By Alyson Queen –
Looking around the broader neighbourhood, there never seems to be a lack of inspiration. We’re awed by people – busy people – who somehow find the time to roll up their sleeves and make a difference.
They plan neighbourhood BBQs, start art festivals, flood the rinks, and spend hours on last-minute zoning proposals that you probably didn’t even know existed.
And sometimes, they show up at your door, telling you that they belong to the neighbourhood association (which you also may not know existed) and want you to join.
You should join.
There are just under ten neighbourhood – or community – associations in the general Kitchissippi area. Each is unique – from how they engage membership and volunteers to how many events they organize or what issues they take on. One thing they have in common: without them, Kitchissippi wouldn’t be what it is today.
Each association is also proof that a group of citizens can have influence and make a lasting impact, amplifying each individual’s voice in the community collectively.
Power in numbers
Look in your own backyard and there will always be a need for improvement. The list for community associations is also ever-growing.
The one issue they all had in common for 2017? Not surprisingly, traffic. The runner-up? Community safety. Development also rounded out the list.
Most involve providing an organized and collective voice, taking that good fight either to City Hall or, often in the case of development, the OMB.
“I’d like to think you don’t need to fight City Hall, you just need to communicate with City Hall,” says Gary Ludington, President of the Westboro Community Association. But there is power in real numbers.
“I encourage everybody to join their community association. Membership determines influence at City Hall. When a community associations says ‘on behalf of our 600 members’ that means a lot. Memberships help to change the perception that it’s not just the individual standing in front of us.”
Perhaps something to remember the next time that eager volunteer is at your door.
The membership structures and fees vary slightly from one association to the next. Some are $5, some are $10, some are per household. Yet all of those membership fees are their bread and butter – allowing for events to happen and plans to get organized.
Always a problem to solve
Recent tragic events in the broader area have spurred action from a number of associations on community safety.
When asked about challenges that his association faces, James Valcke, president of the Hintonburg Community Association, points to “some of the violent events that resulted in the death of two individuals in our community and the impact those deaths had on our community.”
The death of Abdirahman Abdi and more recently, the gun-related death of a teen at Bayswater and Laurel were tragic. But they also became motivators for the Hintonburg Community Association, and others, to both strengthen the sense of community and facilitate productive discussions on community safety.
The Mechanicsville Community Association is also taking its own spin on community safety by hosting an upcoming event (the date of which is to be determined) with the Community Policing Officer to encourage residents to report suspicious activity and be more comfortable with online reporting.
“Big development gets people out [to meetings] or unfortunately, crime tends to make people vocal and wanting to talk to you,” says Lorrie Marlow, Secretary of the Mechanicsville Community Association (MCA). That association was revived in 2012-2013 because of proposed development on Parkdale.
Zoning and development is another hot topic for these groups. For the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association (CHNA) – with roots from the Civic Hospital Homeowners Association in 1973 – responding to the volume of applications can be overwhelming, and the submissions complex. But according to Karen Wright, president, their goal “is to ensure responsible development.”
That association has been and will be very much involved in the new chapter of its namesake, the Civic Hospital – from construction of the new hospital, to redevelopment of the current site and all of the transportation considerations that come with it.
“Going forward, we intend to be an important stakeholder defining how the new hospital will integrate into our community,” she says.
Overall, the work that they all do is important – and it gets results.
“My approach to community associations is that they are my first stop to take the temperature; they are my sounding board for what they are hearing in the community,” says Councillor Jeff Leiper. “It’s a successful partnership between the community associations and the Councillor. We don’t always agree, but the partnership is a rich one.”
Fighting the good fight keeps these groups alive.
The reality is that there are endless projects, events and issues for all of these associations. But the power comes from volunteers, which aren’t always the easiest to find and keep.
Some people are involved because their neighbour suggested it. It’s also fulfilling, socially. Many are spurred to action by an issue in their own backyard.
Recruiting and retaining volunteers on these community associations, as much as they are praised, isn’t easy. A lot of work often falls on the shoulders of a few.
Those involved wear many hats and would gladly widen the circle. At the moment, Lorrie is the MCA Secretary and the Chair of the Planning and Development committee. She also participates in Security and Events committees because there just aren’t enough bodies to get the work done.
The Hintonburg Community Association may be the biggest in the area, touting close to 600 paid and associate members and it enjoys a broad swath of volunteers for its many events.
“We have a number of leads for our events, in order to prevent burnout of our volunteers,” says James.
Gary was quick to note that all time and talents are welcome, but didn’t miss the opportunity for a pitch: “We could really use someone to help with our website.”
Do your part
If you have an issue that’s been bothering you, contact the community association in your area and offer to help, even in some small way. If you’ve been looking to meet new people or volunteer in your community – even if just a few hours – they can help you.
“It is interesting, city-wide, to see the roles that community associations have. Some of my suburban colleagues, their CAs are largely the folks who keep the rink flooded and plan the summer BBQ. In the urban core, our folks tend to get involved in a wide variety of issues and events, and planning is at the core,” says Councillor Leiper*.
Karen’s association regularly talks about “micro-volunteering” now – encouraging people to commit to just one event or a couple of hours of flyer distribution – and thinks it is much more appealing, especially for young families.
“It’s about volunteering in smaller chunks, without overextending your commitment,” she explains.
Lorrie offers a similar sentiment. “If you’re doing well, send the elevator back down. Even if you can only give a little bit, it makes such a difference. I can’t reiterate how good it feels.”
As for 2017 and the year that awaits? They all have wish lists that reflect their various priorities. James has “a more inclusive and welcoming community for all” on his list, along with prosperity for local business owners. Karen would like “a commitment from the City to fund an independent area-wide traffic study in light of recent development, intensification and interest in other modes of transit.”
And Gary? He has a few, but he has his eye on replacing the bell in the former Nepean Town Hall.
* This quotation was incorrectly attributed to Karen Wright in the print edition of KT. We apologize for the error.
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