What impact would lawn signs have on development issues facing Long Branch (Toronto)?

The sign is not a product of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association. Jaan Pill photo.

The sign is not a product of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association. Jaan Pill photo.

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:

Community self-organizing

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:

Update and May 9, 2016 meeting invite from Brian Liberty of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association

The launch of the association has been built around a survey of residents that many people took part in:

One-page survey was circulated at Nov. 30, 2015 Long Branch Neighbourhood Association launch meeting

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:

The text for the 2011 Parkview School letter was developed with input from many sources

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.

Strategic thinking

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:

Conserving Long Branch (Toronto) – April 2016 update from David Godley

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.


9 replies
  1. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    By way of an update on the ongoing discussions, regarding lawn signs, one Long Branch resident has observed:

    First comment

    “I think that on their own, neither the LBNA efforts (which is to preserve character) or the lawn signs will stop severances. They however do have aligned interests and should be respected.

    “The group that instigated this effort have truly been in the trenches in fighting for the character of Long Branch before the creation of LBNA and have the only OMB victory on the books thus far, so their opinion in my eyes have merit.

    “If these signs influence one person in the neighbourhood to knock on a door to ask about Long Branch character. Or perhaps they are intimidated by the Public Hearing process and are pointed to the LBNA for education. Perhaps a developer will rethink their development plan before outbidding a family on a property. In any of these instances, I see these signs as money well spent.”

    In response to the above-noted message, another Long Branch resident has commented:

    Second comment

    “I will continue post a sign on my lawn and continue to give them to willing participants. I really don’t see that the efforts to organize the LBNA and the lawn signs, meant to stop the lot splitting, being at cross purposes. I know that it will take more than a few lawn signs to stop the lot severances, but I believe getting the message/opinion out there is a step in the right direction.

    “I will be sure to point out the lawn signs have nothing to do with the LBNA.”

    My comment

    I find the ongoing discussions of much interest; I believe there is tremendous value in such discussions. That is, until the point is reached where it becomes a diversion.

  2. Eugene Knapik
    Eugene Knapik says:

    I have one of the lawn signs you mentioned on my lawn. I’ve written a post about it on my blog (https://27thstreet.me/2016/05/29/the-lawn-sign/) in which I referred to and linked to this post. Maybe you are correct in your prediction of “minimal impact”. However, I hope you’re wrong. At the very least people visiting our neighbourhood, and people considering buying into our neighbourhood will see the signs and know there is an issue.

  3. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    Good to read your message, Eugene. In the course of reading a wide range of views, regarding the lawn signs topic, I’ve become aware that my own view, regarding this topic, is indeed just one among many.

    Based on the comments that I have encountered to date, my sense is that the signs will indeed raise awareness of the issue. There is value in the raising of awareness.

    A number of residents have spoken of the value of having a dual-track approach: that is, having lawn signs up and as a separate project, contributing to the development of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association, and working within the parameters of the latter association to do what we can as an organized group of residents to preserve what remains of the character of Long Branch.

    The two approaches can work together, I believe – with the understanding that the initiative as it relates to the lawn signs is the initiative of a group of residents who see value in the placement of such signs in the community, the corollary being that the signs are not the initiative of the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association.

    An additional point that I would make is that it is highly inspiring for me to note that the discussion, that I have encountered to date, regarding the question of lawn signs has been cordial and civil.

    When members of a community have the capacity to express themselves, and to disagree on specific points, in a way that shows respect for other viewpoints, then we have a situation that is highly positive. The latter situation offers a setting in which residents can freely and intensively debate choices among courses of action, take into account a wide range of points of view, and work together on behalf of shared interests.

  4. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    I would add some further comments regarding decision-making procedures and processes.

    The Long Branch Neighbourhood Association was launched some time back, with key leadership from Long Branch resident Brian Liberty, at a public meeting that followed a number of informal, preliminary meetings in the community by way of preparing for the launch.

    The mission of the LBNA is based upon an extensive, well-designed survey, to which a significant number of residents responded. A number of planning meetings have been held, since the initial meeting, at which a wide range and an impressive number of residents have participated. The meetings have enabled the LBNA planning group, formed as a consequence of the initial launch meeting, to set up a draft constitution and bylaws.

    At each step of the way, discussion has proceeded under conditions where each person, who wishes to speak, has the opportunity to speak, rather than having a situation where one or a handful of particularly talkative individuals provide the majority of the input. I see that as a highly positive feature of the emerging culture of the association. The sense of ownership – that the association belongs to every resident who would like to participate – is critical, in my view.

    The next step involves the decision making process, as it is set up in the constitution and bylaws, and as it is enacted in practice. Based on what I have observed, during the crucial initial planning stages whereby the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association has taken the journey in which a community takes an initial idea, and makes a reality of it, my sense is that members of the association will similarly have a strong sense of ownership of the process by which the association’s decisions and policy formulations are made.

    To my mind, that entails close adherence to Roberts Rules of Order, or some similar rules of order, in the course of meetings, and a respect for the fact that some decisions are the outcome of debates followed by a vote among members.

    The board of directors, for the association, that is in the process of being formed, and the committees that have been formed, involve a wide range of demographic profiles. A strong board of directors, in my experience, requires individuals who have a wide range of talents, a wide range of real-life experience in the wider world, and a capacity to engage in civil conversations, discussions, and debates on a wide range of (at times contentious) issues.

    Based on what I have seen over the years, having board members with a wide range of skills and experience in the wider world is a key requirement for a board that is going to truly get things done and make a difference, in any kind of association, whatever the mission of the association may happen to be.

    As a resident who is keen to see the emergence of a strong and effective association, my sense is that the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association will perform as a strong advocate for the diverse and wide-ranging interests of our community, with a particular focus – in line with the initial survey associated with the launch of the group – on the maintenance of the character of Long Branch.

  5. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    It’s great to read your blog, and to have the opportunity to see the photos.

    It’s my hope that residents visiting the Preserved Stories blog will also visit your blog, which provides valuable documentation.

  6. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    By way of an update, Kathy now has the required information. If anybody else would like a sign, please contact me and I will let you know who will be able to provide you one.


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