Bay Observer writer Kathy Renwald is a north-ender who takes a keen interest in the Bayfront. She has submitted this editorial.

When did public meetings become so sour and joyless?On a regular basis the City of Hamilton holds a public meeting to update citizens on the changing face of the West Harbour. They advertise the meetings pretty well, and attendance is good.

At each meeting a city staffer gives an update of the many projects in progress or planned for the harbourfront area, from the High Level Bridge to Piers 7 and 8. Then the meeting is thrown open for questions. Unfortunately that’s when these meetings become a one note samba. The dominant topic is affordable housing, and questions are posed by a small but forceful group in attendance. They demand that all new residential built on Piers 7 and 8 include a percentage of affordable housing. If the question period lasts one hour, than I would say the topic of affordable housing takes up 50 minutes of it.

My concern isn’t the issue of affordable housing, it’s that this single issue totally dominates the meeting. Maybe climate change is just as important. So what if a group of four or five people take 50 minutes demanding to know how the city is going to green the West Harbour, control storm water run-off, install more solar power, repave roads with permeable material, and make sure to plant endangered Pawpaw trees on all public spaces. And they did it at every meeting? This sort of micro discussion would send people fleeing to the exit and over to This Ain’t Hollywood for drinks.

These updates are called “Conversation Meetings” by the city, yet there is very little conversation. Instead, there is interrogation bordering on filibustering. To be fair the city plays a role in how these waterfront updates are being hijacked. They need to learn how to conduct a meeting, move the questions along, and encourage questions from a cross section of those in attendance.

Before the Q and A session, the city updated information that might have provoked a “conversation” but there was no time. For instance Pier 8 shoreline improvements under construction now will include a pedestrian boardwalk cantilevered over the water-that’s slated to open in June, a similar boardwalk is planned at the waters edge in front of the Royal Hamilton Yacht Club. The Port Authority is building a storage compound at Pier 15, so winter boat storage will move from their facilities near Williams Coffee Pub, and plans remain for a commercial village near Guise Street, and an underground parking garage at Bay View Park.

There are good things planned for the waterfront, and of course things that need careful debate. But if the West Harbour Community Conversation Meetings continue in the current tone we won’t get there. I embrace being skeptical, but surly and single-minded is something else. We need robust public participation, but these types of meetings, dominated by a single agenda will discourage it.

Written by: Kathy Renwald

Providing a fresh perspective for Hamilton and Burlington

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