Fostering a more generous city

I have not yet told you, dear reader, why I decided to create this blog you are currently reading. There is a reason and that reason isn’t particularly obvious and so I feel it would be good for me to let you know what is the purpose of all of this effort.

The name of this blog, The city is here for you to use, is an homage to an essay and book written by Adam Greenfield. It is also the name of a song by The Futureheads.

I will go to another place, nowhere special just another town
You should come to the other place, make it special and make no loss
Make it special and make no loss
Cover the cost, cover the cost,
Cover the cost, cover the cost, cover the cost, cover the cost
Cover the cost, cover the cost, cover the cost, cover the cost
These extra expenses make brilliant senses
All you have to do is take your chances
Cover the cost, cover the cost, cover the cost, cover the cost
These extra expenses make brilliant senses
Extra extra
These are the things that make it better
Are you ready for the city? is the city ready for you?
Don’t you know you have to choose? the city is here for you to use
Are you ready for the city? is the city ready for you?
Don’t you know you have to choose? the city is here for you to use
Are you ready for the city? is the city ready for you?
Don’t you know you have to choose? the city is here for you to use

Songwriters: Barry Hyde / David Craig / David Hyde / Ross Millard
The City Is Here for You to Use lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

I love the phrase the city is here for you to use because when I read it I think of a generous city that – no matter who you are or how much money you have – you can enjoy public parks with water fountains, public bathrooms, public concerts, wild spaces and trails, safe schools, playgrounds, and park benches. When I think of the phrase, I think of cities like Montreal, Portland, and Copenhagen.

I think the city of Windsor can be a more generous place. We, as residents, can and should decide to give a little more individually, so that we can invest in our shared city which will provide benefits to all. I think we must do this because of global warming. But while I encourage everyone to turn and face the grim problem of climate change, I want to encourage everyone to resist the temptation to bunker down and become a prepper. Instead, I share the position of consultant Charles Montgomery, author of the book Happy City:

The message is as surprising as it is hopeful: by retrofitting our cities for happiness, we can tackle the urgent challenges of our age. The happy city, the green city and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.

Happy City, The Book

That is what the name of this blog is trying to evoke. But it isn’t it’s raison d’être.

I created this blog to help foster a more generous city through civic action between elections.

Voting is not enough. Residents must know that there are ways they can actively participate in the betterment of their neighbourhoods, their downtown, and their city as a whole – beyond casting a single ballot every four years.

I believe that for much of the population of Windsor, voting does not feel that it lends itself directly to improvements that they can feel and appreciate. The turnout rate for last year’s municipal election for the city of Windsor was 34.7%. Without a significant change, it is likely to get worse. To many people, I would surmise that local politics appears to be a game that only a few seem to be playing.

“To cover political life as a game played between elites tells citizens that politics is a spectacle to be watched, not an activity to be participated in.”

Lisa Ferguson tweeting about the article, Stop covering politics as a game from Neimanlab

There are ways to combat the politics as a game framing. Years ago, the Poynter Institute pioneered an alternative means to cover elections:

The idea was very simple: campaign coverage should be grounded in what voters want the candidates to talk about. Which voters? The ones you are trying to inform. 4/ This came to be called the “citizens agenda” approach to campaign coverage. It revolves around a single question. Here is the question: “What do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?” From good answers to that everything else in the model flows. 5/

Jay Rosen: twitter, Thread Reader

In Los Angeles, the average turnout rate for their municipal election is 9%.

Some brainstorming ensued and resulted in a simple goal: Find one person unsure of whether he or she was going to vote and make that person care about the election.

“We looked over census and voting data and looked at the people that were really unrepresented at the polls,” Muller said of how the station’s potential voter was selected.

“We imagined this non-voter would have to be someone who was under the age of 44, someone who’s a non-white voter, someone who has real interests that are affected by city decisions,” she said. They settled on Al, a chef and restaurateur, because he best represented someone “who had some real stakes in this election.”

And thus, #MakeAlCare was born. The station wanted its efforts to have a wide reach, so coming up with a hashtag for social media was a must. There was a methodical approach to researching and producing the series but it was not advocacy.

141- KPCC makes one voter care, It’s All Journalism.

Likewise, I want to make you, dear reader, care.

But again, my personal mission is to not increase voter turnout. The goal of this blog is to help foster a more generous city through civic action between elections. That being said, I believe that a city that is clearly responsive to its residents will ultimately result in more civic engagement, including voting.

So why does this mission feel so hard?

One answer to this question is that Windsor has a tradition of electing Strong Mayors. This means that the most efficient way to make change in the city is to privately petition the mayor with your idea and if he likes the plan, he can shape the budget and whip the City Council into providing the votes necessary for your idea to be made manifest.

But we need to remember that there must be other ways in which concerned residents can work with city employees, with city councilors, and even the mayor to make our city a happier, safer, and more generous place for ourselves and our neighbours.

Let’s discover those ways together.

The Economic Security of Women living in Windsor Ontario

Last week I attended the Ontario Library Association’s Superconference. It marked my third and last year on OLITA Council.  OLITA is the Ontario Library Information Technology Association and it was an honour and a pleasure to serve as a part of it.

I mention this fact to give context to the following scenario. On Thursday morning of the conference, I was sitting in the Toronto Metro Conference Centre, listening to the keynote by Robyn Dolittle and how she described how she had uncovered terrible systematic problems in the police investigation of rape in Canada through her investigative reporting series called Unfounded.  Because of her work and because she made academic research on the matter of rape more widely known, police forces across the country have reformed how they keep track of sexual assault statistics and some have taken steps to provide better training of their officers.

After her talk, I opened my phone which brought to my attention that, back in Windsor, there were several social media posts from two members of a local, government-funded technology business incubator who were complaining that the people were sharing the results of a recent research report about the poor economic status of women working in IT in Windsor, and by doing so they “were telegraphing negativity” , “were making things worse”, and “were part of the problem“.

The report in question is called Who are Canada’s Tech Workers and it was prepared by the Brookfield Institute using data from Statistics Canada.

The pay gap for women working tech jobs in Windsor is the highest in Canada’s metropolitan areas, according to a report prepared by the Brookfield Institute using data from Statistics Canada.  The report said the average female tech worker in Windsor makes around $39,000 less — or 58 per cent — than what the average male makes.

Windsor has Canada’s largest pay gap for women in jobs using tech skills: report“, Chris Ensing · CBC News · Posted: Jan 30, 2019

Windsor’s data can be found through the Brookfield Institute’s Canada’s Tech Dashboard (Cities) using the Diversity Compass filter:

I’m not going to extensively comment on these reactions to the reactions to this research because, frankly, I find them absurd. When you find evidence that a practice or a policy isn’t working, the solution is not to bury the research or the reporting of that evidence.

I believe in the power of investigative reporting to raise issues, to generate protest, to encourage the public to ask difficult questions, and to lead to the political and grassroots organizational work that is necessary to make change.

I believe in the power of the work of Robyn Dolittle. I believe in the power of the work of Tayna Talaga. I believe in the power of the work of Kate McInturff who produced four years of the Making Women Count report before she died of cancer in 2018.

It is not possible for me to re-create Kate McInturff’s index of the best and worst cities in Canada for women. But I am going to try to see if I can find the data that might show if things have improved in our city since her last report in 2017.

The Making Women Count report was a comparison of how men and women are faring in five areas: economic security, leadership, health, personal security, and education. I have already covered personal security. With the release of the Brookfield report, it is a good as time as ever to check in with our state of economic security.

Economic Security

The score for economic security is calculated based on four indicators: employment rate, full-time employment, median employment income, and poverty rate, measured as the percentage living below the low-income measure after-tax (LIM-AT). Scores are calculated based on the female-to-male ratio for employment and incomes and the male-to-female ratio for poverty rates. The sources of the statistics are the Labour Force Survey and the Canadian Income Survey (for the poverty measure)

The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2017, p. 83 [pdf]

In doing this series I’ve learned that while there are many Statistics Canada reports that have some account of gender, these reports are generally at the national or provincial level. There are not many at the CMA (Census Metropolitan Area) or city level. It took great deal of labour to generate the city-level statistical tables behind the Making Women Count indexes.

Case in point: Melissa Moyser of Statistics Canada produced this very useful chapter entitled Women and Paid Work from the larger Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report. But the reporting is not focused at the differences between cities. And on the other hand, there are reports from Stats Canada that look at various labour market indicators for the CMA of Windsor, but this data isn’t readily parsed by gender.

However, there is someone in the community who has parsed the local Statistics Canada data from the Windsor both thoroughly and critically, and that person is Frazier Fathers. The following is an excerpt from his most recent post entitled On Tech Wages, YQG Perception and Leadership from his blog, Ginger Politics:

These are facts from the 2016 Census for the Windsor CMA (the same geography and base data as the Brookfield’s Report):

3,710 women (compared to 2,405 men) live in our region and speak neither English nor French. – Creating barriers to accessing education, employment or services.

Median income for women after tax $27,050 (vs $40,881 for men); average $31,364 ($44,208) – they make less money.

Female income percentage from employment: 64% vs 72.6% for men – women are more dependent on government transfers for income than men. There is some qualification bias here.

81% of lone parent families are led by women. – single women are raising more kids then men.

After tax 7,300 women over the age of 15 have 0 total income (5,860 men)

52% of women live in the bottom half of the income distribution vs 48% of men.

30,120 women and girls are living in low income (LIM-AT) compared to 26,635 men and boys.

Workforce participation rate for women in the census was 56.1% compared to 64% for men.

On Tech Wages, YQG Perception and Leadership“, Frazier Fathers, Ginger Politics, January 31, 2019

I also appreciate that Frazier called out of Yvonne Pillon’s undermining the results of the Who are Canada’s Tech Workers report and of the Making Women Count series by challenging the methodology of both the Brooking Institute report and the CCPA reports, without providing any reason why.

This whole matter is not a surprise to me. It reminds of this quotation:

When you expose a problem you pose a problem.  I have been thinking more about the problem of how you become the problem because you notice a problem. When exposing a problem is to become a problem then the problem you expose is not revealed. For example, when you make an observation in public that all the speakers for an event are all white men, or all but one, or all the citations in an academic paper are to all white men, or all but a few, these observations are often treated as the problem with how you are perceiving things (you must be perceiving things!) A rebuttal often follows that does not take the form of contradiction but rather explanation or justification…

The Problem of Perception, feministkilljoy, February 17, 2014

This has happened to me. Two years ago I wrote a piece called Building a culture of critique that explained why I thought WETech Alliance’s Nerd Olympics was an activity that research has shown to turn women and other underrepresented groups away from STEM. The response I received from WETech Alliance was that I did not really understand the situation. I was told my perception was wrong.

Let us not forget that each data point in Statistics Canada is a person. The data made available to us from Statistics Canada shows us that the technology companies in Windsor are under-paying the women they employ. These women are real. They are being underpaid. It is not a problem of their perception.

The purpose of presenting local data is that it brings insight down to a level of a governance where we, the community, are able to make meaningful change. The fact that many cities in Canada do a much better job than Windsor in regards to how women fare suggests that we have the opportunity to learn and adopt the evidence-based policies and practices that they have employed. That is, we can do this if choose to read and learn from the research, rather than dismiss it.

I cannot see myself working with an organization whose president and employees publicly state that if I raise a matter of injustice related to sexism (or racism, class, or ableism for that matter) that I am “part of the problem”.

12 letters in 12 minutes

The second most spoken language in Windsor is not French or Italian, but Arabic.

In the Windsor area, 236,000 people cited English as their mother tongue in the 2016 census, compared to 230,845 in 2011. Also in the 2016 census, 13,580 people called their mother tongue Arabic, up from 10,515 in 2011. In 2016, 9,570 people said French was their mother tongue, slightly down from the 10,560 in 2011.

The next most common language in the Windsor area is Italian, spoken by 8,615 Windsor residents in 2016, compared to 9,715 in 2011.

In general, European languages lost ground in Windsor, with the exception of Spanish, while Arabic and Asian languages grew. The trend points to an increasingly multicultural community in Windsor, often billed as the fourth most ethnically diverse city in Canada.

Census shows Arabic second biggest language in Windsor area“, Windsor Star, Craig Pearson, August 4, 2017

Not far from where I live are a cluster of businesses of the Wyandotte Town Centre that I believe are largely Lebanese but if I interrogate myself, I would have to admit that I would not be able to back up why I think this is so. There is a lot of Arabic on the windows of these businesses. To my eyes, Arabic script looks beautiful but utterly and absolutely inscrutable.

At least I thought so until I spent a mere 12 minutes watching this video of Rami Ismail teaching half the Arabic alphabet to the audience at the 2015 XOXO Festival.

I cannot recall a time when I went from stupid ignorance to dim understanding in such a short time. If there is a word for mental whiplash, that’s what I felt. 

Rami is a game developer and he knows that there are many reasons why it is so important that games get language right.

Arabic is not inscrutable. It is nothing to be afraid of. It is the language of many of our neighbours.

Spare 12 minutes. You’ll be amazed what you can learn. If you watch the above video, you will have more understanding of the Arabic language than at least one multi-million dollar company.

Your periodic reminder that Windsor is the worst city in Canada for women

Three years ago, I was on the bus from Windsor, Ontario that traveled to the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC. In 2018, I attended the Women’s Convention in Detroit. This past Thursday, I left work a little earlier than normal so I could attend the cross-border vigil dedicated to missing women and victims of violence that was organized by the participants of the 2017 Women’s March.

Guess who was my bus driver.

Journalist Anne Jarvis wrote of the event in her piece, ‘We have a lot of work to do‘ and added this context:

Only one woman was elected to Windsor city council last fall. The Caboto Club last year still wasn’t allowing women on its board. The community still hasn’t adequately addressed the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report two years ago ranking Windsor the worst city in Canada for women, she said.

“Nobody’s saying there aren’t successful women in Windsor,” said Papadeas. “But we’re talking about poverty, economic inequality and other issues that need to be addressed,” she added, pointing to the 24 per cent of women in Windsor live in poverty compared to 15 per cent of men.

We have a lot of work to do‘, Anne Jarvis, Windsor Star, January 18, 2019

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Making Women Count project “measures the size of Canada’s gender gap and offers solutions to the inequalities that persist between women and men in Canada”. In 2014, they released their study by Senior Researcher Kate McInturff, which ranked “Canada’s 20 largest metropolitan areas based on a comparison of how men and women are faring in five areas: economic security, leadership, health, personal security, and education.” Their results: Québec City was the best place to be a woman and Edmonton the worst. Windsor ranked 18 out of 20.

In 2015, CCPA released their second study in which they ranked the gender gap in Canada’s 25 largest cities. This time Windsor placed 22nd.

On October 16th, 2016 the CCPA released their third annual ranking of the best and worst cities to be a woman in Canada. Windsor was ranked as the 25th of 25.

In 2017, Victoria kept its ranking as the best city in Canada for women for the second year in a row. Also for the second year in a row, Windsor was ranked as the worst city in Canada for women.

There was no Making Women Count report in 2018 because on July 27, 2018, CCPA Senior Researcher Kate McInturff passed away. She had been diagnosed with cancer three years prior.

Kate’s work has been instrumental in raising and continuing the conversation about the quality of life of women in this country. While it won’t be possible for me to continue her index, I thought I would try to pull out the measures she outlined in her reports to at least answer the question, are things getting better for women in Windsor?

And keeping in mind the vigil that I attended last Thursday, I thought I would start with the sub-index of personal security.

Personal Security

This gender equality index is modelled on global measures of gender equality produced by the World Economic Forum and the United Nations. Where possible, it captures the gap between men’s and women’s well-being rather than the overall wealth or health of a community. It also includes measures that capture the levels of gender-based violence experienced by women, and women’s access to health care services.

“The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2017: The Gender Gap in Canada’s 25 Biggest Cities”, Kate McInturf, CCPA, 2017, p. 83.

In 2017, Windsor ranked 20 out of the 25 examined cities when it comes to personal safety.

The score for personal security is calculated based on three indicators: rates of criminal harassment, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence. The data for all three indicators comes from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey (UCR). The UCR is compiled by Statistics Canada from police-reported data. Police-reported data is used here in the absence of self-reported data, which is much more accurate. Statistics Canada estimates that 95% of the incidents of sexual assault and harassment and 70% of the incidents of intimate partner violence are never reported to the police. Further, differences in how police forces record incidents and charge perpetrators can create differences between recorded levels of violence that have nothing to do with the actual levels of crime. However, the only current survey of self-reported incidence of sexual assault and intimate partner violence is the General Social Survey on Victimization, which is only performed once every five years and which does not sample a sufficient portion of the population to provide estimates at the municipal level or at the provincial level.

“The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2017: The Gender Gap in Canada’s 25 Biggest Cities”, Kate McInturf, CCPA, 2017, p. 84.

“The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada 2017” used custom data sets from the Statistics Canada, Incident-based Uniform Crime Reporting Survey to generate the Personal Security Index. There was not enough information in the methodology section that went into detail of how one could duplicate these custom sets, so I looked for comparable published tables from Statistics Canada.

Rates of Intimate Partner Violence

From Table 2.8: Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, by victim sex and census metropolitan area, 2017 and Table 3.7: Victims of police-reported intimate partner violence, by sex of victim and census metropolitan area, 2016 . Rates are calculated on the basis of 100,000 population aged 15 and older.

Compared to 2016, the number and rate of female victims of police reported violence increased while the rate and number of male victims decreased.

Rates of Sexual Assault

From Table 2: Victims of police-reported sexual assault, by quarterly #MeToo period and census metropolitan area, Canada, 2016 and 2017

To put the above statistics into context, please read Statistic Canada’s Police-reported sexual assaults in Canada before and after #MeToo, 2016 and 2017 by Cristine Rotenberg and Adam Cotter.

Rates of Criminal Harassment

I wasn’t able to find a published Statistics Canada table that had already broke down this reported data by city. Someone with access to the microdata of CAMSIM should be able to extract this information.

“Say her name”

At last week’s Women’s March Windsor vigil, there were several elected officials present: Ward 3 Councilor Rino Bortolin, Ward 9 City Councilor Kieran McKenzie, Amherstburg Councilor Donald McArthur, Windsor West MP Brian Masse, W-T MP Cheryl Hardcastle, Essex MP Tracy Ramsey, as well as School Board Trustees Jessica Sartori, Julia Burgess, Alicia Higgison, and Sarah Cipkar.

If you were politically naive, you may have expected Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor, to have been present at the vigil in light of the fact that the mayor personally led a walk in October of 2017 in support of a 75-year-old woman who was brutally assaulted on the Ganatchio Trail. Anne Widholm passed away December 17th, 2018, just a month prior to the Women’s March Windsor vigil.

When I read the articles about that October 2017 walk, I noticed that the mayor makes it a point to say that despite the attack, the parks of Windsor are safe. He also stated that the attack could have happened anywhere.

“This walk is being held to show our support for Mrs. Widholm and her family, to reassure each other that our community stands together as one in times of distress, and to reaffirm that our community’s parks and trails are safe.”

Mayor calls for Ganatchio Trail walk to support assaulted woman, Craig Pearson, The Windsor Star, October 13, 2017

Dilkens says it’s “a terrible, tragic, unfortunate event” but he also notes the attack could have happened anywhere. “This was a random unprovoked attack, it could have happened in Riverside, South Windsor it could have happened in Sandwich Town or Downtown. There is no correlation between the location or where it happened and the actual attack itself,” said Dilkens.

Community gathers in support of 75-year-old woman assaulted on Ganatchio Trail, CBC News, October 15, 2017.

Let us not forget that there are correlations between location and the personal safety of women. Some cities in Canada are safer than others.

Rather than insisting – despite the evidence before us – that the city is safe, let us work together and find ways to make the investments and develop the policies to make Windsor safer for all.

Using Google Earth to look under your street

Some weeks ago Google announced that it was sun-setting Google Fusion Tables.

Fusion Tables was often used by journalists, scientists, and others interested in quickly plotting data on a Google Map without having to do any coding. Google encouraged users to switch to other products, like its BigQuery cloud data warehouse system, its Google Data Studio business intelligence tool, or simply Google Sheets. The company says it’s also working to make other mapping tools, currently used internally, available.

RIP Fusion Tables: Google is killing off the beloved data visualization tool“, 12.11.18, Fast Company, Steven Melendez

Fusion tables was not widely used but I used it and I frequently recommended it to students and those interested in mapping who weren’t familiar with GIS (Geographical Information Systems) or those unwilling to learn how to cobble together geospatial data with geospatial javascript libraries.

And so I believe I will be switching my go-to recommendation for easiest geospatial tool to Google Earth. This is counter-intuitive, I know. Why use Google’s globe software to make a map? Why not use Google Maps?

Well for one, while Google Maps does allow data to be imported, it won’t accept import files that are over 5 MB.

And data files that are smaller than 5MB won’t open if they are more than 10 layers or have more than 2000 features.

In the example above, I was trying to import some geospatial data about sewers from the City of Windsor Open Data Catalogue.

From the FAQ of the Water Resources page of the City of Windsor:

The majority of residents are serviced with either sanitary and storm sewers or by a combined sewer system.

– Storm Sewers carry stormwater runoff only.  Storm Sewers eventually drain to the Detroit River, untreated.  There are 732 kilometres of storm sewers within the City of Windsor

Sanitary Sewers are designed to convey human domestic waste only to the City’s Waste Water Treatment facilities. The City of Windsor maintains approximately 675 kilometres of sanitary sewers.

Combined Sewers were constructed throughout the City until the 1950s.  Combined Sewers carry both storm water and sanitary waste.  The City of Windsor is working towards replacement of the 228 kilometres of combined sewers with a separated system (separate sanitary and storm) where practical.  Unfortunately, this will not happen quickly.

If we want to see these sewer systems in a map, one way to go about it is to download the SewersandManholes_KMZ.zip file from its City of Windsor Open Data Catalogue page and to ‘unzip it’ to find all of its components.

Then one can open these files in Google Earth.

Notice that in the left hand column there are check marks for each of the different type of sewer systems. I opted to select only the Combined sewer system and I changed its default colour from green to yellow so it could be more visible. Now we can easily see where the 228 kilometres of combined sewers are distributed in the city.

There are other benefits to using Google Earth to explore the City of Windsor. If you zoom in enough, Google Earth will change its point of view to Google Street View. I know that under the street where I live is a combined sewer system!

If you virtually drive a couple blocks over and you can see both a combined sewer line as well as a storm sewer line (in blue).

And that is how to you can use Google Earth to look under the streets that you live.

Why aren’t all Windsor City Council votes recorded?

I think the decision to record and make available Windsor City Council proceedings on video is generally a good thing (and as if to emphasis this point today’s LiveStream isn’t working for reasons unknown). I’m a little disappointed that transcripts for said videos aren’t being made publicly available. It appears that the software used by the city has the capability to generate transcripts but it looks like it is an additional feature.

If the City of Windsor paid for this feature, the City would also be able to record every vote – without having every vote to be recorded.

Let me explain the above.

If you read the minutes of past Windsor City Council meetings, you will see that it will note whether a certain measure was carried or failed to carry but it will not state who voted for or against said motion.

Excerpt from minutes

But if a Council Member requests it, all votes will be recorded in the minutes:

So why is every vote recorded at the City of Windsor? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure but it appears the decision to record votes might be for strategic reasons.

By-law-98-2011 A BY-LAW TO PROVIDE RULES GOVERNING THE PROCEEDINGS OF WINDSOR CITY COUNCIL MEETINGS AND ITS COMMITTEES AND THE CONDUCT OF ITS MEMBERS [pdf]

As you can read from the above, a recorded vote requires every member of City Council to vote (unless constrained by a conflict of interest) – including the mayor. From what I can tell, it is the mayor’s current practice to not vote on matters unless required by a tie among council members or by a request for a recorded vote. I’m not entirely sure how consistent our mayor is in this practice because – irony – I have no voting record for the mayor to look up. This is unlike Toronto, where the votes of all councilors and the mayor are readily available for download.

The past votes of Windsor City Council that have been recorded have not been extracted and made readily available unlike Windsor City Council Meeting Attendance. And the reason why meeting attendance is recorded suggests to me what needs to occur if we would like to have all votes recorded at City Council:

Windsor City Council adopted the following resolution at its meeting held March 8, 2010:

M83-2010 That City Council ESTABLISH, through Council Services, an attendance tracking system for City Councillors, posted on the City website, recording month-to-month attendances and absences, starting on March 8, 2010, for Council meetings, In-Camera meetings, Budget Meetings, Advisory Committees, Agencies and Board meetings, with a notice protocol for Councillors to indicate the reason for absences, including conflicts with any other City-related meetings or obligations.  Absences at special meetings and budget meetings when seven days notice is not provided will also be exempt. A link to minutes of full Council meetings, starting in March 2010, will also be provided on the website, indicating absences from Council votes.

Meeting Attendance

What happens to the Christmas trees picked up by the City of Windsor?

The day after Christmas, there was a story from the CBC called Nature Conservancy of Canada suggests a better fate for country’s Christmas trees which was largely a re-packaging of a news release from the Nature Conservancy earlier in the week. That press release begins:

If you’re taking down holiday decorations and thinking about ways to get rid of your Christmas tree, the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) has a suggestion. Instead of sending your tree to the landfill or getting it chipped up, the not-for-profit private land conservation group says there are benefits to putting it in your own backyard.

Dan Kraus, NCC’s senior conservation biologist, says leaving it in your backyard over the winter can help provide a home for bird populations trying to survive the tough weather. The tree will enrich your backyard ecosystems right away and it can also improve soil.

The first step in letting nature help you recycle your Christmas tree is to put it anywhere in the backyard, which often happens anyhow when we miss the municipal tree recycling pickup.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada suggests leaving your old Christmas tree in your backyard“, December 18, 2018

I was curious about the fate of the Christmas trees that are picked up by The City of Windsor and whether they were land-filled and contributing to the production of methane. So I asked the City’s 311 Service. They replied:

Christmas Trees that get collected on Yard Waste Day are broken down into Wood Chips and/or Recycled into Garden Gold Compost (link attached)  https://www.citywindsor.ca/residents/Waste-And-Recycling/Collection-Schedule/Documents/Garden%20Gold%20Compost.pdf

I decided not to press the matter and did not ask approximately what percentage of the collected trees end up as compost and how much as chips. I also didn’t immediately follow up with asking what exactly happens to the wood chips after they have been made since I assumed that they would be used by the City, for their trails, perhaps.

Instead, I decided to follow the advice of the NCC and The New York Times, and put our used Christmas Tree in our backyard. We don’t have much of a backyard so we are very much considering this an experiment.

When I was looking up when the Christmas tree pick up would begin for the city, I noticed that the garbage calendars are organized by Canadian Postal Code Forward Sortation Area (and they are available from the City of Windsor’s Open Data Catalogue).

I also learned that the City of Windsor recommends the use of the Recycle Coach app, which is available for both Android and iPhones. The Recycle Coach app is a product of Toronto based Municipal Media Inc. whose LinkedIn profile says that “the company pioneered the use of calendars as an effective tool to instruct and encourage residents on waste management issues and priorities.”

The Christmas Tree pickup for my neighbourhood is on Thursday, Jan 10, 2019.

How Human Transit improved my Mini-Metro game

Some years ago – I think it was 2015 – a friend of mine kindly gifted me the game Mini-Metro on Steam because he guessed that I would love it. He was right.

Screen capture of Mini Metro Steam page.

Mini Metro is a strategy simulation game about designing a subway map for a growing city. Draw lines between stations and start your trains running. As new stations open, redraw your lines to keep them efficient. Decide where to use your limited resources. How long can you keep the city moving

Mini-Metro on Steam (currently 50% off!)

I love the clean and elegant design of the game. The game brilliantly uses the form of the London Underground Map as the vehicle for an abstract puzzle strategy game and so the game feels meaningful, even through the game-play is primarily connecting lines to nodes. But despite my affection for Mini-Metro I don’t play it very much largely because I’m not particularly good at this game.

Screnshot of London Underground Map

But recently I got to reading a book that not only helped me better understand how public transit works, it gave me the reason why my Mini-Metro game was so bad. The book is called Human Transit: How clearer thinking about public transit can enrich our communities and our lives.

I picked it up largely because of this recommendation from Tom MacWright:

Easily the best book I’ve read related to transportation. Human Transit doesn’t just describe transit systems – it puts you in the position of a planner and makes you think about the inherent tradeoffs to different designs. It’s rich with good examples from around the world and has an incredible focus – Walker wastes little time on extended biographies or anecdotes.

The balance between different modes of transit is accomplished extremely well, and it also doesn’t focus solely on super-dense cities, but takes into account varying density, suburbs, and how much density is necessary to build great transit, if at all.

I really enjoyed this read, and would recommend it to anyone interested in transportation…

I read Human Transit by Jarrett Walker on July 7, 2018 by Tom McWright

I haven’t finished it yet but I share Tom’s enthusiasm for the book. It is one of the best examples that I know of an expert who can walk a layperson through a series of understandable concepts without ever sounding preachy or condescending. By the way, students and staff of the University of Windsor have access to Human Transit as an ebook.

At the moment, I’m on Chapter 4 which is titled, “Lines, Loops, and Longing” and I’m learning so much. For example, I had never realized that “For car traffic, chokepoints are a problem, but for transit, they are opportunities”:

Figure 4-3 from Human Transit
Walker J. (2012) Lines, Loops, and Longing. In: Human Transit. Island Press, Washington, DC

I also learned that the reason why my strategy for Mini-Metro was not good: I was falling into the natural tendency to create loops to connect my ‘stations’.

When someone wants all parts of an area to be connected, and tries to express this in the language of transit, they often talk about loops. The loop is an appealing image because it’s a thing that transit can do that seems to encompass an entire two-dimensional area with a feeling of completeness and closure. I have lost count of how many times people have explained their mobility needs to me by saying, “We need some kind of loop.”

But there’s a problem with loops, and it’s so obvious that it’s easy to forget: very few people want to travel in circles. Most people experience their travel desires as “I am here and I need to be there.” The desire for transportation is a feeling about two points of space, “here”and “there.” In the geometry of cities, the shape of that desire is a straight line connecting those points.

Walker J. (2012) Lines, Loops, and Longing. In: Human Transit. Island Press, Washington, DC

And this was the passage that made me want to play Mini-Metro again, but this time armed with transport knowledge:

Loops have other problems. An I-shaped line can easily be extended on either end without affecting the existing riders, but loops can’t be extended; a city that outgrows its loop has to break it apart, disrupting existing trips. So if an urban area is growing or changing, loops may limit the options for growth in the future.

Finally, of course, loops run with a driver raise the problem of driver breaks. An I-shaped or U-shaped line has an endpoint where the vehicle is empty, so the driver can take a break without disrupting any passenger’s trip. These breaks also serve a second purpose: when a service runs late, the break is shortened so that the vehicle can get back on time. Providing these breaks is a great logistical challenge on busy loops, like the circular rail lines in Berlin, Moscow, and Tokyo. In 2009, the London Underground broke apart its Circle Line, which used to run as a continuous loop, partly to eliminate these problems.

Walker J. (2012) Lines, Loops, and Longing. In: Human Transit. Island Press, Washington, DC

Speaking of games, as I was searching around Jarrett Walker’s blog, I was delighted to read a post in which Walker describes how he helped TransLink in Vancouver BC use a geographical planning game to build stakeholder consensus around a transit plan.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the More than Transit survey from Transit Windsor is ending on January 9, 2019. If you would like to learn more about the possibilities of significant expansion for Transit Windsor in the near future, I’d recommend a listen to this episode of Rose City Politics. And of course, I highly recommend a read of Human Transit. I will end this post with a quotation from the Introduction of Walker’s book – with a couple of links that I have added for related reading:

When someone asks me what I do, and I say I’m a transit planner, their next question is almost always about technology. They ask my opinion about a rail transit proposal that’s currently in the news, or ask me what I think about light rail, or monorails, or jitneys. They assume, like many journalists, that the choice of technology is the most important transit planning decision.

Technology choices do matter, but the fundamental geometry of transit is exactly the same for buses, trains, and ferries. If you jump too quickly to the technology choice question but get the geometry wrong, you’ll end up with a useless service no matter how attractive its technology is.

What’s more, the most basic features that determine whether transit can serve us well are not technology distinctions. Speed and reliability, for example, are mostly about what can get in the way of a transit service. Both buses and rail vehicles can be fast and reliable if they have an exclusive lane or track. Both can also be slow and unreliable if you put them in a congested lane with other traffic. Technology choice, by itself, rarely guarantees a successful service, and many of the most crucial choices are not about technology at all.

Walker J. (2012) Introduction. In: Human Transit. Island Press, Washington, DC

Why isn’t there an RSS feed for Windsor City Council web pages?

Imagine that you love a particular podcast that comes out every couple of weeks – although depending on circumstance, sometimes its published a little earlier and sometimes a little later. But in this particular alternative universe, instead of being notified by your phone that it has just downloaded a new episode, it’s up to you to visit the podcast’s website every couple weeks to check if the episode is ready to be downloaded.

As labour goes, regularly visiting a website isn’t the most arduous task in the world but if you are like me, you might subscribe to a couple dozen podcasts with some released weekly, others fortnightly, and others on no particular schedule. Without the ability to subscribe to a podcast it is easy to see how episodes could be missed and entire shows, forgotten about.

The technology that makes subscribing to podcasts possible is called RSS, and as technologies go, it’s a very good one. For one, RSS allows you to download podcasts without identifying who you are to the publishers or to the world at large. While you do need special software to handle podcasts (I use BeyondPod), you don’t need to be on a particular social media platform or worry that you use (or don’t use) an Apple iOS product.

RSS is also the technology that made subscribing to web pages possible. Using Feedly, I have the most recent stories from CBC Windsor, The Windsor Star. The Windsorite and many, many blogs delivered to me as they are published. 

So why does the City of Windsor’s City Council web pages lack RSS feeds? Why do residents have to re-visit a page to see if it has been updated?

I have sent a 311 request that RSS feeds be added to these pages with the next version of the City of Windsor website.

Until that time, if you want to stay up to date with changes on websites that don’t feature RSS feeds, you might want to try one of these five tools that will notify you of website content changes. (For myself, I use Klaxon – my first Heroku App).

One of my favourite TED Talks is from Dave Meslin and I’ve embedded it below. Dave Meslin argues that our governments use design to discourage engagement.  The good news? We can re-design improvement. Or in this case, we can ask for RSS.

Council on video

It might not be the best idea to write this Hello World post while I have the Monday, December 17th, 2018 Windsor City Council Meeting live-streaming in another tab.  But as I was planning to write a little bit about the fact that we can now clip and share videos of City Council Meetings, perhaps it is apt (while also being distracting).

Even though City Council meetings have been recorded and made available online since June of this year, I have yet to see any media or city resident make use of the clipping or bookmarking service that the platforms provides. So I thought I would try it out and share what the technology is capable of.

So let’s pretend I’m writing a blog post that I want to add a clip from Windsor City Council for information and context.

On December 8th, my neighbours and I walked to Chapter Two Brewing Company to watch the Detroit and Windsor episode of TVO’s The Life-Sized City.  If you haven’t seen the episode, I recommend a watching. In it, you will learn how activists in Detroit and Windsor have coordinated residents to help improve residential buildings in neighbourhoods where there was a high degree of blight and a pointed need for re-investment.

Those stories reminded me of the debate that happened at the November 19th Windsor City Council Meeting [pdf] about the Ford City Community Improvement Plan. During discussions, I recalled Ward 1 City Councillor Fred Francis stating that he didn’t think that money going to home renovations to only certain parts of the city was fair

At this point, I’m going to drop this pretense of writing and now bring your attention to the act of trying to include the video from Windsor City Council into a blog post.

 First, we have to flip through the calendar view (or hack the datestamp of the URL) of the archived videos to find November 19th. The video is marked up with time stamps that match up the agenda but unfortunately the discussion of the Ford City CIP falls under the blanket category of REGULAR BUSINESS ITEMS (Non-consent items)

If you notice in the bottom right of the screen, there is a option to Share.

The resulting shared item is a link. In the example above, the link goes to:

http://csg001-harmony.sliq.net/00310/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20181119/-1/4021?mediaStartTime=20181119192435&mediaEndTime=20181119192535&viewMode=3

I have some options to share the video clip in a variety of social media platforms…

But unfortunately, I’m unable to embed the video in WordPress.

Now I know why I’ve haven’t seen video clips from Council from local newspapers and news outlets. There is no way to embed the video into a web page that provides context for that video. I can share the link but the only way I can add any context to the video is to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Reddit or Google+.

It looks like the product that the City of Windsor uses for their video service is Montreal-based Sliq Media Technologies. It is unfortunate that a company that builds and maintains video streaming services for specifically for governments has made it difficult for journalists and residents to make use of the resulting work. I’ve asked the company if there is any known workaround for this problem:

As we wait for an answer, let us consider the notion of fairness and equity. One of my favourite definitions of politics is from political scientist Harold Lasswell who defined it as “who gets what, when, and how.”