom-line is that there should have been sufficient parking provided for at least 75% of its patrons, and I'd say that really should have been more like 90%. (No, this does not take into account increased patient traffic over the years, but then I can't grasp the logic in having this burden passed onto other Downtown Stoney Creek patrons, which is precisely what's happening.) So this factor affects the situation immensely...and yet it's something I don't recall seeing having been put in the spotlight in the news coverage. (I'll deal more the Health Sciences building in a bit.)

-There is a lack of employee parking for those people who work in Downtown Stoney Creek. My belief is that an entirely new approach needs to be taken by the City in terms of parking permits; nobody should have to be moving their car three, four times a day as many employees currently do. This is beyond unacceptable, and surely runs contrary to the slogan 'We're open for business!' (As is the notion that 'they should be taking transit; when our regional system has the penetration and the service to allow anyone to live anywhere while being able to commute anywhere, then we can look at this concept. Before that's unfolded in front of us, this is a wholly inappropriate response.)

Yes, this is a legacy situation, in that there's probably never been 'enough' parking for those working at the various businesses along King Street. However, in one of my proposals for the reinvention and rejuvenation of the downtown, I provided solutions to this problem, and hand-in-hand with a new parking permits proposal for Lot #3, we could once and for all be done with this dilemma. (I feel the need to add here that we really need to be aware of the cause-and-effect of having businesses established that have massive employee parking requirements. This makes no sense at matter how wonderful it is when we get someone putting down roots.)

-During the months and months that the 'parking brouhaha' was front-and-center in town (especially in the Stoney Creek News) the main concerns regarding the impact of metered parking had to do with a) the Royal Canadian Legion, b) the Community Food Bank and c) the Seniors' Outreach Service. At the risk of pissing off a lot of people, to me these were non-issues. Why? Well, if any discussion about paid-parking has non-commercial players at the fore...that is, retailers and restaurants, who, if it's not abundantly understood, should make up at least three-quarters of the businesses on any 'Main Street'...then you know something's amiss. (Besides, aren't two of these entities going to be relocated into another ward with the impending closure of The Fire Hall, and the third quite capable of relocating if necessary, which rumour had it was imminent had Lot #3 been metered...?) Which leads to my final point...

-If you have a vibrant downtown, a shopping area that has anchor tenants, key players that drive business, a true 'destination location', then paying a buck for an hour's worth of street parking is not going to be a concern. Go to any street in Ontario where there are successfully busy shops and restaurants and cinemas and theatres and you'll see that when people are genuinely drawn to be there, paying for parking is a non-issue. Unfortunately, we don't have this in Downtown Stoney Creek, as you'll know from the plethora of articles I've written on my site...including the posts where I've entirely redesigned the downtown from top to bottom. (I need to say something particularly blunt here: if the Health Sciences building left, if they relocated and the site was razed and reused, I'd get down on my knees and praise the heavens. Especially if it coincided with the downtown finally being turned around, being potentialized, something that it really hasn't been for about forty-five years. As it stands, it's no longer suitable location for such a facility, not after four decades, not if we're being brutally honest about Downtown Stoney Creek's needs. But then there are at least three other 'foundation' businesses I'd love to see gone, bulldozed in order to make room for what's required for our core's genuine resurrection, so I'm hardly picking on the Health Sciences people.) In short, the residents of 'The Golden Square Mile' deserve a proper downtown...even more than they deserve 'free parking'.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Over at The Stoney Creek News...

This week's Stoney Creek News has a solid editorial I highly recommend you read, 'Voters send another mayor off the plank'. Mark deals with several different election-related issues, including a general overview, the endorsement policy of the Hamilton Community News regarding candidates, and finally, voter turnout. I like what he wrote, except for the conclusion he comes to here:

"We have to look at new ways to target voter apathy. Almost every municipality in Ontario has tested alternative voting methods, from mail-in ballots to online voting.

This is the only way we will ever see an increase in turnout for local elections."

Naturally, I disagree.

Alternative voting methods being the answer to poor turnout assumes that people aren't voting because of 'inconvenience'. I think this is a fallacious assumption. This isn't like cutting down on littering by providing more trash cans. But even if it were, I'm not so sure that if we could find the ultimate form of secure, hassle-free voting that we'd have votes being cast as a result of informed, qualified opinions having been created. What would probably result would reflect the ease of execution and nothing more.

In fact, I'll take this one step further, and say that just as Facebook and Twitter and cell phone use have made us erroneously believe that our levels of intimacy have risen (they haven't; the only solid conclusion you can draw from an increase in the instances of communication is...that there's been an increase in the instances of communication), that more profound depths of engagement between people are the norm, easier voting options wouldn't accomplish anything worth being proud of, other than raising the turnout level of casually-fashioned votes.

But I am intrigued by this statement:

"Our job over the next four years will be to continue and educate the public about why the municipal level of government is so important, and why people should vote."

It sounds like Mark is committing Metroland to being proactive about changing the landscape, affecting some change where attitudes regarding local governance is concerned. This is heartening, even before I hear the details.

In the next while, I'll hopefully be presenting a proposal to Ward 9, 10 and 11 Councillors Brad Clark, Maria Pearson and Brenda Johnson as well as the Stoney Creek News, the Stoney Creek Chamber of Commerce, the Stoney Creek Downtown BIA as well as some foundation community groups. My intent will be to get them on board with a multi-faceted initiative, one designed to begin addressing how we can increase the relationship of engagement between Stoney Creek residents and their Councillors. The ultimate goal of this initiative? Nothing less than beginning the creation of a far more functional and resilient environment in which all citizens can contribute towards a greater quality of Life by way of local governance.

So; what do *I* think happened...?

As I've noted, there's a fair amount of discussion/grumbling/kvetching about the results of our recent election. Lots of blame being spread around, tons of incredulity, an abundance of cynicism bordering on nihilistic fatalism being swum in.

Here's my take:

1) I believe that Bob Bratina was put in office primarily by the 55+ demographic. Those who were 'familiar' with him as a broadcaster, felt kinship, got all warm-and-fuzzy with the prospect of him as their choice rather than someone they'd probably wished they could have had faith in one more time but just couldn't make the leap (Fred Eisenberger) or someone they'd probably wished they could have trusted (Larry Di Ianni). People in this age bracket traditionally boast a higher turnout rate, so their numbers carried the day.

2) I believe that those of us who spend time discussing local politics online, on sites like Raise the Hammer and The Hamiltonian and CATCH and even The Spec are, though a sometimes a passionately raucous lot, 'we' are nevertheless a small, very small, indisputably small portion of the voting population. (The proof is in the pudding so many are making poopy-faces at.) The consensus that I observed throughout the campaign was that the overwhelming majority of 'us' wanted most incumbents out...and certainly wouldn't have voted for Bratina for mayor. So as informed and engaged and seemingly pro-active as 'we' are, the truth is that there aren't yet enough of 'us' to make a difference. (I could go to the effort of showing you what the results would have been if, for the sake of argument, 'our' numbers matched 'Those of The Many'...but I'm sure that it's pretty obvious, so I'll save both of us the time.)

3) People are, by-and-large, incredibly apathetic about their local governance. Even when they cast votes, they're not the result of having produced an informed, qualified opinion as to who the best choice is. (Please don't take this as me saying people should be voting how I think they should be voting. Different reference points entirely. I want people to be casting votes based on Sy Sym's motto: 'An educated consumer is our best customer.' Right now? Not even close.) Low turnout -40% when it ought to be closer to 90%- and making decisions based on 'name recognition' and the election equivalent of 'comfort food' does not make for anything to be proud of. Yes, it's democracy in action. But seriously? We need a new playbook. A new paradigm, a shift to a more proactive, more participatory, more 'it takes a village to ensure its Quality of Life' value system.

Though this Living Colour song takes a much broader look at society than I am, the basic premise is the same: substance is ignored in the name of worshiping at the altar of fluff. And the sacrifice being made at that altar? Self-respect, dignity and common sense.

We deserve to have better. We can do better. We must make things better. Us. Not the government, not our elected