Brown-John: Kingsville survey shows how to gather effective resident feedback

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Penny Wise, president of 3M Canada, said at a virtual conference on the economy organized by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce on Feb. 17 that “we really need to think about how to position ourselves for the future and not let the future come to us.”

Hopefully, that type of wisdom is behind an initiative by local municipalities and the County of Essex that is finally taking an interest in the opinions of residents about the region’s future.

Part of this impetus is attributable to a 2018 “Safer Ontario Act” requiring municipalities to prepare and adopt community safety and well-being (CSWB) plans in partnership with something termed “a multi-sectional advisory committee.”

This opinion initiative has just been launched by the City of Windsor and County of Essex ostensibly with “guidance” from a “Regional CSWB Systems Leadership Table.”

A regional community safety and well-being (CSWB) plan is being created and there is access to a cumbersome survey on the City of Windsor’s website.

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The leadership table is a massive aggregation of prospective community leaders grouped from municipal governments, police, fire, EMS, mental health, hospitals, education, Children’s Aid, South Essex Community Council and Workforce Windsor and the list goes on.

The online survey as part of this consultation process is peculiar. I tried the survey twice and eventually abandoned it as poorly designed and operationally cumbersome.

Ironically, when the CSWB online survey is compared to a just-completed survey by the Town of Kingsville — its Strategic Mid-term Planning/Community Engagement survey — I believe the CSWB survey is hopelessly flawed, confusing and user confusing.

Kingsville, by contrast, had a well-designed survey with opportunities to add comments and to rate already entered comments.

Once the survey term expired, the site permitted residents to see how several hundred comments and opinions comparatively rated.

In practice, as Ms. Wise suggested, strategic planning is all about the future. However, for taxpayers, much of the future appears more or less to be now.

Thus, among the hundreds of comments and opinions on Kingsville’s Strategic Mid-term Planning survey are numerous references to fine restaurants, small towns and nice people. These are important viewpoints and certainly set a context for planning, but are of limited utility for planners working towards a future.

Predominant comments related to the greenhouse industry and its smells and brightly-lit night skies. The historic character of Kingsville has been significantly altered by the greenhouse industry and its heavy traffic.

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A second predominant area identified in comments is Kingsville’s waterfront or apparent lack thereof. Many people appear to realize that, compared to Leamington, Kingsville’s waterfront public access borders on obscure.

A third area of concern focused upon seemingly unplanned commercial development on the east side of Kingsville. A plethora of malls, fast-food outlets and other commercial activities has created a congested traffic issue uncommon to many smaller towns. Moreover, it appears to be lopsided as west Kingsville is still a much more sedate commercial area.

Fourth, the matter of roads and infrastructure. As Kingsville has developed, road quality — especially those impacted by freight trucks servicing greenhouses — has deteriorated.

Fifth is the vexatious challenge of affordable housing. This is an issue also of significance in the city-county CSWB survey.

Finally, issues surrounding recreation for youth, seniors and enthusiastic adults. Facilities, sports complexes, swimming pools all evoke a lot of interest.

Thankfully for most residents, Kingsville is a community without a scourge of big box stores. Nobody appeared to want same in town.

A notable absence from Kingsville’s planning survey were any references to the town’s fire department which has undergone considerable upheaval in recent years.

In surveys I conducted years ago in Essex County, fire and police services ranked high.

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In Kingsville’s survey, policing received the usual disgruntled comments, but little that was recorded would offer direction for future community safety planning.

In a democracy, public input is vital. Kingsville’s Strategic Mid-term Planning survey was an excellent venture into public participation. Hopefully, other regional communities will engage their residents in a similarly productive manner.

Regrettably, the city-county CSWB survey and its massive leadership table apparently involved in developing a “well-being” plan seems destined to become mired in a strange survey.

Ironically, in my view, leadership seems thin as the table enlarged.

Lloyd Brown-John is a University of Windsor professor emeritus of political science.

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