Sunday, 29 November 2015

Estrangement or inclusion

Merriam-Webster's dictionary define's estrange as to cause someone to be no longer involved or connected with something.   Entering the newly renovated Nanaimo Harbourfront Library, this is what immediately comes to mind.  Not inclusion.  Not engagement.

Cold,  empty spaces.    Modern minimalist d├ęcor.     Words on walls.   Empty chairs.   It doesn't feel like a warm, busy,  book-focused place that a library ought to be.

Did anyone involved in the design of this million dollar renovation ask ordinary people what they thought,  or what they wanted?    The library was closed for seven months for this.    It seems to me it was designed by elites who didn't really want people or books to clutter the space.     Was the overriding objective to chase out homeless loiterers,  or better monitor them? 

The following pictures were taken on a cold wintry Saturday afternoon when the library should be crowded and busy,  and used to be crowded and busy.   

Councillor Brennan likes it,  as she was quoted in the Nanaimo News Bulletin

“I'm impressed, there's just so much light in there. There's huge floor-to-ceiling windows that we, as library users, never saw before because there was the shelving and other things that were placed in front of it, so it's really beautiful,” 
It would be interesting to ask ordinary Nanaimoites what they think.  Former Nanaimo bookstore owner and librarian Thora Howell is not impressed.   In a recent news story she is quoted observing:  "That library doesn't reflect anything of this community, it just doesn't."

I am reminded of the modern trend towards public spaces that eschews places to sit.  Diana Krall plaza is one such place. 

The rebuttal to much of this is that the world is moving to a digital realm,  paperless books,  reading online and from home.  People are cocooning.  But then what happens to the physical community?   It is important to retain and encourage this.

This website makes an interesting read about how the design of public spaces can encourage community and democracy or stifle it.

Home - Project for Public Spaces

What is especially odd is how different this revamped library is from the newly constructed North Nanaimo branch.

The library provides small notes on which patrons can write their feedback.   I would be curious to see this feedback.    Also,  it would be interesting to see the data on how many people are visiting the library since it re-opened.   Now of course this data will be skewed by the North Nanaimo branch opening,  but there ought to be a way to determine an optimal number.    I suspect that after six months,  it will be far less than the old library and far from optimal.    

When I go to a restaurant,  at the end I know whether the experience makes me want to come back again or not.   Unfortunately,  more often than not it is the latter.    It has a lot to do with a feeling.   The renovated library in my view and the view of many other former patrons is that this new feeling is not positive.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Budget Survey -- Did it work?

It is interesting to see the link to and promotion of the Nanaimo City Services Survey or Citizen Budget Survey (it seems to have two names) show up on the City homepage at 2:45 P.M. on November 25th when in fact the survey closes on the 27th.  (It has been open since Nov.12th.)   I have suggested to council that this survey should be front and centre on the website, not buried.  

The original press release went out November 9th, and appeared on the  homepage, but then vanished.This original release mentioned the objective being to gather 600 responses.  Could it be that the actual response rate has been far less, hence the last minute need to repost on the website?

This budget survey is in fact flawed in several ways.    First,  it seems that anyone can take  it,  any number of times.   Is there any way to ensure its validity?     And why in the survey is ‘somewhat important’ ranked higher than ‘important’  and why does only one category warrant  the option of “I don’t care”?   When one considers that the meagre attendance of the eForum budget input session and this survey seem to be the only formal processes of gathering input for the 2016 budget (and 5-year budget plan),  there is a problem.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The king deigns to speak to a commoner

I was rather insulted last night to be spoken down to by our mayor Bill McKay.
Shakespeare's words about the 'insolence of office'  bubble up.  Watching the mayor preside over council and respond to my words,  what came to mind immediately was the Peter Principle.  

You might want to view my slideshow presentation for a more fuller context.

If email addresses are given out as a way to communicate, then they should be honoured.   John A.  MacDonald used to personally answer letters sent to him. The mayor and all his support staff seem unable to do either.

This is from the city's own webstie.

In the two-and-a-half minute one-sided exchange I had to endure,   the mayor revealed an indefensible ignorance and arrogance.   My commentary appears in yellow   While reading this, keep in mind two important words,  sarcasm and parody.  

Mayor:    A couple of questions for you.  Do you have a telephone?   This unusual rhetorical question took me aback.  Has the mayor never heard of 'telephone tag'?

Me:  Yes I do.

Mayor:  If you go on our website,  every one of our telephone numbers is on our website.   Is this supposed to surprise me?  What's the point?  So if you look behind you,  there is a gentleman  sitting in the first row,  his name is Matthew O'Donnell. Of the Nanaimo Cannabis Coalition protesting the City's recent crackdown on marijuana dispensaries.   Mr. O'Donnell has been granted an audience by this council twice in the last week on very short notice.  Sounds very regal "granted an audience" with his majesty.   And council has given him the respect to do so.   At the end of our previous meeting,  Mr. O'Donnell came to me and asked if he could have a meeting with me.  I granted that meeting the next day.  Ah yes, your majesty,  at your discretion,  at your bidding.    So for you to stand in front and suggest that there is no way to have a conversation with council, that's absolutely wrong.   His majesty obviously didn't listen to my presentation.

Me:  No,  I didn't say that.

Mayor:  Well, that's the way I received that.   This makes me want to seek a quote about how power makes one blind and deaf.

Mayor:   The other one is that in that in the last thirty days there has been (sic) twenty-seven media releases,  which is significantly higher than what it ever was before prior to us bringing on a competent and  dedicated communications manager.  Which was exactly my point on my 5th slide.  Did he miss it?!  Did he also miss my definition on slide 7?  Communications is two-way, not one-way.    On the bottom of every one of those twenty-seven media releases there is a contact name and most of the time an email address or a telephone number.  If anyone in the public wants to get those media releases,  they simply sign up. Do I really want to add to my already overburdened email inbox? This was Councillor Kipp's point, which the mayor again seems to have not caught. Nanaimo is so sophisticated (love this word)  with communications with its citizens, in fact you can get, if you sign up,  you can get alerts by telephone, should there be a special notice, like a boil water advisory.  Done.  Email notifications in case of emergency like boil water advisories,  Colliery Dam floods, and Tsunamis.   In fact,  I can even get an email if I sign up that will tell me that tomorrow is garbage day.  Oh yeah!  This puts me in mind of Kramer on Seinfeld.   That's how we communicate with our, with our (the mayor struggles here for a noun ... "no, not peons")   citizens.

Me:  (Sticking to my point)  But how hard is it to add at the bottom of a notice on the website the contact information,  how hard is that?  How hard is it to put on the city of Nanaimo website information about the eForum?  It's not difficult.
No it's not.  It's a systemic flaw,  a paradigmatic flaw.

Mayor:  So that's one thing.  A very long thing.  I can see why city council meetings run long into the night.  I just told you about twenty-seven media releases where anybody could contact the writer of the media release or the contact person and have a greater conversation with them. I must try this. We're not afraid to communicate.    I never said you were.  We have the largest Twitter account in all of Nanaimo, the largest Facebook account
in all of Nanaimo,  and I was hoping that perhaps our communications manager can help you with some of your other questions that you have.

Me:  I hope to follow it up, but remember perception is important.

This exchange can be viewed to verify it's accuracy by going to

and advancing to 03:38 to 03:40:31

Monday, 23 November 2015

Some questions about the City of Nanaimo budget

Image result for dollars questions

At tonight's Budget Process e-Town Hall meeting an impressive 24 questions (my notes show) were asked and answered to varying degrees. Imagine if the event had been better promoted, i.e. on the City of Nanaimo homepage.

I was doubtful at first when the questions were about bicycle safety and dog parks. I question the relevancy of a number of other questions to the budget at hand. After spending some time this past weekend going through the budget proposal prepared by city staff, I came up with ten questions, one of which I asked at tonight's meeting.

1. In your budget survey, why is ‘somewhat important’ ranked higher than ‘important’ and why does only one category warrant the option of “I don’t care”?

2. Why is this budget meeting and the survey not promoted on the city of Nanaimo homepage?

3. If crime rates are decreasing according to the budget document, and the population of Nanaimo will only increase by about 5% in this budget period (according the Conference Board of Canada) , and inflation in BC is averaging 1.1% per year according to StatsCan why is spending on police services projected to increase by 26%? This includes 16 additional RCM and 3 additional support staff? A 5% population growth should mean 7 new members added to the current staffing of 140, not 16.

4.   Similarly,  what is the justification for increasing fire and emergency services by 29% between 2016 and 2020?

5. Under your key assumptions in the budget document (p.29), why do you cite British Columbia inflation for 2014 at 2.4%, when according to Statscan, in September 2015 it was 1.3%.

6. What is the status of contract negotiations between the City and the IAFF? Will wage increases be reigned in after the 2.5% retroactive increase given recently for 2012-2015.

7. What will be the effect on budget information presented of excluding library costs? Will these costs be shown as part of any expenditure or tax increases? 

8. Can you commit that no City of Nanaimo funds will be part of the grants for the $5.1 million Port Theatre expansion? If not, how much in city funding will be spent?

 9. How many firefighters are currently employed by the City?

10. Why does the city plan to change the nature of financing capital projects from drawing on reserves to debt financing? This makes no sense when the reserves are earning so little.

City Council could learn a thing or two from this man

In conducting research on community engagement,   I came across a couple of 2015
Ted Talks by Ben Warner.      Although his context is America,  what he says about community engagement and good governance is certainly relevant to Canada and to Nanaimo.

I like this quote he gave

In his second talk,  he refers to the social contract between the government and the governed,  with each having responsibilities.       He suggests that this social contact is broken, and that many of the ills that plague us today derive from this. 

Warner also has a blog  called Community Indicators  and in 2014 provided an insightful interview which can be read  or viewed here.

Initial Presentation to City Council - November 2015

My video presentation to council can be viewed here.   Scroll down to item 12b at 8:39 p.m.
I will comment in a future blog post about some of the ridiculous things the mayor stated in his pontifical lecture to me following my presentation.