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.