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If we can't change your area, we can't change any area

This week's Market Squared ponders whether we live in a community, or whether we live in a museum.
A request for a patio at 60 Ontario St. was the focus of a committee of adjustment meeting this past week.

It was sometime in the third hour of this week’s Committee of Adjustment meeting when I asked myself, when did the Ward stop being cool?

You see, St. Patrick’s Ward, which is among the oldest parts of the city and has been repeatedly subject to massive change at least once a generation, had to spend two-and-a-half hours on a Thursday evening to fight the installation of a patio at three micro businesses on Ontario Street.

Apparently, the allowance of a 20-person outdoor patio, subject to the same noise by-law as your backyard barbeque, is the last line before a Babylon-style bacchanal with group sex, drug overdoses and whatever they did to that giraffe.

Now I hear you warming up your typing thumbs, so let me say that I understand why residents in the area would be concerned; the slippery slope is sometimes real and you don’t have to work hard to find bad behaviour stories about bars just a few blocks up the street. I also get the idea of the area becoming so appealing that it’s attracting celebrities, you know, like the Mayor of Guelph and his wife!

And let me answer a question that was asked by one delegate at the committee meeting: Would I want a bar with a max capacity of 29 people, outside and in, in my neighbourhood? I don’t know, but maybe. I live in the west end though, and as a scion of late-20th century design principles it’s the near opposite of walkable and meant for the near exclusive conveyance of people by automobile.

You see, walkability is a privilege, and it’s usually found in areas of our city that pre-date cars or were built up pre-World War II. Walkability in the west end used to be cutting across the train tracks, which is admittedly dangerous, but we can’t even do that anymore thanks to Metrolinx’s homage to the Berlin Wall.

Plus, I recently saw a thread in the Guelph subreddit that lamented the lack of an area watering hole outside of some chain shop in a plaza that west end peeps might want to walk to. Maybe that’s the answer! Pack up the whole operation and move it to the west end where it might be appreciated.

It’s time again to talk about NIMBY, which isn’t to say that every concern that comes to a Committee of Adjustment or planning meeting is a NIMBY concern, but rather NIMBY is a system that stymies any new project, no matter how reasonable.

NIMBY, as a system, begins with someone saying, “I’m not against redevelopment, but…” Everyone loves a new building, adaptive reuse or rezoning till its on the other side of their fence, and if everyone in the city thinks that redevelopment is fit for every other area of the city except for their own neighbourhood, then no where is acceptable.

Having said that, there are some areas of the city where NIMBY concerns are inconsequential. There seems to be a collective unconscious agreement that these areas, despite any local feelings that intensification is falling too heavily on them, just have accept any change imposed upon them while others, usually older areas of the city, will be left alone to party like its 1959.

The thing is that in 1959, it was relatively easy to afford a home with a little hard work. Not that “bootstrap” economics ever really worked, but those straps were sturdier in days gone by. For those of us living by circumstances in the 21st century, any indication that the housing crisis will soon be over continues to be a mirage.

I was originally going to dedicate this space to the Committee of the Whole meeting where, among other things, there was a presentation about the mechanics of Wellington County’s social services department, which was enlightening if you’re not a monthly attendee at that committee meeting, but probably didn’t get us any closer to the solution in the middle of the housing crisis enigma.

Indeed, the big note from the presentation was that the update to the affordable housing strategy this September would contain a lot of Guelph-centric information about the breadth and need of the crisis, which isn’t to say that it will offer any solutions. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment was when the county’s social services administrator Luisa Artuso was asked if the city’s social housing needs will exceed $18 million, and she said yes.

Where’s that money going to come from? It should go without saying that nothing the provincial government has done in the last year has been meant to activate social housing, or anything resembling real housing affordability, and it’s a safe bet that this time next year, the housing crisis will be exactly where it is right now: hopeless.

Now back to the Ward where, eventually, the patio was approved but not for libations. Non-alcoholic drinks only.

What I took away from the meeting though was that the most vocally opposed to a minor variance were people who backed up their right to complain by noting their longevity in the area. They lived in their home for 20, 25 or 30 years, so apparently, things can never change until they sell and move, or else find a plan that they will personally consider acceptable.

Meanwhile, there are people all over Guelph who are one bad day away from homelessness, and their odds aren’t getting better. They’re waiting for that time where the rent increase is too big, or when their landlord sells to someone with renoviction ambitions and dollar signs in their eye, and then they’re in real trouble.

Everyone’s entitled to their opinions, but if we can’t accept change, we’re not living in a community, we’re living in a museum.


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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