Well, it's been way longer than I planned for getting back to this writing thing. But given a little more 'available' time right now with social distancing and isolation, it seems like a good time to get back to it. So here's a few thoughts on the most recent Kitchener Council meeting.
If you follow me on social media, especially Twitter, you’ll know that I often 'live-tweet' city council meetings. I do my best to remain somewhat objective and try to just tweet what’s being said, without adding much of my own commentary. However, as my spouse will attest, that doesn’t mean I don’t actually have feelings about what’s happening at those meetings. I most definitely do, often some fairly strong ones at that! So, I thought I could use my blog to share some of my thoughts on council meetings occasionally.
Let’s get started with the March 23rd meeting which was done electronically, for the first time ever. In fact, the mayor mentioned that in order to proceed with an electronic meeting, rather than a regular in-person meeting, a provincial state of emergency needed to be declared. That of course happened last week which set things in motion for Monday’s meeting. Kudos to all those who got everything set and running because, other than the usual online meeting issues like people being on mute or speaking over one another occasionally, everything ran very smoothly.
Much of the meeting was spent discussing the COVID-19 pandemic and how the city should respond. The meeting started off with a prepared statement from the mayor stressing each of our roles in this to fight off this virus (go home and stay home!), and also thanking all of the frontline workers spending tireless, stressful days and nights dealing with this crisis.
Council then heard from CAO Dan Chapman about steps the city has already taken to address the current challenges. We then heard from Cory Bluhm about the economic realities the city is facing and he offered a quick overview of the proposed Economic Recovery Response that council would need to vote on later that evening. Discussion followed with support for the recovery package, with some questions and comments about additional options such as: turning community centres into hospital overflow or space for people experiencing homelessness and offering relief for renters. The recovery package passed unanimously.
The discussion then moved to a number of tenders and there was some discussion around whether this was the time to be doing certain work, such as putting a new roof on a fire hall. The tenders were all passed with just Councillor Gazzola voting against a couple of them.
And finally, the discussion moved on to Community and Infrastructure Services reports. #8 in that list was the Vision Zero strategy. Whether the city should develop a Vision Zero strategy was discussed in a lot of detail two weeks previously at Committee. During that discussion, it was suggested that perhaps the city should develop its own Transportation Safety Strategy instead of adopting a Vision Zero plan. Councillor Davey was a strong supporter of this “Transportation Safety Strategy’, with Councillors Chapman and Gazzola also voting in favour of that motion. However, it did not pass at Committee. And when the full motion of moving forward with a Vision Zero strategy (at Committee), all councillors voted in favour of it except for Councillor Davey.
Therefore, I was a bit surprised that when it went to council on the 23rd, not only did Councillor Davey vote against the Vision Zero strategy, but so did Councillor Chapman. I know Councillor Chapman has advocated for some active transportation initiatives in the past so I found it surprising that she did not support the Vision Zero plan. Fortunately, the other 9 folks at the table did vote in favour of it, so it easily passed. I for one am very excited about seeing more active transportation initiatives and infrastructure be put in place, and I think support of the Vision Zero strategy will definitely assist in that process.
Thanks again to all of the staff who made that meeting happen, as it did run so smoothly…and I suspect we may see a few more meetings in this format in the next while.
At last night's council meeting, the issue of boulevard parking was raised. This refers to allowing vehicles to be parked on the paved part of the driveway between the sidewalk and the street. Current bylaws prohibit this practice in the City of Kitchener. However, after a pilot project in ward 5, it is now allowed in ward 5 each winter from Dec 1st-Mar 31st. Councillor Ioaniddis put a motion forward to allow boulevard parking during winter months throughout the city.
There was some discussion around the horseshoe on this issue. Councillor Michaud asked for a deferral however as she only received notice of the motion that day and has not had a chance to hear from her constituents on the issue. More discussion ensued and it was decided that the motion would be withdrawn and presented at Special Council on January 7th.
Several councillors mentioned that they were hearing from constituents that this is an option they would like to have. Although I don't doubt that's true, I'm not sure all sides have had a chance to speak to the issue. Personally I wonder what effect this would have on a walkable city. As a pedestrian, I am cognizant of the need to be aware of vehicles at all times. It feels like this only adds to that challenge. If we are serious about creating a city that is walkable, then we need to make that experience easy, comfortable, and pleasant. Allowing cars to park on the boulevard seems to contradict that goal.
However, I do wonder if in practice it would have much of an impact. I'm curious how many people would in fact park in the space if it were allowed. On my walk home from last night's council meeting, I didn't see any places where a car would actually fit on the apron section of the driveway. Perhaps there are fewer options for this in the downtown wards.
I am curious what you think about this proposal. Would you park your car there if it was allowed? Do you think it would impact your experience of the street as a pedestrian or cyclist? Feel free to comment with your thoughts. Also, this motion goes back to council on Jan 7th. I encourage you to reach out to your councillor to share your thoughts on this as well. In ward 9, that is Councillor Chapman who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks again to everyone who followed my campaign, and supported it in some way. I truly can not express how much it all meant to me. Though it was hard at times, with many long, tiring days, this introvert (ironically) was frequently re-energized by knocking on doors and connecting with residents.
I’ve been so impressed meeting so many people in our community doing amazing things and I have learned a lot through that. My learning encompassed some really practical skills such as designing and maintaining a website, creating online videos, and feeling more comfortable speaking in public, even on television! It also involved learning how to tackle challenges, face criticism, and delve deep into problems to identify possible solutions.
I loved accumulating many stories from my adventures on the campaign trail. Some of those stories involved the other ward 9 candidates as I had a chance to connect with them over the last several months. I especially appreciated Phil’s sense of humour as he often had me laughing throughout the campaign (see middle photo below when Phil noted that even my flyers are taller than him). Several fun stories came from all of this being a new experience and not necessarily knowing protocol, like when I completely forgot to give a speech at my own campaign party! There are too many stories to share here of course, but I already enjoy looking back over them.
And when I reflect back to the beginning of this journey, my only hopes were that I would learn more about my community and I would run a positive, creative campaign that I could be proud of at the end. I feel like I succeeded on both counts. I honestly believe that politics can be a force for good in our community and I hope I modeled that throughout the past 6 months. I’m proud that my campaign seemed to attract so many people who were positive about their neighbourhood and city and enthusiastic about building it up rather than fighting against it.
Of course, none of that could have been achieved without support from family, friends, neighbours, and residents. There are too many people to list here but I hope to reach out to you in person over the next while. I am particularly grateful for the group of female candidates running in the region who connected online and in person and were a huge support to one another and to me. It is just another example of the positivity that can happen through politics. And a huge congratulations to all those who ran. The time and effort you put into this process is to be commended.
My last paragraph, though, is saved for my number one supporter throughout my campaign (and life!), my spouse Todd. He was quick to support me when I tossed out this wild idea of running for council, and his support only grew through the campaign. He spent day after day (after day!) helping me with the campaign, placing lawn signs, editing my website, recording videos, and knocking on thousands of doors in rain, snow, and heat. Without a doubt, I could not have run the campaign I did without him.
So now a bit of a rest and a few quiet evenings at home. But I already have some thoughts on how to support and build upon the great things happening in our neighbourhoods, ward, and city. Thanks again for your support and I look forward to continue building community together!
I’ve noticed more press coverage lately about development in Downtown Kitchener. There have been Record news stories, a blog by current councillor Frank Etherington, and a column by Luisa D’Amato.
This coverage is sometimes limited or incomplete in my view, focusing only on the pace of development or on heritage preservation. The issue is also much broader than any one particular development or proposal. Rather, the discussion needs to focus on how Kitchener grows and develops thoughtfully.
One way the city demonstrates priorities and its commitment to issues is by establishing committees on those topics: arts and culture, safe and healthy communities, heritage, and environment. The creation of these citizen committees indicates the city’s desire to hear about these issues and act to address them.
As councillor I would propose a citizens housing committee to actively seek out partnerships and innovative solutions to some of our challenges around housing supply and affordability.
Kitchener needs a more proactive approach to housing and development. Currently a development is proposed and we only hear from those who oppose it. It’s reactive and the strongest voices may not be representative of the feelings of the broader community. We need a more diverse group of people involved in these discussions and much earlier in the process. I believe a citizens housing committee could offer exactly that. Such a committee must include a variety of perspectives and backgrounds such as those just entering the housing market, renters, those in multi-residential buildings, and newcomers.
I believe all ward 9 candidates are concerned about housing. However, be cautious of any who promise both affordable housing and intensification, while at the same time actively oppose multiple development proposals.
I am working toward a city that is more inclusive, engaged, and supported. I believe a citizens housing committee would address all three goals. It would be an inclusive committee that intentionally seeks out various perspectives and backgrounds. It would engage citizens to create innovative solutions in providing more diverse housing options. And it would be supported by the city which would provide tools, resources, and staff.
I’m glad to see people are talking about housing and development. Now we need to take the necessary steps to create more and varied housing, beginning with the creation of a citizens housing committee to ensure we develop a city with housing for all.
On October 3rd, THEMUSEUM hosted Cultural Exchange 7.0, an opportunity for candidates to share their vision for arts and culture in our city. Here is my presentation:
My partner and I moved to our current home partly to be closer to many arts and culture events. We had been traveling to the core for things like the Multicultural Festival, the Kitchener Market, and the KW Symphony. Once we moved downtown, we were exposed to many more arts and cultural experiences such as Kultrun, the Art Gallery, Night\Shift, and events at the Registry Theatre. Then of course CAFKA made my June walks in and around downtown all the more interesting with installments such as ‘Head Man’, ‘Arena’, and ‘Recognize Everyone’.
My learning about our creative industry continues in many ways. I sit on the Downtown Action and Advisory Committee and hear regular updates from the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. We’re able to offer input and feedback on initiatives such as murals in the Downtown and public art at ION stations.
Just as we need a range of housing types, Kitchener needs a range of art venues. Kitchener is blessed with large-scale facilities like the Centre in the Square and Conrad Centre, but also mid-size venues like the Registry Theatre. Kitchener also boasts small hidden artistic gems, like the Backyard Theatre on Homewood Avenue. Kathleen and John write, direct and act in original plays with local talent all right in their backyard theatre.
We also have Globe Studios which I only recently discovered. I was so inspired by their work that I wrote an article for The Community Edition this past June. It gave me the opportunity to connect with local artists and learn more about potential partnerships and growth opportunities.
And that’s key, I think: listening to our local artists and partnering with them on projects, regularly and proactively. Anyone who attended Night\Shift feels its loss now. We need to look at what artists are doing right now and foster it so we don’t lose similar local initiatives. We need to have conversations about the resources required to ensure the viability of these creative endeavours, whether that’s space, financial, or people support.
We also need to establish connections across sectors. There is great potential for partnerships between artists and the local tech sector. And we’re starting to see these relationships develop, like Communitech offering affordable gallery space to local artists to exhibit and sell their work. The city must foster such partnerships and seek similar opportunities. Let’s look at options for new building developments to create work space for artists at a rent they can afford. Let’s discuss with our creative sector how best to use the space at 44 Gaukel. And let’s use our public spaces, such as community centres, to highlight our local artistic community.
Intensifying across the city helps to keep rents and housing costs lower allowing artists to better find housing that is affordable. We need to encourage housing developments rather than regularly opposing them. Increasing the housing supply helps avoid rising rents that adversely affect the arts community. We need to ensure our city has affordable spaces, in which to work and live, by building up, with ranges of affordability. Groups like Marit Collective are exploring how accessible and affordable space can be offered to community members. The next council needs to support its homegrown artistic talent by utilizing the city’s available resources.
I appreciate the unique contributions our artists offer the wider community which strengthen our sense of identity and belonging as communal stories are created and shared. But we can’t take these for granted. We must continuously engage and seek input from the creative sector to ensure such contributions are developed, fostered, and celebrated. My goal as councillor would be to expand the reach of the creative sector so more residents can experience the joy of engaging deeply with the arts.
My work as program coordinator for the Downtown Neighbourhood Alliance has provided the opportunity to support many creative and fun classes offered to the community, including monthly youth board game nights (led by youth), free parent and child cooking classes, and drop-in sports such as basketball and dodge-ball. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed helping residents bring enjoyable programming to the Downtown Community Centre.
I have seen the benefits of free access to community space at the Downtown Community Centre as part of the Victoria Park Neighbourhood Association as well. Whether we need space for our monthly meetings, hosting events, or offering classes, we are able to book this space at no cost to our association. Given that neighbourhood associations are volunteer based and tend to run on a limited budget, free community space is a huge benefit for our neighbourhood.
However, it is only affiliated community associations that currently have access to this free space. Individuals and groups can of course book space in the city’s community centres for a rental fee. However, this cost can be a barrier. I know of 2 groups that have identified this need and are creating solutions: Marit Collective and the Social Development Centre.
Marit Collective is a social organization that brings people together to engage in important and thoughtful conversations. They “create space for respectful discussion … to foster more empathy and awareness of each other.” Their hard work this summer to prepare their recently-acquired space culminates in their grand opening on October 2nd. Marit Collective is exploring ways for individuals and groups in the community to utilize this space in an affordable and accessible way.
Likewise, the Social Development Centre Waterloo Region is a “learning organization that supports all voices in the creation of community-wide solutions ensuring that lived experience is the basis for collective action.” They have been connecting with groups and individuals in the community to discuss ways to bring together small non-profit organizations in an affordable and accessible way, referring to it as the Civic Hub.
I have had the opportunity to connect with both of these organizations and I’m encouraged by their work. Though they have different approaches, they have both identified a pressing need in our community for shared space to use for events, meetings, or collaborative projects. As councillor, I’d support these creative solutions as well as actively seek additional ways to provide affordable community space.
Late last year, a friend of mine involved in local politics asked if I had ever considered running for municipal council. She outlined a number of reasons she thought I would be a strong representative for residents in ward 9. Of course, it’s clear now that I took her advice and am running to be our next ward 9 councillor. The journey so far has connected me to a number of local organizations who encourage and support women to become more engaged in local politics, including running for office.
One group that provided both the inspiration and the information needed to run for local politics was the Women’s Municipal Campaign School which offered two days of workshops in the Region. Not only did I learn a lot at these sessions, but I was welcomed into a supportive community of passionate women dedicated to helping more women run and get elected.
Through these connections I then became involved in starting a local chapter of Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization "dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada." I was elected as co-vice chair to the steering committee and I have contributed to establishing the direction for the local chapter.
Once I filed my nomination papers in May, I started talking more seriously with other women who are running this fall. We are now a group of 15 women who connect regularly, through social media, attending each other’s campaign events, or even attending fun, local events in our community such as Music Bingo at Descendants (pictured left).
And this past January I marched with many others in the Women’s March Canada in downtown Kitchener. This began my connection with an organization that offers a wide variety of supports and education, including a desire to see progressive women run in local politics. They are currently compiling a list of such candidates and posting it to their website. Here’s my profile on that page.
An essential component of our democratic system is the representation of all citizens. Everyone deserves to have a voice at the table. Our current local councils do not yet have gender parity. More women on council is one step we can take to better mirror the demographics of our community. I am proud to work with organizations like those mentioned above to support more diversity on our local councils.
If you would like to meet some of the amazing women running locally this fall, consider joining us Tuesday evening for a meet-and-greet event. Find out details here.
Recently on Twitter, Devils Cut Podcast posed the following question: "We know campaigns can be tough, so to lighten things up we're asking candidates if they had campaign music, or a song they feel represents them, what would it be? Could be an artist, or an album, anything! Thanks!"
This got me thinking, and as much as I wanted to pick one song to represent the campaign, I couldn’t. Hence this blog post! You see, I couldn’t pick just one song as my experiences on the campaign are so varied. No two days look quite the same, so one song was not going to suffice.
Here is a little peek into what some days can look like on the campaign trail, and a song that best represents that to me.
First up is Jeremy Fisher’s Nothing to Lose. This is a great song that motivates to keep trying new things. Whether that’s running for local office or trying creative ways to engage with citizens while on the campaign trail, this song is a great motivator for me.
Next, I need to include The Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) in honour of all of the walking involved in knocking on doors to connect with residents in ward 9.
Of course, some of those days on the campaign trail can be hard work, leaving me exhausted at the end of the day. I’m thankful to my core group of supporters, especially my campaign manager/spouse who continually encourage and support me. One of my favourite local artists, Richard Garvey has just the song for this. “I Will Meet You Where You Are” is a lovely song that speaks to this support.
On those harder days, my support team always reminds to simply “Shake It Off” and I can only do that with Walk Off The Earth’s version of that song of course!
Once I shake it off, I’m off to talk to residents again to discuss important issues in ward 9 including affordable housing, traffic-calming strategies, and active transportation. Conversations around cycling of course means I need to turn up Queen’s “Bicycle Race”!
And then head to the core since as Petula Clark reminds us things will be great when you’re “Downtown”!
Thanks for the fun question Devils Cut Podcast. I often have music playing as I go about my day. It was fun to think about how certain songs connect to my work on the campaign trail!
Campaign season is in full swing and that means my days and evenings are busy knocking on doors, posting to the website, and preparing for debates. But life is all about balance and it’s time to have a little fun! Join me each week for a segment I am calling “Where in the Ward is Melissa Bowman?”
I was recently reminded of a computer game I played in school where players were encouraged to use geography clues to locate the main character, Carmen Sandiego. It eventually became a popular television show as well. Reflecting on it now, I am sure teachers rejoiced as students were enthusiastically riddled with geography questions. As a student of course, it just felt like pure fun, but apparently, I was also learning something as well!
Here’s how it works: I will take a note from those teachers’ playbook for my game – a little bit of learning along with some fun. On Tuesdays I will post a single picture of a location in ward 9. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to use your observation skills to identify my location. On Wednesdays I will post my location along with a short video with a little more information about that space.
I have had a lot of fun putting this together and enjoyed learning more about some great spaces in our neighbourhoods. I hope you’ll join me each week for a little tour around ward 9!