Letter: Info gathering on Cedar Ave Park allows for pro-city bias only
To the editor:
Cedar Avenue Park, now arbitrarily renamed Pandosy Waterfront, even though Pandosy is one city street away from the waterfront, is the focus of much discussion locally. Land that was purchased over many years with the intention of creating a new park in the South Pandosy District, is now under threat by those who believe that this should not be park for all the citizens of Kelowna, already paid for by all Kelowna taxpayers, but rather an area of mixed development with a public walkway through this land. The land in question is located in a cosy cove, teeming with wildlife, and offers many possibilities within the parkland concept.
City Hall is currently engaged in a process to gather information regarding what Kelowna citizens want, but the process is clearly flawed. Their main tool for information is Mindmixer, a social media research tool, where one is invited to start a “conversation” or “share ideas” with others. After several attempts, I finally grasped what the public is supposed to do. Mindmixer, as it is used by our City Hall, is not for the faint-hearted, at least not for those who like to disagree in a “conversation”. When presented with a photo, the options are “Love it!”, “Like it”, “It’s OK!” or "I’m “Neutral”, but nowhere does it offer the option of "I “Dislike it”. When I queried City Hall as to the rationale behind no negative option for a response, I was told that “the platform does not provide a ‘don’t like’ option for the ideas.” How then was I able to find that other communities who had used Mindmixer were able to offer “Not Appropriate” as an acceptable response? Similarly, a cursory trawl of the internet indicates that whilst some cities use the soft photos/ questions/ ideas that Kelowna does, some of those cities, for example, Orlando, included tick boxes so that the city could clearly gauge public perception on a given project. Correspondence to me indicated that City Hall had decided not to include that option. Why not?
Furthermore, Mindmixer is meant to generate qualitative information (touchy feely stuff, in my words) and not quantitative data (hard numbers).What was City Hall afraid of? That the results would reflect something quite different from what they wanted to hear?
I have been told that these responses will serve as the basis of discussion for the charrette, a two-day workshop with stakeholder groups represented, the goal of which is to come up with a consensus as to how to move the project forward. As someone who studied market research and used these methods to make decisions, I would suggest that the methods used by City Hall to determine the wishes of its citizens are flawed. I would also suggest that the sample used for their information gathering is flawed. If City Hall is actually planning on using the results of Mindmixer, they will not hear from those without a computer, those who are not tech savvy, and those who are not prepared to give their name, birth year, email address and postal code. I note that whilst many people have viewed Mindmixer, an insignificant proportion have actually joined the “conversation.” And that is not because people do not care. People have contacted City Hall, expressing their frustrations with Mindmix, but there have been no alterations to the chosen “conversation” tool.
Is it too much to ask City Hall to gather unbiased data before making an irreversible decision on this historically important and sensitive community land? I also question the indecent haste in which this whole information gathering and decision making is being done. City Hall has had almost three years to move on this, yet beyond allowing temporary use of one property for the Paddling Club for a nominal fee, and the placement of rip rock along the water’s edge, completely ruining the beachfront in the process, I am not aware of any communication with the public at large regarding this potential gem of a park. If I were to wish to punch something through with the minimum of consultation, I would do exactly what City Hall has done. First, they changed the name from Cedar Avenue Park to Pandosy Waterfront, taking the “park” out of its name and replacing it with the name of a funky area with interesting "commercial" developments, but one not near the waterfront.
Second, City Hall provided minimum notification regarding the future of Cedar Avenue Park. A few journalists picked up the story, but there was no active attempt to engage the public such as there has been recently with the proposed new RCMP building.
Third, a decision was made to use Mindmixer instead of a straightforward market research questionnaire.
Fourth, the timing is tight and takes place at a sub-optimal time of year for residents. The timing from the first publication in local newspapers regarding Cedar Avenue Park to the closing of comments on Mindmixer is barely a month, and in a month when many of the sort of people who are normally engaged with local issues, are on holiday.
Fifth, a charrette was organized for Feb. 25 and 26, with an Open House on the 27th, again when many people, including our Mayor, are away. The public is allowed to participate in the charrette by attending sessions on the aforementioned mid-week evenings only. This promises to exclude those seniors who do not like driving at night, families with young children, and anyone who works evenings. Would it have been so difficult to have an Open House on a weekend, or would that generated too much interest in the project by the public?
The selection of stakeholder groups invited to participate in the charrette is also curious. Whilst the money used to purchase the parkland came from taxes collected from all Kelowna taxpayers, not all Residents’ Associations are represented. Only four seats out of approximately 30 are earmarked for all residents of Kelowna at large, yet the Paddling Club, which only located to the park on a temporary basis nine months ago, has managed to secure three seats.
Following the results of the charrette, the public is allowed to provide input on the conclusion arrived at by the charrette for eight days only. Why the rush? Could it be that holiday makers will be returning in March and may then wish to become involved? Or is it that the more time the citizens of Kelowna are given to dwell on the possible loss of waterfront parkland, a once in a lifetime occurrence involving the last available waterfront land in Kelowna, earmarked for parkland and paid for with park funds years ago, the more people will rally to the defence of a park. This is not City Hall’s intention at all!
Finally, our mayor and council are elected to represent us and it does not reflect well on them when the public feels betrayed by the process and timing of this project.