The Northend Turnip: Election Edition

Below is my contribution to the Northend Turnip’s 2012 election edition, where they asked the eight candidates in district 5 to answer the question: “How would you define a vibrant community, and how could we attain this vision?”

I’ve written a lot on my website about what I think makes a vibrant community, and what I think council can do to achieve that vision. So I’d like to use this limited space to tell a story.

I run my business out of a shared office space in the former Chandler’s building on Dorchester St. I was at work one Saturday when I saw a couple of kids throwing rocks at the abandoned building across the street. I went over to talk to them. Seems they had just missed their bus by a few minutes, and had three hours to kill before they could catch the next bus home. With “no money and nothing to do anyway”, they were killing time by vandalizing an already derelict building. I asked what they and their friends normally did for fun, and the answer wasn’t any prettier.

So I asked them: “If you could turn that abandoned building into something cool, what would it be?” Simple: they wanted an arcade. Of course, it would take huge amounts of capital to renovate that particular building. I was just curious to see what ideas they would come up with. But what about one of the vacant store fronts on Charlotte Street, or behind the Civic Centre along the boardwalk?

We talked about the more realistic possibility of turning one of those into a drop-in youth centre — with arcade games, pool tables, etcetera. CBRM already has several models of successful youth clubs. The new council and mayor, working with other levels of government, could look for ways to strengthen those existing services, and replicate them throughout the region. Even if only on a small, distributed, part-time basis, such services would give kids more options.

And to be clear, it’s not about getting kids “off the street” so they don’t smash windows. Creating a vibrant community is about making everyone, young and old, feel welcome, supported, safe, and valued.

I also talked to those kids about ways to improve the public transit system, which had left them stranded in the first place. More frequent trips, they said. Cheaper fares for youth (and seniors), they said. Wait a minute, that sounds familiar… Had these kids read the 87-page transit study that the CBRM engineering and public works division had commissioned just last year!? Probably not. They just knew what it would take to increase their autonomy, expand their options, and make their lives better.

Council and the new mayor should talk with those kids, and others like them, both young and old, who may feel their concerns aren’t being heard — and we should listen carefully.