During the month of August, Council takes a short hiatus to allow both staff and councillors the opportunity to enjoy a break. But rest assured, there is no such thing as a traditional “vacation” in the life of a city councillor. The daily constituency work – inquiries, emails, calls, re: city issues, problems, ideas – are part of the job all year long.
Today is the first day of school for thousands of Guelph children and youth. It’s also the first new “Committee of the Whole” meeting of Council. Typically, the first day of school is a time for sharing what we did on our summer vacation, before heading straight into math homework.
We are hitting the books fast — our first Committee meeting today has an agenda that includes budget variance reports, by-law reviews, stormwater funding, water efficiency and ranked ballot electoral reform.
But before we jump in head first, let’s reflect on what we did on our summer vacation…
Some councillors used the time for professional development work. In early August, my ward mate Cathy Downer was added to the Board of Directors of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario at their annual conference. Other Council colleagues travelled and picked up best practices from around the world in city building, community engagement and cultural economic development. Councillor Salisbury travelled solo across the country, through the prairies and mountains and everywhere in between. Councillor Allt shared aspects of his travels in the UK through social media that directly relate to local issues such as renewable energy, transit and planning, and the importance of the local brewing and malting economy.
Me? I stayed close to home, but have come away with summer wisdom that has informed and inspired a renewed focus for me in my role on Council in the year ahead, as follows:
- Went to Blue Jays game:
- What I learned: regular, reliable and higher frequency local and inter-regional transit is essential to Guelph’s future economy and mitigating the effects of climate change exacerbated by reliance on the automobile. Our primary focus should be on trains to take pressure off the 401 GTA road corridor.
- Tended my Community Garden plot:
- What I learned: we need more community gardens throughout the city! It’s not all about the planting and harvesting of food — community gardens also change traditional land use patterns, enhance neighbourhood engagement and teach the next generation resiliency and stewardship skills. Local food production isn’t trendy, it’s the future.
- Biked and hiked local trails:
- What I learned: how fortunate Guelph is to have the Arboretum, the Royal Rec Trail and the Speed and Eramosa rivers. I was also reminded how many gaps and broken links we have in our system, and the need for additional resources to address trail deficiencies if we are truly serious about active transportation.
- Attended the Hip concert broadcast in Market Square
- What I learned: we need more community building events like this that draw people into the Square. The buzz was palpable, and it wasn’t really all about the Hip. Many of those I talked to were energized by being drawn together into a public space on a summer night. The music was secondary.
- Hillside Festival, Art on the Street and PorchFest:
- What I learned: Music, art, dance, film, etc. festivals ebb and flow like all ventures. Supporting the arts is a community responsibility. Not merely through grant funding, but through attendance. It’s good for the economy…and even better for the soul.
- Played Pokemon Go:
- What I learned: Public art and public space are underutilized and underappreciated. I first observed larger-than-average gatherings of people at McCrae House, the Garbasaurus sculpture in Royal City Park, Market Square, and other public art installations in late July. My son enlightened me what was happening and downloaded the app for me (purely for research purposes of course). It was an fascinating experiment in people-watching and listening. I overheard youth (and grown-ups too) commenting that they had never noticed these places before.
- Attended 9th Annual Kirking Service:
- What I learned: Our cultural and architectural heritage are an integral part of our city identity. Guelph is unique. We were founded by a novelist-entrepreneur, on the traditional territory of the Attawandaron people, with a world-class university, two rivers and an environmental conscience. We are not like everyone else. We must actively work to preserve what is special about our city.
Returning to Council work today, I am confident that my summer non-vacation has served me well….