I’ve had the occasion to share some thoughts in an email discussion involving residents in Long Branch concerning a plan to set up lawn signs as a way to express opposition to the lot-severances that are happening in the community.
Here is the gist of my personal view on this topic:
I think there is value in the discussion to date. The fact that there is ongoing discussion is a source of inspiration for me.
I think residents who want to put up lawn signs do make a good point: It’s useful to communicate a message. If people wish to put up signs, indicating their opposition to severances, as a way to make their views known, then the message will indeed be communicated.
I would add – and again, this is just my opinion, for whatever value it may have – that if the end result, that we seek to achieve, is the cessation of severances, then putting up signs will not achieve that result.
If the aim is to achieve results, which is distinct from expressing the vehemence of our opposition, we need to work using other means that are available to us:
The community is in the process of setting up the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association. An April 28, 2016 post at my website provides a quick overview of the current stage in the setting up of the association:
The launch of the association has been built around a survey of residents that many people took part in:
The major point is that the LBNA offers a way to move the stop-the-severances project forward in a way that opens up the possibility of achieving results. In terms of the brand image of the association, it would be helpful, in my view, if there is clear understanding that the setting up of lawn signs is not an initiative of the LBNA.
A sense of human agency
I have in previous years been involved in a successful effort to keep a local school in public hands. The underlying framework for this successful project was the fact that the local residents were aware of their human agency – their capacity to influence decision makers – and they went about their project in an organized, highly focused way. An outline of the project is available in posts at my website; a post that sums up things quite well is this one:
As part of the project, I spent several weeks going from house to house – I went to large numbers of houses within a kilometre radius of where I live – delivering information packages regarding the Parkview School project. I also connected with residents at nearby condos and at a housing co-op. The packages included a sample letter that people could mail in. I would start in the morning and finish in the afternoon. Day after day. That was part of the way, along with extensive email communications and public meetings, that we spread the word. At that time, I did not yet have a website.
We were in touch with officials who were involved in one way or another with the sale of the school building. We were in touch with them regularly. The lines of communication were kept open. We were at all times respectful and cordial in our conversations with a wide range of officials.
We had a plan, and we did everything we could to follow through with the plan that we had in place. We went about our work with a strong sense of moving forward together.
We had no idea how it would turn out.
The point is that, getting good results was a focused community effort – in this case, the successful outcome was that Parkview School remains in public hands; it was not sold to a developer as would otherwise have been the case. Such a focused community effort was achieved without the use of lawn signs; lawn signs would not have helped the effort in any way, in my view.
I live on Villa Road; a few years ago I worked with other residents to ensure a severance did not proceed on our street. I haven’t so far posted, to my website, much information about the strategy that we adopted, to ensure that we achieved good results. However, the strategy involved preparation of a series of five-minute talks by residents, and the writing of an enormous number of letters, in preparation for a Committee of Adjustment meeting. I have shared, with a committee connected with the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association, some of the strategic thinking that was involved with this particular successful effort to keep a severance from proceeding.
From time to time, I have provided suggestions to residents in Toronto who have contacted me about how best to prepare for Committee of Adjustment meetings. I have attended a number of such meetings over the years. Some of the most effective presentations, leading to positive results from the community, have been prepared by Long Branch residents. Among such presentations was one that Christine Hannan of Long Branch was involved in organizing. We have people in our community who are well organized, and who have a strong sense of human agency.
Some time back, I was contacted, through my website, by a group of residents on Clissold Road near Islington Ave. and Bloor Street West who were facing a severance.
I met with the residents, provided information on how residents of Villa Road addressed their severance challenge; David Godley also provided valuable input during the Clissold Road preparations for the Committee of Adjustment meeting dealing with Clissold Road.
The presentation at the C of A was absolutely first-rate; the application was refused. The developer proceeded to an OMB appeal, but withdrew the appeal when the developer became aware of the absolutely first-rate case that the residents of Clissold Road had prepared, for the OMB hearing. The case is described, briefly, at the following post:
What I am saying is that there are ways to deal with the severances we are facing. The launch of the LBNA is a key part of the process of dealing with severances in a way that involves a strong likelihood of making progress on this issue at the political level. Work is also underway at the provincial level to enact changes in how OMB operates, and the extent of its impact on local decision making processes.
Based on the results of the above-mentioned LBNA survey, the association is focused on the larger project of enhancing the quality of life in the community, and is not focused solely on one issue, namely severances, as was the case with a short-lived neighbourhood association that was focused entirely on the severance issues, and was focused solely on the part of Long Branch that is located to the south of Lake Shore Blvd. West.
I strongly support the work of the LBNA and I strongly support the efforts to discuss our strategic options, as a community. Residents are of course free to put up lawn signs. So long as it’s clear that this is a grassroots initiative that is separate from the grassroots initiative that is the LBNA, it may be the case that there is some value in neighbours making their view be known.
However, from the vantage point of human agency – of truly having an influence on decisions that are made – I personally believe that lawn signs are going to have minimal impact. As well, in the event that decision makers get the impression that the LBNA is behind the lawn signs, then that would not be helpful. From the vantage point of a decision maker, the easiest group of people to say No to is a group of people whose sole sense of agency is based upon their capacity to raise their voices.