by John Barclay
In my 33-year career of producing video with, and for, non-profits, foundations, and many levels of government, I never created anything worthwhile without patience, persistence, and a great team of collaborators. Whether it’s a 30-second Public Service Announcement, or an hour-long TV arts special, the challenge was always the same – how to overcome the myriad obstacles and complications invariably placed in your way. Replacing the gazebo in Maplewood Park last year was no different, at times it just seemed impossible to do.
Faithful readers will dimly recall the two-year struggle by the Oxford Mills Community Association (OMCA) to 1) get Council to re-instate the budget that was set aside to replace what was an iconic focal point of the park; 2) get Council to contribute part of the replacement costs; 3) get staff to provide specifications for gazebos on Municipal property; 4) get Council to conditionally grant permission to the OMCA to construct a gazebo using their own funds; and 5) get the Building Department to approve the project design and construction drawings. Then there was the task of raising the $11,000 it took to design, build and install the structure.
I’d like to write about the lessons that I hope have been learned. That a beautiful, well built, accessible gazebo is now situated in Maplewood Park is a testament to the kind of collaboration that is possible between the citizens of North Grenville and the Municipality. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of it in the future, but only if a culture of cooperation and collaboration can be fostered.
Too often, in a fast growing community like ours, residents, Municipal staff, and Council are at loggerheads. Expectations outstrip resources available. Public service positions demand more and more skills and capabilities. The situation creates the perfect storm for frustration, suspicion and mistrust. Staff and Council develop a siege mentality, while the general public becomes cynical and all too often, apathetic.
It doesn’t have to be that way, and I believe it has to start with a change of attitude, led first by the residents of this community. They have to recognize that there will be obstacles in the way of getting what they want from Municipal government; but they should not let it deter them. They should be persistent and, here’s the hard part, patient. Staff and Council are far from perfect; most of them are trying to do their best, and some of them, unfortunately, are over-whelmed by the growing demands of their job.
There is a general lack of understanding by residents about how the Municipality works. Managing a Municipality is very complicated, and people are too busy living their lives to pay much attention. When they do have a reason to interact with the Municipality, they often feel crushed by the rules and regulations; wrapped up in the dreaded “red tape”. It’s incumbent, therefore, for both Municipality Council and staff to raise awareness of the regulatory environment they have to operate in and to clearly explain the process involved in doing almost anything in North Grenville.
It’s a difficult, but necessary, task for staff to put themselves in the public’s shoes and imagine what it’s like “not to know what you know”. They have to be ever-diligent to find ways to simplify, clarify and effectively communicate to the public the process that leads to accomplishing whatever task is at hand.
For the general public, it’s also important to remember to be assertive, but not aggressive, when obstacles appear, as they always will. Again, persistence and patience is the way to achieve your goals, no matter how complicated and outrageous they may appear at first glance. Don’t underestimate the power of public support either. Mobilize your neighbours. It’s amazing what can happen when a diverse group of people unite behind a common goal, things really start to move. A “can do” attitude and a willingness to martial often untapped resources: this is the power of community. This is how the gazebo in Maplewood Park was built.