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.”