A Victoria resident recently read my re-election website which begins with the sentence, “I have learned a lot over the past term.” He suggested that it would be a good idea to say a bit more: “What have you learned? And what would you do differently going forward.” I welcome the opportunity.
In The Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama says, “There are many different angles. When you look at the same event from a wider perspective, your sense of worry and anxiety reduces, and you have a greater joy.”
The key lesson I’ve learned this past term is that we can have a more joyful politics and more joyful city if City Hall looked at the world from the perspective of citizens and businesses, not only from the perspective of City Hall.
This lesson was a real wake up call for me as I come from a neighbourhood background. I was that highly engaged neighbourhood person frustrated that City Hall was too slow, or not taking neighbourhoods seriously.
And now, seven years later, I better understand the complex challenges of striking a reasoned balance between the needs and wants of neighbourhoods and the overarching responsibility that City Hall has to ensure that broad community is prepared not only for today but also for the future. Direction-setting and decision-making in a democracy is difficult and important work. We are all in this together, and we all need to listen and learn from each other and be willing to adapt – in our neighbourhoods and businesses and at City Hall.
Here are three stories.
Gonzales Neighbourhood Plan
Fairfield had been asking City Hall for a new Neighbourhood Plan for years. And so at the beginning of this term, when Council revised the timing of the neighbourhood planning process, we listened. And then, because they are lumped together in the City’s planning process as “Fairfield-Gonzales” we began a planning process that involved both neighbourhoods.
We heard very early on at the beginning of the process from the neighbourhood that they wanted two separate planning processes led by two separate groups of neighbourhood residents – one for Gonzales and one for Fairfield. So we supported two separate groups of residents in coming together. But the big mistake we made right at the beginning was to assume that Gonzales also wanted a new neighbourhood plan.
We could have done a bit more exploration with the Gonzales neighbourhood, using the award winning 2002 planning process as a basis. We could have asked what elements of the 2002 plan were working and what needed updating. From the perspective of many neighbourhood residents, this would have been a much better place to begin the conversation than City Hall encouraging a new neighbourhood plan for Gonzales just because Fairfield was ready for one.
Fort Street Bike Lanes
When we built the Pandora bike lanes, after consultation with key stakeholders, there was general support from the businesses on the street. We engaged with the business on Pandora in a way that seemed to meet their needs – let them know about the lanes going in, asked for and responded to feedback on the detailed design – making changes as needed and adjusted the construction schedule around the businesses needs, particularly when it came to no construction during the holiday shopping season.
When we began consultation on Fort Street, we assumed that the same engagement process would work. We didn’t take into account the far higher density of businesses on Fort Street compared to Pandora, and we didn’t consider that businesses on Fort Street would have different needs than businesses on Pandora. And so, looking from the perspective of City Hall, we did the same engagement process on Fort that we did on Pandora and assumed it would be appropriate. But it wasn’t. These were different businesses with different ideas and our consultation process would have been greatly improved if we had recognized that earlier.
In the end, we adapted our approach. Our initial City Hall perspective was too narrow. Going forward, we’ve learned from our experience on Fort Street and have done detailed work with the businesses along Wharf and Humboldt Street, where the next two lanes are to be built.
For the past two years, City Hall has been working with the community to design a new swimming pool and wellness centre to replace the Crystal Pool. We’ve been doing engagement all along the way – at the pool, in workshops, at community events and at detailed reporting out sessions that have been well-attended. We’ve been taking feedback and revising the design accordingly so that citizen input has literally shaped the facility. At the detailed design stage, 80% of people surveyed support the design of the new pool.
Looking from the perspective of City Hall, we were singularly focused on the pool. I can see why. This was our first big project after the Johnson Street Bridge and we didn’t want a repeat performance. We wanted to get this project perfect. We wanted to be ready for the funding applications from senior levels of government, get our application in immediately and get the project built, as every month of not building escalates the cost by about $400,000 just because of the market conditions here. All good motivations.
But what we failed to do, is to look from the perspective of the community members that live around the pool and see that the pool is also in the park. It’s their neighbourhood park. Being singularly focused on the pool meant that we didn’t do engagement on the park. It’s always been planned for “after the pool project has reached detailed design”. But again, that’s from City Hall’s perspective. The pool is in the park. If we’d taken a broader perspective, we would have seen clearly that park engagement was important to do alongside pool engagement. We would have adapted our approach.
Since January I’ve been working with a wide diversity of citizens and members of the business community to develop a 2018-2022 four year plan. The very premise of the plan is this lesson learned: we must look first and foremost from the perspective of the community. And we must draw on the energy, intelligence and goodwill of our citizens and our business community and create the city, all together.
We must do this in order to meet all the challenges and seize all the opportunities facing us. We must do this in order to ensure that even as Victoria grows and changes it remains recognizable as Victoria, as the city we all love. And, most importantly, we must do this in order to have a more joyful city, where through the projects we do together, we strengthen relationships, build trust and create a stronger social fabric.