Just What does citizen engagement mean

Hamilton claims to be the best place in Canada to engage citizens.  It used to be called public participation.  But when the invitation from City Hall goes out to the neighbours to attend a meeting and you show up to find the consultants already in the room, the drawings complete, the pictures mounted on the standard board, are you being engaged or manipulated? 

The conventional process for bureaucracies to deal with the nuisance of having to deal with their citizens is for City Hall to make a decision, then take it out to a meeting or two, ask for some comments, and the go back to City Hall and execute your original plan.  This week in the North End neighbbouhood the residents were invited to a meeting with consultants and pictures and sketches and option sheets.  They were organized into tables of 8.  Each table had a consultant or staff monitor.  All the ideas were packaged and ready.

But no one wanted to talk about the elephant in the room.  In 2006 the City and the neighbourhood reached consensus on what to do on Piers 7 and 8.  The neighbourhood accepted that major development would be required.  The City agreed that the development would have to work with the adjacent neighbourhood.  A good deal for both.

That consensus was placed in an official plan called Setting  Sail and approved by Council and the OMB.  Unfortunately, a year ago, without talking to the resident stakeholders, staff recommended and  Council approved a strategy for Piers 7 and 8 that meant twice the number of units, twice the trafffic through adjacent streets. 

Council also approved ten times the retail that the City had agreed to with the neighbourhood in Setting Sail - seriously, a district shopping centre the equivalent of 8 blocks of Locke Street.  At the foot of James Street.  Where Hamiltonians go to find the peace and beauty of the water's edge.  Like putting a fleet of outdoor stores in the Dundas Conservation area or tourist shops in Dundurn Castle Park.  Not one of the consultants, not one of the City staff would discuss this issue at the meeting.

Sometimes where you start determines where you end.  If this process continues without change, the chances of a productive dialogue between the City and the community are zero.

For our take on public participation please visit this link:


Harbour West Neighbours is pressing the City to change.  If you would like to help, please sign in here.  For more information contact us.