Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Steal this Platform: Seven Ideas for a Better Brampton

Brampton’s race for mayor became much more interesting today as MPP Linda Jeffrey (OLP – Brampton-Springdale) resigned from cabinet and the legislature and declared her candidacy. But Brampton’s problems will not be simply solved by replacing the mayor. Much of the Council has been in place for a decade and the mayor is only one vote. Therefore it is necessary for voices expressing a different vision to emerge.

Before I moved to the Northwest Territories I had ambitions to run for city council to offer an alternative vision of what my hometown could be. Unfortunately the opportunity for my current job came up and so I moved west (and a lot north). A recent article by Edward Keenan in The Grid where he outlined a platform for any Toronto candidate gave me the idea to share what I had intended to present to voters in Wards 3 and 4. I apologize for the brief descriptions, but many of these ideas have been discussed previously in this blog.

1.      Grow Smart, Not Fast

In the course of 30 years the city of Brampton has more than tripled in size to over 500,000 people. The rapid construction of suburban neighbourhoods has lagged behind infrastructure upgrades and local services. Growth is not being properly managed and instead it is treated like a gold rush. This construction boom will result in a harsh bust if not managed properly. Proposed zoning needs to be reconsidered for greater mixed-use, multi-purpose neighbourhoods with greater densities. Future developments should use the principles of Smart Growth/New Urbanism in their planning.

2.      Work Where You Live and Small Business Incubator

One of the reasons traffic is so bad in Brampton is that there are fewer jobs than there are workers. Citizens have to commute out of the city resulting in greater traffic congestion, a lower quality of life and less connection to their home. Through a policy known as Economic Gardening city economic development should invest resources in helping small businesses add small numbers of employees and entrepreneurs begin their businesses in the city rather than focusing on big commercial developments.

3.      More Accessible Government

The city should commit to clearer public notices. Items put in newspapers and on websites should not be cryptic and bland. Easy to understand and accessible language with sharp graphics should be used to invite the public to speak with their government. Open up city hall and make the process more transparent and less intimidating. Allow questions to city council to be submitted online.

As is clear, the mayor and council’s spending privileges needs to be examined and more stringently curtailed. The public expects politicians who are responsible. Spending should be made publicly available on the city website. Public meetings should rotate on the schedule to offer citizens a chance to see council in person.

4.      More and Diverse Housing

Brampton is great if you’re looking for a detached home, but if you cannot afford it, or looking for something else the options are limited. The city should legalize and regulate basement apartments to provide an affordable option and allow families to start private businesses that reduce the cost of their homes. A database should be set up to let renters know of legal, regulated apartments where complaints and known issues can be filed.

5.      Reform City Elections

Ask the Ontario government to allow instant run-off ballots to be used in all future city elections, as the Toronto City Council has asked. This encourages more candidates, more positive campaigns and ensures that consensus candidates with mandates from the public win.

6.      Human and Mass Transit

Brampton cannot afford to cut service to Brampton Transit or Züm. Service should continue to expand to meet the needs of the city and offer an effective alternative to the car. The popularity of Züm, along with transit experts, suggests that frequency of service is more important than speed of service. Brampton Transit is a critical part of the city and should reliably deliver high quality service. Improved transit reduces traffic and links people to employment.

Safe, well-maintained bicycle lanes should exist along all major corridors in Brampton offering a healthy form of human-scale transit in the city. In addition neighbourhoods and new developments should work to create walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods from now on.

7.      Hurontario LRT

The Hurontario LRT should be built as Metrolinx has proposed with extensive public consultation. The Main Street-Hurontario corridor is one of the most traffic heavy highways in the province. The LRT will link residential to business, commercial, retail, entertainment and other transportation nodes. This late in the process is not the time to object. As Toronto has time and time again demonstrated indecision wastes precious time and only results in a worse backlog and lower quality of life for citizens. A tremendous business opportunity will exist for development along the LRT.

This is far from a perfect platform, but I think all told this represents a set of ideas that if implemented would make my hometown of Brampton, Ontario an even better place to live. I hope candidates in this fall's election stand up for these ideas and at least a couple of them win. 

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