Dillon Consulting Limited, on behalf of the township of South Dundas, held four Community Vision Cafés last week on March 21st and 22nd.
According to Economic Development Officer Nicole Sullivan, approximately 70 people in total attended one or more of the four cafés. Both the Morrisburg and Iroquois meetings each saw upwards of 20 residents in attendance, while the Dixon’s Corners and Williamsburg locations saw, on average, about 10 residents.
Recreation and economic development seemed to be the two most common concerns for residents who attended the cafés.
As for the actual cafés, Mayor Steven Byvelds opened each of the café consultations with a welcome message and invitation to participate fully. “This is your meeting,” he said, “not council’s meeting. We’re looking for your ideas.”
“Don’t be afraid to dream somewhat,” he added.
The cafés were led by Rory Baksh and Sari Liem of Dillon Consulting Limited.
Baksh began each meeting with the same clear message: “the café gives citizens an opportunity to chart their own future. It’s important because who knows this community better than you? You should be the ones who have a voice in shaping where this community goes.”
And, as one resident at the Dixon’s Corners café pointed out, “as a result of the amalgamation, there’s a lot of different cultures trying to fit together.”
Baksh suggested that ideas be “achievable, practical and economically realistic (and) support long-term continuous improvement.” In addition, ideas “should reflect your passion and your voice.”
“The plan that will come out of this process will very much be the work of the citizens.”
Liem followed Baksh’s opening statement, saying, “there’s no wrong answer. Be creative, but be realistic. Discuss rather than debate and, think positively.”
“As community members,” she added, “you have the strongest voice.”
Following the opening remarks, the interactive portion of the meeting got underway.
The first exercise was recognizing and listing the assets and strengths that South Dundas already possesses. The township’s strengths were divided into seven categories: human; social capital; cultural; natural; economic and financial; built; and political.
Baksh pointed out that “we’re focussing on what assets are here. We have to understand what we value so we can plan for the future. A community is shaped by the assets and things that we care about.”
Liem added, “think of these assets as opportunities we can leverage on.”
Residents named the river, the open green space, the rich history of the area and the wealth of volunteers as just some of the assets found in South Dundas. The lists were, in fact, lengthy.
Following the compilation of current assets, residents were asked to complete an exercise called the Wishing Well. Participants were encouraged to “take one step into the future” and make some wishes for South Dundas. The guidelines for doing so were clear: wishes should be smart, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
Some of the more common wishes arising from the Dixon’s Corners group included changes to recreational facilities, beautification projects, additional industry, and changes to educational opportunities within South Dundas.
One participant was clear about not wanting industrial wind turbines. Another suggested that Williamsburg get a facelift, while another dreamed of a monorail connecting South Dundas to places like Ottawa, Cornwall and Brockville.
The Wishing Well exercise brought forth many of the same ‘wishes’ in each of the café venues. The Morrisburg café added things like “create a heritage preservation society” in addition to having more sidewalks and trails.
Following the Wishing Well task, residents were invited to go farther into the future and form a Vision Statement for where South Dundas should be in 10 years.
According to Baksh, “a good vision is understandable, inspirational, distinctive, and ambitious.” He specifically pointed out that “it shouldn’t be something cookie-cutter from somewhere else.”
After brainstorming in small groups, each group presented their vision statement for South Dundas to the whole group.
One group, using a metaphor, pointed out that “you have to have a foundation for a house before you start building a house” and talked about small steps that lead toward grander dreams down the road.
Visions were similar in that they focused on providing “safe, healthy and supportive living” in South Dundas.
There was emphasis on preserving what’s here in terms of history, environment, and infrastructure.
A woman attending the Dixon’s Corners café said, “ I’d like to see services stay in the community. If we want people to stay in our community, we need to encourage local businesses and services so people stay within South Dundas instead of driving outside.”
Residents at the Iroquois Civic Centre café voiced the need to preserve the golf course.
In addition to protecting current services within South Dundas, there was general agreement that the township needs to grow by welcoming more businesses, small and large, as well as more tourists.
Following the Vision Statement presentations, Baksh and Liem, at each café, made a list of community priorities or key points based on that meeting’s vision statements.
The key points that arose during the Morrisburg café consultation were: develop business along Highway 401; waterfront park; youth centre; seniors support centre; more industry to grow; public washrooms downtown; sidewalks; hiking/walking/biking path along Lakeshore Drive; and, more things for teens.
Before leaving, café attendees were given the opportunity to “vote” for the wishes/ideas that they felt were most important. In addition, they were invited to sign-up for future action plan groups based on some of the key points.
Baksh concluded each café consultation by ensuring attendees were aware of the process going forward. In April, there will be a status report.
At the end of April or early in May, he revealed that there will be another round of workshops. These workshops will focus on action plans centered around specific themes.
The final draft of the plan will be available in June.
In addition to the ideas provided by South Dundas residents, Baksh said that some of the photos submitted online would also be used in the final draft of the plan document.
The draft report will be posted online and Baksh enouraged all in attendance as well as each South Dundas resident to “read it over, provide comments. We certainly encourage that.”