With six planning initiatives in the neighbourhood in 2014, its time for the City and the neighbours to take a serious look at the role the neighbourhood should have in decisions being made in City Hall. Shelley Arnstein got it right in 1967. She created a ladder of public participation, making it easy to see how much power a government permitted its citizens to share. Hamilton should be a leader in public participation. Its mission statement, found everywhere in City activities is clear: To be the best place in Canada to engage citizens. HWN would like to help Hamilton residents move up the ladder but first we have to see where what rung we stand on.
There are two ways of looking at our score. People around the world have formed an association specializing in public participation. We have a branch in Canada, the International Association of Public Participation. I prefer their logo - IAP2 - and you can find Canada's branch here: www.iap2canada.ca. While any organization with the word "International" in it will be a long way away from neighbourhoods, they have produced a great guide to measuring our City's performance in "engaging citizens".
Going back for simplicity to Arnstein's ladder, here's what it looks like today. And the question the North End neighbourhood faces today is how did it get to this low rung when the Secondary Plan for the neighbourhood was developed over 10 years by a planning partnership between the neighbourhood and the City. That Secondary Plan, known as Setting Sail, is full of content provided by neighbourhood volunteers. The same happened with the traffic management plan developed to protect children in the North End. What caused the City to retreat inside City Hall and return to the ancient format of hiring suits from Toronto to plan the neighbourhood when the community can do that job with far less cost and far more expertise? Here's where we are today:
There is serious work ahead for everyone in Hamilton who is concerned about finding a way to make Hamilton's mission statement a reality. What happened to the North End neighbourhood in 2014 is a radical departure from what it was and should be. This debate does not just impact the North End. The recent Tivoli decision was similarly free of expert stakeholder input. The only two negotiating partners were the developer and the City. This is a bad omen that needs fixing fast.