Friday, April 13, 2018

Halifax Versus The Greeting Card Lady


The story of how the city of Halifax almost shut down a home-based, online,  Greeting Card Making shop can be found on the Home Grown Works blog.  Just wanted to make sure that followers of this blog did not miss this story.  Click HERE to read the story.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Is Lunenburg Council Looking Away?



Lunenburg’s new, young, energetic, progressive, educated and very qualified Deputy CAO quit after only a few months on the job.
So sad.  I really liked her.
A number of years ago we had a really great town planner.  She left. So sad.  She was such a helpful person.
A few years back, a young man moved to town with his wife and young daughters to become our new heritage officer.  They bought a house here, made friends and connections and after a very short time, he left his position, they sold their house and moved away.  So sad.  I really loved that family.
I don’t know what is happening at Lunenburg Town Hall.   I’m not there and it’s not my job to know.  It is, however, the job of Lunenburg council to know.
It’s so easy to not know. It’s so easy to look away.   The news has been filled with sad stories and the many people who enabled these experiences by looking away.  Have there been any exit interviews conducted?  If not, then Lunenburg council is looking away. Just like all the other people in the world who have looked away.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Every Municipal Politician Should Read This


Bridgewater, Nova Scotia had a problem. A big problem.  A pipe at their sewage treatment plant broke, sending horrific amounts of human waste into the Lahave River. People were upset and took to social media to express their outrage.  That's not a bad thing, but angry citizens freely expressing themselves on Facebook is not exactly the safest zone for local politicians to enter. Most councillors or mayors just stay out of it.  Very understandable, but also kind of sad because, when used properly, social media has the potential to be a great tool for direct communication between elected representatives and their constituents.

I'm sharing this Facebook message from Bridgewater's mayor, David Mitchell, because this is what great direct communication looks like.  He doesn't belittle citizens for their passionate posts.  He doesn't try to spin the message to be prettier than it is.  He simply informs, tries to promote understanding and asks people to do better.  The bar has been raised in Bridgewater.

Here's his message:

UPDATE: The repair is complete.
The crews worked to repair what was an infrastructure failure into Pumping Station Four on South King Street. First, I would like to thank our staff and council for being open, proactive and transparent with the public. The CAO and I spent a lot of time with local and provincial media and on Facebook explaining the situation and the course of action required for the fix. It is important to us, good news or bad that you know what’s happening. It’s important to me that you are not disconnected from your town.
As I’ve stated here before, this was a broken pipe. These things do happen whether pipes are new or old. We replace our older infrastructure as much as we can, recognizing that we must do so within our financial means. To put things into perspective, two years ago we replaced all the older pipes under the section of King St just south of the old bridge. That cost millions of dollars (without the park) and was less than a kilometer in length. We have over seventy kilometers of piping under our streets so this is not a short term problem. This is the reality every single town across Canada faces. Our country has an infrastructure deficit that we are all trying to catch up with. It will take time and money, both of which are in limited supply.
When failures like this happen, it’s not as simple as turning off a tap or plugging a pipe. Doing so would’ve backed wastewater up into every home on the West side of the river and then we’d have another kind of environmental disaster on our hands! Projects like this take time to literally engineer a safe and lasting solution. It does us no good to cut corners in the fix, only to have something break again and again. We must also ensure the people working on the fix are safe.
It’s easy, especially on social media to point fingers, yell and scream without the facts but it’s certainly not helpful or productive and in this case, changed neither our course of action nor the outcome. I have travelled around Nova Scotia and to municipalities across Canada and I can say with a great deal of confidence and pride, that the Town of Bridgewater has some of the best staff…period. We aren’t perfect, nobody is but these men and women work day and night to keep things running as smoothly as possible.
Since the 2016 election, I have worked hard to change the way we see ourselves in Bridgewater. I want us to take more pride in our community. We have a lot to be proud of. We’re not perfect but we all have a role to play in making Bridgewater better. For myself, I am on virtually every social media platform available. My email and phone information is public and I am quite often found around town. I will always welcome your questions and suggestions and in fact, I encourage them. If I don’t have the answers I will endeavor to get the answers for you.
Things are going to go wrong from time to time, but we have the best people in place to do what it takes to fix them. I’m not asking you to like when things go wrong. What I’m asking is that we all be understanding that when they do, we work as hard as we can to be proactive, fix them and do our best to learn from them.
 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lunenburg Designates Historic Interrogation Zone



A few nights ago I woke up confused.  It felt like the middle of the night, but the light coming through the window was telling me that it must be time to get up.  I got out of bed and looked at the clock...2 am.
My first thought was that there must be a very bright full moon, but then I remembered that the full moon had already passed.  Snow plow? Emergency vehicle? I peeked out the window and noticed, for the first time, a street lamp directly across the street from my home.

No, this is not possible, I thought.  There is no way that the town could be proceeding with the installation of these high intensity, white LED lights after the council meeting of November 28th.  In the morning I called town hall and sure enough, the bulb had been replaced.  Ann, the town clerk, was very sympathetic and told me that she would put in a requisition for a shade.  We'll come back to that shade thing later.

On November 28th, a local resident who was concerned about Lunenburg's plan to install this harsh, bright lighting in the historic district of town gave a very in depth and well researched presentation to council.
She acknowledged that the province has mandated the switch over to LED lights, but wanted to point out that we have the option of choosing the healthier and more historically appropriate soft lighting.  She spoke, at length, about all the known hazards of the harsher lights and begged council to press pause and think about the look they are creating in a national historic town.

In 2016, the American Medical Association issued an official policy statement on the dangers of high intensity LED Lights.  Some of the issues include, reduced visiblilty decreasing driver safety, retina damage and suppressed melatonin.  It is estimated that LED lights have a five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps.  They are detrimental to the health of birds, bats and turtles and they reduce the ability to see the night sky.  They are also just plain ugly. That last item is not in the AMA's report. A recent Harvard study also connects higher breast cancer rates in areas with higher light levels at night.

It is recommended that communities choose LED lights that limit the amount of blue light.  The lighting should have a colour temperature  rating that does not exceed 3000.  The bulbs Lunenburg is using have a colour temperature rating between 4000-5000 kelvin.

So, Lunenburg council heard this presentation and everyone smiled politely. Thank you for your research, thank you for being a concerned citizen .  We will safely file your report in  file 13 (AKA the trash can in our CAO's office). What became evident at that council meeting was that the lights had already been purchased.  It all comes down to fiscal responsibility, right?  Lunenburg has decided that being financially prudent is more important than the health and safety of its residents.


I know, I know....such statements are no way to change hearts and minds, but you try playing nice after a week of a high beam shining through your window at night.  I'm tired and cranky and very resentful that a decision that is detrimental to our well being has been made on our behalf in the name of saving a few bucks.


Let me take a brief moment to address the town's response before they have made it.  The shields.  Yes, there are shields which can help to minimize the glare.  That is all they do.  They don't minimize the health effects or the harsh light.  It was interesting that when I called the town, a requisition was put in for a shield.  These lights should never be installed without a shield.  I guess this is another money saving strategy.  Only residents who ask for one will get one. 


But I'm not quite done.  Although I am plenty outraged by the health and safety impacts of these high intensity lamps, there's a whole other issue here. This high intensity white light is not appropriate for a residential neighbourhood, let alone a Unesco Heritage neighbourhood.

Our land use bylaw is chock full of rules to ensure that a reasonable level of peace and tranquility is maintained in a residential zone.

Take this rule, for example, that pertains to Home Based Businesses (second one down):


 h) the use shall not emit noise, odour, dust, light, or radiation that would be a nuisance or is uncustomary in a residential neighbourhood.

or this one:

 Why do we have these rules?  Because when people choose to live in an exclusively residential zone, there is a reasonable expectation that they will not have to experience the noise, light or odour that is to be expected in a commercial or industrial zone.  That's why we have zoning.  Oh, no, here we go again....

Lunenburg has just installed lighting that might be appropriate on highway 103... in the residential zone.

Can you tell I'm upset?  But it's not just me.  Several of my neighbours are also irate and it turns out that a group of residents in Monterey, California just successfully sued their government for the very same issue.

I know it's probably difficult for most residents of Lunenburg to match my level of outrage.  That's because this change is happening very slowly and very sporadically.  One light here, one light there.  It's hard to feel upset about a problem that isn't impacting you.  If you want to get a feel for the situation, ask a friend or loved one to shine their high beams in your bedroom window at night. Or better yet, come take an evening stroll on my block, Lawrence st. between Duke and King and check out the ambience for yourself.  Make sure to bring your passport and don't be surprised if you hear, "Price Check on aisle five." coming from a loud speaker.

Monday, January 1, 2018

I Put down the knitting needles and learn to be an effective citizen.



I'm happy to report that for the first time in ten years I stayed awake to usher in the new year.  O.K. I was horizontal on my sofa, with a book in hand, when the fireworks went off, but I was still awake.

I have been slowly reading Graham Steele's new book, The Effective Citizen.  Not that there's anything slow about it.  It's really quite entertaining, insightful and fast paced, but these days I just can't seem to stop knitting long enough to get through a chapter of anything.  Last night I put down the the knitting needles, dove into the pages and had an epiphany.

You see, I have this little Nova Scotia home based business association called Homegrown Works.  We've got a board of officers, we have a website, we have a mission and we have a pathetically small  handful of members.  That last item on my list has been a bit demoralizing for me.  I really have had a hard time understanding how to get people on board with what has seemed to me like the easiest cause to support.

The journey through my brain has looked something like this:

1- Yay, we got this association organized, sent out a press release and now we'll just sit back and wait for the hoards of new members to sign on.

2-...waiting....hmmm, maybe I'll push this thing on Facebook a bit...I write long winded posts, get one new member.

3-Ohhhh, people are afraid that this will be contentious.  O.K. I'll do some interviews of home-based businesses and people will immediately understand the potential of this association.  Spend full days interviewing and writing...people near and far read the features.....we get two new members.

4- I go through a less than gracious thought process where I consider why the hell I should work my ass off if nobody gives a damn. I've got a business to run.  I'm personally happy.  Screw you all, I'm going to make hats.


5- My conviction that it's not enough to just be an individual, but that we also need to be citizens working for the common good keeps coming back to haunt me like the Ghost of Christmas Past. I am resolved that I need to find a way to move this association forward and get people on board.

Which brings me back to the book.  I read two things last night during my wild one woman party.  The first was a line about how hard it is to get people behind a cause.  Somehow, understanding that this phenomena is an actual thing made me feel better. The second thing I read that jumped out at me was a warning to not Bullshit politicians and try to say that you are representing a large group of people when you are not.
How did Graham know that I was going to do that?

Really, that was sort of my latest plan.  I thought to myself, heck, I've got a board of directors and an association with a web site.  Does government really need to know that we only have a pathetically small handful of members?  Maybe my big mouth will be enough.  But when I read Graham's words I understood that it was not enough.

You see, up until last night I was looking at membership numbers and what we wish to accomplish as two separate entities.  But they are not.  Reaching out to people to sign on to our association is also an opportunity to share our vision for the future and the steps we need to take to get there.  If we want to talk for Nova Scotians, first we need to talk to Nova Scotians.  Not on social media, but face to face.

So, I've got myself a new year's resolution and a new plan.  More about that later.  In the mean time, I can't recommend Graham Steele's book enough.  Head on over to your local book store and learn how to be an effective citizen.




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

I Don't Want to Grow My Business!!! (and I still matter)



Support growth, support growth, support growth. We must support growth... We sure do hear a lot of that in Nova Scotia.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing but the best of wishes for any business that wants to get bigger, but I think this incessant growth mantra just might be drowning out the heart of our communities. 

I make hats out of a room in my house.  I work alone.  Yes, I have hired people in the past and I have enjoyed each and every one of them, but I have finally come to terms with the fact that I like to work alone.  Just me and the dog and the radio.

According to every level of government I am valueless.  We measure value in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and that stuff can only be found in trace amounts in my business.  But value really shouldn't be reduced to three boring little  letters and unless we start expanding the definition of the word, we are destined to smother what makes this province truly special...small, independent and creative businesses.


When people come to visit Nova Scotia they come to visit our small shops, services,  restaurants and our artists (and our beautiful nature, of course).  These little businesses are what makes us unique. They give colour and personality to our communities.

I love living in Lunenburg because I can walk down the street to buy wool and obsess about my next project with the owners.  I love living in Lunenburg because our two locally owned book shops host readings and events.  I love living in Lunenburg  because we have many great little restaurants and coffee shops and in every one of these little businesses is a familiar face and a conversation waiting to happen.  These little  exchanges don't happen at Ikea or Walmart or at a convention Centre.  Those places might have GDP, but they don't have heart.  We need to start measuring the value of a business in what it brings to a community.  And if these little businesses on the Main streets and side streets of Nova Scotia have value to us then we had better start protecting them....with policies.

We can start with commercial taxes.  If the owner of a  heritage building on the main street that houses a small clothing boutique is paying the same high tax rate as the Nationally owned grocery store or airplane parts manufacturer  then we are not valuing our small businesses.

If one woman, who makes hats from her home, far from any foot traffic, is paying the same tax rate as a shop on the main street then we are not valuing our artists.  We are also not valuing our Main streets if investing in the restoration of a heritage building will cause the tax assesment to sky rocket. This cost gets passed on to the renter and often pushes the business out of town.  We need property tax rates for different levels of business.  We need rent controls for commercial businesses.  We need to be rewarding heritage restoration with tax credits not punishing it with outrageous tax assessments.

We need to value our main streets.  They are the heart of our province and they are the heart of our communities.  You can't put a price on that, but you can price them out of existence.





Friday, October 6, 2017

An Assault on Common Sense



There was a nasty incident down on the waterfront between the mayor and Bill Flower.  Today's Chronicle Herald reports on the mayor's charge of assault and Bill's response.

Most Lunenburg residents have heard some version of the events, but really they can be summed up as follows:  The mayor lost her shit on Bill Flower and Bill Flower lost his shit back on the mayor and nobody was physically hurt.  End of story. (sort of)

Around two years ago the mayor lost her shit on me.  That's all you need to know.  I was not physically hurt. Apparently the legal system defines assault as any unwanted physical contact.  Fine.  Lawyers love to make money. I knew, in my mind, that regardless of what the legal system called it, what happened that day was not assault.  What happened that day was the mayor lost her shit on me. She apologized. (sort of)

I knew that to go down that ridiculous road of calling losing one's shit as assault would take away from the issue I wanted to solve.  Instead of fixing a problem I would wreck my life, the mayor's life, all my energy would be drained and nothing good could  come of such an action.

But there is a real problem here and one that does need to be addressed.  The mayor often loses her shit.  She lost her shit on me because she wanted to control the conversation and she could not.  She lost her shit on Farley Blackman because she wanted to control the conversation and could not.  She lost her shit on Bill Flower because she wanted to control the conversation and could not.  Controlling the conversation is undemocratic and only leads to escalation.  I'm hoping the Town of Lunenburg will one day learn this lesson.

I, more that anybody, can not tell the Mayor what to do, but I'm hoping that someone who is close to her can.  I'm hoping that someone will ask her to please drop the assault charges.  Nobody wins in a court battle except the lawyers.  I know the mayor loves Lunenburg as does Bill Flower, as do I.  A court battle will only drag Lunenburg further into the mud.

If, as a community, we want to grow and solve problems then we need to learn to let the conversation happen.  Instead of attacking those who are speaking up, try getting them on board.  People who will not stay quiet are not the enemy, they are your strongest assets.

I wish for nothing but peace for this beautiful little town that has so much to offer.  Happy Thanksgiving and may that legalization of marijuana come sooner rather than later.