Wednesday, 1 October 2014

What's Going Down In Town Ward?

Fresh from their weekend King Street/Avenues neighbourhood meet-and-greet, Town Ward candidates shuffle eastward down the street for the Downtown Business Improvement Association all candidates meeting tomorrow night, Thursday Oct. 2, from 6:30 to 8 pm at The Venue on George Street at King.

Town Ward (or Ward 3) is the smallest ward in area and the most densely populated. It's borders are essentially those of the 19th century town of Peterborough: Lansdowne in the south, Parkhill in the north, and the Otonabee River in the east. The western border is Monaghan for the north half, then after a jog along Sherbrooke it resumes down Park Street. Check the ward map here for a visual.

Most people think “downtown” when they think of Town Ward, and the DBIA meeting will likely focus on the commercial area. The fact is, however, that Town Ward is mainly residential, with about 14,000 people living there. A much larger proportion of residents are tenants in Town Ward than anywhere else in Peterborough, including students, retirees, musicians, and people living on disability pensions. Tenants’ needs frequently get overlooked in favour of homeowners, a problem made worse by the fact that tenants tend not to vote in municipal elections, and are often not aware that they pay property tax like anyone else, included in their rent.

What's happening with the vacant YMCA building?
As a result, the Town Ward voter turnout is always the lowest in the city, typically less than 40%. The highest vote totals come from the more affluent neighbourhoods west of Park Street and from polling stations located in seniors’ buildings. Dean Pappas was re-elected in 2011 with 2100 votes. Bill Juby also managed to get elected with only 1200 votes, the lowest total of any city councillor in recent memory.

Queens Park did Town Ward and Peterborough a massive favour by relocating the Ministry of Natural Resources here during the Bob Rae years. With Trent closing its downtown colleges and the Kawartha Pine Ridge school board turning PCVS into a center for remedial studies, the ward has suffered a distinct loss of vibrancy with an absence of young people. If it weren’t for the MNR, our city core would be on a serious downhill slide. Even so, residents have noticed a rise in visible prostitution and drug abuse in certain areas.

The Places to Grow Act set out by Queens Park calls for further intensification of Town Ward as part of an attempt to curb urban sprawl. What’s city hall doing about that? Not much

Another great paving job on London Street
Giving the go-ahead to the Lily Lake subdivisions and the Parkway means more money spent making the sprawl worse, and less money invested in the city core. Ashburnham Realty is one of the few developers getting busy downtown, redeveloping spaces like the northwest corner of Aylmer and Hunter for higher density. Meanwhile, city hall leaves roads unpaved, lets key spaces like the former YMCA go derelict, and botches plans for a downtown public square at Charlotte and Aylmer because council wants to save money to build the Parkway.

Few Town Ward residents are in favour of city hall blowing their tax dollars on the Parkway. Town Ward voted 60% “No Parkway” back in 2003 – and that was a proposal with no bridge, estimated to cost less than a quarter of the project’s new $80-$100 million budget. If a referendum were done today, the "No Parkway" vote might easily exceed 75%.

So why does incumbent Juby support the Parkway, while Town Ward roads go unpaved? Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he doesn’t live in the ward. In fact, neither does Pappas. Town Ward is the only ward typically represented by people who don’t live in it – a recipe for neglect and poor decision-making.

Pappas and Juby are both seeking re-election. Pappas has been one of the only voices of reason on city council this term, lobbying against the Parkway and working unsuccessfully behind the scenes to preserve PCVS. Pappas, who does operate Pappas Billiards on George Street, has been out canvassing and getting plenty of lawn signs up, while Juby has been quieter. Pappas is likely to get re-elected, but it's high time to put Juby to out to pasture. Who'll replace him?

A frequently encountered tandem
The lawn sign leader with less than four weeks to election day is Diane Therrien, a graduate student at Trent who seems to be working harder than anyone else, knocking on doors and mobilizing volunteers. Therrien is the only candiate who actually lives in the ward. A desire to address the chronic shortage of women on council has worked in her favour as she’s also the only female candidate in a ward that has previously sent Margaree Edwards and Ann Farquharson to city hall. In fact, Therrien has the endorsement of both Farquharson and another prominent downtown female lawyer, Linda Whetung. Therrien calls the Parkway an “antiquated idea” and her platform places sustainability front-and-center, putting an emphasis on the new urban principles of mixed-use neighbourhoods, complete streets, and readily accessible greenspaces.

Former Peterborough Examiner editor Jim Hendry declared his candidacy late in the game following months of rumours that he would seek office. Hendry, 57, retired from the paper last year, hanging in long enough to see the offices move back to the city center, just over the bridge on Hunter Street east. His farewell column is here. Hendry reportedly lived in Town Ward for years, but now is said to reside just beyond its western boundary. Hendry’s edges in the election are name-recognition from his years on the editorial page and interviewing political candidates on TV, and the credibility age and experience bring. In his campaign launch he said he’d read every city budget “cover to cover” for thirty years. Hendry’s website reveals a vision for sustainable new urbanism similar to Therrien’s, with development designed to link our city core with our natural areas. He calls the Parkway “one more expensive street clogged by stop lights” and is dead set against the Jackson Park bridge. Like Juby, Hendry has few lawn signs up, and appears to be working behind the scenes to build support.

Jason Stabler, a Peterborough native and graduate of Armour Heights and TASSS, also has a law degree from Manitoba, and now works at the New Canadians Center downtown, though living in Ashburnham. His platform focuses on arts and the local economy, with endorsements from respected arts organizer Bill Kimball and economist Tom Phillips. Stabler calls for a new convention center in the downtown, investment in public art, and improved parks and streetscapes as ways to revitalize the city core and attract job opportunities to the city.

This year’s crop of Town Ward council challengers is the strongest in memory – a good sign for democracy in this city. They’ll be available at the Venue tomorrow night after the formal meeting to chat with you one-on-one. Go give 'em a piece of your mind - or ask for a piece of theirs!

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