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2006 10 20
The Power of Community Activism in Ward 18
Is there a future for community activism in Toronto? Last night, four candidates for city council joined together in an often emotional two hour discussion about the importance of community activism to the considered growth of our city. Adam Giambrone (ward 18), John Sewell (ward 21), Adam Vaughan (ward 20), and Simon Wookey (ward 18) discussed how Queen West's "Active 18" community group is a model for citizen-based planning across the city. It was my pleasure to moderate the panel which, for the most part, maintained its political neutrality.

That does not mean, however, that this group refrained from criticizing the failings of city hall. Former Mayor John Sewell warned that politicians love being "gate-keepers." They hate to relinquish their power to citizen groups even when, in the case of Active 18, those groups do a better job of designing their community than the city's planning and urban design staff.

The evening began with Franco Boni of Active 18 providing an introduction to that group's objectives. The http://www.active18.org web site states:
Our objective is to ensure that all new development constitutes a genuinely positive and exemplary addition to the neighborhood and to the city at large.

We aspire to work as closely as possible with all facets of the municipal and provincial governments, with the land-owners and their representatives to define an order for development that is beneficial to all, now and in the future.

Against that context, the panelists responded to the following questions: "What is city hall doing right?" "What is it doing wrong?" "What lessons can all wards in the city learn from Active 18?"

What are some key quotes from the evening?

Adam Vaughan: "People who resist unplanned development are called fear mongers." "City Hall does not respect people." "City Council's job is first and foremost about land use planning. If that is not done right than everything else fails."

John Sewell: "Politicians love being gate-keepers." "City Hall as it now operates is doing nothing right." "People in communities say no first when they feel they have no power." "Citizens have good reasons why some projects should not go forward but council does not listen."

Adam Giambrone: "The OMB takes away accountability from local politicians." "More investment in the city's planning department is needed." "We need more community facilitators and more tools to help community groups plan their neighbourhoods."

Simon Wookey: "When city hall under Mayor Barbara Hall took some zoning restrictions off a district [King Street between Spadina and Bathurst] the developers made significant improvements to the neighbourhood." "We have to do more to get people to vote in municipal elections." "We do not learn from the city's past successes."

Many thanks to the audience and the panelists who together contributed to what was an informed, passionate, and inspiring evening. The Toronto Society of Architects deserves praise for organizing the event and for contributing to the conversations about design in our city.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 10/20 at 12:02 PM

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