Housing. Shelter. Community.

The public meeting about short-term rentals (STR) on Monday, 17 May, raised a number of issues centred around the commodification and financialization of housing. What does this mean? It means the conversion of housing from something that provides shelter, protection, privacy, space for personal and family activities into something that is bought and sold and used to make money. In other words, the value of a house as a real estate investment outweighs its importance as a place to live.

As a result, apartment rents and house prices have been pushed out of the affordability range for a growing number of residents.

“Housing has been financialized: valued as a commodity rather than a human dwelling, it is now a means to secure and accumulate wealth rather than a place to live in dignity, to raise a family and thrive within a community.”

Lailani Farha, UN Human Rights Council (2017)

This led to a housing crisis and the Cityʼs response — without actually defining the precise nature of the crisis — has been to approve record numbers of building permits over the past couple of years. The Planning Department has used the “housing crisis” to justify its support for several controversial developments. Even developers work it into their applications to request (and justify) rezoning and variance applications.

What data did the City of Charlottetown have to legitimize the approval of so many applications and permits? In 2020, the Chair of the Planning Board Committee regularly quoted StatsCan figures to rationalize the development boom, rather than conduct its own housing needs assessment. A 2016 blog post by Bowen National Research describes the purpose and components of a housing needs assessment. It seems fairly straightforward, and should be regarded as a smart investment of public funds.

The Cityʼs zoning and development bylaw is another important component that affects community planning and development decisions. The bylaw contains requirements that could well be considered outdated, even exclusionary, in particular where minimum lot sizes and parking minimums are concerned. Removing these two requirements would do much to prevent urban sprawl (low-density residential development over more and more rural land), and let property owners decide the amount of parking they want.

In a 2017 statement, United Nations special rapporteur on adequate housing (and Canadian) Leilani Farha reported that: “Financialization detaches housing from its connection to communities and to the human dignity and security that are at the core of all human rights.”

The individuals who spoke during the 17 May public meeting — many of them from the younger generations — were passionate in their desire to live in a vibrant, thriving, and safe city, yet expressed their anxieties, insecurities, and fears about the precariousness of living in Charlottetown.

Will this City Council and administration be willing and ready to make Charlottetown residents their priority when drafting the Short-term Rental bylaw?

Ten Commandments for Changing the World

Written by Angela Bischoff and Tooker Gomberg for The Citizenʼs Handbook

Changing the world is a blast. Itʼs all the more achievable if you have some basic skills, and lots of chutzpah. With apologies to Moses, and God, here are our top Ten Commandments For Changing the World. Try them out on your issue. Have fun!

But first, some inspiration from Noam Chomsky: “If you go to one demonstration and then go home, thatʼs something, but the people in power can live with that. What they canʼt live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.”

1. You Gotta Believe
Have hope, passion and confidence that valuable change can and does happen because individuals take bold initiative.

2. Challenge Authority
Donʼt be afraid to question authority. Authority should be earned, not appointed. The “experts” are often proven wrong, they used to believe that the earth was flat! You don’t have to be an expert to have a valuable opinion or to speak out on an issue.

3. Know the System
The system perpetuates itself. Use the tools you have; the telephone is the most underrated. The Internet can be of great value for research as well. Learn how decisions are made. How is the bureaucracy structured? Who are the key players? What do they look like? Where do they eat lunch? Go there and talk with them. Get to know their executive assistants. Attend public meetings.

4. Take Action
Do something, anything is better than nothing. Bounce your idea around with friends, and then act. Start small, but think big. Organize public events. Distribute handbills. Involve youth. Itʼs easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than to ask for permission. Just do it! Be flexible. Roll with the punches and allow yourself to change tactics mid-stream. Think laterally. Don’t get hung-up on money matters; some of the best actions have no budget.

5. Use the media
Letters to the Editor of your local newspaper are read by thousands. Stage a dramatic event and invite the media; they love an event that gives them an interesting angle or good photo. Bypass the mainstream media with email and the world wide web to get the word out about your issue and to network.

6. Build Alliances
Seek out your common allies such as other community associations, seniors, youth groups, labour, businesses, etc. and work with them to establish support. The system wins through Divide and Conquer, so do the opposite! Network ideas, expertise and issues through email lists. Celebrate your successes with others.

7. Apply Constant Pressure
Persevere; it drives those in power crazy. Be as creative as possible in getting your perspective heard. Use the media, phone your politicians, send letters and faxes with graphics and images. Be concise. Bend the Administrationʼs ear when you attend public meetings. Take notes. Ask specific questions, and give a deadline for when you expect a response. Stay in their faces.

8. Teach Alternatives
Propose and articulate intelligent alternatives to the status quo. Inspire people with well thought-out, attractive visions of how things can be better. Use actual examples, whatʼs been tried, where and how it works. Do your homework, get the word out, create visual representations. Be positive and hopeful.

9. Learn From your Mistrakes
Youʼre going to make mistakes; we all do. Critique — in a positive way — yourself, the movement, and the opposition. What works, and why? What isnʼt working? What do people really enjoy doing, and do more of that.

10. Take Care of Yourself and Each Other
Maintain balance. Eat well and get regular exercise. Avoid burn-out by delegating tasks, sharing responsibility, and maintaining an open process. Be sensitive to your comrades. Have fun. As much as possible, surround yourself with others (both at work and at play) who share your vision so you can build camaraderie, solidarity and support. Enjoy yourself, and nourish your sense of humour. Remember: you’re not alone!

So there you have it. Tools for the Evolution. You can easily join the millions of people around the world working towards ecological health and sustainability just by doing something. With genuine effort, and some luck, a sustainable future may be assured for us and the planet. Go forth and agitate. 

If you go to one demonstration and then go home, that’s something, but the people in power can live with that. What they can’t live with is sustained pressure that keeps building, organizations that keep doing things, people that keep learning lessons from the last time and doing it better the next time.

Noam Chomsky

Creating complete streets

Urban highways are tied to low-occupancy vehicles, high-stress travel, reduced walkability, erased communities, segregation, and climate change. Building complete streets instead of urban highways leads to healthier, more economically productive, and more sociable cities.  Learn more.

BRT: Bus Rapid Transit
Source: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)

Why does a person run for municipal office?

The Samara Centre for Democracy is a non-partisan charity dedicated to strengthening Canada’s democracy. In 2020, it conducted its first Canadian Municipal Barometer survey, which was sent to mayors and councillors in the more than 400 municipalities across Canada.

Divided into five specific sections, the 26-page report uses plain language and well designed infographics.

In the section entitled “Where do local leaders come from?”, we learn that most local politicians surveyed suggest that their path to politics began, or was aided by, experience in community associations.

What motivates a person to enter local politics?

An overriding theme of responses was that politics was simply a way to give back to a community in which representatives were already heavily engaged. The majority of answers (58%) mention the importance of public service, community involvement, or making changes generally, on specific issues, or in leadership.

The next municipal election is in 2022. Let us raise our voices, let’s connect with each other and be instrumental in inspiring and encouraging progressive and civil society leaders from all walks of life to consider running for mayor or councillor.

Many respondents were recruited, or received encouragement to run. Overwhelmingly, local politicians themselves cite their interest in public service and the well-being of their communities as the key motivators for seeking office at the municipal level.

2020 Locally Grown: A survey of municipal politicians in Canada

“When citizens understand they have a voice …”

“I have experienced the changes that can happen in my own hometown when citizens understand they have a voice, and use it determinedly and collectively to improve the lot of their community.

“For generations, acts of selfless courage and commitment to the greater whole have moved societies forward towards racial integration, voting rights for women, and legal recognition of rights for our natural environment.

“When we shift our focus away from individual and material success, and begin to participate in the collective care of our communities, our lives become more meaningful and more potent.”

Sarah Harmer, musician, citizen

Extract 29 March from Global Chorus: 365 Voices on the Future of the Planet
edited by Todd E. MacLean ©2014
http://globalchorus.ca

Sustainable Urban Development

Posted March 26, 2021 | Last updated March 29, 2021

Sustainable urban development is the way forward for cities to mitigate climate change. Integrated urban places designed to bring people, activities, buildings, and public spaces together, with easy walking and cycling connection between them and near-excellent transit service to the rest of the city. 

When you think of your neighbourhood, would you say it includes the right mix of activities and the right mix of people? What would it take to achieve the right mix?

How well do you think Charlottetown is doing to integrate its urban places?

How would you rate the walkability – and the safety and accessibility of sidewalks – around Charlottetown?

What type of public transportation improvements would you like to see in the next two years?