Windsor Votes: The Citizen's Agenda: Jonathan Nehmetallah
Jonathan Nehmetallah moved to Windsor when he was six years old. He is studying for a Masters degree in Political Science at University of Windsor. He lives in Ward 1.
What are the biggest issues municipal candidates need to address to move our city in the right direction?
The largest issue facing Windsor is the University and how to move the city forward while utilizing this amazing resource. It can't be lifted up and outsourced or moved away. It can't be ripped up from the ground. It's based in Windsor. I think the biggest issue is how to move the city forward while sort of using the University as a mechanism to do that. So... revitalizing the downtown - moving parts of the University downtown. Sort of increasing jobs using the University to increase jobs. Or make the city more livable and more sustainable - work with the University to make the city more livable and sustainable. I think it's an underutilized resource in the community and it's something that needs to be looked at a great deal more than it has been already.
What ideas do you have about how to address these issues?
One of the more simple ways is to move parts of campus downtown. Sort of those self contained programs like teachers college, drama, the music school. I mean we saw recently they were thinking of moving the music school downtown. There's a University in Syracuse. Syracuse is a city very much like Windsor - post industrial, about a hundred and fifty thousand people, a university the same size as Windsor - the downtown was dying. They moved parts of the campus downtown and there was a stretch of road roughly the same size as University [Avenue] and they called it the "Knowledge Corridor". And they created a free pass, transportation initiative, between the university and downtown. And I think something like that could be done with Windsor. It's a way to revitalize that stretch of University and it's a way to revitalize downtown, and it's utilizing the university.
What do you think Windsor's strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities are? What threatens Windsor?
Strengths: Our unique geographical position. I mean we're next to Detroit. So cross border traffic, things of that nature. We have a fairly large airport so things like using Windsor as a transportation hub or inland port is one of our greatest strengths. I've mentioned it before and I'll probably mention it throughout the interview - the University is a major strength of the community. We have the University in the area, very close within city limits.
Weaknesses: Probably higher taxes and its current impediment to growth, especially within the downtown region. Growth is slowed by high tax rates. It creates a barrier to investment and it hurts the young entrepreneurs in the city. And I think there are a lot of creative entrepreneurs. They can't get off the ground because even though downtown is missing a great deal of businesses, (and there's a lot of vacant properties), property taxes and rent for some reason are still very high in the area. So people can't utilize that. Supply is way down, but for some reason the price hasn't dropped with supply.
Opportunities: Windsor as an inland port, I think they're working on that more and more. Downtown has a lot of empty properties that could be utilized for the University. We have an armouries that's not utilized at all. The Capitol Theatre is barely used. Huge riverfront property - like the Canderell building - hardly used. So opportunity - excess land, a population that's very creative and educated. The University of Windsor pumps out a lot of grads who stay in Windsor, so we have a very educated population, I think. It seems like everything's right but it seems like something's not moving and I think it might be city government that's sort of slowing things down.
Threats: Probably the outsourcing of jobs, but you can't really do much about that. Windsor becoming a post-industrial city - the dying of the automotive industry ...sort of the city's inability to transition away from the automotive industry and towards the creative class - Jobs that can't be moved. People unwilling to change would be a major threat. I think that's the best way to categorize that.
I don't want to categorize them as a bad council but I think they haven't looked at all the opportunities that the city could potentially have. Maybe they have good intentions and they'd like to change and move the city forward. They just haven't been doing a very good job.
Economic diversification and bringing jobs to Windsor is something both residents and candidates are all talking about. What role should council play in helping that happen?
The Mayor and council, they've already brought turning the airport into a transportation hub, which was a good start, but some things that council can do is add incentives for businesses to come to Windsor to create jobs, like turning old tool and die factories into green energy. Adding incentives [for business] - reduce taxes, or no taxes for a certain amount of time. Add economic incentives to these companies to sort of bring them to Windsor which would be a really good strategy to create jobs or at least to bring new investment to Windsor. Also, improving things that make Windsor a livable city such as more support for the arts.
It's being smart with your money - so outsourcing services. They've already started with garbage collection - things like that. They cut child care - something else that can be outsourced. Things that they can save on cost and use those savings to cut down on taxes for businesses or provide economic incentives to those same businesses. And let's not forget, when you start creating jobs that way, property taxes and other revenue streams increase because the city as a whole becomes more prosperous.
What will influence your voting decisions most in this election?
Somebody who's willing to work with the University, and takes the University seriously. The University could survive on it's own in a little bubble in the west end. The University doesn't need the city, the city needs the University and they need to start realizing that. The University will be much better off if they worked with the city. It would benefit both mutually. If revitalizing downtown they don't mention moving parts of campus downtown, if they don't mention developing industries downtown that work with the University, it's an indicator to me that they don't take the University seriously. The University has shown time and time again that they're willing to move. The University has money to invest. It's up to the city to bring the University to them.
Somebody who has experience working either in municipal government or working in some kind of administrative position. Someone who understands Windsor is going through a transition and things like high taxes aren't helping. And somebody who believes that Windsor can become a sustainable community that can grow. Making the downtown more walkable, more friendly to business. Somebody who's willing to understand that sometimes what's in the best interests of the city and city government isn't always the most popular decision. Somebody who understands that government in the the city needs to cut - not cut drastically - but they need to be a little bit more fiscally responsible in city hall. City government needs to be more intelligent and they need to start directing resources towards things that can change the city - making downtown more livable. Windsor's not going to get any better if it's just becomes suburban, suburban, suburban.
Someone that makes Windsor more walkable and accessible for walkers and bikers. I ride my bike and it's dangerous in Windsor. So perhaps instituting a bylaw that bike lanes become mandatory on every paved road. That's something that doesn't cost much money at all. It saves lives and it makes my commute a great deal easier.