All that appears to be progress may not be progreess at all
A simple definition of “progress” is a “movement to an improved or more developed state, or to a forward position” (Cambridge English Dictionary). The Merriam-Webster dictionary adds, “the process of improving or developing something over a period of time.” Another dictionary states, “a movement toward a goal or to a further or higher stage” (dictionary.com). I bring up “progress” for a good reason.
I make a proposition that “all progress is not actual progress.” I can state my case clearly, by simply stating that in our democratic societies, we see all kinds of actions attempted in the “name of progress” which in fact are totally relative, and totally subjective, and in the end these actions are the work and byproduct of supposed visionaries we have entrusted to act on our behalf.
The poor legacy of the RIM Park fiasco
I have a few examples in order to illustrate the point. The infamous RIM Park Fiasco from 2001. In a 2003 Inquiry report, and a review ten years after this report in 2013, it was reported that the City of Waterloo was on the hook for more than $96 million to pay off the project. Voters had their say in the election of 2003, and they removed the entire council and the mayor of the day, Lynn Woolstencroft from office. But the city was still left with a massive debt after settlements were made, and that debt was 145.7 million dollars. The City of Waterloo went after MFP Financial Services who partnered with the city to finance the project. The city had expected to spend $112.9 million over a 30 year span. Instead the debt rose to $227.7 million over 30 years at an interest rate of 9.2 percent. The city sued MFP who had brokered the deal, and had to settle for an out of court settlement that reduced the city’s debt to $145.7 million. When the previous city administration was replaced by Mayor Herb Epp, the city attempted to recover more money through litigation against former employees and MFP, but the city eventually had to settle for about $3 million in 2012 after spending $5.6 million on legal fees. The financial fall out will continue to plague the City of Waterloo until 2031, and as of the end of 2015, there was still a debt of $86 million left to pay on the RIM Park tab. Each month, until 2031, the city will pay more than $400,000 in RIM Park debt. The monthly cost peaks in 2031 at $647,442.29 according to the payment schedule.
This was supposed to be an “era of progress.” It wasn’t at all, and ten years later, even after the inquiry of 2003, where Justice Ronald Sills had made recommendations, there were still, in 2013 recommendations that had not been acted on to prevent a fiasco like this happening again. I do not call that “progress.” Do you?
Another case in point for “progress” in the City of Waterloo, is the Waterloo Town Square development that too place over the last five years. To me, my personal take is that the “Waterloo Uptown” is an ugly eyesore instead of a public “green space.” The promised public green space is nowhere to be found. Instead we have a slab of concrete with a whacked rusted out piece of “art” and the city paid $2.5 million for this “public space.” Even worse, the Waterloo Public Square has been recognized as one of the top 100 public spaces in the United States and Canada. It was ranked 13 out of 100 best public spaces, and is the top rated public space in Canada. My question is why? And who decided this? What is the criteria for measuring what is to me a very biased and highly subjective opinion as to what is a “top rated public space?”
When the Waterloo Town Square was being redeveloped, not only were parking spaces taken away (over 100), but the promised green space was replaced by concrete. Here is my own biased opinion – I bloody hate concrete! So I rarely visit Uptown Waterloo. I do my bus transfers in front of Waterloo Town Square. I don’t frequent the stores much. I don’t hang out in this public space. I don’t like the vibe of it, any more than the feel of it. Now they are adding another office complex off Caroline Street, where the new LRT rapid transit stop will be, that will feature retail stores and two floors of upscale office space. This will again cost over 100 parking spaces in the middle of the city centre of Waterloo. All this in the name of “progress.”
Progress is a relative term defined by the money and power brokers
To be sure, “progress” is really a relative term here. When you consider again the definition I mentioned you see that those who are advocates of progress are the ones who believe the changes they are ushering in are good and beneficial. That can be argued that is only good and beneficial for those who tend to profit from the new “progress” being acted on. These actions do not take place in a vacuum, and people are affected by these decisions.
When it comes to Uptown Waterloo, the LRT development as well as the ongoing Waterloo Town Square development, all the residential areas around and about it are affected by the decisions being made by the City of Waterloo, business investors and developers and the banks. The people who are actually living here and having to commute and move around the town core, they are the ones that really have to live with the decisions being made.
The nightmare off University Avenue
Another example of our fine City of Waterloo and its decisions when it comes to “urban development” is what has evolved, if we dare to embarrass the proponents of the theory of evolution, the monstrosity of urban dwellings around the streets off University Avenue, King Street, and Columbia Street, all the way to Albert Street. All the beautiful residential streets have all been affected by the glut of high rise buildings for student housing for the two universities, and the residents who live here and work here have had their property values affected as well as their way of life affected by this half-cocked approach to urban development. The arguments have been made over and over, with more than abundant proof provided, that the students who rent homes, or condos, by and large are convenient temporary renters. A lot of these same students abuse the property they rent, and abuse the citizens of the city by their rowdy behavior and wild parties. The City of Waterloo, the Waterloo Regional Police, and the University of Waterloo and Wilfred Laurier University have all tried to work together to resolve residential issues that have caused nothing but grief and tension between citizens and students. This has not been very “progressive” and it is still and ongoing point of contention between residents and the City of Waterloo.
The ones that are winning this ongoing conflict are the lawyers and heavy handed developers
When you look across the Waterloo skyline you see the array of all these multiplex buildings and high rises that are populating all the way from King Street to Columbia Street, and then all the way down University Avenue to University of Waterloo, to Erb Street, and down to the down town core again, right near Waterloo Park. The multiple high rises are popping up everywhere, destroying our sky line and squandering our green spaces. When you are in the middle of Waterloo Park, you see these four eye sores of high rises and it totally obliterates the view and the greenery of the park.
When you come to my end of Erb Street and the Boardwalk area of Waterloo you see again the effects in the suburbs of the City of Waterloo and its “visionary team” of urban planners. When it came to building the Boardwalk, I was one of those people that said the road needed to be four lanes wide, not two, and that we should invest in the road, because in less than five years, we would have traffic grinding to a standstill. Here we are three years in, and they are talking about the need to expand the lanes of the Boardwalk, the Ira Needles Parkway, and the respective roundabouts. Why was this not done when it was first designed and built? Not very visionary or progressive here, is it? More of a tax burden on the tax payers as we expand the roads again.
Right beside my regular bus stop for going to work, this area used to have a protected area, with water and vegetation for Canada Geese and ducks who would come there during the spring and summer months. This past fall, that area got gated and cut off, and during the winter, they started to build another high rise condo development that is just adjacent to the recently build retirement community condos building. This thing is a monstrous looking eye sore, which dominates the elevated skyline. I can see this thing from my own crescent as it dominates the neighborhood. So much for a lovely looking skyline and neighborhood. Now this ugly thing stands dauntingly overlooking the plaza across the street, the roundabout, the Boston Pizza. All the other buildings are less than three stories high and blend in, this is so dominating that it ruins the neighborhood. Way to go City of Waterloo! Way to go!
The only winners of the ongoing development of the Boardwalk and Ira Needles Parkway, are the developers, the banks, and all the money being generated for all the land deals at the expense of our green space. Those of us who live here, we have no power and no influence as to what goes on.
I lament the loss of influence that citizens have on the municipal governments they elect. Between the bureaucracy and the elected representatives, and the influence of business and development agencies, the ordinary citizen has very little in their arsenal to stand against the tide of supposed “progress.” You see this in the latest issue facing the citizens of Waterloo.
In a recent opinion piece by Louise D’Amato, she opined with her very biased progressive views about the neighborhood that was objecting to a Muslim prayer centre being established in that neighborhood. A personal note to Ms. D’Amato whose platitudes about the attitudes of the citizens in the neighborhood and their lack of enthusiasm for Muslim prayer centre in their area was somehow the wrong attitude to have. She went on to presume the worst of the citizens and their possible bias against Muslims, and dismissing them out of hand, tagging on that if it was a Christian church, there would not be this furor by the concerned citizens.
I beg to differ with Miss D’Amato. Even if it was a church being built in my neighborhood, and I am a Christian, and a regular church goer, I may indeed object to the kind and size of church coming into my neighborhood, and I have every right to object as a citizen living in a democratic society. And this IS the point of this blog post.
The power of citizens to choose in a democracy
In a democratic society where citizens can be and should be engaged in the political, social and urban development of their communities, citizens and their right to be not only heard, but listened to, and to be able to legally challenge, and even stop, what to others would appear to be “progress,” is indeed a right and it has to be defended. Just because people have money, power and influence and the backing of the majority, it does not give either the legal authority or the moral authority to ram through whatever damned thing they want to ram through and get done.
In our society where we embrace multi-culturalism and diversity, and we cherish what we call tolerance, it is often the most politically correct and champions of “tolerance” that are the most insulting and intolerant people. Tolerance cuts both ways. For all of us to be tolerant means we must work hard to understand the other person and their views and opinions.
In the case of the Muslim community wanting to establish a prayer centre, that is all well and good, but there needs to be meaningful engagement by this Muslim community, especially in light of life after 911, and all the radicalization of Muslims that have taken place in mosques and prayer centres in other parts of Canada and the world. The issues raised by the residents on Erbsville Road, have nothing to do with the Muslim faith or Muslim people, but rather on the practical impact of a major building in an already busy part of Waterloo, and the impact it would have the kind of quiet life they have come used to experiencing and enjoying in their residential area.
Yes, for those who may object on other grounds, such as the Muslim faith, there are issues to be sure, especially when the Muslim faith has been radicalized by fundamentalists. There are suspicions and concerns and for good reason, and for the citizens of the Waterloo neighborhood to be at odds with the establishment of a prayer centre is a natural consequence from living in out day and current context. Over the last few years we have heard over and over, the concern of governments in western democracies about the lack of engagement from the Muslim communities to engage with larger society and to educate and oversee the development of their community with an eye of belonging and being a part of the mosaic of what it is to be part of a pluralistic society.
So forgive me, but I side with the citizens, and not the City of Waterloo, or the reporters of the Record, or the Muslim community. The onus of engagement and education, and winning the hearts and minds of the people, is on the Muslim community. They need to ease the fears of citizens, and they need to make and win friends. I would feel exactly the same way if it was a Christian church. I would want to know a whole lot more about the church and its beliefs and practices and how their ministry and their activities would impact my neighborhood. I would have the same concerns about how large the building is, and its parking arrangements, as well as the traffic on the roads being affected by the new church. Why wouldn’t I be?
The wider community is also responsible to engage and get to know the Muslim community and see that they understand the beauty of Islam and the diverse cultures and ethnic communities that comprise the Muslim community in Waterloo and in our region.
Telling people off for voicing concerns they have for this prayer centre is not conducive to dialogue and understanding. All the concerns raised thus far by the residents have nothing to do with objections to Islam or the Muslim faith, or Muslim people. Their objections have to do with the impact of such a building in disrupting the quietness of their neighborhood and the quiet life they are used to, the problem of increased parking and traffic on an already busy area of the neighborhood, and all these related issues. Besides, as Ms. D’Amato should know, it isn’t her neighborhood we are talking about here, and it doesn’t affect her, and it doesn’t potentially change the face of her neighborhood. Ms. D’Amato’s type of “tolerance” is not tolerance at all, as she does not tolerate voices of dissent who don’t want their neighborhood changed. The City of Waterloo should be paying more attention to the desires of its citizens and neighborhoods rather than just proceeding ahead with developments that fundamentally change the face, texture, and feel of entire neighborhoods by adding more buildings, more roads, more traffic and congestion in the name of supposed “progress.”
Just because you think something is progressive and visionary doesn’t make it so. That is presumption.
Just because something is seen to be visionary, and necessary change, for the ongoing development of a community, it does not classify it to be “progress.” Progress should have contained within its parameters the maximum good for all concerned, especially in the urban area affected the most. The citizens that live there, pay their taxes, and work in the city, and have invested their lives, and the lives of their children in this community, they are the ones that should have the most to say about not only what goes on in their community, but who actually moves into the community, be it a business, a charity, a religious or educational organization. It is the citizens of that neighborhood that should decide, and not just the damned politicians, and financial power brokers.
~ Samuel Buick