Two Kitchener parks get $100K each for upgrades picked by residents

Kitchener residents in two neighbourhoods will decide how they want to spend $100,000 on their community park.

Elmsdale and Sandhills Park will be revitalized based on community feedback, each will get $100k

Community consultation is scheduled to start in the fall, where city staff will meet with residents to ask them what they want to see in their neighbourhood park. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Kitchener residents in two neighbourhoods will decide how they want to spend $100,000 on each of their community parks.

Elmsdale Park and Sandhills Park will each have a budget of $100,000, thanks to participatory budgeting pilot project by the University of Waterloo and the City of Kitchener, approved by city council on Monday.

Sean Geobey, assistant professor at the school of environment, enterprise and development at the University of Waterloo said the point of participatory budgeting is more than hearing the voices in the community.

"It's actually putting the decision-making power in the hands of the community," he told CBC News.

The preparation for the community consultation phase started the morning after council approval. Geobey met with the supervisor of design and development for parks in the city to discuss how parks engagement is currently done. 

Another meeting is set for June 7, when the university team will meet with the community engagement co-ordinator.

Ryan Hagey, director of financial planning at the City of Kitchener said they chose parks as the focus because of their importance in a community. 

"We thought that parks made sense because they're assets that people care about, they're in the neighbourhood, they're things that we get feedback about," Hagey told CBC News.

He said residents in each neighbourhood will get two major opportunities to give their input. In the fall, city staff will meet with residents to compile a list of what they want to see in their local park.

City staff will vet the suggestions for feasibility including health and safety regulations and budget constraints.

Before the city begins work on the parks, all residents of the two neighbourhoods will get a ballot and can vote on what they want to see in their own community park.

Geobey and his research team will design the duration of the voting period, the delivery method for ballots and other details over the summer. The consultations will finish in 2017, and construction is set to begin in 2018.

Hagey said the money could go towards one big project or a number of smaller items. It's completely up to the neighbourhood. 

"It's a great opportunity for residents to change the look of their neighbourhood," he said, "So we're really looking for good input, a lot of input, and for citizens to come and learn about the priorities of other people around them."

Sean Geobey said the partnership between the university and the city speaks to the collaborative and innovative spirit of the community. (Colin Butler/CBC)

Research for success

Geobey said another objective of this collaboration between the university and the city is to determine if there are better ways to collect community feedback.

"We also want to build as much as we can off of what the City of Kitchener is already doing well," he said.

One feedback collection method being tested is the system for ballot-design and voting. A team at the university will design two different systems for voting and the community groups will receive a different style of ballot. 

Once the voting is complete, Geobey and his team will evaluate the results to look for the most effective tactic. His team will use their findings to make recommendations to the city for future participatory budgeting projects.

"How we do engagement with our community is really a critical part in maintaining the capacity for innovation across our entire community," said Geobey.


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