We are fast approaching the Peterborough municipal election, which occurs on October 22. An election is not just a changing of the guard in leadership. It is also an ideal time to start a conversation about the kind of city, and the kind of future, we want to build. There are many challenges facing this city right now, many ideas about directions the city could go, and many opportunities to build towards those futures.
Recently, we have been speaking to local community organizers, thought-leaders, advocates, activists, and citizens about their visions for the Future of Peterborough. We will be publishing these interviews over the next weeks and months, and encouraging you, our readers and the citizens of Peterborough, to have your say.
John Martyn was born and raised in Peterborough. He moved away and then returned in the early sixties to establish his career and family. He currently serves as vice-president of both The Mount Community Centre and the Peterborough Poverty Reduction Network. He also chairs the Housing Advisory Committee. Housing, inclusion, and poverty were themes of our very interesting conversation about the future of Peterborough.
John lives in Peterborough with his wife Nora. They have two sons and four grandchildren.
When you consider the issues and possibilities presenting in Peterborough, what is most important to you?
Whether it is because of the changing demographic in the community, or the wonderful quiet environment in which we live, I have a sense there are a lot of folk that are very, very complacent in the face of some very critical issues.
The first that comes to mind is access to housing that is affordable within the income levels an increasing number of people have. I am putting it that way because I don’t want to get trapped into talking about affordable housing. The overall cost of housing in the city is growing beyond the reach of an increasing number of households. Incomes have not kept pace with those costs and as a result that’s become quite serious. It is an income issue and an availability issue, availability in the sense that the kind of housing people can honestly afford within the incomes they have is not available.
The second issue is the increasing levels of poverty. By poverty I don’t necessarily mean just income.
For example, I have been involved and very active in some of the cultural life of the community, namely theatre, and I don’t think that we as a community fully appreciate just how rich a cultural environment we have available in all the arts.
People are very excited and enthusiastic about coming to some of the events, like the one this past weekend, but I don’t know that it extends out into the full array of cultural opportunities that are here in the community. So that would be a second one. (This is a form of poverty.)
Third one, I’ve been struggling to come up with the best way to describe it. The only word I can think of is, leadership. By leadership I don’t necessarily mean elected people. I don’t necessarily mean people in industry or business. I have a feeling that our community doesn’t have a clear sense of where it wants to go and what it could be. Because of that I don’t have a sense that there are individuals who are prepared to take the reins as it were and say, “this is the way I think we should go,” and as a result of saying that, have people lead with them.
One of the indications of that is that when an opportunity is given to do a survey or to attend a gathering, the number of the folk that either respond or come out to events, like the neighbourhood events council tried to have, are very poorly attended.
Those would be three.
What would you rather was happening?
Historically, Peterborough has over a long, long time a very rich cultural—I mean a culture of fine art as well in the popular sense of the word—history. For example, I’ve been a very active supporter of the Peterborough Theatre Guild and what I’ve noticed, and there could be all kinds of reasons for this, is that despite its hard efforts it doesn’t seem to have a lot success in getting the kind of audiences the quality of the productions should receive.
On the other hand, The Theatre on King just announced they are going to grow and open up to a wider audience. My guess is that the bulk of the folk supporting The Theatre on King would be younger folk. That ties into the way in which the cultural life could be served. There is a gap between an older population and younger one.
Good leadership would be doing everything it can to bridge the gap between those two demographic groups.
Another thing well worth thinking hard about is this whole area of transportation. I know Don Vassiliadis has tried to get things underway with the community bus idea. That is a good step.
I am not convinced that the system as it is currently working, that is, buses going to one central point and then branching out is meeting community needs. It seems to me that an interconnected system with smaller buses working from maybe from two to four different nodes might serve the community better and faster.
I am not suggesting we are expecting door-to-door buses, but it does seem to me smaller buses with more frequent stops working out of different nodes in the community might help.
The numbers are pretty clear, we are have an increasing number of folk who are home struck, home bound, and it is increasingly hard for people to get around.
Transportation would for sure be something that could help.
There were initiatives taken a couple of years ago towards developing more active neighbourhoods. I think of the neighbourhood where I live, and I’m sure there are other neighbourhoods like it, where neighbours don’t know each other very well.
In our case we are right beside a park and over the years I’ve watched the demographics in the neighbourhood change and for a while it was becoming quite exciting because neighbours were starting to pull folks together.
That seems to have gone by the wayside. Having said that I can take as much blame as anybody for not doing anything about that.
The development of more neighbourhood cohesiveness would be a great initiative. Again, it comes back to this broader cultural idea.
This newspaper, it is a great paper, vehicles like this, an organization like yours using the Peterborough Dialogues approach, and not necessarily that, could be a catalyst in bringing people together and using that as a way of stimulating discussion in smaller groups around the community over time.
What are you seeing that is happening already that you would like to see more of?
The word that comes to mind that comes to mind is, inclusiveness. I think we need to be instituting, building, and creating. It is not necessarily the municipal council that has to do it, although I think they can do more than they are doing, this encouraging or stimulating a sense of inclusiveness among the community.
The other area I’ve worked in for a long time and it concerns me a great deal is this question of poverty. This isn’t a matter just of income, it is a matter of inclusiveness and people feeling they belong, and it seems to me that one of the characteristics of people who for whatever reason are living on low income or having a hard time making ends meet are increasingly isolated from the broader community. One of the strengths of a strong community is that everyone feels welcome all the time.
Where can we look in the community to see where people are already having some success in bringing a greater sense of inclusion?
What we are trying to do at The Mount Community Centre is an attempt in that direction. There is an effort being made to engage more people and it has certainly become a very lively place during the evenings and the weekends.
I imagine two other places like that gathered around the community, and not just great barren ice-hockey halls, but places where people intermingle and enjoy themselves but also where they can work and play and live at the same time. That’s one reason I am really hoping council’s emphasis on inclusion and the notion of promoting secondary suites might catch hold. It has to be done very carefully, but those two initiatives would help bring sections of the community together, not just around the downtown.
It may be necessary for council to expand the boundaries of the downtown core where people could take advantage of some of the inclusionary policies that are possible.
For example, there is an increasingly aging demographic living in big houses with lots of empty rooms. If the policies on inclusion and secondary suites were developed carefully and with a lot of thought and consultation this could become a really important solution.
I just read of a community that has opened up discussions with the post-secondary institutions trying to matchmake students with seniors. It would have to be done very carefully with protocols and contracts, it all has to be carefully worked out.
When I was growing up my parents, to supplement their incomes, we had boarders. They became part of the family.
Those models take us back to another time but give us the basic idea of what could happen with a carefully thought out policy of inclusion and secondary suites.
What is your next step?
There is no question in my mind that housing is fundamental to community, to healthy living. It is certainly a solution to the serious poverty issues we are faced with. Developing good, safe, and sound housing people can afford is a critical issue. The two initiatives that council has introduced, the development of inclusionary zoning and the bylaws around secondary suites, will go a long way to solving some of the housing problems we have.
I would like to bring folks together in some sort of collaborative way, so developers are not at odds with builders, or planners, so the non-profit sector isn’t at odds with private sector, so that we recognize we are all in this together and it is for us to make the community the sort of community we want it to be.
Photo by Yvonne Hollandy.
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