I was much interested in the article by Rachael Williams entitled “City Governance Reform.”
As is standard practice for the newsletter, the article refers to “some experts.” That’s not the primary topic, however, that I seek to comment upon. What I want to comment upon, most of all, concerns the role that neighbourhood associations are capable of playing in civic discourse given the current state of civic governance in Toronto.
The article notes that “some experts” say that in their current form, neighbourhood associations are exclusionary, have too much influence on city planning, and are a threat to local democracy.
That’s a pretty broad statement. I’m reminded of a previous issue of the newsletter in which a developer complained that city residents have adopted an irksome attitude of demanding that bylaws be followed, when city planning decisions are made.
That’s not a direct quote of what the developer actually said. What was quoted was a typically pejorative statement, to the effect that when residents want bylaws to be followed, they are acting out of line. I’m not about to repeat the quote, because repetition adds fuel to the meme; adding such fuel is not helpful, from my perspective as an everyday resident, of Ontario.
This is a very impressive association. What makes it impressive, among other things, is that residents spent two years in extensive research and discussion, involving large numbers of people, in the steps that led to formal launch of the association.
The association’s mission statement, which lists about five different things, grew directly out of a well-designed survey that went out across the entire neighbourhood.
Results from the survey also determined the association’s name. One option would have been to call it the Long Branch Residents Association. However, a majority of survey respondents preferred calling it the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association.
The constitution and by-laws were hammered out in a series of extensive meetings, with intensive discussion and debate; the research for drafting of the by-laws also involved study of other neighbourhood associations in the area. Leadership succession is built into the structure of the association.
In my experience as a volunteer in the past, in assisting with organizing of local events, in assisting with organizing of national and international conferences, and in launching of national and international community-based organizations, my sense is that it’s absolutely essential that such research and gathering of input is conducted.
It need not always take two years; it can be done in a tighter time frame, but the planning has to be thorough, and it has to include input from a wide range of people. Good planning makes a huge difference; a person cannot underestimate the value of being well-prepared, on every possible level.
Community-wide consultation, and involvement
That is the approach that the Long Branch Neighbourhood Association has taken, in planning its launch, and in organizing its structure.
As part of that approach, the LBNA decided, right at the outset – on the basis of its community-wide survey – that its mission would include a wide range of pursuits, not one that would be solely focused on land use planning issues.
It also made a point of saying that its membership is open to all residents of Long Branch – including renters.
Human agency matters; it’s a topic we cannot get away from
As I have noted at a recent post, citizen engagement concerns itself with human agency, which involves coordination and collaboration, and the capacity to analyze data.
I have addressed the latter topics at a post entitled: