On the invisibility of carework

If my Facebook feed is any reflection of our city’s concerns at large (which is admittedly debatable), among the posts telling us to shop local and asking why are large chains allowed to be open when mom-and-pop shops must be closed, there is a distinct absence of stories about our dire need to improve the safety and support of our most vulnerable including our elderly and the staff that care for them during these unprecedented times-in-which-we-refuse-to-acknowledge-that-we-went-through-SARS.

I didn’t think I had to remind you all why we are taking profound and wide-ranging public health measures at this point in time, but clearly some people need it spelled out to them.

To state it as clearly as I can: we are curtailing our lives to reduce the opportunities where we may become infected by COVID-19 and then infect other people before we realize we are carrying the virus. We are trying to reduce the number of people who will die from COVID-19 infection and to reduce the number of people who will die because they cannot seek the health care they need in a timely matter, such as cancer treatments, because our healthcare staff will not have the capacity to take on anything but immediate health emergencies because their beds and emergency rooms are filled to capacity with highly infectious patients suffering from COVID-19.

(While some healthy people don’t want to curtail their lives because they know that the chance that they may die from COVID-19 is statistically very small, it is still in the best interest of healthy people to reduce the risk of infection to other people if only to potentially save their own collective-ass by helping keep hospitalized cases down, in case that they may find themselves needing urgent healthcare. )

Now I’m going to go a step further. I am going to say that we will not have a working economy unless we bring our COVID numbers down to zero. Those who are advocating that we continue to open up indoor spaces where infections are likely to spread without first making the necessary investments and efforts to protect the most vulnerable populations in our communities, have essentially decided that these COVID-19 deaths are an acceptable price to pay for the ability to eat and drink scotch with friends in a fine restaurant.

Regardless of how much of an individual you think you are — oh so separate from the rest of us sheeple — you are among us. Even if you decide to act like a traitor, you still depend on other people.

Among Us is so popular that its developers just canceled the sequel - The  Verge

Nora Loreto has been tracking the deaths of healthcare and other workers across Canada. This morning, I downloaded a copy of her spreadsheet and filtered for Ontario. As of today, 14 cleaners, personal support workers, and nurses have died from COVD-19.

[An aside: Why is this the first time I have learned that 10 taxi drivers have died from COVID-19? And why hasn’t this been mentioned in our own local conversations about public transit?]

Loreto also has the numbers to back up the cruel fact that we have completely failed to protect the elders in our communities.

It has been suggested that one of the reasons why our long-term care facilities deteriorated so quickly when COVID-19 arrived, is due to the fact that for years, we have chosen not to listen to the many, many concerns raised by those people who have working in these places. Our Long-Term Care homes were so bad there was a public inquiry report published not even six months before COVID-19 emerged.

It has been argued that the Ontario and federal government only took the conditions of our long term health care homes seriously after the armed forces were brought in. The military found conditions at the five homes where they were brought in as so bad that they LEAKED what they saw to the media. And how bad were conditions?

Now imagine how bad it might be to work in such a place.

But we don’t hear from these people. Nurses have been sounding the alarm for the years and we ignored them, then and we are ignoring them, now. Maybe, just maybe, we are not paying more attention to the conditions of LTC homes because we don’t appreciate carework. Maybe its because the employees of long-term health homes are also most likely to be women, with many being racialized women. Maybe we care more about poppies than we do about veterans.

I am still waiting for our local media to tell their stories, to give voice to their hopes, their needs, and their fears. Rather than giving regular coverage to those who gather illegally to protest public health measures, I would love to see more journalists covering where 2/3 of Ontario COVID-19 deaths have come from. I would like to see more owners of the long-term homes be held accountable for their inaction. I would love to see more Facebook posts from community members agitating for the long-term investment from the Ontario government that we need in order to keep our elderly safe and our most vulnerable safe.

Until then, women’s labour remains as invisible and unsaid as SARS.

I will leave you with two videos that have helped me better understand what needs to be done.

From October 7th, 2020:

And from yesterday:

Weeknote Nov 17-23 2020

There is a city council meeting on Monday. I’m not going to watch it live but I will try to follow up on the outcomes of the following:

  • 8.1. Capitol Theatre Legacy Grant Application
  • 8.7 Parking Bylaw 9023 – Recommended Amendments on Sandwich Street (C 215/2020)
  • 11.1 Contracting Out Caretaking Services – Phase II- City Wide (C 219/2020)

That being said, it looks like a lot of attention will be paid towards the Sewer Master Plan. I am not an engineer and so I’m not entirely sure whether the allegations that a partially blocked drain of the (federally-built )Herb Way Parkway was a significant contributing factor or there is a narrative that is directing attention to a convenient scapegoat.

Did you know that the beaver is the embodiment of wisdom according to the Anishnaabe? From Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s 2020 Kreisel Lecture, entitled A Short History of the Blockade: Giant Beavers, Diplomacy & Regeneration in Nishnaabewin:

In 1975, the beaver [the animal, not figure] became an emblem of Canada as a symbol of its sovereignty, because the first Europeans in Indigenous territories saw the Beaver not as a relative, but as a money making attraction to supply the continent with nifty felt hats. 

Two hundred years of making beavers into accessories led to their near extinction. And now beavers are mostly known to us as a nuisance and an inconvenience. But this Indigenous land, this Indigenous water, these Indigenous bodies have centuries of oral literature and an embodied practice that know different… Beavers — Amikwag — represent the practice of wisdom. 

I want to think about that for a moment. Out of all of the beings that make up life on this planet, to my ancestors, Amikwag embody the politics and the ethical practices of wisdom.

Amikwag build dams, dams that create deep pools and channels that don’t freeze, creating winter worlds for their fish relatives, deep pools and channels that drought proof the landscape, dams that make wetlands full of moose, deer and elk, food cooling stations, places to hide, and muck to keep the flies away. Dams that open spaces in the canopy so sunlight increases, making warm and shallow aquatic habitat around the edges of ponds for amphibians and insects. Dams that create plunge pools on the downstream side for juvenile fish, gravel for spawning, and homes and food for birds.

And who is the first back after a fire to start the regeneration makework? Amik is a world builder. Amik is the one that brings the water. Amik is the one that brings forth more life. Amik is the one that works continuously with water and land and plant and animal nations and consent and diplomacy to create worlds. To create shared worlds. 

Prior to contact with white people, it is estimated that (North America) was home to between 60 and 400 million beavers. That’s three to five beavers for every kilometre of stream, a beaver in nearly every headwater stream in North America. Biologists call the beaver a keystone species.

CBC Ideas: The Brilliance of the Beaver: Learning from an Anishnaabe World

I am delighted that the beaver have returned to the Olde Sandwich.

It appears that any contribution to flooding from the Herb Parkway system is unforgivable. Can we find a way to live with possible flooding from amikwag? It reminds of me of this article I recently read,

This means that urban wilding must be more than just improving access to nature: it involves redesigning our urban infrastructures to account for our non-human neighbours, so that we don’t just co-exist, but, more, that we are mutually supportive and generative. Cities globally have started experimenting and organisations like Wild Cities are helping chart a path, demonstrating how cities can become happier and healthier, and societies more resilient and adaptive.

Urban wilding, however, has many socio-cultural complexities that differ from rural rewilding (which is a whole separate topic that I’m not focusing on here). Dr Bridget Snaith has shown how people of different race, ethnicity and cultural backgrounds have quite different perspectives on urban landscaping.

You might think that everyone loves green cities, but in actual fact there is no cross-cultural consensus on how, why and when to use green urban spaces, or how to care for them — one person’s lovely ‘wild’ meadow, is another person’s unkempt park suffering for lack of maintenance. Urban wilding — involving social, cultural, environmental and technical infrastructures — needs to account for this diversity of perspective, both in designing wild processes as well as in delivering them.

Making Wild Cities — Notes on Participatory Urban (Re)Wilding, Usman Haque

The seven pedestrian bridges of the Herb Parkway are themed after the seven Grandfather teachings (in which wisdom is represented by the crane) (page 12 of 20).

It is essential that we try to incorporate these lessons into our lives beyond these design gestures.

Weeknote Nov.10-16 2020

Last Monday, Council voted 6-4 in favour of the Mayor’s motion to support the location of the future hospital. During said meeting, the CEO of the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation suggested that the only thing holding back receiving $2.3 billion dollars of funding was a unanimous vote at Windsor City Council. So, as someone who doesn’t support the proposed location, I’m taking the meeting’s outcome as a win.

Also, The Windsor Star, AM800, Blackburn Radio, and the CBC all neglected to include this startling bit of information that was made known during the marathon session of council:

Remember when it was normal for the media and the more fiscally conservative city councilors to hold the CEO of WEEDC to some degree of accountability?

You can hear CEO McKenzie’s testimony for yourself. It can be found in the second video at around the 2:25 mark :

As I learned from this week’s episode of Rose City Politics (the conversation turns to this matter around the 60 minute mark), WEEDC’s board members are not selected through the same process as other city & county oversight boards are. Perhaps the matter of how this board is structured is worth re-visiting.

The campaign in favour of the location of the hospital was called We can’t wait and it borrows from a tried and true playbook from our local politicians: create an artificial sense of urgency to bypass required consultations and consensus building within the community. We were given this reasoning with the WFCU Centre (we could lose the Spitfires!). We were given this reasoning with the Aquatic Centre (we are hosting FINA!) and we almost got an a canal and marina downtown when then-mayor Eddie Francis tried a last minute push through via a post-2008-crash government stimulus package proposal after it was twice rejected at City Council.

It is really quite remarkable about all the measures that could improve the quality of life at Windsor that always requires more study and what projects require no study at all.

Speaking of organizations that lobby city council, I think the City of Windsor should adopt a lobbying registry:

Between 2010 and 2014, Paul Bonwick earned more than $1 million for his involvement in deals made by Collingwood city council — almost half of what the town of about 22,000 paid in salaries in 2012 for its full-time staff.

The problem? Bonwick is the brother of then-mayor Sandra Cooper.

That’s just one of the issues covered in a report, released last week, that was produced by a judicial inquiry into business dealings in the town. The 20-month-long inquiry focused on two transactions — the sale of a 50 per cent share of the town’s electrical utility and a decision to award a contract to expand recreational facilities to one builder without considering other bids — and identified the lack of transparency about lobbying as a key issue.

Of the 306 inquiry recommendations from Justice Frank Marrocco, 29 relate to establishing and operating a lobbyist registry — something the town introduced this July, making it only the seventh of Ontario’s 444 municipalities to have done so. “There’s nothing wrong with [lobbying],” says Collingwood mayor Brian Saunderson. “But we need to understand who these people are and whose interests they are advancing.”

‘A cautionary tale’: What this Ontario town can teach us about lobbyists, Mary Baxter, Nov 12, TVO

You hate to see an attempt to open a important conversation about a potential local civic issues on social media that gets immediately overrun with reply guys.

Speaking of local civic issues, the next Agenda of City Council includes

  • 8.1. Capitol Theatre Legacy Grant Application
  • 8.7 Parking Bylaw 9023 – Recommended Amendments on Sandwich Street (C 215/2020)
  • 11.1 Contracting Out Caretaking Services – Phase II- City Wide (C 219/2020)

Of note, no protected bike lanes are being recommended for Sandwich Street despite resident feedback and that Sandwich Street is part of The Great Lakes Waterfront Trail [PDF].

Speaking of cycling…

And lastly something a little different. Over this past week or so, I developed a proof-of-concept map (using leaflet-omnivore) of bike parking in my neighbourhood that I collected in the field using a web-based form that captures both location data and a photo (using kobotoolbox).

The interactive map can be found at

It admittedly doesn’t cover a lot of the city but it was fun to make.

Weeknote Nov 3 – 9 2020

Tomorrow promises to be a looooong city council meeting filled with delegates testifying for and against the Mayor’s motion in support of the County Road 42 location of the amalgamation of our local hospitals.

Since I wanted to wait for the Ontario Provincial Budget to be released first, I sent my own position against the motion in an an email to the Clerk’s office just after 5pm on Thursday which I thought was plenty of time before Friday noon deadline.

My letter is not in the council package that was published on Saturday afternoon.

I guess I’m part of the silenced majority.

I considered counting up the letters in support of the mayor’s motion to support the County Road 42 location and comparing them to the number of those opposed but now knowing that this number would be inherently inaccurate, I opted instead to bring attention to the fact that many of the letters in support of the Mayor’s motion 1) make no mention of the location of the hospital and 2) are form letters.

Hey, let’s do some research. When was Windsor’s population less than 20,000 residents? According to The Canadian Encyclopedia in 1918 Windsor had a pop. of 21,000. Were Windsor’s two hospitals built in 1918? No. But there is evidently there is a DOOR from 1918 that still exists, so these writers are not technically lying to make their case.

I want to be clear: there’s nothing inherently wrong with using a form letter. Activist groups frequently make use of such templates to encourage letter-writing campaigns. That being said, whoever wrote this particular template shouldn’t have suggested that the authors were inspired to write these letters after they were just doing some independent research and fed them such a far-fetched conclusion.

There are many other form letters that also exaggerate to the point in which the truth might be considered stretched. For example, 23 letter writers (who might live in Windsor) state that the current hospitals in Windsor are crumbling . From CAMPP’s recent newsletter:

“Their extreme concern for the physical condition of WRH’s buildings ignores nearly $200M in capital investments and expansions in the past two decades. It also flies in the face of the “Accreditation with Exemplary Standingawarded to WRH on December 30, 2019 for 99.8% compliance with national standards for patient quality and safety.”

But let’s get to my real complaint. These letters are likely from the Windsor Essex Economic Development Corporation’s mobilization efforts. WEEDC (whose board the mayor sits on as a director) is funded by the City of Windsor and the County of Essex. Taxpayers of Windsor are paying WEEDC to lobby City Council despite the fact that mayor has gone on record that he believes that tax-payer’s money should not be used for advocacy (and BIA funds are not taxpayer’s money).

Honest question: if the Mayor wants to send a message to the Ford government, why doesn’t he lobby them directly?

“We needed a pitbull fighting for us and ended up with a poodle.”

Speaking of the provincial government, let’s sidetrack from city council for a moment.

The fact that the Ford government released its Ontario Budget in the same week of a contentious American election suggests to me that the government is not exactly inviting scrutiny. There is certainly a lot of problematic plans that the budget contains, including

And while Canadians were celebrating the triumph of democracy with our neighbours to the North, this was happening

Also, this is troubling:

Ok, back to Windsor City Council. I’m very much looking forward to a public conversation that is focused on addressing racism and anti-racism directly and not sideways via uptalk of diversity and inclusion.

On December 19th, it will be 6 months since the Mayor’s Windsor Black Lives Matter Panel and we are still waiting on some sort of action or report from its survey.

Weeknote Oct 27 – Nov 2 2020

The next city council meeting is November 9th. The agenda is 643 pages long. I have not read this document, but here are somethings that caught my eye when I skimmed it:

  • There’s a city response to a council question from 2019 about payday loan establishments. I learned that some cities have established buffer areas so that Payday Loan Establishments cannot be located near ‘body rub parlors’ and gambling establishments. Other cities restrict the number of payday loan establishments per ward. For example, in Kingston and Hamilton there’s only one per ward. In Windsor:

Oh yeah, there’ also this:

I find that the Mayor’s efforts to constantly signal to the Provincial government about consolidating our hospitals as tiresome. I was disappointed how much oxygen the issue took up in the recent Ward 7 by-elections and how also it took away from other necessary conversations during the recent telephone town halls for the rest of the city wards. The Premiere has already stated on the record that he would support the development so why does this campaigning from the mayor’s office continue?

I don’t know but I will say that all this activity suggests to me that the proposal is still on shaky ground and not a done deal. And that’s why I’m going to write to the city clerk to voice my disapproval of this motion on the grounds that it will cause the most harm to the most vulnerable and least mobile, that it accelerate sprawl beyond the carrying capacity of the city, and that the process to select the hospital’s location was not done in a way that lent confidence in the decision. You too can voice your opinion by November 6th.

I have lamented in several posts on this blog that natural coverage of the county of Essex is 3.5% — the worst in all of Ontario. I have since learned that this point of data from 2002 is no longer accurate. In 2012, the coverage moved 8.5% My new question is why hasn’t the measure of coverage not moved since 2012?

Compare and contrast:

Halifax’s striking central library was cited again and again Tuesday, as Windsor Public Library board members envisioned what a new central library for Windsor should look like…. Dilkens joined the board Tuesday. The first item on the agenda was electing a chairman to replace departing chair Peter Frise. Dilkens ran for the job because, he said, “I want to be a part of what happens with the central library and make sure we build something the community will be proud of, something that is iconic and something that is a modern library.” … “I want them to say ‘Wow, this is Windsor, this is community, this is inclusive,’” said member Margaret Payne, who also cited the Halifax library as the kind of library she’d like to see. It has a plaza-like atmosphere outside with chairs and tables. Its coffee shop on the fifth floor with expansive city views has been called Halifax’s living room. The inside is open concept with multiple activities on offer, from free yoga to puppet shows to musical performances. “There was everybody there — little kids, old people, everyone in between,” said Payne. “The vibe from that place was amazing.” Coun. Irek Kusmierczyk told the consultant he envisions a place where residents from all walks of life can access innovative technologies. It should be a source of pride for the city, he said.

Mayor envisions ‘iconic’ new central library for Windsor, The Windsor Star, Brian Cross, Jun 21, 2017

… to this

“It’s actually kind of exciting,” Drew Dilkens said of the early response to the city’s Library Central Branch Catalyst Project. The idea is that instead of the city going on its own and building a $39-million-plus standalone library, it could dangle the library out as a carrot to spur a much larger development project that would include the library as a tenant. According to Dilkens, there’s been a big mix of ideas from investors. The due date to make submissions is Nov. 27, with the expectation that council could be starting to choose among the best applicants in the first quarter of next year. …He said the successful project could combine the library with residential units, a hotel, commercial space, retail, restaurant, cultural space, commercial, or mixed uses involving classrooms for students at St. Clair College or University of Windsor, which both have downtown campuses but no downtown library….

The city is looking for at least a $15 million investment and a 30 per cent increase in municipal assessment from the project, with the expectation it will spur additional investment in the surrounding area. City solicitor Shelby Askin Hager said the city wants the central branch to be designed and located in such a way as “to acknowledge it’s an important piece of civic life and an important part of the vibrancy of the downtown core.” It also wants one or more complementary uses to increase the catalyst effect, and architecture that enhances the public realm and supports the people who live, work and visit downtown. The request from the city also talks about the importance of increasing the residential units downtown and reusing vacant buildings.

City seeks proposals for library-anchored downtown development, The Windsor Star, Brian Cross, Oct 28, 2020

Last year I was invited to share Some Thoughts in response to this prompt:

Over the past two years, Sidewalk Toronto has brought some important questions about cities – and our collective futures – into sharp focus. Some of those questions are new; others we’ve been asking for a long time. This is a collection of ideas to help build on and continue these discussions.

We asked contributors for a short, standalone description of an idea, policy, strategy, or best practice that might expand this conversation about cities. The people we asked met three basic criteria: a) people that have shown an interest in contributing to the discussion b) people that have a history of participating in public discourse and c) people with an explicit mission of inclusivity in their work. This list of contributors is not comprehensive or complete.

Within the collection there are conflicting ideas and world-views, which is exactly the point: to open up dialogue and create the largest possible tent to discuss what we want to see in our cities and spaces and how we might make those things happen. Our hope is that this convening will make space for more collaboration and conversation in the future.

I contributed a short consideration called PUBLIC DATA BELONGS IN THE PUBLIC LIBRARY :

Three years ago, my family had the pleasure of staying in the coastal city of Aarhus, Denmark for several days. At the time my children were ten and eight and while we were in Aarhus, we were joined by my cousin and her four year old son. It was a rainy Sunday when we all met up. As the day passed, the children became more and more restless in our hotel room. So we opted to brave the rain and walk to the nearby DOKK1 – the world famous Aarhus Public Library. The library was our salvation. It was filled with generous spaces where the children could play while the adults could linger or sit and talk nearby.

This is how CityLab describes DOKK1: “The spaceship-like structure houses the library, a municipal service center for residents and newcomers where citizens can pick up their identification card, renew their passports, and register with the municipality; a cafe, ample space for families, public computers, three playgrounds and lecture halls.”¹ A library doesn’t have to be as magnificent as DOKK1 to be a refuge for a family who just needs a place and a reason to spend time together. It can simply be there — in the neighbourhood, open to the community and open to discovery as indoor public space. But a library can be so much more than a family friendly and affordable third place in a community.

Most of us understand that the public library has books, story time, and computers with printers. But only some of us know that the library also houses the librarians who can help answer questions beyond whether a particular book is available. What if your local branch library started to market themselves until they were known in the community as the source of information about, by, and for the neighbourhood? What if the local branch library became the resident’s interface for the city and a resource centre for local community activists? “It would be a place where you could drop in, tell a librarian your idea and be directed towards resources, experts, case studies, maybe even professors at universities who are into just that stuff. Wouldn’t that be great?”²

What if the neighbourhood library was the place to collect, preserve and share neighbourhood data? Many city residents don’t have the data literacy skills to manipulate and interpret data, and as this stands, most of the city’s open datasets are useless to them. Libraries could step in and teach those skills including those involved in the protection of privacy. It could be a fitting role for libraries “whose mission has always been to ‘collect and make accessible to the public information that the public has rights to read.’” ³

The public library could be more than indoor public space. It could be the home of public data that the neighbourhood both generates and understands.

[2] Catherine Porter, “The Boxer: a guide to getting in the ring with City bureaucracy” in “Local Motion: The Art of Civic Engagement in Toronto”, Coach House Press, 2010.

I have long imagined the public librarian as guide and conduit to a city that is here for you to use. This week I found the closest manifestation to this vision: the UK charity Citizens Advice. It is so much more than a 211 service. For one, it uses the usage data of its service to generate policy considerations for those in the support sector.

And for all you out there who thinks there is much room for improvement in how we do our politics in Canada, I offer the following TVO Agenda interviews that I recently enjoyed.


Weeknote Oct 20 – Oct 26 2020

On Tuesday, October 20th we learned that the Ford government intends to remove the ability for a municipality to use ranked ballots. I’m a bit gutted about this.

There is still time to register for a 60 minute session on Monday October 26 at 7:30pm from Unlock Democracy about the success of Ranked Ballots in London, Ontario.

Where there is still time to save Ranked Ballots remains to be seen.

“During the past two weeks, 3,647 residents participated in five telephone-enabled town hall meetings hosted by Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens and all members of Windsor City Council.” The recordings of these town hall meetings are now on YouTube:

The results of all the polling from these Town Halls are also available. There are some interesting bits of information but there is no statistically valid basis to ground any conclusions.

The Windsor Star decided to give a “highly placed city hall official” the cover of anonymity so they could freely blame Federal MP Irek Kusmierczyk for two City of Windsor projects that did not receive federal funding.

When I moved to Windsor, I was shocked by which how many local officials openly expressed an *entitlement* to provincial and federal funding, including Conservatives. The City of Windsor didn’t win two bids for federal funding that it applied for. Rather than resolve to improve, our mysterious source tells us that the mayor and some city councilors are outraged at the lack of government interference?

(Knowing this, what does this tell us about the fairness of any competitive process that might originate from the City of Windsor?)

Judging by the whinging and petulance expressed by the direct quotations in this piece, I’m going to chose to believe that the source is the mayor himself. I DOUBLE-DOG-DARE all journalists from other media outlets in the city to ask the mayor if he was the source.

Or perhaps a journalist could confirm — as the Canadian Heritage ministry official alluded to — whether the application actually fit the program guidelines. Or we could consider that the proposal to spend millions of dollars to encase a streetcar in glass and place it beside a riverfront was never a good idea in the first place.

Here’s another idea. Maybe the City of Windsor should take responsibility for falling short, take the time to find out what were the characteristics of the winning federal bids, and take the steps to build its capacity so that its next applications will be stronger.

But that’s not going to happen. Because while Detroit might hustle harder,

On October 4th, Frazier Fathers made this observation:

Maybe this one is just me, but on my computer(s) Google maps has updated to have a green default colour on maps when zoomed out…

Here’s what a map of our green space should look like:

On a less depressing note, Essex County has a property called Green Dragon Woods.

Green Dragon Woods is a 32.8-ha site located along the Canard River, upstream of Canard River Scout Camp. The significance of this site is that it contains a number of rare species, including the rare Green Dragon, which grows on the floodplain. There is also hydrologic significance associated with this site. The site is composed of the channel and floodplain of the Canard River. The floodplain is approximately 200 m wide and contains oxbows and braided flood channels that provide flood storage capacity and reduce main channel velocity

Town of Amherstburg Water Master Plan Update & Environmental Assessment Final Phase 2 Report

Last week Toronto Life published an article with an Windsor angle: “I’m 25, live with my parents and own 20 rental properties. Here’s how I did it.

I have a personal aversion to talking about real estate and taxes which puts me at odds with almost all other adults I know. Rather that properly address the potential serious problems that comes to mind from the Toronto Life profile, let me draw your attention to one real-estate reform that sounds most promising to me:

Housing policy should be based on three important principles. First, we should value housing for its use-value, not its exchange-value. Second, housing policy should be part of community and neighbourhood building. Third, housing policy should promote social mixing and sharing, rather than stratification.

Let’s unpack the guiding  principles that  should apply to both house ownership and rental?

The first is that we should regard housing for its use-value. Too often we value housing for its exchange-value. We need to decommodify housing. We must build houses to provide ourselves and others with shelter, comfort, a place where we can grow as individuals and a base from which we can develop as full members of society. We must avoid regarding houses as instruments of exchange as is so often the case today with taxation incentives for investment in housing for short-term capital gain. Housing policy should not be influenced by the quest for wealth accumulation. Older people like me have benefitted from increased property values through no particular virtue on our part. But in the process we have frozen new home buyers out of the market. A fall in property values would  be socially very desirable. But the media keeps us focussed on how we must protect our unearned property gains.

Houses are becoming commodities to buy and sell and not homes. By John Menadue, Pearls and Irritations, 25 September 2020

And from waaaay back

If we really wanted housing to be profitable and plentiful, we’d tax owners on the annual rise in value of their property – a Land Value Tax. This has two benefits: First, you’re taxing a non-productive source of wealth, whereas income and corporate taxes can stifle innovation and risk-taking.

Second, because buyers and sellers know the tax exists, property values stop rising quickly. This makes it easier for newcomers to enter the property market, and for homeowners to buy and sell based on the desirability of housing.

It also means that investors make their profits from land not by pocketing its increase, but by improving its income value – collecting rent, increasing the quantity or quality of housing on it, pressuring government to allow better or more intensive use of the land.

When people can live fairly well, in large numbers, close to their places of work, the economy functions far better. When a few of us are making useless paper profits from our homes and the rest are stuck outside the market, it hurts everyone.

“A housing crisis of global proportions”, by Doug Saunders, The Globe and Mail, April 28, 2012

Weeknotes, Oct 13 – Oct 19 2020

Earlier this week, I plugged my nose and took a deep dive into the City of Windsor’s 20 Year Strategic Plan from 2016. In my post, I admitted that I could not find the 4-year strategic plan that we were supposed to be guided by, but a reader found it:

Our mayor has a B.Comm degree and an MBA. He knows that a strategic vision document doesn’t involve a group of city councilors making up a wish list of items that they then on vote with red stickers to receive funding every four years until 20 years have passed.

And yet, here we are.

“Telling our story”

This article Policing Protests: A Double Standard from the Council of Canadians captures this feeling of disconnect that many of us are feeling while we witness RCMP inaction in Nova Scotia. I have found that following public policy agencies has been even more useful than following local journalism for in-depth and meaningful coverage of complex issues.

Last week I had forgotten to duly note this important work of journalism from The Toronto Star

Public health won’t tell us which employers have COVID-19 outbreaks. But we obtained WSIB data to help paint a picture, By Sara Mojtehedzadeh, Toronto Star, Sun., Oct. 11, 2020

The CBC did a similar bit of reporting using similar methods in August of this year.

Sarah Mushtaq’s guest column in The Windsor Star asks some good questions

Which neighbourhoods have amenities (such as swimming pools — public and private — golf courses, tennis courts, libraries, science centres, art galleries, playgrounds, parks, green spaces, sidewalks, streetscaping, street lighting, bus stops, bus shelters, etc.) and which do not?

Amenity mapping, as Pitter calls it, looks at the type and number of amenities that exist in a certain area. In talks, she encourages residents to explore their own neighbourhood as well as two other neighbourhoods they may be unfamiliar with to compare and contrast the differences.

Amenities should be studied to eliminate inequities among local neighbourhoods, Sarah Mushtaq, The Windsor Star, Oct 17, 2020

Just before the 50 minute mark of last week’s episode of Rose City Politics is a short discussion of the recent telephone town halls for resident of the wards of Windsor to raise matters of concern with their councillor and their mayor. I bring it to your attention because I share the concerns of the hosts who point out that the software used is usually employed by political parties. Evidently, the polling questions asked in some of the other Ward meetings were much more political in nature than the Ward 4/5 event that I listened in on.

I have some other recommended reads:

A city with a strategic plan is the goal

It’s a cliché but a goal without a plan is a wish.

If that’s the case, the City of Windsor is a city of wishful thinking.

Tonight I spent a little time re-reading The City of Windsor’s 20 Year Strategic Vision just to remind myself if it still holds up as the weakest and the weirdest document I have seen the City produce in my own 20 years in Windsor. Short answer: yes!

You should read it. It won’t take long. The vision document is literally only 850 words.

I’m also incredibly confused why spending commitments over the 20 years was built from resident suggestions made at some ward meetings, an online survey, and a wish list from the city councilors sitting in 2015. You would think that a city’s 20 year plan into the future would be based on, say, evidence-based projections of the future. But not Windsor’s. In our 20 Year Strategic Vision, there’s only one expert projection of the future — and that is a projection that the city seeks to defy.

Evidently the City of Windsor is supposed to produce a series of 4-year Strategic Plans that fit into our larger 2016-2036 Strategic Vision. We’re at 2020 and I haven’t seen any evidence of a 2016-2020 plan nor any indication of a 2020-2024 plan.

So I reviewed The City of London’s current 4 Year strategic plan. Compared to ours, it is magnificent. It doesn’t winge that people are so negative. It just sets to work to make things better.

Also, this document actually resembles a proper Strategic Plan. Instead of wasting space with a word cloud, it has a clearly articulated Vision, Mission, and Values as well as 5 specific strategic areas of focus:

Did you see that? CREATING a Safe London for Women and Girls? London Ontario is a city that is committing focus and resources to improving the lives of its residents. Did you know that other cities in Canada actually apply time, money, and effort to better understanding that they can do to improve the lives of women? It’s true! Here’s a 2019 Report from Edmonton.

Anyway, back to strategic visions and plans.

One thing I noticed about the City of Windsor Strategic Vision was that it was developed with the assistance of a consulting group called StrategyCorp.

From what I can tell, the 2019-2023 Strategic Plan from London, Ontario was developed in-house but they do use a Strategic Plan Dashboard and reporting infrastructure that’s provided by Clearpoint Strategy. Anyone can look at the site to see progress so far.

I think it’s telling that Leading in Public Service is one of the Strategic areas of focus for the city.

It makes me wonder if the City of Windsor even has the capacity to make its own plans.

I wish it did.

Weeknotes, Oct 6 – Oct 12 2020

Jeewen Gill is Windsor’s new Ward 7 councillor with a share of 19.7% share of the vote.

Despite my misgivings, I did listen into the virtual Ward 4 & 5 Town Hall meeting last week. It was better than I expected and I did appreciate the ability to be polled about future budget priorities and traffic calming (although I thought the question around the hospital was a classic example of push-polling and shouldn’t count as serious evidence of support).

I don’t know whether it because of the undue influence of Rob Ford or because residents have a consumer-mindset when it comes to representative government, but throughout all the Town Hall, I had the impression that many residents see their councilor as a personal concierge to complaining to about city property or services. One woman from Ward 5 called to complain about cobblestone paving that she felt is difficult to navigate that Ed Sleiman had already personally inspected with her and had already helped arrange some degree of remedy. Ed’s response was, ‘if you see a problem, please call me.’

During the Ward 7 race, I heard a number of candidates who pledged 24 hour, full-time access for residents to call with their issues. Now, I completely understand why someone would rather call their councilor than to submit their issue to the 311 system. And yet, this state of affairs depresses me. I want my city councilor to be able to deal with long-term systematic issues and to hold the city to account when these issues aren’t being properly dealt with. I don’t want to reduce to the job of councillor to customer service rep. I want my councillor to help align the community towards a more participatory government.

When the sidewalk heaves because the city doesn’t require sewer pipes for leaks before they are installed in the ground, I want a systematic response to the problem.

Other news:

On October 4th, Frazier Fathers made this observation:

Maybe this one is just me, but on my computer(s) Google maps has updated to have a green default colour on maps when zoomed out…

To a degree this is almost greenwashing the map face. When you zoom in it does remove the “greenery” to more accurate satellite determine greenspaces at a glance it make things greener than they are.

The next day, the article Springtime Everywhere: In prioritizing clarity and smoothness in its representation, Google Earth supports how we are consuming the planet was published in Real Life and addresses similar issues.

This is your periodic reminder that “Essex County has less than 3% of its land area in forest cover and scrubland. This is the lowest percentage of any county or regional municipality in Ontario. In addition, less than 2.5% of Essex County’s original wetland area still exists (1986).”

When are the municipalities of Essex going to start addressing and redress the lack of natural cover in the county? When are we going to try to move the dial on this matter? We have experts in Freshwater Restoration Ecology at the University of Windsor.

Next Monday (October 19th, 2020) is the next City Council Meeting.

  • The agenda is 472 pages long.
    • There’s a short report on the viability to establish a curling rink in one of the city’s active arenas
    • A company called GDH is set to be awarded an RFP related to food and organic waste collection (“At its meeting of January 15, 2018, Council received a report from the City Engineer regarding an update on the Waste Free Ontario Act as it relates to food and organic waste. The Act will require the City of Windsor to provide curbside collection of source separated food and organic waste to single-family dwellings by 2025.”)
    • “In July, 2020, the City issued an Expression of Interest (EOI#114-20) to determine options that exist for partnerships within the public sector to meet the City’s goal of processing organic waste resulting from future curbside food and organic waste collection. This EOI further requested submissions to consider the processing of biosolids from wastewater treatment operations to explore synergies between existing City operations.” (Biosolids == poop!)
    • There’s a report from the Integrity Commissioner that read as very vague to me
    • There’s a 72 page drainage report about Marentette-Mangin Drain.

Happy Thanksgiving!