Former economic development honcho suggest potential council candidates Stop, Look and Listen

October 2, 2013

By Don Baxter

BURLINGTON, ON.  Hopefully Burlington Council members had a chance to recharge their batteries over the summer, and they are now fully engage with Burlington and Halton business. But at this point in a 4 year term, elected officials begin to think about whether they should run again. For those of us longer in the tooth and with more gray hair, this period is comparable to Pierre Trudeau’s infamous walk-in-the-snow. But our elected officials will thankfully have better weather for their walk. Perhaps they should walk out to the end of the pier, look out, see that we have a second pier, and think of Burlington from pier to shining pier. This takes vision – think of a tree-lined boardwalk running the entire length, full of residents, tourists, joggers, cyclists,  hospital workers, and patients out for a pleasant walk. Do you have vision or is your eye sight too weak? And surely, you see past the bureaucratic response and understand the tourism and human value of leaving locks on the pier.

So Councillors or prospective Councillors, when you take your walk to the end of the pier – STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. If you don’t hear anything over the squeaky wheels and the vested interests demanding their property rights over community interests, extend your walk.

That’s my point – the vision thing. Burlington is experiencing its own version of a spring awakening the vision thing. Burlington is experiencing its own version of a spring awakening  – new community groups are forming, like my neighbourhood – the Roseland Community Organization, or the beach residents, Roseland Heights Community Association, St. Luke’s precinct, the airport, Burlington Green – to name a few. Why is this happening? In an established community, which Burlington is becoming, providing good leadership and good governance is complex – a kind of a Rubric’s Cube. It means citizens and community groups will become increasingly involved in every decision you make. If you do not have vision and a strong sense of community values then you will just be oiling the squeaky wheels – and in terms of dealing with change, this short-term approach will lead to a downward spiral for our community.

But a Council who temporarily closes a road to allow salamanders safe crossing, who doesn’t even entertain the idea of a casino operation, or who didn’t take the easy way out and abandon the Pier, cannot be considered weak. In these instances, there was and is a clear sense of the community values, and when leadership and vision blend, good decision-making follows.

Community values are more than individual property rights. Developers moving into a neighbourhood do not see the property they have purchased as a home but rather a business opportunity to be exploited. The precious qualities of an existing neighbourhood that have been built through good stewardship over time,conveniently add to profitability of the developers short-term business proposition. They may live in the home for tax avoidance or warranty reasons, but they do not have long-term perspective for building or adding to the sense of community. Rather, they only see short-term business prospects. Trees or heritage on your property are an asset as long as they do not get in the way of their building envelope or planned pool and Jacuzzi.

Community values are more than individual property rights.They do not see either trees or heritage, for example, as a community asset because they cannot accept long-term community values getting in the way of their construction schedule. Their quick solution clear-cut the trees or heritage house, go for your permit, make a lot construction noise and dust, and plant a few shrubs.

Getting back to my fundamental argument, a good Council recognizes and acts upon community values, not the business values of these pick-up truck companies cashing in on something they did not build. I hasten to add, Burlington has its share of great developers who are good community builders. They recognize the value of community, and you see their names on every wall of dedication where good deeds are done in Burlington.

Get my point? In the municipal environment, community values drive good government, not vested corporate interest. This sounds odd from a fellow who used to run economic development for both the City of Burlington and Metropolitan Toronto but my concepts for neighbourhood preservation are not anti-growth for the City, not at all.  Direct corporate interests to where they belong – into intensification and commercial/industrial corridors. The risk proposition for developers who want to move into established neighbourhoods is going up quickly, and flash mobs may become regular features at Committee of Adjustment hearings for severances and variances.

The pier those without vision or imagination might want to walk out on.

So Councillors or prospective Councillors, when you take your walk to the end of the pier – STOP, LOOK, and LISTEN. If you don’t hear anything over the squeaky wheels and the vested interests demanding their property rights over community interests, extend your walk. But if you have vision and a sense of value for established communities, downtown and waterfront regeneration, a protected escarpment, strong arts and culture, tree canopy protection, design-intense development solutions, neighbourhood protection and ongoing infrastructure renewal, then stay put. You can probably run a balanced government responsive to citizens and communities, not just a wanna-be-business on behalf of taxpayers.

You don’t have to be loveable to be leaders in Burlington, just sensible, and clearly, not self-serving.


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