November 22, 2014, Fergus Grand Theatre
Paul Flach (Fergus-Elora) and Christina Sinopoli of the Mars Impact Investment Centre (Toronto)
Paul went first, using a power point slide show:
he spoke to the idea of the need for a mind change within planning relative to economics and
community, but also of what it was we all might agree on relative to Elora and Fergus achieving their full potential as communities, namely the blessings of place already distinct to the area, the natural and human heritage, and that most of us would agree that it would not achieve that potential on its own if left to existing practices and mindsets.
He spoke of going to events like the soap box derby and the Scottish Festival parade where he experienced community within the space of the event, but as soon as the events ended he realized that there was no place for the community to enjoy itself as a community, and that if a truck with tables and chairs had shown up, such a place would have immediately been created.
It being one thing to create buzz and another to maintain it. Thus one of the goals of CDC was to create opportunities for place.
The CDC having spoken to the municipality and the BIA's has already reached an understanding with them relative to the role the CDC wants to establish for itself in the community, which includes focusing on creating a business map of the area, which is a conceptual tool for understanding what businesses we have and what businesses we lack, and therefor what businesses we need (as opposed to say two drug stores in Elora was my thought.)
He also examined the idea of local tourism, by which he meant creating reasons for locals to remain in their communities, a complete “hometown experience” as opposed to staging a town”, the best examples of which are to found in Europe, an approach that doesn't rely so much on an A to Z linear planning mindset, nor one that happens simply my mistake, but one that evolves by creating opportunities for innovation.
He then spoke to the fact that relative to the kind of place people want to live in, (ie, one with respect for its heritage) then the community needs to ensure that it has the skills and trades to carry out the work, ie masonry and fine carpentry et al: a goal he noted had been broached with the Centre Wellington Foundation, with whom the CDC now has established a relationship, in order to help our businesses work towards a common infrastructure.
Part of that issue revolves around the fact the most of the area's built heritage is neither listed nor designated as such, terms that don't prevent demolition, except to the extent that they offer differing time lengths for appealing demolition. Related to that issue, is that most new buildings not only aren't designed with any sense of what is essential understanding of the communities in which they are being built, they aren't built to last, aren't built with a commitment to future generations, which was the way the original builders of our communities designed buildings. The emotional connection of place is lost when communities aren't built to last.
He also spoke of the need to make use of under utilized buildings already in place.
One of his slides was a quote from the Ontario government's Places to Grow legislation, an act was not designed to be used to create the sprawl that has happened in the areas in its purview, but actually contains clauses for protecting water, the environment and for promoting the growth of community.
The problem is what Paul called the Bad Urban Planning Habit, which is a habit of citizens, since urban planners cannot on their own accord declare themselves the consciences of their communities, so it is citizens that need the change of mindset, and the biggest change involves the car. As things now stand, our communities are designed to accommodate spaces that accommodate the movement, the parking and barriers to protect pedestrians from cars, so that most of the available space is gobbled up, restricting the possibility of creating place.
In order to empower planners to design urban environments differently, we need to create a common will, backed by both vision and investment.
Paul then went on to explain the evolution of mono zone planning, which occurred after the invention of the car, when everything began to be designed for the car, which is how we ended up with Suburbs without community cores, manufacturing areas that workers had to drive to, shopping malls with massive parking lots and the collapse of the urban cores of most cities, Mixed use development has made a comeback largely because young people don't want to live in Suburbs, or buy cars or maintain large lot homes. Walkability was lost. When people reject the notion that they need to be able to park immediately in front of where they want to shop, when they reject the notion that the car matters more than the sense of place, then visions of livable communities can begin to emerge that enable planners to create plans that reflect that new understanding of what the public wants
The Public square is a place where people gather whether there is an event gong on or not, especially in places that are not only built to human scale, but to the pedestrian walking pace, a transition from the 80km an hour suburban road to the 5km an hour walking pace. Such a change in attitude, when accompanied by respect for the both the built and the natural environment, and with good aesthetics on the human scale, creates community involvement.
Inside that scale, spaces like laneways come into play, spaces once reserved for garbage, spaces once avoided, spaces lost to the community, spaces now being transformed all around the world through backdoor cafes, shops and seating. Laneway transformation of lost spaces into usable places to sit and talk, become places to gather and celebrate and plan. Spaces which both Elora and Fergus have, and which could be re-purposed to great effect.
Paul then spoke of the destruction of Christchurch New Zealand during a natural disaster, leaving the citizens and official with an intense sense of loss for the city core as it had once been, with an almost clean slate to work on, and a community committed to rebuilding itself from within, Christchurch has engaged in extensive community outreach and vision development, in order to restore the core in such a way that it honours the lost past.
The other thing relative to walkability that Paul broached at the local level was the development of community places within walking distance of one another, so that the businesses between the hubs benefit from the foot traffic, ie, assuming that Landmark develops the south side of the Grand River with some sense of community place, and the Elora arts centre was redeveloped as a more active community place the two spots would serve as hubs for walkers.
In his conclusion Paul spoke of the need for public and private investment, a community of both investors and supporters dedicated to increasing the social value of renovation, restoration and redevelopment projects from here on in. He also noted that the CDC was considering the idea of creating a credit union, so that the cooperative ideals of that kind of banking would reinforce the vision of the CDC.
The MARS Centre for Impact Investing
Christina's shorter talk revolved around the history and evolution of Community Development corporations, and the investment tools used by different organizations in different situations. She spoke of social financing through partnerships, and stakeholders whether they were directed at social or environmental problems. All CDCs were mission based, and vision preceded and drove all their activities. So that the creation of the vision was the single most important determination of path the CDC followed when it came to financing, be it convertible debt, load guarantees, Term Deposits, Equity Investment, Patient Capitol or Community Bonds, Micro Funds, the DUCA credit union social development Funds, Angel Groups, all of which are very active in Kitchener Waterloo.
She gave examples such The YMCA Elm centre built to house low income women etc. the Mustard Seed Co-op that was created to provide grocery shopping in downtown Hamilton neighbourhoods with access to uptown stores. She spoke of Zooshare Biogas CDC create to use waste materials from zoo animals for feeding the Hydro grid and helping to sustain the finances of the zoo. The Toronto Atmosphere Fund, which was a municipal initiative focused on ensuring the continued improvement of Toronto's air quality.
She advised of the need to map out an investor base, to understand the regulations surrounding all aspects of any project. But she also suggested that sometimes bootstrapping - developing a venture without the capitol creates its own momentum and opportunities.
She also spoke to the importance of human capitol: of mentorship and of the value-adding that comes from inviting everyone to the table. She also made note of the Mars centre's Canadian Task Force Report on Social Finance: http://impactinvesting.marsdd.com/strategic-initiatives/the-canadian-task-force-on-social-finance/.
She concluded by stating that innovation doesn't just happened, and that serendipity happens when you are prepared to grasp it as it is happening.