How does denigrating citizen engagement, driving a wedge between neighbourhoods, and reducing the lower city's role to that of a place to drive through promote any of the City's goals?
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published February 19, 2015
CBC Hamilton reports that Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead doesn't want engaged citizens in lower city Hamilton to "hijack" the city's Transportation Master Plan review:
There's a whole silent majority that hasn't been part of anything that's been going on in the city for various reasons. They're raising families and they're employed. There are many reasons why. They're disconnected with what's happening in the lower city and we need to connect.
Whitehead is implying, quite bluntly, that engaged citizens who care enough to email, show up to City meetings, and advocate for things like two-way conversions in their neighbourhoods, improved transit or LRT must not have families or are unemployed!
Yet another reason Hamilton is "the best place in Canada to disengage citizens".
Whitehead says that he cares more about the views of an imagined "silent majority", whose minds he presumably can read, than those who actually take the time to get involved.
Not that it should matter, but he should know very well that the many of those engaged citizens are not unemployed troublemakers with no families, but active professionals with young children who deliberately carve time out of their busy schedules to get involved in issues they care about because they really care about their city.
You'll also notice that Whitehead wants Mountain residents to "have a say" - by which, judging on previous behaviour, he means a veto - on changes to parts of roads not in their wards, provided the road connects to their wards. And he has redefined the term "regional road" to describe them.
Doesn't he know that roads form a network and everything connects to everything else?
There's a deeper issue here. Whitehead is actually quite right to be concerned that his residents are not actively engaged with civic issues.
But the response is not to imply that those who actually are engaged don't have anything better to do with their time, or that somehow lower city residents set out to damage the quality of life for people on the Mountain.
Most importantly, it doesn't imply that since Mountain residents drive through lower city neighbourhoods, their opinions about what makes those neighbourhoods liveable should have just as much weight as those who actually live there.
If Whitehead is genuinely concerned about disengaged Mountain residents, he should try to find out why they are disengaged and what the City could do to engage them more.
He should not believe that he can read the minds of those disengaged citizens and that they must obviously be thinking that they only care about other neighbourhoods to the extent that they are quick and easy to drive through.
He should admit that, since his residents are so disengaged, he actually doesn't know what they think, but that he would like them to be more involved in civic affairs.
His response to the lack of engagement by his own residents is insulting to those residents who take time out of their busy schedules to do exactly what the City's Vision Statement encourages them to do.
Most fundamentally, he should stop assuming that urban and street design in wards outside his own - particularly the lower city wards he seems fixated on - can be reduced to the concerns of those drivers who simply see them as an obstacle to getting quickly where they want to go.
If he wants his residents to have a say on changes in other neighbourhoods, why does he never make positive suggestions for things that he believes might actually improve the lives of the people who live in the lower city?
Why does he think this is a zero-sum game where if life gets better for residents in the lower city, it must necessarily be at the expense of those who live on the Mountain?
Why doesn't he take the same view of other neighbourhoods, like Stoney Creek, Dundas or Ancaster, since Mountain residents shop and work in those places too?
Maybe he should think about how this interpretation stacks up against Hamilton's stated Vision to be the "Best place in Canada to raise a child, promote innovation, engage citizens and provide diverse economic opportunities."
How does denigrating citizen engagement, driving a wedge between neighbourhoods, and reducing the lower city's role to that of a place to drive through promote any of those goals?
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