If you've seen me cycling around town at all, chances are it was on this green bike of mine. Even though I have a couple of different bikes, this bike is my favourite and it really just makes me so happy to be out riding it. Some folks have asked me about when and why I got it. I thought I'd share a few of those reasons here.
It actually starts with a sad moment when my grandma passed away in 2017. She lived a full life though, living into her mid-nineties. Shortly after her passing, my mom informed me that grandma had left me a bit of money with which I was to do 'something fun'. I wasn't sure exactly what that would be.
I wanted to use it in a way that would make me think of my grandma. I thought of the fun times I had visiting her on her Manitoba farmhouse and all of the hours we spent in her big garden there. I wondered if I should do something in my garden with her financial contribution. But I have never had a strong green thumb and I wasn't sure that any gardening additions would qualify as 'something fun' for me!
I recalled the many tasty dishes we created in that farmhouse kitchen, often with recently collected fruits and vegetables from the garden. Maybe I should make a kitchen purchase, I wondered. However, much like a gardening addition, I suspected I would not do much justice with such a purchase.
This is part 2 of my posts on the snow clearing pilot project (you can read part 1 here). This one focuses on the appendices of the report.
Appendix A looks at weather patterns from last winter compared to the previous 5 winters. Last year, it looks like we had more days with snowfall between 2 and 8 cm and about the same number with snow events greater than 8 cm. Last year also looked slightly warmer than the average of the previous 5 years.
Appendix B is the proactive bylaw enforcement information pamphlet. Appendices C, D, and E are pilot area maps. Appendix F is the report on the survey.
According to the survey summary, residents are split on whether they support a tax increase to have the city take more responsibility for sidewalk snow clearing.
Appendix G is the focus groups report. Summary below. (Sorry the image is not more clear).
The focus group report outlines participants beliefs about city obligations and also about the value of calling by-law in response to unclear sidewalks. (Hint: most are hesitant to do so).
This quotation by a participant sums up why people are hesitant to call by-law.
The focus group also reached out to individuals not in either pilot. Overall, they preferred the full-service option compared to the snow event option, but had concerns about overall costs and whether the city could complete the work.
Interesting to note that the people who experienced the full service didn’t have either of these concerns.
This really sums up where things are and I think it’s important to note that many of the concerns about the full-service option were based on perceptions that the pilot participants tended to say were not actually an issue.
I have heard a few people say this but as a community, we haven’t come up with something yet that works as well as the full-service pilot.
That's it for the appendices. This goes to Committee on Aug 31st and then to Council on Sept 14th. You can reach out to your councillor prior to then if you'd like to provide any feedback on the pilot. Thanks for reading!
Earlier this week, I shared on Twitter some of the main points from the staff report on snow clearing. Some folks said they found it helpful (because not everyone wants to read a 100+ page staff report apparently!) so I thought I would share those highlights here as well. From my Twitter thread:
It may be scorching hot out but the City of Kitchener is discussing its plans for winter sidewalk maintenance soon. On Aug 31st the issue will be discussed at Committee and then it goes to Council on Sept 14th. You can read the staff report here, which does not recommend city sidewalk snow clearing.
Here’s a few conclusions from the staff report.
A quick overview of staff’s recommendations.
There were essentially 2 snow clearing pilot areas last winter. Here’s a summary of the ‘snow event’ pilot which only cleared snow when more than 8 cm fell. Satisfaction level for this pilot was 40% with 12% willing to pay for that service.
Here’s a chart that shows how the city rated the ‘passability’ of the sidewalks with and without service.
The second pilot area was the ‘full service’ pilot that cleared sidewalks after any snowfall. (Side note: I fell within this pilot area). There was an 80% satisfaction level with this service with 59% of residents in the pilot willing to pay for it.
Here’s a chart that shows how the city rated the ‘passability’ of the sidewalks with and without service.
And here’s a bit more of a breakdown of residents’ preferences before and after the pilot.
There were a couple of other things staff looked at as well including ‘priority routes’, proactive bylaw, assisted services, and a neighbourhood snowblower program. You can find details about those in the report (pages 4-5).
A survey and focus groups were run as well. Those results found that 54% of respondents preferred the status quo (no city-led snow clearing).
Here’s the staff summary of the ‘full service’ pilot.
Staff outline 4 options on pages 20-26 of the report.
City snow clearing of course would increase the city’s emissions, potentially impacting their GHG targets. However, as staff note, those increases may be balanced out by a decrease in community emissions.
While we’re discussing sustainability and environmental considerations, salt usage is another area of potential concern. Staff note the challenges of identifying that balance between city and community usage.
Now, I did find this bit of information about the cost efficiency of roads versus sidewalks interesting. It does appear that sidewalk snow clearing is not as cost efficient as clearing snow from roads for a few reasons as outlined here.
That's the main part of the report. There are several appendices that have some interesting information as well but I'll include that in Part 2 of this post, so watch for that if you're interested.
It’s been a bit of an interesting week and it all started with a tweet! On Aug. 14th, I tweeted the following "I've noted some benefits of the #COVIDlanes for me as a cyclist and as a driver, but I also like them as a pedestrian. I am walking along streets w/ cycling lanes more often as they provide an additional buffer/separation between me & vehicles, resulting in a better experience." The next day I saw that a local city councillor had retweeted that with the comment “You’re losing this one. The silent majority is starting to speak up”. That exchange started quite a bit of discussion. Of course, like all of these types of interactions, the ‘frenzy’ has died down and it’s allowed me some time to reflect on the interaction. Here’s a few of my thoughts from that experience.
A number of people weighed in to the conversation because they found the councillor’s tweet to be inappropriate or offensive in some way. My reaction to that tweet was not one of offense but rather surprise. I felt my original tweet was positive and it was related to a Regional project. So when I saw the negative response to it from a city councillor, I was a bit surprised, wondering why that was the tweet with which the councillor decided to interact. I was also a bit confused by the comment ‘You’re losing this one’. I was unclear about what I was losing at exactly.
However, the Twitter conversation became even more surprising to me as the councillor went on to say that the solution to this issue was that cyclists should be riding on the sidewalk. He then explained how he has been cycling along Westmount for years and simply uses the sidewalk. He suggested that pedestrians didn’t mind moving out of the way, and there were few pedestrians on that stretch anyway. He noted that there were ‘miles and miles of sidewalks not being used’ so encouraging cyclists to use that space, even though it’s against the law, seemed like a good solution to him.
It sounded like his experience riding on the sidewalk has been positive. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most people. Pedestrians often feel unsafe having to share the sidewalk with faster moving bicycles. Crossing intersections becomes problematic as well as drivers aren’t expecting cyclists to cross from the sidewalk, or cyclists must dismount at every street crossing – neither option is ideal. Also, research shows that Black and Brown people face additional criticism and anger when they are seen as ‘breaking the rules’. Asking BIPOC folks to ride their bicycles on the sidewalk may well put them in a vulnerable position.
The fact that the councillor was advocating for cyclists to ride on the sidewalks because it’s safer only seems to bolster the argument in favour of safer cycling infrastructure such as separated bike lanes.
Another topic of discussion that came out of this conversation was the cycling lobby. The councillor congratulated me, as part of the cycling lobby, on being so well organized in our response to his retweet. I have asked for clarification from the councillor on what exactly the cycling lobby is, as I am unclear what he’s referring to. Is it anyone who is in favour of cycling infrastructure or is it something more organized? I’m still unclear at this point. However, my concern about using references to a cycling lobby, is that it minimizes the ideas and concerns of certain residents who are asking for safer streets. I’m a resident who sees adding cycling infrastructure as one way to improve the safety for all road users, and our community at large. It feels frustrating to have those ideas dismissed as being part of a cycling lobby, and not simply as a resident.
Lastly, what I found most discouraging about the retweet was this idea that there are winners and losers in city-building conversations. My hope is that we all want to create a community that works well for all residents. We, of course, will have different ideas on how best to get there, but that’s why we do our research, engage in conversations, and try out possible ideas. I don’t consider that to be a win-lose endeavour. What can feel like a losing situation is when certain perspectives are not intentionally included (or perhaps even actively dismissed) in these conversations. The councillor mentioned that the silent majority is now speaking up. My worry is that if we only listen to the same voices that we usually do, we can never move past the status quo. I think our community can be so much more than just the status quo and that’s the reason I will continue to speak up on issues such as street safety, especially for our most vulnerable road users.
With PRIDE month just around the corner, and in light of the decision by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board to once again not fly the PRIDE flag, I contemplated what I could do to work in solidarity with folks in the LGBTQ+ community. I had already written to the WCDSB (and encourage you to do the same) about my disappointment and frustration in their decision and urged them to reconsider. I thought that I could also place a visible symbol of support at my home. Perhaps a supportive message or rainbow flag on my little library.
That original idea was quickly followed by the thought that if I do that, I may be putting my little library at risk of vandalism or damage of sorts. Which was quickly followed by recognition that if I fear some sort of possible retaliation for simply showing support for PRIDE and inclusivity, how much more must LGBTQ+ individuals and families experience such concerns, not necessarily for just their property, but for themselves.
Although I have made some choices in my life that have received some pushback from family and friends (I think of when, 20 years ago, I told them that I was becoming vegetarian, or that I had decided I didn’t want children of my own), I rarely feel that who I am puts me in harm’s way somehow. As a straight, white woman with a certain level of education and financial means, I know that most of what I do is generally considered ‘normal, or the ‘default’, or ‘acceptable’.
However, this small moment reminded me (and I do hate that I need reminders of this) that there are still people in our community that don’t feel safe or accepted for simply being who they are. Although folks like me sometimes miss it, there is still work to be done to build an equitable and welcoming community for all.
And there are a multitude of ways to push back against these unfair and discriminating systems and policies. For me, I find it helpful to read articles and books, and listen to podcasts, from LGBTQ+ authors and artists. Also, follow them on social media and listen to their experiences. Volunteer or donate to the many organizations working with and in the LGBTQ+ community. Talk with your friends and family about these issues as well and share what you’re learning. Write your local politicians (and school boards!) asking for more inclusive policies.
What am I missing? Feel free to share additional ways to support our community as we work together to create a more welcoming and inclusive city.
On May 11th, Kitchener’s Council met for an online 'Special Council' meeting. You can watch it here if interested. Here’s a few of the highlights and some of my thoughts on that meeting.
The first thing up for discussion was a motion put forth by Councillor Davey which essentially requested federal government funding to assist Canadian municipalities in managing the financial impacts of the pandemic. The motion was seconded by Councillor Singh. This motion is similar to a recently passed motion by the Region of Waterloo and many other municipalities are doing the same. After a few clarifying questions and discussion, this motion passed unanimously.
The next proposed motion, and the reason for my interest in this council meeting, was made by Councillor Ioannidis in relation to Universal Basic Income (UBI). This motion encourages the provincial government to work with the federal government on implementing a Universal Basic Income. This motion resulted in quite a bit of discussion.
First off, Councillor Chapman asked Councillor Ioannidis what his understanding of universal basic income is and how it would reduce the strain on health and social services. Councillor Ioannidis said he’s not an expert on this, but thinks that all options should be on the table and is therefore encouraging upper levels of government to consider UBI.
Councillor Chapman said that she supports this motion in principle but has some concerns and questions of what is actually being proposed. Will it be geared to income so it's not a blanket 'across-the-board' program? She seemed to be concerned about the ‘universality’ of the program, preferring a more targeted approach to ensure those most in need would get these resources. She ended by noting that she may come back with an amendment to this motion.
Councillor Marsh applauded this motion since we see the benefits of government support right now in this pandemic. She also wondered, like Councillor Chapman, if the goal is UBI or a ‘guaranteed minimum income’. She says she’ll support the motion or possibly an amendment.
Councillor Davey sought clarification of whether this motion even falls within municipal jurisdiction at all. The clerk said there are examples of this type of motion happening previously. Councillor Singh also had some concerns about the motion, especially around the idea of everyone receiving it versus only ‘those who most need it’. He wondered if UBI may deplete the government’s ability to focus on those most needing the financial support. Councillor Ioannidis did note that there can be some efficiencies by providing funds to everyone, as we have seen with the implementation of the CERB currently.
Councillor Chapman asked Councillor Ioannidis what he sees happening to the ~33 existing social transfer programs (federal and provincial combined). He responded that the details can be figured out during those discussions at higher levels of government. His motion is to urge those conversations to happen in the first place.
Councillor Chapman put forth an amendment that changed the wording from Universal Basic Income to Guaranteed Minimum Income. Mayor Vrbanovic is not sure there's really much difference between the two. Councillor Ioannidis kept his original motion, so the amendment is now put forth to be voted upon.
Councillor Davey says he can't support this. He feels that we're unclear on details and it's an issue for a completely different level of government. This is not the time to ask, and is kind of embarrassing to consider the request, after just asking for federal funding for cities.
You can see comments from many of the Councillors in this thread. However, the vote on Councillor Chapman’s amendment (with the word change to ‘Guaranteed Minimum Income’) fails with 4 in favour, 7 against (in favour: Davey, Marsh, Chapman, Johnston; Against: Vrbanovic, Gazzola, Michaud, Galloway-Sealock, Singh, Ioannidis, Schnider). That meant the original motion would now be voted on. It passed with an 8-3 vote. In favour: Vrbanovic, Marsh, Schnider, Michaud, Chapman, Galloway-Sealock, Johnston, Ioannidis. Against: Singh, Davey, Gazzola.
I was glad to see this passed as I think a conversation on the best way to support all residents is needed now more than ever, and I hope that any such conversation considers the benefits of a universal basic income. Now the next step is to convince those upper levels of government to actually have those conversations. I’ll share more on how we can encourage exactly that in future posts, so stay tuned.
The Committee also voted on economic recovery supports, and some bylaws, such as street name changes. Again, if that interests you, you can watch the entire meeting here.
I had the good fortune of meeting Sara Casselman, the Executive Director of the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, or SASC for short, a few years ago. She was receiving the Mayor’s City Builder Award for the work she has done in support of sexual assault survivors in our community – a well-deserved honour indeed. Although I had heard a bit about the work SASC was involved in, I started following it much more closely after meeting Sara. I learned about the variety of services and supports they offer such as counselling, a 24-hour support line, and anti-trafficking work. They also provide educational workshops and resources, including the Male Allies program which supports boys and men in ending systemic and everyday forms of gender-based violence. This programming provides alternative narratives of masculinity, opportunity for self-reflection and dialogue, and challenges harmful language and behaviour. "It offers: a chance to talk about what it means to be a man today and address stereotypes, an opportunity to explore how to have a healthy relationship with family, friends and dating partners, and a forum to learn about creating safer schools, workplaces and communities."
As I have become more interested in the important work SASC is doing, I am learning some sobering facts about sexual assault, such as 1 in 3 women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. And there’s many challenges that survivors face, including long wait lists for services. SASC’s current waitlist is over 140 individuals. We also know that challenging times, such as this pandemic, only leads to an increase in domestic violence. In fact, a recent StatsCan survey stated that 10% of women were ‘very concerned’ about violence in the home during the pandemic.
I have also noticed the challenges with much of the funding for organizations like the Sexual Assault Support Centre. Government funding is often precarious at best, as any changes in government leadership, economic challenges, and so on can mean that funding support could change at a moment’s notice. We saw that earlier this year as the provincial government announced that certain funding for support centres such as SASC would no longer continue. Clearly, it is definitely a challenge to plan for the long-term health and support of clients when funding sources can change so easily.
The Sexual Assault Support Centre is fortunate that it has many people right in our community that understand the value of their work, and support them financially through one-time donations, monthly donations, and by volunteering. SASC relies on financial support from its fundraising events, such as the annual Rosie the Riveter bowl-a-thon. However, like so many events right now, due to the pandemic, it has been moved to a virtual fundraiser. So, this year, we are being asked to #RallyWithRosie. Put on your best Rosie the Riveter outfit and post your photo to social media with the hashtag #RallyWithRosie. SASC will provide you with tools to educate and engage with your networks to help raise funds to support their work in our community. Visit their website to find out all of the details.
I have only known Sara for a couple of years now, but she continues to amaze me with her passion and support for survivors in our community. She gives so much to this work, including running a half-marathon on April 25th in support of SASC. You can learn more about that here. She knows how important the backing of donors and volunteers is to supporting survivors locally. You too can be a part of that important work this month by Rallying with Rosie.
Like many of us, I have been thinking about the impacts of the coronavirus, both in the short and long term. I’ve also been reflecting on how different people handle what is clearly a stressful and challenging situation.
I was reading an article in the Record recently with this headline: Connection Between Farmers and Customers Stays Strong. The article goes on to outline various ways farmers are adapting to the pandemic by offering online purchases, curbside pick-up, and deliveries. The article also reflects on the importance of the relationship between farmers and customers, stating “Market vendors are more than just a means to get food. There is an actual relationship there between vendors, customers and farmers." Now, I suspect that anyone who is a regular attendee of our region’s farmer’s markets, is well aware of this. I know I definitely have my regular vendors that I look forward to seeing each week and that is in fact, one of the many great reasons to shop at a local farmer’s market.
This article got me thinking though about how people attending the market regularly, and developing these relationships, has been important in maintaining these services in this time of crisis.
For me, there is a strong parallel to the work many neighbours have been doing over the years through things such as the #lovemyhood neighbourhood strategy. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with a variety of neighbourhood initiatives, associations, and committees that strive to encourage and strengthen connections between neighbours. Often those initiatives involve fun activities like plant swaps, easter egg hunts, or street parties. These events often result a great time had by all and perhaps some lovely memories as well.
I know some of my favourite neighbourhood memories include a neighbourhood event that partnered with Reception House where we welcomed over 70 newcomer children for a fun afternoon of tobogganing and hot chocolate. I also love the little Easter egg hunt our neighbourhood participates in each year. And I always look forward to the annual Pumpkinpalooza event in Victoria Park where neighbours put their jack o’lanterns on display for everyone to see.
I have been thinking about these events in light of the pandemic. As many of us spend far more time at home right now, the only people you may see are your neighbours. And I have been truly moved to see the creative ways neighbours are trying to stay connected during this time. I’ve seen themed neighbourhood art walks, chalking the walk, and evenings filled with pot banging in support of health care and essential workers. I’ve also seen people rely on neighbourhood email lists or Facebook groups to reach out to neighbours to offer a grocery run or just a friendly hello and check-in.
Although neighbourhood events can be a fun way to spend an afternoon with others (in non-pandemic times!), I suspect those events have actually been laying important foundations to stay connected. And thanks to the work of many neighbours, associations, and community groups, we see neighbours connecting in unique and important ways right now. What may have simply felt like a fun neighbourhood event only a few months ago, may prove to be an essential lifeline during this pandemic.
The list of challenges and negatives of dealing with this pandemic is long, and those impacts will be felt by many for a long time. However, if I may, I’d like to suggest one potential upside in all of this – the opportunity for having a larger conversation about what our cities are – and what they could be.
As governments, community organizations, and essential workers, both locally and globally, work tirelessly to support residents through these challenging days, we see important measures being put into place, such as increasing access to affordable housing (even if much of it is currently temporary/emergency shelter), increased funding to essential support services like health care and employment insurance, and even an increase in wages (again, much of it temporary) for minimum-wage workers. We are now surrounded by wide roads emptied of traffic as many of us strive to #StayHomeSaveLives. And there are many examples of neighbours supporting each other through all of this with creative ways to connect.
Although there are some unfortunate stories of people not distancing themselves or otherwise not participating in attempts to flatten the curve, I am seeing far more examples of people supporting each other and advocating for improved resources for our most vulnerable citizens. I am seeing people who have never contacted their elected officials before, doing exactly that to encourage more funding for affordable housing, or sharing petitions that advocate for subsidized rents or call for an end to evictions.
I am also seeing calls for re-prioritizing our street spaces to focus moving people safely (as we practice physical distancing), instead of moving cars. As cities are shifting towards stricter measures of ensuring we don’t see a rise in covid cases, we see many outdoor spaces being temporarily shut down, with some cities even closing trails all together. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just this week, London, ON decided to close a few streets to vehicles, to ensure pedestrians and cyclists can access those spaces while practising physical distancing. Calgary is changing their beg buttons (those frustrating buttons pedestrians must push to activate the cross signal) so pushing the button is no longer required, in light of concerns around community spread of covid.
These are only a few small illustrations of how things are changing as we deal with this crisis. However, these changes don’t need to be temporary and they don’t need to be small. These small examples simply show us a glimmer of what is possible and remind us that this may be an opportunity to upend the status quo of how cities operate. We are seeing the first signs of things changing that many have said were previously impossible (I mean, how many of us expected to see the Provincial Conservatives working well with the Federal Liberals?). We are housing people who previously had no shelter; we are offering financial support to those with precarious, limited, or no income; and we’re seeing shifts in how people are moving around the city.
For me, this feels like encouragement that we can make permanent changes that allow our communities to offer affordable housing for all, a basic income program, and more active transportation options that focus on moving people, not cars. So, with all these challenges around covid, I do still find glimmers of hope. In this crisis we are seeing some examples of a new vision for cities, one that is more compassionate, sustainable, caring, and equitable.
There are several ways that the city of Kitchener engages with residents on a variety of issues. Both the city and individual councillors use social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share information and update citizens on important information. There are also public consultations, open houses, citizen advisory committees, and of course, all Committee and Council meetings are open to the public and streamed online. There is also Engage Kitchener, an online tool for gathering input and feedback from residents.
I have filled out a number of surveys on the Engage Kitchener site and I check it somewhat regularly as it’s a good way to stay up to date on what projects the city is currently working on and also an easy way for me to provide feedback on those projects. In fact, I just completed a survey on there this week on a topic that is extremely important to me - Affordable Housing. When you visit the site, you’ll see a number of surveys up there, including one on the bike lane pilot, inclusionary zoning, and Kitchener’s website transformation.
If you click on the Affordable Housing Strategy link, you’ll see details about the main steps in the process and where the project currently sits. There’s also a bit of background information and goals of the project. The site states that "The City of Kitchener recognizes the importance of strong and diverse neighbourhoods where residents can grow and thrive. As a vibrant and caring community, we’re taking steps to make housing more affordable in our city so Kitchener can be an even better place for everyone to call home. A key action from our Corporate Strategic Plan is to create a caring community through the development of an Affordable Housing Strategy.
In collaboration with the Region of Waterloo, community groups and the development industry, the city is currently in the beginning stages of developing an Affordable Housing Strategy aimed at addressing challenges to housing affordability in Kitchener across the housing continuum. As demand for housing in our city increases, we’re working to find solutions that will encourage a broader range of housing options and increase the supply of affordable housing opportunities available."
After reading that information you can fill out the survey which asks for your thoughts on challenges to affordable housing, what actions should the city prioritize in this strategy, and what areas of the housing continuum should we most focus our efforts on. You can then provide specific ideas and feedback on how different stakeholders, such as upper levels of government, developers, and community organizations could best be utilized in creating and maintaining more affordable housing in our community.
Surveys take varying amounts of times, and this one was estimated to take about 10 minutes. It took me a bit longer as I had a lot to say on this particular topic. All comments are collected, reviewed by staff, and included in the report that eventually goes to council for approval. You can fill out surveys as a guest, or you can register with Engage Kitchener. One benefit to registering is that once you have completed the survey, you are emailed all of your responses, so you have a record of it. You also receive occasional updates of new surveys available to complete.
No single approach to seek feedback from residents will work for everyone, so I appreciate that there are a variety of engagement tools that the city uses (although I have some thoughts about other engagement tools they could include, but I’ll save that for another day…) For me, I appreciate being able to provide feedback online as I can do it from my home when my schedule allows. If that appeals to you, and you have not yet visited the Engage Kitchener site, I encourage you to take a look at it soon. And because I think it’s such an important issue, I’d encourage you to fill out the Affordable Housing Strategy survey while you’re there.