Let’s Talk Trees…

Our urban forest is a major municipal asset. Cities spend a lot of time, money and resources maintaining “grey” infrastructure, but not enough on “green” infrastructure. Green infrastructure is linked to quality of life, recreation, air quality, urban cooling, carbon offsets, and so many other intangible benefits, such as aesthetic beauty.

Grey infrastructure is, let’s face it, boring. It’s underground, it’s invisible, and rarely appreciated. Green infrastructure is something we enjoy everyday.

It used to be that tree planting and naturalization were community efforts. Scouts, Rotary, OPIRG, Trees for Guelph etc. are still involved in such efforts and are making a difference.

We need to expand the community effort. Council is faced with a tough budget year in 2010. Tree replacements (1 for 1) will likely continue, but we will never make a dent in increasing our canopy at that rate. The saying goes “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is NOW.”

So let’s rally! Would you “adopt a tree” for your local park?

People buy far-away invisible stars as Christmas gifts. And service orgs adopt a km of roadside highway. Why not adopt a local tree you can see grow everyday and one that your grandchildren can enjoy a generation from now?

Royal City Park needs more trees. The park was originally funded by the IODE as a gift to the Royal City. Will our community continue this tradition? So many individuals and groups benefit from this park — Old University Neighbourhood Association, John McCrae School, the Boathouse, the Animal Hospital, just to name a few. How about adopting a tree?

Guelph Urban Forest Friends (GUFF), Sierra Club, Council of Canadians, LIMITS — would you adopt a tree?

I will.  On behalf of my family, I will purchase a tree for Royal City Park.

Anyone else?

Baker Street Redevelopment Concepts

Four redevelopment concepts for the Baker Street Library are available for review as part of the agenda package for Monday’s Council meeting. Link here: http://guelph.ca/uploads/Council_and_Committees/council_agenda_021709.pdf.

Go to page 36 to see Baker Street drawings.

Please tell me what you think — I really need some feedback on this.


New Main Library – Size Matters

From Norm McLeod, Chief Librarian

Dear Council Members:

Numbers often tell a compelling story. For 125 years Guelph has enjoyed the services of a highly successful public library. In recent years demand for all of the GPL’s expanding services has grown exponentially. As Rob O’Flanagan reported in a recent article in the Guelph Mercury (Feb11, 2008), the age of the Internet has not killed libraries, it has invigorated them.

Circulation of library materials has increased by 49% since 2000, more than four times the rate of Guelph’s population growth. Demand for library materials has more than doubled in the past twenty-five years, with over 1.73 million items borrowed in 2008.
Numbers also tell a compelling story about the space needs for the new central library. The figures highlighted in the attached PowerPoint presentation do just that. Originally presented to the library board at their December meeting, “Right-sizing the Guelph Public Library” supports the need for a new central branch of at least 90,000 square feet.
This presentation will be shared with a number of community organizations and will be made available to the general public via the library’s website. However we first wanted to share our findings with the mayor, members of city council and the senior management team.

We have also included a condensed web-friendly version:

Download document:


6&7 Zoning Application Not Dead Yet


On July 21, 2008, Guelph City Council will consider a report with a recommendation from the Chief Administrative Officer to defer the application by 6 & 7 Developments Limited until September 15 in order to allow time for staff to respond to concerns raised with respect to the proposed development.

A motion to approve the application was defeated at a July 7 meeting with a majority of members of Council voting contrary.  Due to the lateness of the meeting, and the fact that a second application with public delegations was still to be heard, further consideration by Council on the requests for deferral did not occur.  Since Monday night, the City has received considerable community feedback, that the defeat of the approval motion had not actually brought closure to the matter, and did not allow an opportunity for staff to work with the applicant and the community to see if the concerns raised at the meeting could be addressed.

”A deferral of the application would be a consistent approach used by the City in the past to work with the community and a developer to try to resolve issues relating to a complex development proposal, and would accomplish a number of things,”  said Mayor  Karen Farbridge.  “It would respond to numerous deferral requests from the public in order to allow them time to consider this large development proposal, time for City staff to review the concerns expressed by Council and the public, an opportunity for the applicant to respond to many of  these concerns and potentially avoid a long and costly OMB process for all involved.”

The proposed recommendation will call for a deferral over the summer, and a special public meeting to be held on September 15, at which time delegations can be heard by Council on how the numerous matters of concern can be addressed.

A Better Vision for 6&7

The application to expand the Woodlawn/Woolwich (6&7) commercial node failed last evening on a 9-4 vote.  The 6&7 application was a zoning by-law amendment to expand the uses and square footage of the site.  6&7 has proposed a 62,000 sqft expansion of the existing Wal-mart store, with 135,000 sqft of additional retail on the rest of the site.  Currently, most of the site is already zoned for retail (CC-18 zoning).

A number of unanswered questions arose during the presentations – which I think contributed to the outcome of the vote.  Issues included:

  • do the proposed buildings have two “real” stories, or just false height?
  • is the 25% energy reduction (over 2006 building standards) enough to support the Community Energy Plan?
  • will there be a linkage between the Home Depot site?
  • will there be any mixed use in the short-term?
  • will there be an impact on the 5 other grocery stores within a 5 minute drive from the 6&7 corner?

Is there a better way to develop the site?  I believe there is.

The site plan proposed in this application has some merits – greenspace, pedestrian links between buildings, transit transfer area, etc.  But it has shortcomings too – stand-alone drive throughs, no link to Home Depot lands, no mixed use, etc.  So what do we do now?

I sincerely hope that the 6&7 developers come back with another proposal, taking to heart the concerns voiced by the community.   Southern Ontario has many excellent examples of good commercial development – take the best practices and apply them here.

We can avoid an OMB hearing if 6&7 is truly committed to providing Guelph with a model of excellence.

Civic Museum $5 Million Comes Through

It’s official!  MPP Liz Sandals announced today that the Province of Ontario’s MIII infrastructure program has awarded the $5 million request from the City of Guelph towards the restoration of the former Loretto Convent into the expanded Guelph Civic Museum.

This is exciting news, because it means the $6 million threshold in government-level funding has been reached, and the project can move ahead as planned.

The Civic Museum first identified the need for expansion over five years ago.  The current site cannot be expanded on site and the museum is bursting at the seams with artifacts, storage and lack of programming space.  The Diocese of Hamilton and the City of Guelph negotiated a 75 year lease term to use the Convent, a structurally sound Pre-Confederation limestone building, for the Museum.

This is great news!


The Future of Community Sports

The following column appeared in the Guelph Mercury, December 28, 2007.

by Randy Norris

Guelph needs a recreation master plan designed for today’s pressures GuelphMercury.com – Sports – Guelph needs a recreation master plan designed for today’s pressures


I remember my parents telling me that time speeds up as Father Time gets older. I much prefer being called mature compared to what my teenagers could call me. It allows me to retain some resemblance of dignity since I’m on the dark side of 50, but my parents were right. Where did the time go?

‘Twas the night before Christmas and my oldest boy told my wife and I that we were old. According to him, our supper table conversations were funny since we talked about what we could remember about events, not about events to come. When did I start being fixated on what happened? Has something slipped?

My teenage boy claims there are far too many conversations containing the phrases “do you remember when” or “no, that’s not what happened.”

I’m in danger of becoming a parody of myself since I can’t remember when.

All of sudden, according to my children, I’m looking backwards and rushing into the future. Where did the time go and what do I hope for in 2008?

I hope that the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and the Raptors, without steroids, win, respectively, the World Series, the Stanley Cup and the NBA championship. I could hope that crossing my fingers will make it happen, but I don’t think it ever will. Even salary caps won’t make it happen. Not in my lifetime.

For 15 years I’ve thought about, obsessed about and generally made a pain of myself over sports facilities. I and many others have debated the quantity and quality of our facilities.

But something happened on the way to 2008.

Any logical conversation, however, has to include the status of all municipal facilities since resources come from the same trough.

I can’t stand on any soapbox and clamour about sports facilities without realizing the need for a new museum and library, the need for an expressway without lights that has enough room to expand along its borders and a public transportation terminus that’s integrated into a regional and provincial hub.

Where did Guelph the ‘Recyclable Green City‘ go? Guelph garbage on the 401, I’m ashamed. Where’s the vision of greatness for Guelph?

As much as the West End Community Centre adds to the recreation facilities in Guelph, I still have a hard time accepting that it has a wading pool that’s also called a therapeutic pool. We almost starved Centennial pool to death. We have an arena in a mall.

I shudder to think what lies in wait for the new south-end facility.

I’m dizzy with the contradictions, or maybe it’s the city buses that spew exhaust in the central city square that has me so discombobulated.

Despite this, someone has to say, “Excuse me, what about sports facilities?”

Many of the conversations that I’ve had contain a not-so-quiet discomfort about how this city has approached the provision of public services across the entire range of possibilities including sports facilities.

No matter which wing of political persuasion occupies the municipal government roost, our energy and drive seems to fall short.

It’s not about one voice or another, but it’s about us collectively exceeding our grasp. Where’s the recreation master plan that understands today’s pressures?

I’m getting older and maybe I’m reviewing too much of my past, but it’s still clear to me that we desperately need municipal leadership that can lead us beyond our grasp in 2008.

Randy Norris is an active community sports volunteer, freelance writer and supportive dad of three competitive kids. His column appears every Friday. E-mail: rnorris@sentex.net.