The city council meeting last night was interesting for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was the vigorous debate about the possibility of ‘pre-zoning’ the old General Hospital site on Queenston so that guidelines exist before a developer buys the property from NHS. While I agree with the decision and hope beyond hope that this will do something to reinvigorate an area that desperately needs it, I have to wonder about the consultation process that was done with local residents.
The advisory committee definitely involved members of the community – Robbie Craine and Bernie Slepkov both spoke last night, and did a good job of explaining how they helped to create the site plan mockups and come to a decision on the road forward. A number of other residents were also in attendance, however, and their speeches were marked by a distinct lack of understanding of exactly what the whole process would mean to them and their properties.
People who show up at city council meetings to speak are not the uninterested sort – if they were, they wouldn’t be there in the first place. They’re local citizens who care about their community, but aren’t sure how to get involved, or even aware that they can get involved, because the city does such a poor job of letting them know.
People work during the day, have families to take care of at night, and while lots of people might be willing to get involved, they don’t have the time to become familiar with the inner working of local government so that they can figure out what their next step is to become part of the conversation about the direction of their community. The city eliminated the Standard City page a few months back – that was the wrong move for a City Council that should be trying to enhance visibility and transparency rather than undermine it.
Last night was a perfect example of the city doing a poor job of informing local residents about changes that are coming to their community. St. Catharines NEEDS to do better in the future.