New Year’s Message: Co-Existence Key to Healthy Democracy, Community in 2022

The apple and the aspen, two very different trees happily co-exist side by side in our backyard.

At the beginning of 2021, we were in a pandemic. We were living with significant restrictions in terms of how and where we could spend our time and who we could spend it with. In the summer, restrictions eased up a bit – we even stopped wearing masks inside for a few weeks.

Our small businesses, which were hit so hard in the first year of the pandemic, started to see signs of light. The City released data in December that painted a promising picture. We saw a 27.7% increase in downtown pedestrian counts between February and October 2021 over the same months in 2020. There was an increase in building permits between August and October 2021, to a number even greater than pre-pandemic levels. And, some businesses in downtown Victoria are reporting their best Decembers ever.

Yet now, at the end of the year, with Omicron upon us, it seems that we are back to where we started.

Except that we’re not. We know more about COVID-19 than we did at the beginning of the year. The Island Health region has some of the highest vaccination rates in the world. The global scientific community is working on a COVID-19 anti-viral. Booster shots are rolling out more quickly than planned.  

When this pandemic ends, we’ll celebrate that we made it through. What’s important for 2022 is how we make it through and how we live well together, despite the challenges we face and the differences among us.

My word for 2022 is “co-exist”. It’s easy when people disagree with us, to paint them into a corner, paint ourselves into another corner, and end the conversation. Or name call. Or worse. We’ve seen this in the past year, locally and around the world.

The City has many key projects in 2022. From Missing Middle Housing, to rezoning for affordable housing, to finishing phase one of the bike network, work on equity, diversity, inclusion and reconciliation, planning the Arts and Innovation District, piloting the alternative response to mental health calls, and much more.

These topics will generate public attention and feedback. Some of them will generate controversy. And it’s an election year, which may make some of these issues feel like they’re in a pressure cooker.

What’s really important in 2022 – as challenging issues face us and differences arise – is that we have those difficult conversations. We listen to each other. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we change our minds, but at the very least, we come to understand another person’s point of view more deeply.

After spending an hour in conversation with someone with whom I disagree – just listening to them, without trying to change their mind – I go away a little bit richer if only because my own perspective is broadened.

It makes me realize that co-existence is not only possible but also necessary among people who disagree – especially if we are going to continue to nurture the community and the democracy that we need as we head into our third year living with the pandemic and with change afoot in the city and at City Hall.

This piece was originally published in the VicNews here.

Part 2. Missing Middle Housing, Tenant Protections, and How Missing Middle Upzoning Alone Won’t Solve the Affordability Crisis

NB Please consider this post a “long read”. I appreciate you taking the time to sift through the complexities and nuances. Please share this post with others who also might be interested in understanding the multi-faceted approach the City is taking to addressing the housing crisis.

The City is currently undertaking consultation on a proposal to implement Missing Middle Housing in all neighbourhoods and allow for more inclusive housing forms “as of right”, which means without needing to go through a rezoning process. The Missing Middle Housing initiative is focused on creating more townhouses and houseplexes (including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, etc.) to help diversify housing choices. It’s aimed at people who will never be able to afford a single family home in Victoria.

Fundamentally, Missing Middle Housing is about changing the way we regulate land use. Currently, if an owner of a single family home, or a duplex, or triplex wants to demolish that building and build a new single family home, all that is required is to apply for a building permit. Yet if a homeowner wants to demolish their single family home and build a houseplex, it takes a couple of years to go through a political process, with no guarantee of success.

This month, the average price of a single family home in Greater Victoria rose to over $1.3 million. Missing middles homes – family homes in houseplexes or town houses – sell for a lot less than a single family home.

There are rallying cries of support for Missing Middle Housing, some rallying cries against, and lots of people with really good questions, concerns and ideas. In this four part blog series, I’ll address these topics:

  1. The Racist and Exclusionary History of Missing Middle Housing (Dec. 5)
  2. Missing Middle Housing, the Displacement of Renters and How Missing Middle Upzoning Alone Won’t Solve the Affordability Crisis (Dec. 19)
  3. Missing Middle Housing, Design Guidelines and the Protection of Neighbourhood Character (Jan. 9)
  4. Missing Middle Housing and More Inclusive, Climate-Friendly Cities for the Future (Feb. 13)

Victoria Housing Strategy: Focus On Renters

The majority of people who live in Victoria are renters, fully 61%. Renters aren’t a special interest group but are people at all stages and phases of life, from university and college students, to young families, to mid-career adults, to seniors.

Some renters are more vulnerable than others. According to a recent Housing Needs Assessment for the City of Victoria, “Renter households relying on a single income likely struggle to find affordable and suitable housing in Victoria. Renter households led by lone parents or households with at least one senior are the households most likely to be in Core Housing Need in the city (i.e., living in housing that is inadequate, unsuitable, and/or currently unaffordable, and unable to afford the median rent of alternative local housing).” Almost 30% of renters are in core housing need in Victoria.

This precariousness makes fear of displacement and the inability to afford a new home in the city very real. And very stressful.

This is why the City and the Provincial government have put in place new protections for renters and also policies to ensure the creation of new purpose built rental and affordable rental housing. This means that there is more security for renters now, and in the decades to come.

Given that the majority of our residents are renters, the first goal of the Victoria Housing Strategy, adopted after a Mayor’s Task Force on Housing Affordability in 2015, was to focus on renters and their needs. As guided by the Housing Strategy, the City is improving its support and protections for renters by developing policies and taking actions that:

  1. Increase the rental housing supply to create less competition for available units
  2. Create more opportunities for choice in the types of rental housing available
  3. Create and strengthen municipal regulations to protect tenants

Policies and actions implemented to better protect and support renters since 2015

  • Tenant Assistance Policy – Support for renters in the form of relocation assistance, moving expenses, and financial compensation when required to move because their building is rezoned for redevelopment.
  • Rental Retention or Replacement Policy – Official Community Plan (in place since 2012) requires 1:1 replacement of rental housing in instances where more than four rental units are being redeveloped or demolished and discourages developers from redeveloping aging rental to condo developments.
  • Renters Advisory Committee – Gives renters the opportunity to provide advice and recommendations to staff and Council on rental housing and tenant related matters.
  • Tenant Planner – A new permanent position in the Community Planning Department to work with tenants and developers to implement the City’s tenant policies and related housing programs. 
  • Tenant Engagement Toolkit – Guidance document to support fulsome tenant participation in City engagement.
  • Rental Property Standards of Maintenance Bylaw  – Ensures minimum maintenance requirements for landlords of rental units are upheld to protect interests of renters. 
  • Greater Victoria Housing Security and Rent Bank Program – Provides loans and grants to tenants at risk of homelessness. The City supported it’s development, provides funding, and staff sit on the advisory committee. 
  • Short-term Rental Policy – Designed to regulate short-term rentals and keep more units in the long-term rental housing market. Taxes collected from short-term rentals are directed to the Victoria Housing Reserve Fund.  
  • Residential Rental Tenure Zoning – New rental only zoning to protect existing rental housing from conversion to strata. Applied to nine new projects to date.  
  • House Conversion Regulations – City regulations updated these regulations to encourage more house conversions and to provide incentives where projects create new rental units as well as affordable rentals.
  • City Land for Affordable Housing – City has purchased land and used City-owned land for close to 600 units of affordable housing currently in development, to be operated by the Capital Regional Housing Corporation and Pacifica Housing, to be affordable in perpetuity.
  • Regional Housing First Program – City led movement at Capital Regional District for $120 million housing program to create up to 2000 units of housing currently in development, including up to 400 units that rent at $375 per month, to be publicly owned in perpetuity.
  • Provincial Changes to Residential Tenancy Act – Effective July 1, 2021 gives more protection to renters from displacement during a renovation of a rental building. The City advocated strongly to the Province for this police change since 2017.

For the past six years – and well before addressing Missing Middle Housing – the City has taken substantial action to help ensure more security and certainty for our residents who rent. There is still more work to do and we will continue. And, at the same time, we now need to also turn our attention to Missing Middle Housing, which is meant to address a shortage of available ground-oriented homes (where front doors open up onto the street) for families.

Some people rent by choice. But increasingly, with the high cost of home ownership – and in particular homes for families – many are stuck renting, unable to afford to purchase a home. This is putting additional strain on an already tight rental market.

Missing Middle Housing is part of fixing the entire housing ecosystem in the city. This means that as more reasonably priced ground-oriented housing for families becomes available, some people will be able to move from rental housing to home ownership. This will free up rental units for others. This has already happened in Victoria with the Vivid building on Johnson Street. This is a below market condo building financed by the BC Housing Hub and it provides entry level home ownership for working people in Victoria. Close to 70% of people who purchased homes in the Vivid moved out of rental housing in Victoria, into the Vivid.

Tenant Protections and Missing Middle Housing

As we move forward with Missing Middle Housing, it’s important to keep the same focus on renters that the City has had for the past six years. We need to ensure as much predictability and as little disruption as possible for existing renters through the new land use approach that we are taking with Missing Middle rezoning.

The majority of renter households (81%) live in apartments buildings, and will not be impacted by Missing Middle zoning. Of the remaining 19%, 8% live in houses with suites (whether in the main house or suite), 7% in rowhouses or side-by-side duplexes and 4% rent single family homes. This means that the implementation of Missing Middle zoning has the potential to impact 19% of tenants over the next few decades. (It is anticipated that new missing middle housing forms will be built gradually over a long period of time, not overnight.)

Even so, the fear or worry about displacement is real and can create unnecessary stress for already stressed renter households.

This is why City staff have been asked to be as creative as possible to find a way to have some form of tenant assistance built into the Missing Middle zoning. This could include a monetary contribution by missing middle home builders to the City’s Housing Reserve, which could then be used to provide assistance to tenants in the same way the Tenant Assistance Plan currently does at the rezoning stage.

Rezoning to allow Missing Middle Housing throughout the city will make it easier to build homes that are less expensive than single family homes, but there will be tradeoffs. We need to use the full extent of the City’s authority to ensure that these tradeoffs don’t disproportionately negatively affect existing renters. We also need to ensure that with everything we ask of missing middle developers – in terms of provisions for existing tenants, other amenity contributions, etc. – that these projects still make financial sense and can actually be built.

The Missing Middle resource page has a quick fact sheet with information about the financing of Missing Middle Housing. And also a more detailed analysis that digs in a bit deeper to the issue. Please see “Documents” in right hand sidebar. Staff have engaged consultants to do additional financial analysis as part of this round of engagement that we are currently in.

One key element of Missing Middle zoning that will benefit renters in the long term is that all forms of Missing Middle Housing (houseplexes and townhouses) will allow secondary suites. This will likely substantially increase the number of suites in the city over the next few decades, as people opt to build suites to make their mortgages a little bit more affordable.

Upzoning and Affordability

“Planopedia” provides a simple definition of upzoning as “a commonly used term in urban planning that describes an alteration to a community’s zoning code to allow new capacity for development.”

This thoughtful piece in the Tyee by Brian Doucet, Canada Research Chair in Urban Change and Social Inclusion at the University of Waterloo, dives into the issue of housing supply, demand and the need to curb speculation. Its worth a read and points to the complexity of resolving the current housing crisis in Victoria, British Columbia, and Canada. While regulating speculative demand and curbing the financialization of housing are important jobs for the provincial and federal governments, cities need to use the tools available to us to do our part. Zoning is one key tool.

Doucet argues that, “While there are many good reasons to upzone, there is little research indicating that on its own, market-driven upzoning produces the types of housing cities need in sufficient quantity to tackle affordability problems.” He goes on to say, “To make cities affordable, upzoning will need to consist primarily of new social housing and other forms of ownership such as co-ops and rent-controlled apartments that are off limits to speculators.”

There has been so much talk about upzoning and Missing Middle Housing, that we haven’t been discussing the first upzoning that Council is proposing to make, even before we get to Missing Middle Housing later this year.

Early in 2022, staff will be bringing a report to Council to recommend that we upzone the entire city to allow for affordable housing if the housing is owned and operated by a non-profit housing society or the Capital Regional Housing Corporation, and is affordable in perpetuity.

This is a really big move. And it directly addresses affordability. What it means is that affordable housing can be built anywhere in the city if it fits within the Official Community Plan and adheres to design guidelines. It means that the entire approval process for affordable housing will be delegated to staff and will take far less time than the current process. With escalating construction and labour costs, this means affordable housing can be built faster, reducing costs and therefore keeping rents as low as possible.

Equally important, prezoning the entire city for affordable housing means certainty for non-profit housing providers when it comes to funding. Usually federal and provincial funding is confirmed only after zoning is approved. Removing the need for rezoning makes it more likely more money will flow into Victoria to provide more affordable housing which is much needed for families, seniors, low-wage workers and people currently experiencing homelessness. Only after we upzone for affordable housing (subject to a decision of Council early next year), will we turn our minds to Missing Middle upzoning.

The research and economic analysis undertaken as part of the City’s Missing Middle Housing initiative demonstrates that when only a certain portion of a city is upzoned, land increases in value and can drive speculative demand. It also shows that rezoning the entire city to allow for missing middle housing forms in all neighbourhoods will not have this same effect.

Yet it’s also true that Missing Middle zoning, and increasing the supply of ground-oriented family housing, will not create more affordable housing. As noted above, we’re approaching affordable housing from a different angle. Missing Middle Housing will make home ownership more attainable for people we rely on to provide essential services in our communities like teachers, nurses, firefighters, a young dentist or doctor starting out in Victoria, and many others too.

By delegating the approval process to staff, we save time and create certainty. What this means is more predictability for homebuilders and the banks that finance them. And it also results in lower housing prices, in two ways.

First, zoning that allows Missing Middle Housing as of right (without a need for a lengthy political process) provides certainty that makes it easier for a would-be builder of missing middle housing to secure financing, including through BC Housing’s Affordable Home Ownership Program, or other senior government programs that support co-operative ownership. This creates below-market home ownership opportunities for qualifying buyers – people who would not be able to afford to buy a home without a subsidy or some financial support.

Second, saving time in the development process saves construction costs and makes housing prices lower than they would be otherwise. Here are two examples. In their original project estimate, a home builder building missing middle housing in Esquimalt had planned to sell units at $520,000. In the time it took to go through the approvals process, the cost of labour and materials increased, and the units will now sell closer to $650,000. In Victoria, a townhouse project which has been in the public consultation phase for over two years, originally had units for sale at $750,000, with no down payment required. Now, because of the time the political process is taking, labour and materials have increased in costs, and these same units will likely sell for around $900,000.

The whole point of Missing Middle Housing is that rather than considering one sixplex at a time, or one townhouse development at a time, Council will (hopefully!) make one big decision at a public hearing to rezone the whole city all at once. This is why we’re undertaking an extensive public engagement process right now. It’s also why Council will be asked to approve Missing Middle Design Guidelines (see Documents sidebar bottom right hand side) to preserve and enhance the character of existing neighbourhoods (more on this in next post).

After making these important policy decisions early in 2022, Council can then get out of the way. This will make it as easy to build a $650,000 home as it currently is to build a home that costs on average $1.3 million, a home that few people who live and work in Victoria will ever be able to afford.

Part 1. The Racist and Exclusionary History of Single Family Zoning

The majority of the light yellow areas – which comprise a large portion of the city’s limited land base – are zoned exclusively for single family homes.

NB I have updated this post after receiving feedback from Gordon Price through his blog post in response to mine. He and I come to different conclusions about the history of single family zoning and the current need to replace it with more inclusive zoning.

The City is currently undertaking consultation on a proposal to implement Missing Middle Housing in all neighbourhoods and allow for more inclusive housing forms “as of right”, which means without needing to go through a rezoning process. The Missing Middle Housing initiative is focused on creating more townhouses and houseplexes (including duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, etc.) to help diversify housing choices. It’s aimed at people who will never be able to afford a single family home in Victoria.

Fundamentally, Missing Middle Housing is about changing the way we regulate land use. Currently, if an owner of a single family home, or a duplex, or triplex wants to demolish that building and build a new single family home, all that is required is to apply for a building permit. Yet if a homeowner wants to demolish their single family home and build a houseplex, it takes a couple of years to go through a political process, with no guarantee of success.

This past week, the average price of a single family home in Greater Victoria rose to over $1.3 million. Missing middles homes – family homes in houseplexes or town houses – sell for a lot less than a single family home.

There are rallying cries of support for Missing Middle Housing, some rallying cries against, and lots of people with really good questions, concerns and ideas. In a three part blog series, I’ll address these topics:

  1. The Racist and Exclusionary History of Missing Middle Housing (Dec. 5)
  2. Missing Middle Housing, the Displacement of Renters and How Missing Middle Upzoning Alone Won’t Solve the Affordability Crisis (Dec. 19)
  3. Missing Middle Housing, Design Guidelines and the Protection of Neighbourhood Character (Jan. 9)
  4. Missing Middle Housing and More Inclusive, Climate-Friendly Cities for the Future (Feb. 13)

The Racist and Exclusionary History of Single Family Zoning

There are currently many civil society organizations, government agencies, and all levels of government committed to tackling systemic racism and fighting for inclusion. This momentum stems largely from the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd’s death, more concerted efforts at reconciliation after the uncovering of the children’s bodies at residential school sites, and strong reactions against the anti-Asian racism at the beginning of COVID.

The racist and exclusionary origins of single family zoning in North America has been well documented, yet that history doesn’t seem to be well known, and it’s not yet part of the conversation we’re having about Missing Middle Housing and the elimination of single family zoning that the City is proposing. It’s important to understand that the early 20th century artifact of single family zoning – still the main residential zone in all cities in North American, including Victoria – has racist, exclusionary roots. Dismantling single family zoning is yet another way we can address systemic racism.

In 1916, the City of Berkeley, California implemented North America’s first single family zoning in the Elmwood neighbourhood. Although the language of the zoning itself was written without reference to race, the explicit purpose of the bylaw was to keep the neighbourhood white and to exclude Blacks and Asians.

Gordon Price, editor of Vancouver Viewpoint cites Matthew Fleischer, the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page editor who writes about single family zoning in the Bay Area: “Its intentions were nakedly segregationist. The idea was conceived largely as a tool for white homeowners to eject Asian laundries from an otherwise segregated neighborhood, and to stop a ‘negro dance hall’ from setting up shop on ‘a prominent corner’.”

Other cities in the United States did use racialized langauge in their land use policies, including prohibiting “coloured” people from moving into certain neighbourhoods. This was challenged in a 1917, US Supreme Court case, where the court ruled that racially based zoning was unconstitutional. However, because Berkeley’s single use zone was about the type of housing – one house per lot – rather than explicitly about racial exclusion, cities across the United States began to use single family zoning as a work around.

This article from the Bay Area Sierra Club sums it up well:

“At the time, a half-dozen Mid-Atlantic states had experimented with explicit racial zoning, but were facing legal challenges based on the 14th Amendment. A city, using its regulatory authority, was not supposed to discriminate based on race. 

“Zoning experts helping the City of Berkeley were aware of the challenges, and suggested single-family zoning as a clever work around. It assured that only people who could afford a mortgage would live in the neighborhood. In 1916, that effectively excluded almost all people of color.

“When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1917 that explicit apartheid was unconstitutional, Berkeley’s ordinance became the legal alternative rapidly embraced by the rest of the nation. In 1928, then Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover published a “Zoning Primer” that claimed everyone in America wanted to live in a Berkeley-style single-family zone and chastised cities that were not getting fully with the program.”

The the first municipality to develop a single family zoning bylaw in Canada was the Town of Point Grey (previously a standalone municipality adjacent to Vancouver), in 1922. It appears that the purpose of single family zoning in Canada was similar to the United States: to reserve certain areas of the city for certain people, and to exclude others.

In his article, “What Motivated Vancouver’s First Zoning Codes,” Reilly Wood cites the Town of Point Grey’s Planning Commission Chair who noted, “Such by-laws as these served, in no uncertain way, to implement the ideals held by the residents that their municipality was to be one in which the best type of home could not only be built, but also adequately safeguarded from the encroachments of undesirable types of development … At the present time over ninety per cent, of the municipality is zoned for one-family dwelling districts. Point Grey has no slum district.”

In 1930, when Town of Point Grey, the District of South Vancouver, and the City of Vancouver amalgamated, the same planning principles with the same exclusionary rationale, were used to keep Vancouver as a city of single family homes. From this unfolded single family zoning as the norm in all cities across Canada, where the majority of a city’s land mass is made up of single family zoning. In Victoria, fully 68% of residential land is zoned as single family.

This exclusionary form of zoning remained uncontested for a hundred years until, in 2019, Minneapolis became the first city in North America to dismantle single family zoning. This doesn’t mean that single family homes can’t be built, or that existing single family homes must be demolished. It means that it’s now just as easy to build more inclusive and accessible forms of housing, like houseplexes on previously single family lots.

In February of 2021 Berkeley City Council followed Minneapolis, voting 9-0 to remove single family zoning and right the wrongs of the the past.

In Minneapolis, “Advocates of affordable housing, civil rights, and the environment joined forces with labor unions, tenant activists, the young, and the old, to bring down the invisible but durable wall of government-mandated, single-family zoning.” My great hope is that in Victoria, we can build a similar broad-based coalition to undo the exclusionary legacy our city was built on, and to build a more inclusive city for the future.

NB Please take the time to read this article on Minneapolis process of eliminating single family zoning. The City of Victoria already has in place an Inclusionary Housing Policy, and significant investments in affordable housing through the $120 million Regional Housing First Program. These are two of the programs that Minneapolis brought in in conjunction with the elimination of exclusive single family zoning. In addition, Victoria is alreayd using city-owned land for the purposes of building affordable housing.

Privacy, Loneliness, and Climate Adaptation

Our backyard adjacent to our neighbours.

At just about every land use public hearing I’ve sat through for the last seven years, the issue of privacy comes up. Often neighbours are opposed to new developments because they feel like their privacy will be compromised. Applicants building the housing go to great lengths to stress the “privacy screens” they’ve incorporated into their developments: six foot fences, tall hedges, fast growing trees, frosted glass.

We’ve heard strong support so far for the City’s Missing Middle Housing project – which will replace single family zoning throughout the city with zoning for houseplexes and townhouses. But one argument we’ve heard against is the need to maintain privacy. Some people don’t want new neighbours in two and a half storey townhouses looking into their backyards.

And, one proposed rental apartment building at 1475 Fort Street has been sent back to staff three times because the neighbours nearby don’t want to lose their privacy. The new building would be approximately 30 feet away from their homes.

We are obsessed with the privacy.

Yet we are also so lonely.

An article in the Capital Daily in August, “Isolated in Victoria: Forging Friendships in a City Renowned for Its Chilliness,” shared stories of Victorians struggling with loneliness during the pandemic.

But the phenomena of loneliness predates the pandemic and is a chronic condition of modern western societies. In their 2018 article, “The Growing Problem of Loneliness,” in The Lancet, John T. Cacioppo and Stephanie Cacioppo write, “Imagine a condition that makes a person irritable, depressed, and self-centred, and is associated with a 26% increase in the risk of premature mortality. Imagine too that in industrialised countries around a third of people are affected by this condition, with one person in 12 affected severely, and that these proportions are increasing. Income, education, sex, and ethnicity are not protective, and the condition is contagious. The effects of the condition are not attributable to some peculiarity of the character of a subset of individuals, they are a result of the condition affecting ordinary people. Such a condition exists—loneliness.”

The constant demands for the protection of privacy when new buildings are proposed has me wondering why we are so fiercely protecting our privacy even when we are so lonely.

When our new neighbours moved in a few years ago, we brought cookies over as a welcome. It was the first and last time we used their front door. Our backyards are adjacent; there are no privacy screens. We watched Whitney go from crawling to walking, Zoey get really good at ball hockey. We can hear when bedtimes are difficult. They can see right into our kitchen at night.

We built stairs from the slope of their yard down into ours so the kids can get here easily. We’ll be out in the garden working in the summer and then all of a sudden all four of them are over here, kids crawling all over us, adults talking up a storm. Summer dinners at the big picnic table in their yard. During COVID, they became our bubble.

They aren’t exactly our friends. Not really our family. They are our neighbours. And it has become a sacred bond.

Last week Naomi had surgery. At 3am the morning she was supposed to go to the hospital, Zoey woke up throwing up. The chaos unfolded from there. Between sick kids and surgery complications that saw her back in the Emergency Room later that night, our four-person text stream became logistics central. We concluded that with four adults and only two kids, we could work everything out. And we did. Hospital pick ups were arranged. Cookies were baked. Prescriptions were delivered. And when she needed to go back to the ER later that night, she didn’t have to go alone.

We are already together. We were already connected. Dealing with an emergency felt easy.

It seems that even when people aren’t connected, in emergencies, privacy becomes less important. With the recent catastrophic floods in BC, when 1100 people were stuck in Hope, residents opened up their homes and took in perfect strangers to stay the night. The media accounts of these heartfelt stories didn’t talk about people worrying about their privacy, or strangers seeing into their homes. The stories were about generosity, the triumph of the human spirit. They demonstrated our instincts as humans to care for each other.

Why does it take an emergency to throw our privacy out the door? Maybe because it’s only short term and we can bear it for the time being. But I wonder if those full houses in Hope had a sense of connection and belonging, a sense of deeper purpose, that would be missed when the stranded residents left. And I wonder what our communities would be like if we lived every day with the same sense of responsibility and connection as when stranded strangers show up on our doorsteps.

Doing so isn’t only important because it makes us feel less lonely and more connected. It’s also the only way our communities will be resilient in the face of the climate catastrophe that is coming. One of my wise mentors recently said that the most successful climate adaptation will take place in living rooms across the city. With forest fires, heat domes and atmospheric rivers here to stay, it’s probably a good time to take down those privacy screens and invite our neighbours in.

Victoria’s 2022 Budget Sets the Table for the Future

This piece was originally published in the Times Colonist here.

I’ve been at the Council table for 10 years; this is my 11th budget, and it’s going to be the most difficult one yet. Budget 2022 is the City’s third pandemic budget. It’s also difficult because like other cities across Canada, Victoria is facing big challenges: pandemic recovery, housing affordability, climate change, public safety, equity diversity and inclusion.

The main source of revenue that cities have to address these challenges is property taxes – a municipal funding formula that dates back to 1867 and doesn’t grow as the economy grows. It would be great if cities got 1% of the PST generated in their jurisdiction on an annual basis to help address the issues facing us and meet demands from the public for action.

But as of now we don’t. And with parking and conference centre revenues still down from pre-pandemic levels, a key question becomes: how much do we raise property taxes this year to support recovery and invest in the future?

In 2020, we didn’t raise property taxes at all, yet continued to deliver all the services that Victorians rely on. In 2021, to support our struggling businesses, we reduced business taxes by 2%. This approach is not sustainable.

The City’s core budget for 2022 proposes a property tax increase of 3.25%. This includes key city services like parks operations, road paving, underground infrastructure, and a new firehall with affordable housing. Budget 2022 also proposes millions of dollars of spending on climate action; making these investments now provides substantial savings to taxpayers of the future. And almost a quarter of the core budget funds VicPD and bylaw.

Yet Council has heard over the past few years, from a wide range of people, that the proposed core budget doesn’t meet the needs of our growing and changing city. Here are some of the supplemental requests Council is considering:

1. Pandemic recovery. Everyone loved those pandemic patios; making them permanent comes with costs. Demand has grown at the City’s Business Hub with an uptick in new business licenses over the past two quarters; the City’s one Business Ambassador needs additional resources to continue to support start-ups and expansions.

Development applications keep pouring in; the planning department requires additional staff to process applications and get new housing built quickly. Arts and culture venues and artists hit hard by the pandemic need a boost in 2022. And the City’s new Arts and Innovation District needs rezoning to facilitate future development on under-utilized commercially zoned land.

2. Climate action. Earlier in the year, there was strong public opposition to expanding the Hartland Landfill. New zero waste staff are needed to implement policies to reduce single use items and construction waste, extending the life of the current landfill.

Victorians love trees, so Council recently strengthened the tree protection bylaw, making it more difficult to cut down trees for new development. Additional staff resources are now required to process permits and protect the urban forest for the future.

3. Affordable housing. We’ve received thousands of emails over the past few years asking the City to do more on homelessness and affordable housing. Even though these are primarily federal and provincial responsibilities, we’re responding in Budget 2022 by proposing to play a larger role including a new position at the City to work on homelessness, funding the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness, funding Our Place to extend their hours, and an additional quarter million dollars to accelerate the implementation of the Victoria Housing Strategy.

4. Public safety. VicPD needs 10 new staff including six officers to help address the challenges police are taking on because of a downloading of mental health and substance use issues to local governments. And City bylaw requires more resources to keep up with increased resident demands on the bylaw department.

5. Equity Diversity and Inclusion. From George Floyd’s murder in the summer of 2020 to the discovery of hundreds of children’s bodies in graves at former residential school sites in the summer of 2021, Canada and Canadian cities have entered a new era. In this era, the voices, experiences and needs of those left too long on the margins must be addressed, to create inclusive, prosperous communities that benefit everyone.

This means: anti-racism and reconciliation training for city staff, better integration for newcomers in the City’s recreation programs, a cultural liaison officer at VicPD, an Indigenous Relations function at City Hall, and potentially, a Community Reconciliation Levy to transfer some of the wealth generated by new development to the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, on whose lands the city was built.

As you scroll through the supplementary items in the budget survey, a story starts to emerge of a city preparing for the future. There is a cost attached to this; we will have a higher tax increase than has been seen in recent years. But making these investments now will help to meet the demands Council has heard from the public over the past few years and will lay the ground for a continued strong and inclusive recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

To participate in the process, take the budget survey at www.engage.victoria.ca and join us November 17th at 6:30pm for a virtual budget town hall.

The World Is Coming Apart at the Seams and Why We Should Embrace It

A few weeks ago, the City of Victoria, the Victoria Foundation and the Canadian Urban Institute came together to host an “urban intensive” called CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. It was a very powerful three-day series of discussion and dialogue. If you missed it, you can catch all the sessions on the CUIxVictoria website, some of which I’ll highlight in this post.

As event organizers, we deliberately profiled and foregrounded voices and experiences that are often left in the margins: Black, Indigenous and people of colour. The event was powerful because their voices and experiences are powerful. But it was also powerful in that it gave me hope that even though the world is coming apart at the seams as I wrote in a previous blog post, a new world is possible. Indeed, it is already emerging.

The CUIxVictoria sessions gave me greater motivation to work at helping to create that world. I also feel a keen sense of responsibility – a big one – as a white middle class settler woman to de-centre myself, to get out of the way, to provide support and resources where necessary, and to stop that “trickle of whiteness” as Charity Williams so eloquently called it in the video featured at the top of the post, “Hope Meets Action: Echoes Through the Black Continuum.”

The “trickle of whiteness” that seeps into processes led by and for Black, Indigenous and people of colour is the product of unconscious bias and the systemic racism that infects so many of our processes and institutions. In “Hope Meets Action” – which is also the name of an exhibit at the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) – we heard about what is possible when institutions like the RBCM hand over power, authority and resources to the Black community.

The museum exhibit, and the process to create it, centres the lives and stories – past and present – of Black British Columbians. The process of deciding what stories to tell and how to tell the stories was in the hands of Black community members, not in the hands of the museum curators. “Hope Meets Action” is a remarkable story. I highly recommend watching the panel discussion above if you work in an institution or setting that is decolonizing and working to address systemic racism.

In “Belonging in Victoria: Muslim Voices for Change,” (video below), we heard directly about experiences of Islamophobia and racism that Muslim women face in Victoria. Aisha exclaimed in disbelief, “How is Islamaphobia worse now than it was when I was in high school?” Zara noted that racism is rooted in colonization and that colonization is dehumanizing. We have an idea in Canada that we are not racist, she said, that we think, “This isn’t who we are in Canada.” If racism is rooted in colonization and Canada was created by way of colonization, then there is racism in Canada, and in Victoria. These Muslim women face it every day.

Yet also, they shared stories of resilience: their recommendations presented at the end of the panel for how to make Victoria more inclusive, less Islamophobic; their very presence and courage to organize a plenary session for CUIxVictoria and to speak so vulnerably, so openly, and with such generosity; and Chrystal’s moving spoken word poem where she asserts, “I deserve to be held with love, dignity and awe.” Please take the time to listen to the conversation as part of helping to usher in the new world we need. Addressing Islamophobia is work for all of us.

The CUIxVictoria sessions left me thinking about what concrete actions I can take in my last year as mayor and in whatever I do next, to support decolonization, dismantle systemic racism, create more inclusive economies and low-carbon prosperity. Those of us with white privilege, class privilege, settler privilege have to work hard to help create this new world, this new way of living together.

How do we do this? In the “Inclusive Economies” session profiled below, one of the panelists quoted Lilla Watson, a Murri visual artist, activist and academic working on women’s issues and Aboriginal epistemology in Australia: “If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Working together involves those of us with power and privilege handing over power, resources, time, centre stage, and more, to those whom patriarchal-colonial-extractivist capitalism has left out and left behind. What I learned from CUIxVictoria is that the view from the margins holds the wisdom for our shared future.

There was one additional and simple piece of advice that came through from the Black, Indigenous and people of colour participants on many of the panels, and was especially highlighted by members of the Welcoming City Strategy session profiled below: build new relationships. Members of the City’s Welcoming City Task Force suggested that if you are Caucasian, ask yourself if most people in your social circle are also Caucasian. Work to change this. When you meet someone who is different from you at work, picking up your kids at school, in your neighbourhood, invite them for a cup of coffee. The work of welcoming belongs to all of us.

With so much hopelessness around climate change – which we heard a lot about in the youth session – and hopelessness about the opioid crisis, the housing crisis, mental health challenges, experiences of racism, discrimination, the ongoing impacts of colonization, CUIxVictoria was a peek into the world that is possible and a sense of what it will take to get there.

Welcoming Victoria: An Inclusive, Anti-Racist City

To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.

For the past year I’ve been honoured to participate in the City’s Welcoming City Task Force and to work alongside newcomers, people of colour, Black and Indigenous people, agencies that work with and serve them, and with Councillor Dubow as task force co-chair. The task force began in November of 2020 by asking, “What makes Victoria unwelcome?” And we worked together over the next many months to develop a Welcoming City Strategy and Action Plan, which are coming to Council for consideration this Thursday.

Racism makes Victoria unwelcoming to people who are – in increasing numbers – moving here from around the world, and to Indigenous, Black and people of colour who have been here for longer. A survey conducted by the Intercultural Association (ICA) confirms the experiences of the Welcoming City Task Force members and others engaged in the consultation process to develop the Welcoming City Strategy.

The ICA survey found that 71% of who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour personally experienced racism in the past five years in Greater Victoria, either daily, weekly or monthly. And 70% of people who identify as Indigenous, Black, Asian or a person of colour feel undervalued, isolated and unsafe in Greater Victoria because of their race or ethnicity.

What can also make Victoria feel unwelcoming is a lack of readily available information on services for newcomers, discrimination when seeking employment or housing, lack of access to and understanding of the legal system, inability to access City services in their first language, fear of calling the police for help, worry about their kids attending school without teachers and other parents having cultural awareness and anti-racism training, lack of access to affordable, culturally appropriate food. And more.

What I experienced as a white settler woman engaged in the Welcoming City Task Force was the extreme warmth and generosity of the task force members and others we engaged over the past year. These are folks who experience systemic discrimination, who are hurt and frustrated by systemic racism. Yet they showed up, shared their painful experiences, trusted us, and trusted the process even though in so many instances trust has been broken and processes have failed them.

To wrap up the engagement process as task force co-chairs, Councillor Dubow and I held a virtual town hall meeting, an open forum to catch any thoughts or ideas that may have been missed in the more structured “Welcoming Standard” workshops (more on that below). Right after the town hall meeting, we had a quick debrief with City staff who were involved in the task force process and attended the town hall meeting.

One veteran staff member who has attended many town halls, public forums and engagement opportunities in their time, remarked on the gratitude and generosity of the participants. The staff member was struck, as was I, that many of the people in attendance who spoke, began their remarks with comments like, “Thank you Councillor Dubow and Mayor Helps for this opportunity.”

Despite the fact that almost all the participants were Black, Indigenous and people of colour, accustomed to experiencing discrimination and racism, generosity and gratitude prevailed. What struck us was the contrast between the Welcoming City Town Hall and others Council has held in the past, where people with race or class privilege attending take for granted that the forum is there for them and sometimes rudely or harshly address council.

The prevalence of racism in Victoria, and the generosity we experienced throughout the Welcoming City process, make me resolute in my commitment to implement the Welcoming City Action Plan and to make Victoria more inclusive, less racist and to achieve Victoria’s Welcoming City vision: a city where newcomers are warmly welcomed and well supported. I anticipate that when the Strategy and Action plan come to Council on Thursday, Council will share this commitment.

Victoria’s Welcoming City work was identified as a priority in Council’s 2019-2022 Strategic Plan and was also key action in Victoria 3.0 Recovery, Reinvention, Resilience 2020-2041, the City’s economic action plan. Diversity, inclusion and belonging are key to creating a strong economy for the future.

To develop our Welcoming City approach, we built on the work done by the non-profit Welcoming America, which developed the “Welcoming Standard” in 2009. Since that time, several countries including Australia, New Zealand, Germany, and the United Kingdom joined as members of Welcoming International. The Government of Canada, through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship joined the network in 2020. The City of Victoria is the first city in Canada to develop a Welcoming City Strategy. The Welcoming Standard is organized according to the following seven categories:

  1. Government Leadership – In welcoming places, local governments implement
    systems, programs, and comprehensive equity, diversity, and anti-racism policies
    that strengthen community efforts and embed inclusion within government
    agencies.
  2. Civic Engagement – Welcoming communities actively ensure that residents,
    including newcomers, fully participate in civic life by increasing access to
    leadership and democratic spaces.
  3. Equitable Access – Welcoming places work to ensure community services and
    opportunities are available to all residents, including newcomers.
  4. Education – Welcoming communities strive for an educational system that
    ensures all students have the support they need to succeed in school and the
    education they need to succeed in the workforce.
  5. Connected Communities – Welcoming communities build connections between
    newcomers and long-term residents by strengthening relationships and
    communicating shared values.
  6. Economic Development – Welcoming communities harness the full potential of
    all residents. Newcomers have the skills and assets to thrive, and economic
    development systems are prepared to leverage new and existing talent.
  7. Safe Communities – Welcoming communities foster trust and build relationships
    between residents, including newcomers, and local law enforcement and safety
    agencies.

Welcoming Standards are community specific roadmaps that provide a guide with community-determined benchmarks to develop stronger, more inclusive communities and bridge the gaps between newcomers and long-time residents. A ‘newcomer’ is defined as a recent immigrant (up to five years in Victoria), refugees, international students, temporary foreign workers, and recent immigrant Canadians relocating to the city. Welcoming cities recognize that communities are healthier, happier, and more productive when newcomers are welcomed and can participate fully in society and the local economy.

Please read the Strategy and Action Plan and share them with others. The work of making Victoria welcoming is work for all of us. And, those of us with race, class and other privilege have a key role to play and key actions to take in making Victoria an inclusive, anti-racist city for everyone and for the future.

Can you invite a newcomer for tea? Can you advocate for anti-racist training in your workplace? Can you ensure your kid’s classroom is welcoming and inclusive of everyone? How can you create time, space and opportunity with and for those who are often marginalized and privilege and centre their voices and experiences? How can you get out of the way when necessary?

To learn more about the process of developing the Welcoming City Strategy and to meet some members of the Welcoming City Task Force, join online this Wednesday October 20th from 5:00-6:30pm for a virtual panel discussion as part of CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future. You can register for the Welcoming City session here.

Late September Strawberries, and the Work of Reconciliation

I wrote this poem while picking strawberries, a few days before the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation – marked in Victoria since 2017 as Orange Shirt Day – to honour and support residential school survivors, intergenerational survivors, and the families of those who didn’t come home.

Late September Strawberries

maybe it’s climate change
or that we got the soil right
this year, pungent fertilizer applied
at the right intervals
and a commitment to every-two-day-
early-morning watering
no matter the conditions of my life
or that 15 minutes more sleep
would be welcome

maybe it’s the pollinators
the hedgerow at Robyn’s farm
inspiring us to create our own this year
welcome habitat for the bees,
that feed us

we aren’t very good gardeners
by that I mean we don’t
have all the time in the world
to study the soil, the path the sun makes,
reliably, across the yard each day
what should go where and, why
in some beds, things just don’t grow

well

we are good gardeners
earnest on Saturday afternoons
as life allows
planting vegetables
tending tomatoes
and the joy
of that backyard connection

late September strawberries
shorter-day-soak-in sunshine
as we prepare the garden
and ourselves
for what’s next

Songhees knowledge keeper Florence Dick says
that the City can’t have
the name of their Grand Chief
for our street sign
because even though he signed the Douglas Treaty
in 1850 and is long dead
he is also still alive
moves through this land through his descendants
he cannot be pinned down
as a name on a street sign

these strawberries
this land
ours and not ours

what’s next is winter
and the work of decolonization
the learning and unlearning
the shared pain
the deep understanding
that what was done
cannot be undone

those children who never came home
those children who survived

short days and long nights
to tend to the work
the lək̓ʷəŋən are winter ceremony people

I also must do my work
so that as another spring comes
and strawberries bloom
on land that is not ours
I know my role on this healing path
and walk, heart and hand,
with the people
of this land

CUIxVictoria – Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future

From October 18 – 20 the Canadian Urban Institute, the City of Victoria and the Victoria Foundation are hosting CUIxVictoria an “urban intensive” called Vital Conversations for Our Shared Future.

CUIxVictoria is an inspiring, engaging, inclusive series of events that generate possibility and excitement about our shared future. CUIxVictoria will create an opportunity for diverse sectors of Greater Victoria’s community to come together and grapple with community challenges and opportunities and generate actions that can be undertaken at many scales at once, from classrooms to neighbourhoods, from dinner tables to council tables.

Sessions include: 

And many more! All are free and open to the public.

For in person events, registration is limited to 100 people (in a 400 seat theater) so get your tickets now. All sessions (except the Lekwungen walking tours) will also be available by zoom or live stream.

The Lekwungen walking tour is hosted by Mark Albany, a member of the Songhees Nation. It’s an opportunity to understand downtown Victoria from a Lekwungen point of view, to learn about important Lekwungen sites and cultural practices, and also about the history of displacement of Indigenous peoples that made space for the creation of the City of Victoria. There are only 15 spaces available for each tour so if this is of interest, please sign up soon here. (The main page has three tours listed, one each day.)

What is an urban intensive?
An urban intensive is a deep dive into urban life. It asks us to come up against edges we may not usually be in contact with and to learn through and across difference. This means listening to different points of view, sitting down with a community organization we may know little about, or exploring a new part of town through someone else’s eyes. An urban intensive should generate new experiences; it should be surprising, evocative and ask us to question how we can live better in our city and region together, embracing difference and sharing stories. 

Here’s a bit more detail about some of the topics we invite you to explore:

In the Lekwungen Welcome and Stories for a Canada Under Review we’ll be welcomed and receive a Lekwungen teaching from Songhees Nation knowledge keeper Florence Dick and the Lekwungen Dancers. The second portion of the session is a panel discussion with some of the Indigenous members of the City Family – the City of Victoria’s reconciliation body – reflecting on what it means to be Indigenous and Canadian at a moment when Canada is “under review.”

In “Spirit Bear: Echoes of the Past – A True Story,” Cindy Blackstock and Spirit Bear are returning to Victoria to launch the children’s book they wrote after their last visit to Lekwungen territory, about residential schools and also the removal of the Sir John A Macdonald statue from in front of City Hall. This session is being held in person for a small group of children from the Victoria Native Friendship Centre and local elementary schools. Other classrooms and members of the public are invited to tune into the livestream and to share questions for Cindy and Spirit Bear in the chat. Please pass this along to any teachers or parents you know!

In “Hope Meets Action: Echoes Through the Black Continuum,” for the first time in its history, the Royal BC Museum has handed over curatorial authority to the community. This session will explore the challenges: What felt hard and new? The opportunities: What felt exciting and new? And what’s next: What advice do panelists have to share for institutions and communities that want to work together to centre the voices of those who have been historically and also presently silenced?

In Healthy and Just Food Systems we’ll explore the great changes and shifts the local food security movement has experienced over the past 18 months, balancing entrenched hunger and poverty with people’s deep desire to connect to each other and the land. Join us for a conversation with local food leaders working at the intersections of race and equity, to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities that they see in their own work and for society to work better as we emerge from the pandemic. Roundtable participants will speak to “What do you see that gives you the most hope in your work in relation to equity and food justice?”

In Belonging in Victoria: Muslim Voices for Change Muslim women from the community will explore themes of Islamophobia, belonging, racism and safety by sharing their local and global everyday experiences. Inspired by their calls to action from the National Summit on Islamophobia that took place in July 2021, the panel offers concrete recommendations for meaningful action on addressing ongoing faith-based hate, racism and colonialism on the traditional territories of the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples.

Please head here to see the whole program and to register for individual sessions. Everyone is encouraged to register for the opening plenary: Lekwungen Welcome and Stories for a Canada Under Review and the closing plenary, Our Shared Future: Reflections from Youth – Calls to Action. In person sessions are on a first-come first served basis and will follow all public health guidelines.

Please share this post and the program with everyone you think might be interested. The more participants, the richer the conversation, the brighter our city and our region’s future.

Grandmothers For Africa, and Fourth Wave Fatigue

Victoria Grandmothers for Africa gather at Mile Zero to celebrate their fundraising ride for 2021. Photo credit: Jane Player.

Victoria Grandmothers for Africa
Last Sunday, I was invited to ride with the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa on the final leg of their 15th annual cycle tour. We met at Central Park and biked along the Vancouver Street bike corridor to Mile 0 where they had started four weeks ago.

Over a four week period, 65 women from greater Victoria as well as Campbell River, Duncan, Galiano Island, Ladysmith and Merville cycled a total of 28,144 km and raised $104,180 (and climbing) for the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The women range in age from 58 to 86 with a median age of 70. Individually they completed distances over the four weeks ranging from 143 km to 1133 km.

At the first international Grandmothers Gathering (held in Toronto in 2006), 200 Canadian grandmothers made a commitment to 100 African grandmothers and to the world: “We will not rest until they can rest.” Fifteen years later, thousands of grandmothers are more committed than ever to three shared goals: raise awareness, build solidarity, and raise funds for the local, community-based organizations that support African grandmothers and the children in their care. There are over 15 million orphans in Africa – children who have lost one or both parents to HIV & AIDS – and most are being raised by grandmothers.

According to the organizers, “the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa Cycle Tour … embodies solidarity. Cycling requires strength, endurance, confidence, balance, optimism and perseverance. African Grandmothers need all of these and more in order to carry out their work. The tour has raised over a million dollars for the Steven Lewis Foundation over 15 years.”

During the pandemic, the Victoria Grandmothers weren’t deterred and found creative ways to continue the cycle tour and continue to raise money, which is a good thing because support for the grandmothers in Africa is needed now more than ever. In African countries, there is limited access to vaccines and the goal of having enough doses available for 10% of the population by the end of September is unlikely to be met. This leaves African grandmothers and their grandchildren at risk and even more in need of help, support and love sent from their counterparts in Victoria.

This is the fifth year I’ve joined the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa at the end of their cycle tour (last year virtually). Each year I do, I’m moved to tears by their deep and heartfelt commitment to grandmothers on the other side of the world. It is unwavering and it’s an inspiration for all of us. As big as the world might seem, we can make it smaller by creating direct links to others – in this case grandmother to grandmother. We know when we do this, that however far apart we are and however different we might seem from each other, we are inextricably connected.

You can learn more about the Victoria Grandmothers for Africa and their work here.

Fourth Wave Fatigue
It has been a difficult past few weeks in our city, province, and country. Notwithstanding the inspiring story above about the grandmother connections, we’re more divided than ever. In part it’s because everyone is beyond tired – fatigued – as we plow through yet another wave of COVID-19. This division is not necessary. And it’s not inevitable.

Doctors, nurses, those working on the front lines in motels and shelters in our community where vulnerable residents live and where COVID-19 has hit with a vengeance. Police and bylaw officers, paramedics, public works and parks staff. Small business owners who can’t find enough staff or who are experiencing break ins and damages. Those living outside because the existing sheltering and housing available doesn’t meet their needs. Those trying to care for them. All these people and many more are exhausted and stretched really thin, maybe to a breaking point.

Because of this, it’s the most difficult wave of the pandemic yet. But we’re not going to get through it divided. Remember back to the first wave when we were banging pots and pans to support health care workers. When we were bringing groceries to seniors who couldn’t go out. When we raised $6 million as a community in a very short time for the Rapid Relief Fund to help out those in need. When we found all sorts of ways to stay connected even while we stayed apart. When there was a general and overwhelming feeling of goodwill, generosity and a sense that we were all in this together.

For those of us who want that feeling back, we can create it. Indeed I think there’s an imperative for us to do so if we’re going to make it through the fourth wave intact as humans and as a community. Here are some things that I’m trying to do that might also be useful to you:

  • Get off and stay off social media
  • Instead of looking at your phone while in a line up, strike up a conversation with the person behind you
  • Give people with strong differences of opinion an opportunity to share their views without arguing back; give people the benefit of the doubt
  • Notice if you have privilege and find ways to address it. (Below is an amazing video to help figure out where you stand)
  • Find ways in daily life to do small, kind and unexpected things for others – both people you know and people you don’t
  • When in doubt, be generous