Straight Up with Meghan McCabe: If you don’t like how your city functions, tell ‘em

If you don’t like how your city functions, tell ‘em how and why.

“Jeeze b’y, what is the city at a’tall?’ can be heard quite frequently on the streets of St. John’s.

The sources of residents’ complaints vary with the seasons – snow clearing, or lack thereof, seem to top the list – but it often ends in blaming the St. John’s City Council for incompetence. The same goes for any level of government. Managing such complex entities can never be done to everyone’s satisfaction – and surely people love to complain.

Everyone has a responsibility in the building and running of a community. The people choose the issues that are important to them and the people choose the representatives they think best suited to manage those issues.

We also have a responsibility to engage and invest in the way things are run – what do you want in a snow-clearing plan? What do you want in your city? If we don’t tell the people in charge what we want to see and how we want to see it, we can’t expect those things to materialize.

And lately we are telling them. Social media is fuelling public engagement – however strongly or sarcastically opinions are voiced – the discussions are moving. How far they go, and how much influence public input actually has, remains to be seen.

The City of St. John’s has recently been hosting public workshop sessions on how people use – and want to use – the city’s parks and open spaces. The key findings, which will be presented today in a Public Open House at City Hall, are being taken into consideration in the planning process.

Likewise, at the end of June the city held the first-ever “Community Dialogue on Winter Maintenance,” or public sessions on snow clearing. It may be impossible to pay for the level of service people expect, but people definitely want to see some improvements.

So how do we get these ideas of what we want in our city? Usually, it’s from other cities. At an organizational level, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (which includes St. John’s) exists to help unite cities, and to listen to – and learn from – each other.

At an individual level, traveling helps us see some of the best features in other places. Living somewhere else helps us better understand how other cities function, and what we want to see as residents of St. John’s. So too can visitors of our city help us see it with fresh eyes.

It’s amazing how quickly one can adjust to reliable public transit and safe bike lanes in other cities, like Halifax, Montreal, and Toronto – not to mention affordable fruits and vegetables.

Halifax is not really that different from St. John’s, yet they manage to have a fairly supportive biking network, fairly efficient public transit, and fairly fast snow-clearing (even on sidewalks).

And that mobility factor comes across as one of the biggest complaints in St. John’s – on the streets and on social media – all year long.

We may not be able to do anything about the climate. But we can probably do something about how we operate within it.

 

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