Is Thunder Bay headed in the right direction?

Addiction problems
Addiction remains an issue. Needles are handed out in large numbers, and often left in along streets and alleys.

Addiction problems
Addiction remains an issue. Needles are handed out in large numbers, and often left in along streets and alleys.

THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Is Thunder Bay headed in the right direction? Depending on who you talk to, chances are you will hear different answers. Many are looking at the prospects for mining and are very excited. Others look at the issues of taxes, and crime rates and feel that the city is headed in the wrong direction.

Money Sense Magazine has released its latest rankings of Canadian cities. Thunder Bay has fallen from 46th place to 92nd place. Only a few years ago, Thunder Bay was in the top twenty. Thunder Bay has headed downward ever since.

Thunder Bay has fallen 72 rankings since 2011

From September 2011 “Thunder Bay is now in the top twenty in MoneySense Magazine’s listing of best cities to live in Canada. The city continues to climb in the annual rankings. Last year, Thunder Bay was ranked twenty-fourth. “Canada’s Best Places to Live 2011 is based on data compiled from 180 Canadian cities and towns with populations over 10,000 people. Cities were rated based on home affordability, climate, prosperity, crime rates, access to health care and lifestyle, with subcategories in each area. Points were also given for the categories of transit, ammenities and culture”.

“In the same ranking in 2009, Thunder Bay was ranked 36th”.

Despite the promises of a mining bounty, Thunder Bay is dropping

Now it is certain some people in our community will be angered by the report of our city’s new ranking. City Councillors asked to comment were quite silent. Others expressed disbelief in the latest ranking.

Money Sense has changed the ranking methodology in this year’s ranking, the changes are across the line for all cities so ignoring the dropping ranking is to play ostrich, rather than be proactive.

There are many positives to Thunder Bay. But to only focus on the positives, and ignore the negatives is a recipe for long-term disaster. 

Thunder Bay City Hall Unhealthy Behavior

Thunder Bay is after all a community in transition. The pluses of the past, paper mills, forestry, and primary industry are being replaced by new industries and new opportunities.

Our population is both old and young. The aging population on one side is being countered by a growing population of Aboriginal residents. Across Canada, indigenous people represent the fastest growing population group. While some in Thunder Bay see this growth as problematic, others are seeing opportunities.

Moving forward means tackling problems and building for the future

When you travel our city, one can see both positives and negatives. The beauty of Prince Arthurs Landing where millions have been invested can be contrasted to the Kam River Park where snow isn’t cleared, where pigeon droppings are left to gather for years, and where by the lack of action the message of a city headed in the wrong direction is being sent.

Kam River Park
The pedestrian under pass to Kam River Park has years of pigeon droppings along the roadway and walkways

In downtown Fort William there is a real contrast apparent. While City Hall is kept spotless, only steps away from the building the signs of social problems being ignored are very apparent. Snow clearing through the winter has left massive piles of ice and gravel on sidewalks. It is almost as if City Administration is building a silo around themselves, but not seeing the issues only a few short steps from their offices.

Fort William downtown
Looking east down Victoria Avenue. Most cities remove the snow from downtown streets. These icy snowbanks make it dangerous for passengers trying to shop downtown. Yet at City Hall the sidewalks are cleared of all snow and gravel.

Moving forward, it is important that Thunder Bay start solving the issues that are impacting our community.

The latest Money Sense ranking could be a positive message for our city and in specific to City Managers. As the ranking falls, the attractiveness of our city to potential investors will drop.

Perhaps falling seventy-two ranking points can also serve as the impetus for city councillors to start focusing on the entire city, and on less energy can be spent in going toward the big projects like the Marina or the proposed Multiplex? 

SIJHL Hockey
North Stars celebrate first period goal – enough to win the game. 400 fans attended the game. Photo by Georgia Wenjack

When you go to Fort William Gardens and there are about 3200 people attending a Lakehead Thunderwolves game, and less than 400 attending a Thunder Bay North Stars game, it leads many to question the viability of a 6,000 seat hockey arena.

Kam River Park
While Prince Arthurs Landing is seen as a gem, the Fort William Waterfront is abandoned by the City

Far too often at City Council meetings, Administration is not challenged on proposals brought forward. If Council starts to step up and demand results from Administration using annual performance reports as the guide, then real progress can be demonstrated.

It is not the job of Council to give administration a free ride, it is their job to challenge proposals and make sure that the decisions made are the best ones possible.

Paying attention to the smaller issues, crime, addiction, potholes, building our roads so that they don’t fall apart in just a few years.

In the downtown Fort William core, many are looking to the massive investment in the new court house as the solution for what has ailed the once bustling core. It will take a lot more energy and effort than a building that will close at 5PM for the change to make a real difference.

A thriving downtown core needs to keep thriving after five o’clock. The exact same theories used in the downtown North Core apply in the South Core. However they don’t seem to be followed and the impact can be seen in broken windows, doors, and the crime map showing incidents with alcohol. It is likely that the provincial liquor inspector needs to be more engaged in the downtown Fort William Business District to ensure that all the laws regarding the service of alcohol are followed by businesses in the core.

Now is the time to start handling the issues that have impacted the city.

Bill Mauro and Michael Gravelle recently announced an investment in treatment facilities. This is a very positive step forward. Pressure must be maintained on senior levels of government to put resources on the ground in our community to solve the problems of addiction, we are going to start to see crime rates drop.

Respect 

While the Respect flag flies at City Hall, the issue of racism in our city remains a problem. It won’t be solved by a button or a flag, but those efforts are major steps in the right direction.

Solutions

First step is that City Council and the Mayor need to start asking Administration for solutions. If solutions are not found, then other options will have to be considered. City Manager Tim Commisso has a full plate, and likely needs to be re-focused on some issues to make more of a difference in some of the key issues.

Second step is realizing that the future is one of public / private partnerships. Senior levels of government have dug debt holes. There will be less funding from the province or the federal government. Efforts like the public / private partnership that has created the Youth Centre in Victoriaville, and the planned Dennis Franklin Cromarty Student Living Centre are solid demonstrations that some in the city understand the importance of those efforts.

Some in the city do not seem to realize how critical such partnerships are going to be going forward. City Manager Commisso and Mayor Hobbs are going to have to become even more engaged in setting the stage for more such partnerships.

In the downtown Fort William core, a solution for the crime issues could come with the staffing of the community policing station to be moved to the front of Victoriaville Centre. There is an opportunity there for Police to have a frontline presence in the core. Staffing that location would likely save the police money and make the entire area more open for new business to move in.

Victoriaville Centre
Moving the Thunder Bay Police Service community office to the front of Victoriaville would help the entire core.

One of the key components going forward for Thunder Bay is going to come in building a more equal relationship between Aboriginal residents and the Thunder Bay Police Service. Despite the efforts of the Aboriginal Liaison Officers, that relationship is not moving forward as fast as it could. 

As long as police are seeing themselves as victims in the relationship it is likely little will change. There was a positive step taken by the Thunder Bay Police Service recently when an apology was accepted and no charges laid when a young man had accused police of taking him on a starlight tour. By accepting that man’s apology the Chief of Police demonstrated solid leadership.

Perhaps a solution for Chief Lesveque would be to trim his executive team a little, and invest more of his efforts and resources in building bridges with the Aboriginal community?

Business Community

In the business community, especially in the downtown Fort William core, likely it is time for business and property owners to start working together in a more positive manner. Sometimes it seems some in the area are more interested in complaining, and less interested in solutions.

Taking a pro-active role in making the neighbourhood more friendly is important. There are businesses opening in the area. Speaking with the owner of the Unveiled Bridal Boutique over the weekend was to witness the positive attitude that youthful entrepreneurial enthusiasm embraces. 

Thunder Bay Museum
The Thunder Bay Museum is only half a block from City Hall.

 

Thunder Bay Museum
At the side of the Thunder Bay Museum clothing along with litter has been a constant sight for the past two years.

These two images are not shown to make it look like the museum is not paying attention, but rather that in Thunder Bay there isn’t enough detail being paid to the fixing of these small problems. 

Business and property owners, along with the Mayor and City Administration need to take a lesson from New York City. 

Broken Window Theory

“A lot of our approach to crime, quality of life, social programs, we were allowing small things to get worse rather than dealing with them at the earliest possible stage. That approach had been tried in other cities, but all small cities, and there was a big debate about whether it could work in a city as large as New York. One of the ways that New York used to resist any kind of change was to say, “It can’t work here,” because they wanted to keep the status quo. There is such a desire for people to do that, to keep the status quo. And I thought, “Well, there’s no reason why it can’t work in New York City. We have bigger resources. We may have bigger problems, we have bigger resources, the same theory should work.” So we started paying attention to the things that were being ignored,” states former New York Mayor Rudi Guiliani.

For Thunder Bay, the message in our latest ranking from Money Sense should not be to downplay it, or pretend it is not an issue. 

Council and Administration should be studying the reports from the past three years. Looking at what is dragging down the city’s rankings and working to solve those issues would likely really help.

For our city to fully realize all of its potential, we need to be honest with each other, and build the teams to make a difference. Some of the efforts are already underway, checking out the positive efforts of ‘Urban Greenscapes‘, Youth TBay and CAHEP is to see that some are already making a difference.

Many of the business owners are taking the needed time to keep the front of their businesses neat and tidy, sweeping the sidewalks, and picking up the trash.

While some business owners are critical of Newfie’s Pub, there is one thing for certain, that business makes sure the sidewalk in the front of the establishment is kept clean. Every day someone is out sweeping up the litter, cigarette butts and other debris in front of the bar. It is a step in the right direction.

Thunder Bay, as a community needs to keep a focus on the big issues, but also remember that a messy city is a sure sign that we are not doing things as well as we could, or should.

James Murray

Fresh Air Experience
A well kept block looks good and keeps customers coming back again and again

 

Royal Edward Arms
A mess of litter, needles, and empty bottles behind the Royal Edward Arms – Thunder Bay Housing needs to step it up.

 

City Hall sidewalks
Sidewalks are kept very clean at City Hall where all the snowbanks are removed.
City Sidewalk
Leaving the snow unplowed all winter is a demonstration of missing the little things.