Changing the Conversation at Public Meetings and Open Houses

City of St. Catharines Open House Notice for 10 Pleasant Ave

Changing the Conversation at Public Meetings and Open Houses

Public meetings and open houses about developments and variances are difficult meetings for many reasons. 

Most often they are full of speakers who are against the new development – rarely do you hear “I support this”.  As a result decision makers get a very skewed view of how residents feel or think about a proposed or new development.

Too often speakers talk about who is going to live there.  This is especially true when the development includes affordable and supportive housing.  As a member of the Committee of Adjustment and now as a councillor, I have heard this time after time.  I have even heard local politicians talk about who will live there.

Any public meeting or open house is NEVER about who will live there.  NEVER.  It is about land use – ONLY. It’s about allowing for changes to current by-laws and zoning like: more height, setbacks, parking requirements, severing property and changing zoning types.  Yet in our public meetings the WHO always comes up. 

How can we change this?  

We can start with changing the language we all use.  We should stop differentiating between owners and renters.  People who live in our city are residents – that’s it.  Residents live, work and play in our city. Residents serve on city committees, contribute to our economy and most importantly are our family, friends and neighbours.

We need to encourage and support those who are in support of developments to raise their voices and be heard.  This can be very daunting for those who have never spoken at a public meeting or open house.  Unlike the NIMBYS, CAVE and BANANA people who are experts at making presentations and are very organised – most of the time those who support developments are individuals. Zoom or online meetings have been a great help in alleviating the fears and worry – this should continue to be an option for residents as we start to get back to in person meetings and open houses.

As decision makers, we too must fully understand our role and what open houses and public meetings about development are actually about and stick to asking questions or having comments ONLY about those issues.  We cannot only listen to the loudest voices and we have to call people on their language, words when they stray from the points and ‘rules’ of the meetings.

We also need to stop thinking about just today. The decisions we make today will last for years, decades and maybe even centuries.  We should never be building for today – we have to focus on tomorrow.

You can read more about what the city of Kitsilano is trying to do with their public meetings: