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Why NB municipalities are demanding municipal reform

Posted by on 07 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, NB Municipal Reform

Declining unconditional grants lead to budget cuts and resentment of nearby communities who “freeload” off the larger centres.

Here’s a chart that shows the percentage of the City of Fredericton’s budget that comes from the province:

This leads to changing attitudes:

1992 – Sure, go ahead and use our rinks, the more the merrier

2011 – That’ll be $685, don’t like it? Move to the city!

Planning Advisory Committee drinking game

Posted by on 21 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

I once attended a Fredericton Planning Advisory Committee. Let’s just say it was an interesting experience. Unfortunately, the City of Fredericton doesn’t stream the meetings online so you’ll have to physically go to the meeting and sneak your alcohol past the security guard.

Take one good sized gulp every time you hear one of the following:

  • “This is a family neighbourhood”
  • “We’re not against poor people, we just don’t think it’s the “right type” of development for this neighbourhood”
  • “I know you are legally required to approve this, but you should deny it anyway”
  • “I’ve lived on this street for over 20 years”
  • “That type of development is only for places like downtown”
  • “That type of development has no business being downtown”
  • “Why can’t this go on the North side, where the rest of the poor people live?”
  • “I approve the project in principle, as long as these design changes are implemented”
  • “We don’t want to increase density in this neighbourhood”
  • “They would be able to see me through the window getting dressed”
  • “It will destroy the character of the neighbourhood”
  • “It will block out the sun”
  • “That old house has to be 80 years old, therefore it is historic and must not be torn down”

There. That should make your decision to get involved in municipal politics that much easier.

A Few Problem Areas of Fredericton’s Current Municipal Plan

Posted by on 07 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, landuse, Reviews, suggestions, transit

As part of the “Sustainability. By Design.” process, we’ll have a quick look at Fredericton’s current municipal plan. Overall, it isn’t all that bad, however, there are a few particular areas that need a second look.

High density residential needs to be required in certain areas, especially large lots near major arteries. This will be needed to reduce the cost of delivering municipal services to a neighbourhood.

Section 3.4 insists that the look-and-feel of Brunswick St. needs to be preserved for “historic reasons”. If we want to expand our downtown, wouldn’t Brunswick St. be the logical choice for an increase in density?

Section 3.5 residential town plat – the worst example of NIMBY appeasement. Some parts will need to be redesignated for higher density housing, especially along transit corridors such as Regent, York, and Smythe. This will pit the environmentalists against the heritage preservationists, which might be entertaining to watch.

Section 3.7 seems to tow a hard line on the student ghetto. An effective transit system will allow students to move farther away from UNB/STU thereby reducing pressures on this neighbourhood.

The biggest mistake they made is that you can’t download the municipal plan as a single PDF file. That makes it really hard to find things if you are just looking for a few key words.

“Sustainability. By Design.” – a speculative preview

Posted by on 24 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, landuse

As part of his “State of the City” address, Fredericton mayor Brad Woodside announced “Sustainability. By Design.” which appears to be a buzzy term for updating the municipal plan. That plan was created in 1991, last updated in 2002 and amended several times later whenever a proposal didn’t fit the plan. The biggest problem with that plan is that it isn’t very green. It encourages sprawl, has no ties with transit and focuses on heritage preservation over density.

This is exactly the same thing that Halifax did a few years ago in their HRMbyDesign process. Saint John is doing it too with PlanSJ. Municipal plans do need to be updated every few years as demographics and focus change so this isn’t an unexpected process.

Here are a few points to consider when thinking about urban planning:

  • Don’t use this as a venue to bash other people’s lifestyles. (Yes, I’ve said that before)
  • There will have to be several versions of the document, depending on the outcome of Alward’s promise for municipal reform.
  • The cost of transportation will go up significantly in the next few years. Public transit won’t just be for students and poor people, it will need to be included in the municipal planning process.
  • Active transportation and walkability will be a greater consideration when designing neighbourhoods.
  • Existing neighbourhoods will need be retrofitted to conform to the new standards. This will be a difficult process, but it must be done as “obsolete” neighbourhoods will become the slums of tomorrow.
  • Heritage will have to take a back seat to sustainability. Heritage buildings won’t necessarily be torn down, but heritage “look and feel” zones will be less important than density.

In the end, it will have to be a big compromise for all of the involved stakeholders. Here’s hoping that all parties involved get a chance to voice their opinion and that cooler heads prevail.

Four more slightly interesting things from the Fredericton 2011 budget

Posted by on 17 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

The good people at the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce obtained a copy of the 2011 Fredericton budget at the council meeting and loaned it to me. As I don’t have a scanner with a paper feed and auto duplexer, I only scanned in the most interesting pages:

Page 55: Video Archive system. Could this also be used for putting council meetings on the Internet? If so, it would be a great first step towards a more open government.

Page 56: They lease a transit bus and hoist. I would have thought that since they keep a transit bus running for 25+ years, it would be cheaper in the long run just to buy it outright. I suspect they probably wanted to avoid having to raise taxes so they spread out the cost over several years. In the end, the taxpayer still has to pay interest on it.

Click to see

Page 57: Public works list a few projects, but is really vague on details. Hopefully they won’t be doing something stupid like they did last year.

Click to see

Page 71: Forest Hill water & sewer renewal. Wouldn’t this be a good time to replace that horrible intersection at the bottom of the hill with a roundabout?

There are also the two more controversial things mentioned here, and about another 120 pages that will eventually be posted on the city’s Council Minutes page once they’ve been translated and approved.

5 Predictions for Fredericton in 2011

Posted by on 10 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

These aren’t just stupid predictions, I am basing these on past experiences, Google search hits to my blog, and the 2011 Fredericton budget.

1. City Council will underestimate the anger from the Silverwood bus cut.

The Scots are loud, but not as angry as the people of Silverwood. The Scots will get their statue back, but that will make the Silverwoodians even angrier. Expect these quotes: “Our property values have dropped”, “How could you betray your own people and vote against them”, “I can think of many other ways you can save $45,000” and “I can’t ride a statue to work”

2. The Costco will open

There will be rumours that it’s been cancelled going around until the morning that the doors actually open. The “Save the UNB Woodlot” people won’t bother with protesting it as they’ll be busy protesting whatever’s going in behind the Winners.

3. People will be angry about downtown parking

Nothing makes people more angry than downtown parking. In fact, people seem to be angry about something new every year. This year, it will be when they remove meters and replace them with those crappy machines. Yes, they will actually be doing this, it was in the budget:

4. People will love the roundabout on Brookside and demand more of them

One enough of the population figures them out, people will want more of them. There will be many letters-to-the-editor demanding them be placed everywhere.

5. Municipal reform will be used as an excuse

At some point the City of Fredericton will be criticized for something. They will then begin to use “we are waiting for the Alward government to initiate the municipal reform process” as an excuse for not doing something.

What did people do before blogs?

Posted by on 04 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton

For people like me, who consider municipal issues to be a hobby, the low-cost option of expressing views on a blog is quite appealing. What did people do before the internet?

One could always write a letter to the editor, which will get printed at the editor’s discretion. If one were lucky enough, they were the editor of the newspaper, and would be able to print articles like this one, which complained about how ugly the power poles are in downtown Fredericton.

The Fredericton Evening Capital – Oct 22, 1887 (Google News Archives)

If the newspaper wouldn’t print your letters, then you could always print your own book. This would have been fairly expensive, but if you were really determined to get your point across, you could. A fine example is one book written by a Mrs. M. H. Pengilly while (I kid you not) “imprisoned in the Provincial Lunatic Asylum” warning of the dangers of building a bridge on the St. John river. (To be fair, she did correctly predict that an ice-jam would form around the bridge and flood the city (1935?)

It wasn’t just cranks and crazy people back then either, here we have a business case for a municipal water system. The author, G. E. Fenety argues that the increased taxes caused by adding a water system will be offset by the savings in fire insurance premiums. He also advocated for a publicly run water system, which is still an issue today.

Methods of communication change, but the desire to passively-aggressively complain about things will always be around.

Fredericton City Council sneaks in transit cut

Posted by on 22 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, transit

Fredericton City Council used a sneaky and underhanded trick to deliver a cut in transit service to the Silverwood area. They snuck it in as a line item in their 2011 budget. This is probably why they didn’t release the budget documents until after the vote. The only way anyone could have found out about it was to have attended the “open” budget meetings. Even that would have been questionable as it may not have been mentioned at those meetings.

Even the transit commission was caught off guard, when asked about it, they replied with this:

Good day, it has not been finalized due to some confusion on councils
part, now would be the time to call your councillor and be very vocal
about not making any cuts to service. Call 460-2127 City Clerk’s Office
to find out who your councillor is and his number. Good luck

Everyone can appreciate that some runs may not have enough ridership to warrant service. This was the case with the Two Nations Crossing route. The big difference with that one was that the cut was pre-announced and fully debated in council.

Most of the budget debate has been about a statue. Not having a statue repaired may annoy some people, but it doesn’t affect peoples lives in the way that a transit cut would. People don’t rely on a statue to get to and from work. People don’t move to a neighbourhood based on the availability of a statue. People won’t have to buy a car if they suddenly lose access to a statue. Transit matters to a lot of people. It’s time that the City of Fredericton starts taking it seriously.

Update: 11:55am: Article edited to clarify the fact that the cuts are only for the Silverwood area.

Failure to engage: Fredericton’s 2011 Budget

Posted by on 20 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Fredericton, opengovernment

So how was Fredericton’s 2011 budget more open and transparent than the 2010 budget?

They pre-released details of the water & sewer portion of the budget. That’s it. That’s the big difference.

If you look at the minutes of the 2010 budget from last year, you’ll see a very detailed presentation that included line items for each department. Why couldn’t they release this before the vote for 2011?

If city council wants to be open and accountable, they actually need to be open and accountable. Fredericton’s city council has a major perception problem where people believe that it built up a giant wall so they can hide the incompetence of city employees. Whether this is actually true or not, is irrelevant because perception often matters more than truth.

Maybe they’ll get it right next year? It will be an election year after all. (no, I’m not running in 2012, stop asking). It’s time to get serious about openness and transparency

Stop bashing the cul-de-sac

Posted by on 13 Dec 2010 | Tagged as: Fredericton, landuse

Too often the car-haters treat the cul-de-sac as the enemy of good urban design. They aren’t the most efficient for driving, and they do cost a little more to plow in the winter, however, with proper planning, they can be better for walkability (and bikeability). All it takes is a path that connects the dead end to the road running behind it.

We’ll take this example in Fredericton’s Lincoln Heights:

Doesn’t look very walkable, does it? How about we add the interconnecting paths (that actually exist) to the map:

This provides a nice balance. You can easily walk or bike around the neighbourhood and many of the residential streets have low and slower-moving traffic. Planning doesn’t have to be about punishing car owners, you can compromise and still have a great neighbourhood to live in.

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