CBC TorontoOntario Votes 2011

Toronto Votes

Civic Muscle: a civic institution that gets it

(Part Five of Five)

Sherbourne Park
Sherbourne Park (Artist's Concept, Waterfront Toronto)


Marisa Piattelli of Waterfront Toronto, says even the most engaged citizens will make little progress unless civic institutions "open their doors".

As vice-president of government relations and communications, Piattelli says Waterfront Toronto has broken new ground when it comes to "early, constant, no surprises" public consultation on the 25-year-project of transforming 2,000 acres of waterfront land.

Sherbourne Common, the most recent fruit of the public consultation process between Waterfront Toronto and residents of the East Bayfront neighbourhood, has its grand opening on September 24th.

John Campbell
John Campbell, President and CEO,
Waterfront Toronto

Public consultation saves time

Public consultation on this scale, says Piattelli, broke the mould of the empty pro-forma consultations that are required by law on almost every large-scale public works project.

John Campbell, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto, says the benefit has been an enormous gain in public trust.

"It's one of the corporation's strongest assets," says Campbell. "It's something we're very proud of, and that we guard very jealously."

Most developers, says Campbell, see public meetings as one of the most difficult aspects of a project and come to them prepared to fight for a plan that's already been decided, what Campbell calls a 'decide and defend' methodology."

Campbell, who came to Waterfront Toronto from Brookfield Properties, where he directed massive projects such as BCE Place, says meeting with community members about the waterfront projects has transformed his understanding of what the community can contribute to a project. Key to that, says Campbell, is starting, "at ground zero".

"We start a meeting by saying, we don't have any plans," says Campbell. "Tell us what you like about your neighbourhood, what you don't like."

It's not that the agency doesn't have a vision of its own, says Campbell. "We want all kinds of things - sustainability, transit, design excellence, and so forth."

But to shape that vision, Campbell says, you get input from the community "from the ground up, starting with a blank slate."

It makes the process slower at the front end, says Campbell, but saves time, energy and aggravation once the construction begins and makes for a better project.

And to developers who treat community consultation as an empty exercise, Campbell has this to say: "What a huge waste of talent."

More institutions that get it

Mary Wiens spoke to CBC Toronto's Metro Morning radio host Matt Galloway about calls and letters from listeners who know first-hand the heavy lifting of getting involved in city-building.

From humble projects like the painting of a children's wading pool to the Evergreen Brick Works, one of the city's grand new public spaces -- inspired by a group of citizens, "The Friends of the Valley" -- Mary heard from listeners about "mature citizenship," which goes way beyond the duty to vote in municipal elections.

Listen audio ( item runs 5:55 )

If you have your own comments and suggestions to add on the subject of civic engagement, the conversation is open on the Metro Morning website.

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