Looking back on three years

If you attended the Mayor’s Levee, Jan. 5, you received a small brochure that listed some of this council’s accomplishments to date, as well as our collective plans and priorities for the remaining year of our term. It’s worth reiterating some of those notes.

Keeping the public informed was identified by this council as a strategic priority in our first strategic planning session at the beginning of our term. This flyer was produced by our new Communications Officer as part of that ongoing transparency and accountability. We want to let you know what we’re doing on your behalf.

Many of the things municipal government deals with don’t get reported in media. In part that’s because they are seen as procedural, internal or part of an ongoing process, or sometimes simply as unimportant. But they are all important to you, our residents and ratepayers. You should know that your council is working for you in all areas and interests, not simply those that get headlines.

A lot of our decisions are based on long-term initiatives and goals, and often the public only sees the final stages, not the lengthy process that arrived at them.

I am reproducing some of the information in the brochure below, but a full report about the strategic planning session will be coming to council in the next two weeks, with this and more material included.

Continue reading “Looking back on three years”

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In Wildness is the Preservation of the World

Walking quoteThe title of this post is a quote from Henry David Thoreau’s essay, Walking, published posthumously in 1862, but which he wrote and rewrote during the 1850s. I was thinking of that line this week when Council officially opened the new Black Ash Creek Park, in the northeast of the Georgian Meadows subdivision.*

I was thinking of it not in terms of the park – a pleasant, family-oriented, structured space with playground equipment, a small pavilion, basketball court and a chess table – but rather about the untamed green spaces around the park. It is this small patch of wildness that delights me, not the carefully manicured grass or artfully curved sidewalk that borders it.

I’m sure kids – the older ones – will see those woods, the trail, the fields as a magnet for play. I’d hate to think we live in such a paranoid, dangerous world that children can’t be free to explore such spaces, to discover for themselves the magic of the woods. Maybe I’m naive, but I want to believe children can still play outside the confines adults build for them. At the very least, I hope parents take their children for walks into those woods: teach them to love, appreciate and respect the wild, to care for it, to protect and defend it.

Not all unbuilt space should be clear-cut for a housing development. Some wild space has to be retained for our collective enjoyment, and sanity. We need, as Thoreau wrote, wildness to complete ourselves.

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them—as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon—I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago. I, who cannot stay in my chamber for a single day without acquiring some rust, and when sometimes I have stolen forth for a walk at the eleventh hour, or four o’clock in the afternoon, too late to redeem the day, when the shades of night were already beginning to be mingled with the daylight, have felt as if I had committed some sin to be atoned for—I confess that I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together.

Walking defined Thoreau’s philosophy of nature, described through his experiences while walking into the nearby woods; like Buddhist walking meditations on our role in nature and civilization. It later became one of the key essays in the American Transcendentalist-environmentalist movement of the mid-late 19th century. It still has resonance today.

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society.

Continue reading “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World”

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Why are Pickup Trucks so Anti-Pedestrian?

Pickup truck exhaustTake a look at the back of any of today’s pickup trucks. Notice the exhaust pipe, under the vehicle? It points to the right. The same side of the road that pedestrians and cyclists use.*

Notice the bike lane in the photo – that’s where cyclists will be when this truck passes by them. No place to move to avoid the fumes.

1951 truckYet I have seen vintage trucks with that design, as in the photo to the right (even here in town). Several, in fact in just the past week. I don’t know the date of the change from rear to side exhaust, but it seems to be at least two decades old. I also know there are aftermarket kits that will return your exhaust to the rear on pickup trucks.

By design, modern pickup trucks are meant to spew their exhaust directly at pedestrians and cyclists they pass, unlike most cars, vans and even SUVs which exhaust to the rear. And a very few that exhaust to the left.

Diesel exhaustIt’s got to be a deliberate, anti-social design by manufacturers. Designers surely think of these things. They’re not stupid, even if they are misanthropic towards pedestrians and anyone on a bicycle. They planned it. They know where people walk or cycle.

Why, one has to ask, are governments permitting what is clearly a hazard – even a threat – to pedestrians in truck design to continue? Continue reading “Why are Pickup Trucks so Anti-Pedestrian?”

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Collingwood and our Comparators

The recent KPMG presentation to council, May 13, included some interesting data about where Collingwood sits in several areas among its peers. These included staffing, parks, recreational facilities, taxes, debt ratios and operating costs. These figures were taken from data reported annually to the province.

KPMG selected six other Ontario municipalities as comparators: Owen Sound, Wasaga Beach, Midland, Bradford-West Gwillimbury, Orangeville and Port Hope. This represents a range of population from 16,214 (Port Hope) to 29,561 (Orangeville), and households from 6,750 (Port Hope) to 12,029 (Wasaga Beach). Data is current to 2011, but not 2012-13.

Collingwood (population 19,241, households 10,695) sits in the middle of the population range, but second highest in households. This is because we have both a high percentage of seniors and seasonal-home owners here (therefore smaller numbers of people per household). We are the second lowest in number of residents per household (1.79; Wasaga Beach is lower at 1.45) – every other community is between 2.14 (Midland) and 2.96 (Bradford-West Gwillimbury). The data doesn’t take into account the seasonal residents.

We are 3rd highest of the seven in reserves per household (more than $2,000). Unlike some municipalities, we have continued to build our reserves, rather than using a higher portion of our tax revenue for debt servicing. Orangeville was the lowest at under $500 per household, Owen Sound the highest at more than $2,500.

As a result, however, we are in the peer group second highest in debt per household (slightly higher than Bradford-West Gwillimbury at about $4,000 per household, but much lower than Port Hope at almost $6,000; Wasaga Beach was the lowest at under $1,000).

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Should we sell naming rights to public property?

Selling namesI was recently forwarded a link to a blog post about selling naming rights for public buildings to corporations. The author writes,

Last week, I wrote about “the halo effect” on events, buildings, and properties that have had multiple names, all of which have been commercial. The other area we often advise on is the sponsorship naming rights of iconic buildings “owned” by the community or named after community leaders. Often a building may be named after a past politician or community leader. Brands interested in naming such properties must take into account these situations and be prepared to invest accordingly.

As a municipal politician, I am always interested in how public property is named because these names are, for the most part, permanent, and say something about how our community presents itself and its heritage. Public property is not merely the bricks and mortar: it can also be a public event or activity. In a previous post, the author commented positively on the selling of naming rights to a public event in Vancouver:

A few weeks back, I wrote about my experience at the Honda Canada Celebration of Lights (COL) event in Vancouver. It was awesome! This is a fantastic property that has had more naming rights than China has tea. But when Score Marketing Inc. was able to bring Honda into the naming title for the COL this year, it was great. It is an old event that has been around a long time. It has had its ups and downs. But as the property rejuvenated itself, making it more applicable to the audience and worked with corporate sponsors such as Honda and The Keg, it was fantastic. Mature properties can be refreshed. The COL truly did this and it worked for the audience, the sponsors, and the property itself. To those involved—well done!

I am not convinced. The author writes (in part II):

So yes, you can place a corporate name on a community property and benefit from it. Both the selling property and the brand can reap rewards, as can the users of the properties. When there is an activation plan in place and a PR plan, it works well. When due diligence is not undertaken, it can be a catastrophe!

To me, the benefit seems limited solely to money, at the expense of community pride, heritage and the recognition of our own citizens. And I don’t mean just former politicians. We have many people who have contributed to the greater good of our community – volunteers, teachers, librarians, editors, museum curators, historians, writers, business people, philanthropists… why shouldn’t they get the recognition, rather than some international corporation?

The image, above, is from an Ottawa Sun piece on the selling of Ottawa. It’s a satirical piece, but it makes a point.

Question: “Would you only try to sell corporate names?”
Answer: “Not at all. You could also market products — the way a beer company features a particular brand or a car maker a specific model. Small villages would be ideal for this. What about Manotickle Me Elmo? ”
Question: “The city says it wants to sell naming rights not only to its facilities, but to its programs and events as well. Do you see opportunities there?”
Answer: “Absolutely. It’s a stroke of genius. I don’t think we pay these people enough. ”
“City department’s with marketing budgets could keep it in the family by promoting themselves on other city of Ottawa properties. That way their budget would just be turned back into city coffers, making the accounting real easy.

The CBC news story about the discussion noted that,

…the single largest potential generator is exclusive naming rights for city buildings. Officials have identified 16 recreation facilities for possible re-branding, including the Nepean Sportsplex, Kanata Leisure Centre and the St-Laurent Complex.

“What we want to make sure is that folks don’t get the sense that we’ve, you know, kind of sold out and all we’re doing is letting big business and advertising take over the city,” Taylor said.

How could anyone NOT feel like Ottawa Council was selling out? The evidence suggests clearly that, by turning our national capital into an advertising space for corporations, it has.

I feel it’s a bit like selling your soul, if it’s just about the money. Had that corporation contributed something significant to the wellbeing of the municipality, and we wanted to recognize their generosity, I might support it. I could support a street named after a historical business that was once located nearby. But not simply sold to a company without a business and social presence here.

Even naming after an existing business is tricky. I’m reminded of the Molson Centre in Barrie. Molson closed its 200,000 sq. ft Barrie brewery in 2000, putting 300 local people out of work. Today, Barrie residents still have a sports arena named after the long-departed brewery, a daily, and embarrassing reminder of that closure. The adjacent Molson’s Park, a park and concert venue, was quickly renamed to Park Place, probably to try to help erase the memory of the company’s departure. It was closed a a public space and re-opened as a commercial business park a few years ago.

Rather amusingly, the abandoned brewery was used as a rather large grow-op until it was discovered in 2004, prompting many jokes at the expense of both Molson and the City of Barrie.

Obviously the name Molson is not highly respected in Barrie these days, even though they contributed to the community in the past. The name still lives on in the arena. Had the arena been named after a historical figure, its name would still have the same respect as it had when built.

Where do you decide to draw the line? Should we sell naming rights to all public buildings and property for some ready cash? What about the library? The curling club? Town hall? The terminals? The new ice rink? Should we sell naming rights to streams, to streets, to parks? What about events and activities? The farmers’ market? The harbour? You could potentially sell naming rights to anything municipally owned.

Collingwood would then seem less like a town than a sprawling advertisement. Local colour and flavour would be diluted by the brand names. Hume Street might be renamed Hyundai Street. The water tower could become the Google Tower. Sunset Point Park could become Microsoft Park. We could host the Apple farmer’s market and the Sony Elvis Festival. Why not sell the name of the town, too? After all, most kids today probably know more about Coke, Nike and Samsung than Cuthbert Collingwood.

Toronto recently approved a naming policy like this:

Rob Ford’s executive committee approved a city naming rights policy Tuesday that critics fear will turn Toronto’s public space into an advertising free-for-all.

The city already has the ability to auction off naming rights to city property and events, but the new policy standardizes the process and will see the municipal government take an active role in soliciting cash from outside parties in exchange for the right to rebrand public assets.

Personally, I think our identity has been homogenized enough through all the cookie-cutter franchise businesses and restaurants that pervade Canadian cities. I would not want to further erode our own local identity through selling naming rights for public property to outside corporations and businesses. The money just isn’t worth the long-time cost to our heritage.

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Dogs and dog owners need places to socialize

Dog picHow many dogs live here in Collingwood? No one knows for sure, but we can make some good estimates, based on numerous surveys and national statistics. It’s a lot. Dog owners are a very large special interest group, perhaps larger than any other demographic group in town.

I’ve done some research and read many studies on pet populations done since 1996 (like this one from 2001 and this one from 2007). All of the major census figures of the older surveys are consistent with the most recent surveys.

Nationally, we have between 35 and 39 percent of homes with one or more dogs. On average there are 1.7 dogs per household.

I wrote about our pet populations last year when council was debating the cat tag bylaw. Back then, I noted,

A recent survey done by Colin Siren of Ipsos Reid estimated there are 7.9 million cats and 5.9 million dogs in Canada. The survey also shows that 35% of Canadian households have a dog, while 38% have a cat, which is consistent with other surveys conducted in the developed nations. Based on a figure of 9,500 households we should have around 3,040 households with dogs and 3,610 with cats.

We actually have more than the original 10,695 households here (based on stats from the last census, used in a report prepared by the planning dept. in Feb., 2012), so the pet ownership figures need to be updated. If we are consistent with national averages, using the lower 35% ownership, we should have roughly 3,750 households with dogs. That means, based on an average of 1.7 dogs per household, more than 6,300 dogs in town.

If we assume that 80% of the households with dogs are full time residents (that’s the percentage of households here used by full time residents as estimated by Stats Canada), we get about 5,100 dogs live here year-round.

Figure on adding another 200 new homes to the mix in 2012, and we get another 120 dogs (95 full time). If Collingwood’s pet ownership figures are higher than the lower end of the national average – and there are reasons to believe that: we have more seniors plus we’re semi-rural, both of which push the averages up – we may have closer to 6,000 dogs living here year-round. And that’s not counting any new arrivals between the census and 2012.

Put it another way: based on an average of 2.3 people per household (StatsCan figures), there are more than 6,900 people living year-round in Collingwood in a home with one or more dogs, and more than 8,600 if we include all of our part-time households in the mix. And that’s the low end of the estimate.

In comparison, 1,276 Collingwood kids were enrolled in ball and ice-related teams in 2011. Another 220 Collingwood adults were listed in ‘pick-up’ hockey (source: PRC Dept., May 2012). But even if the number of kids playing hockey was five times that number, it’s still fewer than the total number of people in Collingwood homes with dogs as part of their family.

It’s not about us-versus-them, however. It’s about accommodating all the user groups in the community, not just some of them. Dog owners are a substantial group of residents. Just because dog owners are not organized like hockey or soccer associations doesn’t mean we can ignore them.

We have made it illegal to walk your dog without it being on a leash, which forces owners to find a place where they can legally let their dogs run free. Allowing dogs to have exercise and socialize is as important to their behaviour and psychology as it is to children’s.

Happy dogKeeping a dog on a leash or penned in a back yard all the time will create a dog with the same sort of personality that it would if you treated a child that way: anti-social, aggressive, bored, destructive and overweight. Dogs, like people, are social animals: they need exercise, activity, companions and interaction with humans and other dogs.

To accommodate all of our dog owners, have one full-time off-leash dog park in an isolated area located at the most southerly edge of town, an area without neighbours.

It can only be reached by driving (even if a bus went there, dogs are not allowed on our buses). Anyone without a car can’t use it unless they walk a very long way to get to it: the location is very inconvenient, even inaccessible for many people who want to walk their dog to an off-leash area. This violates some of our basic beliefs in walkability, in active transportation, in creating community spaces and in creating neighbourhoods.

It’s a dark place with no lighting, and there are no nearby homes, so it is not considered safe by all dog owners.

“Pawplar” Park, as it was named, is beside an unfenced storm water management pond, too. Council has received complaints recently about dogs swimming in the pond and having to be treated for skin and eye ailments. The park currently has parking for only four cars, so drivers are parking on the grass wherever they can find space, and wet ground discourages parking there.

There is no source of safe, fresh, treated water for the dogs. Only the pond (which could be toxic) and the nearby river (which could mean any number of parasites) have water. Upgrades to make the park better and safer would be modestly expensive.

Dogs at playTwo baseball diamonds (at Central Park and Heritage Park) are designated as off-leash areas in the off-season (winter to early spring). These close to dog owners in mid-April. Once they close, where can dog owners go? If owners take their dogs to the water to swim, they still have to obey the leash law. Where can dog owners throw a stick or a ball for their pet without violating the bylaw?

Council is talking about expanding our ice surfaces to accommodate the demands from skating and hockey teams ($35 million for a total of 685 young players, according to those PRC figures). Yet a suggestion to spend a mere $5,000 on fencing to create a temporary off-leash park at High and Second – a well lit, safe, walkable part of town – was criticized by some at the table, last Monday. That is an odd alignment of priorities, as I see them.

We apply curiously different standards of service and facility to dog owners than we do to users of the arena, the curling club, the tennis courts, the skateboard park, the lawn bowling club, the pool. I don’t think we should. Dog owners deserve, I believe, more choices than one, out-of-the-way spot accessible only by car.

Dog owners, too, appreciate the neighbourhood off-leash parks because they can socialize with other owners; talk with neighbours, share stories, exchange ideas about pets and help strengthen community bonds. Off-leash parks are also safer areas for kids because they are protected from traffic.

Last night, six of nine members of council* voted to approve the recommendation to create a temporary off-leash area in an unused part of Heritage Park. It’s a small step towards a long-term, permanent solution. I would like council to also consider identifying some trails as off-leash, as well, if for no other reason than to recognize their use as such by contemporary dog owners.

* Voting for the motion: Mayor Cooper, Dep. Mayor Lloyd, Councillors Cunningham, Lloyd, West and myself.

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Why not a Napoleon theme park?

Napoleon BonaparteThere’s a sarcastic, somewhat-tongue-in-cheek commentary in the Guardian this week, called, “Why not have a Napoleon theme park?” In it, Agnès C. Poirier editorializes on a recent proposal by a French MP to build a theme park in France dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte. She writes,

Abroad, observers could be forgiven for almost choking on hearing this news: why not a Stalin or a Kim Jong-il theme park too?

That made me choke, almost pushing my half-swallowed tea through my nose. Imaginations must run very high among her set if anyone can associate Napoleon Bonaparte with two of the Twentieth Century’s most ruthless, genocidal dictators. Napoleon was no Gandhi, but he was certainly not genocidal. And by the way, North Korea just revealed a new, 70-foot statue of the dictator Kim Jong-Il, so can a theme park be far behind?

Agnes offers a backhanded compliment:

In fact, in France, many distinguish between Bonaparte and Napoleon, that is to say the man before and after he became emperor in 1804, when the child of the revolution turned insatiable tyrant. During his 10 years of folie des grandeurs, which cost the lives of more than a million men, he still achieved great things, such as emancipating Europe’s Jews.

Insatiable tyrant? No one who had read in any detail the history of Napoleon’s life and career would label him thus.

Calling Napoleon a tyrant was first done by the British press as a propaganda attack during the Napoleonic Wars. A nursery rhyme warned children that Bonaparte ravenously ate naughty people. Cartoons pictures him as shorter than his actual height (he was 5′ 7″, average for the time). In 1908, psychologist Alfred Adler named an inferiority complex in which short people adopt an over-aggressive behaviour to compensate for lack of height; this inspired the term Napoleon complex, and that has coloured popular impressions of Napoleon ever since.

Napoleon was a complex character, and became increasingly dictatorial as he aged. But I find it hyperbolic to compare him with modern-day tyrants. The term tyrant orginally meant “one who illegally seized and controlled a governmental power in a polis.” It later added “connotations of a harsh and cruel ruler who places his or her own interests or the interests of an oligarchy over the best interests of the general population, which the tyrant governs or controls.” History, as Napoleon famously said, is written by the victors. Thus he has come down to us as a tyrant, rather than a hero.

Napoleon certainly placed family interests over state interests at various times, but also placed state interests over personal ones at times, when he tried to solidify his Europe-wide union of states through marriage and appointment. His reign was not that simply defined as the label suggests. Poirier realizes this, but it seems a grudging acceptance:

Napoleon is a fascinating subject, the study of which requires nuance and subtlety. The man was a tyrant, a genius, a liberator and a conqueror. What you’d call a bundle of contradictions. More than 80,000 books have been written about him and a theme park, rather than just an awkward idea, fits the current fashion in France for “war tourism”.

She then refers readers to a novel by Anthony Burgess, The Napoleon Symphony, rather than any of the thousands of non-fiction works of history, military history or biography. Myself, I’d refer people to Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon for a better appreciation of the man’s military genius. However, Chandler does not cover his social, cultural and political activities (and does not cover the bloody campaign in Spain, because it was conducted by Napoleon’s marshals rather than by Bonaparte personally).

Napoleon’s life is fascinating and complex, and no one can deny he reshaped Europe (not just France) irrevocably. Some of his changes brought Europe into the modern world – he planted the seeds of a united Germany, united Italy, created a continental trade system that resembles today’s European Union, he changed the way armies fought (and how they treated civilians), he emancipated Jews from their ghettos, he challenged social beliefs in the divine right of monarchs, he rewrote laws, promoted science and learning, restored the church that had been almost destroyed in the French Revolution and established religious tolerance, founded institutes and schools, set up networks of communications, improved roads and sewers. He replaced feudal laws with the Napoleonic Code, based on equality and justice.

But why Napoleonland, a theme park based on Napoleon? Probably because it’s about the rise of nationalism in an increasingly complex and difficult European Union (beset as it is with financial woes), it’s about reaction to the popularity of Disneyland in Paris (which attracts 15 million visitors a year and is Europe’s most popular theme park), and it’s about a changing, modern perspective on French history.

Perhaps Napoleonland will be garish and kitschy, as opponents suggest. But perhaps it will instead help the world remember and celebrate a complex, challenging but ultimately great individual whose life and work still resounds throughout Europe today.

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What Shall We Do With the Mountain View?

Globe Hotel, 1913Here’s a new song for Collingwood, sung to the tune of What Shall We Do With the Drunken Sailor?

Unbeknownst to council, the town wants to own the Mountain View Hotel for $1.9 million. This little-known fact appeared in the 600-plus page budget document without any fanfare. or even any other sort of notice. You’d have to dig through page after page of mind-numbing arrays of figures to find it.

Normally, when the municipality wants to buy property, we go in camera to hear a staff report that justifies the purchase and we discuss the legal ramifications of the offer. This is done behind closed doors to prevent the potential seller from raising the price, and to prevent competitive bidders from becoming aware, so the property can be bought, then flipped at a profit to the municipality. So I wouldn’t be able discuss it under those circumstances.

This time, however, it’s public, part of the proposed budget. Everyone is able to hear about it before we make any move. Page 364 of the budget reads,

This project is for the completion of the First Street (Hwy 26 Connecting Link) at the Hurontario Intersection. Purchase and removal of Mountainview Hotel, Brownfield restoration and construction of the five lane section as per the First Street design.
This project is subject to MTO funding and successful agreement to purchase the Mountainview Hotel. The project will not proceed without prior funding approval of MTO

I don’t see a lot of “restoration” in this proposal, however.

Globe Hotel, late 1800sOdd thing, that process. Not at all expected. Council never had the opportunity to have a say in the matter before this and it wasn’t identified in our recent strategic planning sessions. During the early budget debate I said the process was flawed: first council should decide if it wants to own the building, then what to do with it, and only after that discussion should we be discussing how much it will cost.

And, I added, it should involve the public in the process.

The Mountain View is the former Globe Hotel, one of Collingwood’s oldest hotels, built in the mid-1800s, just after the town was incorporated. It had one of the most beautiful interiors – stunning woodwork and banisters – in the region. I’m told some of that that woodwork was removed for use in a private home when the hotel was closed. The first pavement sidewalk was laid in front of the Globe. Quite a lot of history in that old building.

The Mountain View was purchased in 2004 from owner John Wheeler, and closed. However, neglect led to internal problems and for a while it looked like it would be demolished. The building was not included within the Heritage District boundaries, nor is it designated a heritage building. Why not? I have no idea. I have asked the heritage committee to comment on it.

The provincial Ministry of Transport, we’re told, wants to widen Highway 26 at the intersection with Hurontario Street, and add a fifth (turning) lane. That isn’t possible, apparently, without demolishing the building. The MOT has not conveyed that request to council, however. As I understand it, this is part of the long-term plan for Highway 26, presented and approved a couple of councils back. We have been told by staff that the MOT will pay for the purchase through “connecting link” payments to the town.

In my view, if the MOT wants the road widened, let the MOT buy it. I would not even consider such a purchase without a written request that not only confirms immediate repayment of any costs (including legal, engineering, etc.), but also acknowledges that it is the province that wants to demolish one of the oldest buildings in town, not the town. I certainly don’t want the town to be the agency that tears it down.

In fact, if the town DID buy it, I would move to have it restored and turned into a community arts and cultural centre. Not demolished. Based on the brouhaha over the Tremont and Livery buildings (and comments made at last Saturday’s open budget session), I would suggest the public would not look favourably on the town demolishing it.

Globe Hotel stampEven if the town gets the money back, the cost (almost $2 million) would probably be debentured – adding to our debt. Most debentures have to be paid out over the full term, and don’t have early closing clauses. Would the town be on the hook for demolition costs as well? Legal and other costs? I don’t know, but suspect so.

Once the road is widened, what will the town do with the oddly-shaped piece of land that remains? It will be too small for development, too small for a park. Wait, I know, a commemorative plaque showing a faded photo of the glory that used to be the Globe Hotel. Or sell it, no doubt at a loss.

As for widening the street: why? As I understand it, narrowing is a commonly used method of traffic calming. It’s used throughout Europe to get drivers to reduce speeds. Isn’t that supposed to be important here,too? It’s mentioned in our active transportation plan. The current street design performs the important role of slowing down traffic at a critical intersection, rather than letting drivers race through town unimpeded. Let’s keep it like that.

The issue will return towards the end of the budget debate. I expect financial considerations will put the proposal on hold, and give council the opportunity to properly discuss it, with, of course, public input.

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Collingwood’s population on the rise, faster than Canada’s

Census cartoonStatistics Canada has released some of the key data data from its 2011 Census. In the five years since our last census (2006), Canada has grown in population size almost 6% to 33,476,688. That’s ten times larger than we were in 1861. Once again, our growth rate was the highest among G8 countries.

According to the StatsCan analysis of the data, “every province and most territories saw its population increase between 2006 and 2011.” However, it notes that, “The rate of population growth increased in all provinces and territories between 2006 and 2011, except in Ontario, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut… The rate of Ontario’s population growth declined slightly in the past five years to 5.7%, its lowest level since the period between the 1981 and 1986 censuses.”

Meanwhile, as our planner, Mark Bryan, pointed out to council via email this morning, Collingwood’s population continues to grow. Last census the population figure was 17,290; in 2011 it was pegged at 19,241 people. Mark points out that’s an increase of 11.3% in five years, much higher than our growth during 2001-2006, when it was 7.8%. Mark noted:

The total number of dwellings in the town now stands at 10,695, of which 8,339 are occupied by usual residents. In other words 78% of the dwellings in town are occupied by permanent residents while 22% are occupied by ‘seasonal’ residents. This split remains unchanged from the 2006 census.

That means 2,356 dwellings belong to seasonal residents, one in five. That’s significant for our planning, strategic goals, and service delivery methodology.

There were 1,379 new dwelling units added since 2006. I’d really like to know how many of those new units were affordable, and how many were bought by seasonal residents. The percentage of seasonal-to-permanent residents has fallen (78.55 to 77.97%) but not significantly.

Mark also noted that our municipal neighbours have wildly varying growth rates: Wasaga Beach (17,537 in 2011) is at the top, with a growth rate of 16.7%. Clearview (13,734) and The Town of the Blue Mountains (6,453) saw population decreases of 2.5% and 5.5%, respectively. He commented on the population decline in TOBM as “interesting since the actual number of dwellings increased from 5,619 to 6,200, an increase of about 10%… It is likely that the seasonal population is increasing with new and converted dwelling units adjacent to recreational opportunities. The permanent population, likely due to aging and out migration, appears to be decreasing.” So where are they going, one wonders.

Wasaga Beach’s split between permanent and seasonal residents is also quite different: 65% of dwellings are permanent, or one in three is seasonal, a modest increase in the percentage since 2006. The town saw 1,929 new homes since last census, roughly 50% more than Collingwood in that time. However, Collingwood has 33.46 sq. km with an average density of 575.1 people/sq. km. Wasaga Beach has 58.43 sq. km with a density of 300.1.

Simcoe County rose from 422,204 in 2006 to 446,063, a 5.7% increase.

More data will be released in May, 20102, including age and sex numbers. I’ll fill in some of the blanks when that is available.

For now, read some of the news stories on the census: National Post, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, and of course the CBC.

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Why Admiral Collingwood should go ahead


That’s the issue Collingwood Council has to wrestle with, Monday: what effect will the juxtaposition of the proposed development’s size and height have on the existing, smaller buildings? Some people are afraid our existing heritage buildings will be diminished by this project.

Last week I was in Toronto. At the corner of York and Wellington Streets, I saw the Toronto Club; a beautifully preserved, late 19th-century red-brick, three-storey building. It’s in the, heart of financial district, surrounded by tall, modern skyscrapers, some 30 or more storeys high. What made this building stand out was the contrast with, not the similarity to, the buildings around it.

Art Gallery of OntarioI later walked along Dundas Street to the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is a big, modern building redesigned by architect Frank Gehry. At 21m, It is roughly the same height of the proposed Admiral building, but much longer. Across the street are typical three-storey, Toronto brick homes, many turned into galleries and businesses. Further west along Dundas Street, Chinatown is a mix of two to four-storey buildings.

The gallery dominates the visual landscape, but instead of diminishing the others, the contrast makes them stand out more.

JerusalemA few decades ago, I visited Jerusalem. The Old City has 2,500 years of history visible in its walls and narrow streets. What makes the Old City so spectacular is how it contrasts against the modern city just outside its walls. The beauty of the Old City shines in the juxtaposition.

Duke of York pubIn London, England, this fall, I walked through 13th century cathedrals, and 15th-century castles where Henry VIII lived. I had a beer in an 18th century pub in the heart of the city, a small building surrounded by much taller and more modern ones.

England has some very rigid laws about heritage buildings to make sure they are preserved and maintained. But when there is nothing to preserve, they allow builders and architects to be creative. There are some stunningly modern and exciting buildings in London within a stone’s throw of well-preserved 17th and 18th century heritage sites. The contrast between them makes London vibrant.

It is contrast and the mix that makes any city dynamic, not its homogeneity.

I love the old buildings, I love the preserved cultural heritage sites I’ve had the privilege to visit.

But heritage is a sentimental concept, a romanticizing of an ideal past; it is not a technical term. In fact, it’s difficult to get people to agree on what it means. The whole history of the architecture conservation movement is not much older than our own town.

Our heritage district is not a museum of empty buildings: it is a place where people live and work. We want our heritage buildings to look old from the outside, but not inside.

No one wants outdoor privies and gas lanterns, no one wants to get water from a well or keep groceries in a cold cellar. We want all the modern conveniences the original owners never had: electricity, refrigeration, insulation, modern plumbing and air conditioning. Our heritage is skin deep: it’s just the façade that matters.

The definition of what is heritage changes with every generation. Many of the buildings in Collingwood’s heritage district would have been new in my grandfather’s youth. Some would have been new when my father was a teenager, a generation later. Both men would have thought of these buildings as modern, not as heritage sites.

banks in the heritage districtA generation or two from now, our children and grandchildren may see the Admiral development as heritage, something they want to protect and preserve. They may also want to preserve the blocky modern buildings like several downtown banks, the former bingo hall and former drugstore, even the town hall annex – because they will be heritage sites in the future.

is this future heritage?Today many here would like nothing more than to have those buildings torn down and something that looks more 19th-century erected in their place. Even though these and other modern buildings are within the heritage district, does anyone care if this proposed development diminishes those modern buildings? Of course not.

Admiral Collingwood developmentProtecting our heritage doesn’t mean we can only erect fakes that externally conform to our current sentimental ideal. We can allow contrast, we can allow change without in any way diminishing the value or appearance of our existing heritage buildings or district.

We have a duty to the community as a whole, not just to one segment. The economic wellbeing of our downtown is at stake, not merely its look.

Let’s stop agonizing over this and let it go forward.

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Make it happen, crowd tells council about Admiral Collingwood

Rally in support of the Admiral Collingwood developmentFour hundred people, perhaps more, packed the Collingwood Legion, Sunday afternoon, to support the Admiral Collingwood development, at Hume and Hurontario Streets. It was arguably the most important public meeting of the last 18 months. The clear message, both from speakers at the rally and audience members, was “make it happen.” So many people packed the Legion hall that it was standing room only, with some forced to watch and listen from the alcove.

The rally was called by a group of citizens to counter the recent opposition to the proposed developments at Hume and Hurontario Streets, within the heritage district (but who had no remaining heritage buildings on the property). Despite the positive nature of the comments and speeches, there was a certain underlying anger that permeated the meeting, focused on the opposition.

Historical background: The project had been approved to proceed, legally and democratically, after numerous presentations and public meetings, by the 2003 council under former Mayor Terry Geddes, It was supported by a third-party heritage impact assessment that stated it would integrate well with the recently-created heritage district.

However, early in his term the previous mayor, Chris Carrier, made the unprecedented motion to rescind the project’s heritage review approval. Six of the nine council members of that time voted to support the mayor’s motion (including Councillors Edwards, Jeffrey, McNabb, Sandberg and Foley: the three dissenters being Deputy Mayor (now Mayor) Cooper and Councillors Labelle and Chadwick). This brought a halt to everything on the site.

The developer was required to re-design the project, drop a floor from the previously-approved six storeys, remake the look, and undergo a new heritage impact assessment. Eventually an assessment that reflected the attitude of the majority of that previous council was presented. But by that time, the global recession had changed the economic situation and the project stalled with a mere hole dug as a start for the underground parking garage. For the remaining three years of its term, the previous council was embarrassed by the water-filled pit on the main-street site. Some local wags nicknamed it “Carrier’s Pond,” a name which stuck during the remainder of the term.

Residents Murray Doupe and Ruth Gadway organized a petition asking council to let the project proceed, and eventually garnered approximately 2,500 signatures. However, this was casually sloughed off by the previous council and mayor. The former mayor said to The Enterprise Bulletin that, “..he was offended by the petition and (Scott) Thomson’s presentation, which impugned the integrity of his fellow councillors. He also criticized the organizers for further polarizing the community with the petition, which he said utilized a divisive approach.”

In late 2010, a new council was elected (only one of the original opponents to the project was re-elected). The new council was composed of candidates who promised to get the stalled project started again. Early in this term, the council unanimously approved making changes to the zoning that would allow the development to go ahead. A new design was presented, with the original six storey height. However, complications with a heritage district bylaw passed by the previous council, and debate over procedural issues, have made it difficult to proceed. A small but vocal group of opponents – many of them who had opposed the original design – challenged the plan. In response, a group of residents held Sunday’s rally in support of the project.

Among the audience at the event were several members of council: Mayor Cooper, and Councillors Gardhouse, West, Lloyd, Cunningham and Chadwick. Deputy Mayor Lloyd was on vacation, so unable to attend.

The rally had been organized by a group of five local residents and business people, none of whom have a financial association with the developer or the project: Don Paul, Terry Geddes, Dunc Hawkins, Ron Emo and Brian Hickey. All but Geddes spoke at the meeting (Terry was unexpectedly called away Sunday morning to a meeting in Toronto). Also at the podium speaking in favour of the project – and to support Collingwood Council in going ahead with it – were local residents and business people Wayne Noble, Jack Marley, Penny Skelton, Lesley Paul, and Margot Bulmer.

“We’re the silent majority,” said Brian Hickey, “but we’re going to be the loud majority. Fifty years from now, there will be a heritage committee saying, ‘Let’s keep that building.'”

“I have great difficulty understanding how a small group of people who recently moved to Collingwood could try to stop this project,” said the outspoken Wayne Noble. “We need this project to maintain the life of the downtown. The building needs to be built.”

The latter comment garnered loud applause from the audience. Other speakers took more subtle shots at the opponents to the project, stressing the need to develop the downtown and the mandate handed to this council to move forward.

Rally in support of the Admiral Collingwood development“As a business person, I want this development to anchor the southern end of the main Street,” said Penny Skelton, whose bookstore, The Crow’s Nest is only a few dozen metres from the proposed site. “This is long overdue. Council was elected with a clear mandate to see this development go forward.”

Skelton also mentioned the late Jane Jacobs, who commented on the need for a mix of stores, restaurants and housing within walking distance of one another.

Margot Bulmer warned the community not to “tie yourselves so much to ideals that the Admiral Collingwood can’t go forward,” a reference to the objections by a small but vocal group to the site’s proposed six storeys. In the heritage district, the current bylaw allows only three storeys. Site-specific changes to that bylaw have been proposed by council. If these fail, I have proposed removing the site from the heritage district (something I first tried in 2007, but failed).

Former mayor Ron Emo spoke of the “..cumulative effect of building decisions” that shape our impression of heritage, and encouraged council to be “flexible enough to allow entrepreneurs… to follow their vision.”

Dunc Hawkins was more direct. He said the current council was “handcuffed by a flawed bylaw passed by the last council.” Hawkins also commented on the positive nature of the amount of taxes, development charges and building permit fees the town would receive from the development.

“We’ve still got a group of folks who think this thing should not proceed,” Hawkins warned, then adding that the organizing group supported the current council’s efforts, and encouraged the audience to contact council members to express their personal support for the project.

The project and bylaw decision will come to council, February 6, 2012. Given the widespread community support for the development and for its proposed six storeys, I suspect it will get the approvals it needs. However, it still may be taken to the OMB by its opponents. I suspect there may be sufficient support at council to eliminate the entire heritage district, if the opposition to this project continues. That hasn’t be proposed, of course, by council, but opposition to the heritage district in general has been expressed by several members of the public who are fed up with the delays to this development.

UPDATE: The EB’s take is here.

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Google Earth 6.2 gets somewhat better, but it still needs work

It was big news this week that Google Earth 6.2 was released with a bunch of new pictures, and an improved satellite mesh that removed some of the previous patchwork of scans that made up some of its maps.

Collingwood from above, Google EarthThe media are full of articles praising Google Earth’s new release. CNET noted, “The result is a more realistic and less distracting (though still optimistically cloudless) view of the planet. Update: It turns out that by turning on the weather layer, you can dispel Google Earth’s sunny optimism and see if it’s really cloudy by showing live weather data.”

Collingwood from above, Google EarthAs much as I like Google Earth, and as much as I enjoy my virtual explorations of the world using it, it’s still less-than-impressive for local use (or in fact for most of the world outside the USA). First of all is the annoying cloud over our downtown that obscures the view of our beautiful main street. It’s not part of Google Earth’s live weather display. The original satellite image has a cloud. I don’t know if there have been later passes without a cloud, but I’d really like to see my home town unblemished. It has not been changed in several years, however.

Collingwood from above, Google EarthSecond is the grainy, mid-to-low-res of the overhead views. Some of the satellite images in Google Earth are pin-sharp. Look at the views of New York City, for example. But Collingwood is in the lower range that’s at the verge of interesting but not quite detailled enough to be really useful. It’s not too bad when you want a sprawling overview of the while town, but when you want to zoom in for a closer look at neighbourhoods, you get the image on the left: coarse and ugly. Again this may not be Google’s fault, but surely more accurate, higher-res images are available.

Collingwood from above, Google EarthThere are consistency issues, too. Take a look at this street-level image of downtown. Nice sunny day, trees in bloom. Cloudless sky (certainly not the same day as the satellite photo, which has leafless trees and that annoying cloud). Then move a few feet (or metres) north from that spot and what do you see?

Collingwood from above, Google EarthHmmm. The sky is suddenly cloudy. And the trees are different. We can’t see the new sidewalk and downtown design we’ve had the last two years, and it’s very evidently a different day. So many changes in the last two years, none recorded here. Google Earth is not very up-to-date for Collingwood: it’s showing our history, not our present. You can do the virtual drive through the downtown and see the same sort of abrupt changes from cloudy-to-sunny and back at almost every block.

Collingwood from above, Google EarthI’m sure there are many enhancements to this version of Google Earth worth crowing about. But the things that matter most to me – the accuracy and clarity in my hometown – are not among them. I also note the detailled 3D buildings visible in so many cities are not visible in Collingwood. I’m not sure if that’s because no one local has created models or entered any requisite data, or if it’s an oversight in Google Earth itself. But look at Toronto with its 3D buildings and you can see the difference.

Collingwood from above, Google EarthYou can see the difference in quality of images here in this capture of a neighbourhood in San Francisco, California. nice crisp view, lots of detail, and can be zoomed almost to street level with no loss of clarity. That’s the sort of image I want for Collingwood.

Collingwood from above, Google EarthHere’s the same scene, zoomed right down to ground level, but not in Google Earth’s street view perspective. See the difference 3D buildings can make in the landscape at this level? While not perfect it conveys at least some sense of proportion and depth. That kind of view would have helped us understand the visual impact of the proposed Admiral Collingwood development. But for that, and for many areas served only by lower-res, coarse images, Google Earth remains an entertaining but less-than functional tool.

It’s still a work in progress and despite improvements, Google Earth has a long way to go before it serves us here as well as it does in the USA. I’ll rate it a B for effort, but still a C overall. I may have to save my praises for version 6.5 or even 7.

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Musing on mixed heights in urban environments

Mixed building sizesI recently spent some time looking online for images of cities where mixed building heights could show me how a varied skyline looks when buildings of significantly different heights are close together in an urban environment. This is, of course, because Collingwood council will soon consider allowing a six-storey building downtown, set amidst what are mostly two- and three-storey buildings. The mix of high and low in the core is common in cities, less so in smaller towns. That’s simple economics, however.

Aurora, ILAll of these images here were borrowed from various sites to showcase the mix. It’s a simple effect, it seems, of growth and time: buildings grow taller as population increases. Height was limited before the development of elevators and modern steel construction. This had the effect of limiting density, as well. There were many six-storey walk-ups built, but not very often outside big cities, at least from what I could find.

Barrie, ONI make no claims as to whether these photos represent good or bad planning, or whether they create a beautiful or ugly skyline. Those judgments are subjective. We will never reach a consensus on taste, so other factors will have to be considered in our decision. I was merely curious as to how such dichotomies of size looked in the real world. Nothing I’ve seen has changed my mind.

Boston, MAI’ve had the pleasure of visiting a lot of cities: I’ve been in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Halifax, Ottawa, London and almost every other Canadian city (the sole exception being Quebec City). I have visited many American cities, including New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle and several others. I’ve been to Guadalajara, Acapulco, Mexico City and Morelia in Mexico, and Cartagena and Baranquilla in Colombia. I’ve been to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where ancient and modern share property lines. I’ve seen a wide and varied mix of new and old in every city, often side-by-side in the core of the city.

Halifax, NSMost recently, I was in London, England. England has some very stringent laws about heritage and development, far stronger than anything we have here. I had the pleasure of sipping a pint of beer in a small pub in the heart of London, surrounded by tall, modern buildings that towered over it. I had the pleasure of eating lunch and shopping in 17th and 18th-century buildings that had been incorporated into newer structures much larger than the originals. And I had the pleasure of doing the same in entirely new buildings made of glass and steel. Nothing seemed glaringly out of place.

Toronto, ONThe mix of heights usually also indicates a mix of ages: heritage (shorter) and new (taller), co-existing. But not always: some of the shorter buildings on Toronto’s Yonge Street are comparatively new. Sometimes a lower height is the choice because taller buildings require more extensive engineering, and there may not be sufficient land for anything larger. Downtown Collingwood has such a mix of new and old shorter buildings.

Ottawa, ONMost Canadian cities are new compared to Europe’s, so we lack the volume of heritage buildings there. That makes it more important to retain what we have. But what does that mean for current and future development? For some, at least, it means nothing can be built that does not in some way enhance or mimic those heritage sites, or at least does not in any way overshadow them (aesthetically and literally). To me, part of the beauty of cities lies in their mix, not merely in the areas of similarity.

Philadelphia, PAI am not convinced that the character of a heritage building is in any way diminished by a more modern, or a larger building beside it. In fact, I personally feel that the heritage aspects can be enhanced when they are juxtaposed against another era’s architecture. I don’t feel, for example, that the classic brownstone homes turned into shops and offices in Toronto’s Kensington Market or along Baldwin Street are in any way diminished by the nearby highrises and office towers that can clearly be seen beyond the roof lines. To me, it makes the smaller buildings more human-scale and enjoyable.

Montreal, QCThere are numerous modern, small-scale buildings on the main street of Collingwood. the soon-to-be-vacant Shoppers’ Drug Mart is an example of a mediocre, boxy, modern design that would benefit from demolition and replacement. On its site won’t go a heritage building – maybe in another century it will be considered as such. Instead it will be a modern simulacrum that mimics older designs and their height.

Nashville, TNTo me the height argument has flaws when applied to the property at Hume and Hurontario, as much as it would to property in the Shipyards’ end of town. I see it as akin to my neighbours telling me I can’t plant a maple tree on my property because everyone south of me has older, established lilac bushes that would somehow be diminished by a taller maple at the far end of the street.

Hamilton, ONPerhaps if I wanted to plant that maple between two smaller bushes close to one another on a single property, I might agree that there could an aesthetic mismatch. In the same way, I wouldn’t want the one-storey SDM building replaced with a six-storey micro-tower (if such a thing were possible) because it would look out of place between buildings of three stories. But would a four-storey seem so out of place? What about a two-storey? Must it be three to suit the streetscape?

Markham, ONAt almost the end of the downtown portion of street, the Admiral Collingwood development needs special consideration. I can’t accept the argument that a six-storey building there will be so grossly out of place. There are too many examples I’ve seen where mixed heights complement one another, not detract from the other. I think that would be the case, here. I don’t believe a taller building will hurt the property values of the surrounding heritage buildings.

Fredericksburg, USAOf course, whether it fits or not, no matter what the height, the building will be new, not old. Although it will be tasteful and elegant, it will not be a heritage building. No argument for or against the height will change that. It will not even look much like the late-19th century buildings further up the main street. It will look like what it is: a new building with heritage-like stylistic touches.

Mixed heightsAs council, we have to consider all the factors that are represented by the development – economic, social, impact on the downtown businesses, tax revenue, etc. – not just the height. And if we want to avoid sprawl and live up to those honourable goals and visions we have set for this town – active transportation, active lifestyle, less dependence on automobiles, cultural strength, strong core area – then we need more people downtown. Higher density is the only way to put more people into a small space, and taller buildings are the only way to get more density. That’s why cities grow upwards. Property values increase with the height, too. That’s simple capitalism.

More mixed heightsWe’re still a small town and we have to ask whether a development of that size and scale will negatively affect our community (and the perception of our beloved small-town-ness). Or will it help it be a vital and exciting place to live with a lively and thriving downtown core? Which is most important to the long-term future of this town?

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