A2E Community for Strong Communities: Co-writing a letter to council
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
When I was five, my parents started a newspaper for our town, Bothwell. Every week the front page of the Spirt of Bothwell displayed the vibrant life of the town’s people and while there were only 1000 of us – we were mighty. There was an annual fair, one of the biggest annual car shows in Canada, parades for every holiday, hockey tournaments, figure skating pageants, visits from Santa, massive Easter Egg Hunts and decorating contests, live theater productions by the Boomtown Players, and community spirit and involvement for any occasion that came along. I moved out of the town when I was 13, but our family legacy lives on – the Jim Kish Theater and John Kish skatepark are named after my late dad and grandpa, respectively.
Bothwell was victim to a series of amalgamations that took place throughout the 1990s into the early 2000s in Ontario. These were justified as a way to “reduce the size of government and to promote economic development” (Sancton 2000) through more accountable local government, and to attract businesses and create jobs. The 1998 restructuring dissolved 23 towns into one municipality of Chatham-Kent.
While ensuring a continued sense of community was initially an emphasis of economic development within this new municipality, the impact on Bothwell was anything but community affirming. Many local businesses shut down including the hardware store, the newspaper, the secondhand antiques shop, Meredith’s – the long established and only clothing store, the insurance office, and more. Churches closed and were sold, and the local Catholic elementary school shut down. The fair stopped happening and the budget for town activities significantly decreased.
Then they came for the theater, which needed some updates to meet safety standards - the municipal government decided it wasn’t worth the investment. The town rose in anger, starting a letter writing campaign and after quite a fight they managed to convince the municipality that the theater was worth saving. Today, the arena is the target. Bothwell arena has one of the lowest ice utilizations in the municipality, so city council decided Bothwell didn’t need to get the ice this year. They did not consult with the town and failed to account for that fact that they have the highest off-season usages in the municipality, which offsets the lower winter usage. While the ice is underutilized in quantitative terms, it is used substantially in community terms.
I wrote a letter to the mayor suggesting they rethink their decision and, at the very least, consult with the community. I emphasized the importance of these spaces for communities, particularly this year as people are having a hard enough time as it is. The community argument intrigued people from the town of Bothwell, and I was asked to write a second letter drawing out the non-economic arguments for keeping the arena open and active.
After writing an e-mail to our A2E (Anthropocene to the Ecozoic) community, I received 28 unique responses in under two hours. The spirit of our community quickly saved another. This kind of community collaboration and commitment is vital for movement into the Ecozoic. As I come to the end of my postdoctoral position with A2E, I am thankful for this quick-to-act community that helped me to advocate for my hometown and save a piece of the spirit of Bothwell.
The letter was effective – the council reversed their decision about the arena and asked to meet with me. In our meeting they committed to a town consultation and agreed to consider community enhancement more broadly.
The Ecozoic represents a vision for the future founded on mutually enhancing relationships between human societies and the global community of life. It feels like the future is now and emancipatory community development is integral for such a shift.
Here is the letter I crafted using ideas and thoughts from our group:
I am writing today regarding the proposed repurposing of the Bothwell arena. I am disheartened by the plans for the arena. Well-designed and maintained public space is critical to the health of any community. Such spaces allow for social mixing, civic participation, recreation, and a sense of belonging. The recent 2020 World Happiness Report shows that community and community gathering is a major factor in determining peoples’ sense of well-being. In the report the authors found that rural Canadians are happy due to the extent to which people feel a sense of belonging to their local community. Not having a functioning arena would negatively impact this while interrupting a long history of social and cultural tradition.
The arena creates connections that otherwise would not happen and strengthens relationships that already exist, in its function as gathering space. There is something to be said for connections within a community. There is significant research that community is a leading factor of individual and family mental health, pre-empting substance abuse, misbehaviour that can lead to crime and other health issues that become expensive to economies – i.e. health care costs, lost productivity, lost labour. For adults, this is a way to meet other adults either by practicing sports or interacting with parents of other children. For children, this is a place to meet and engage in playful competition against each other and neighbouring towns.
If people in the town must drive to the next nearest arena for ice time, the most vulnerable people in the community will suffer the most. Ice time will be eliminated for people of lower means as they may not be able to afford to access other options. Ice at the arena provides an easy local community activity for all income and at-risk groups. This is going to be especially important during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
There is also an environmental sustainability argument to be made. Community connectedness and fulfillment causally relates to long-term care for the environment and connection to place. More pragmatically, if parents and kids need to drive much further, there will be increased gas, emissions, and road wear-and-tear.
Communities are maintained and flourish through commons infrastructures, the foundation of local economic value. Without it, people move away, housing prices drop, and businesses close. The money that you are interested in is the 10% tip of a 90% community “non-market value” iceberg. Without the community, there is no market.
I understand that the ice is underutilized, however the town is clearly demonstrating interest in figuring out alternative solutions. There needs to be additional public consultation and participatory budgeting for the services. I fully support looking into new multipurpose uses of the arena – but not at the expense of the ice. The arena could become a Community Hub instead (see: https://www.spacecoalition.ca/hub-toolkit ). There are innovations beyond what is currently proposed. Chatham-Kent has an opportunity to be a leader in new and innovative forms of economic growth that will be increasingly important as we continue to move toward uncertain futures. Investing in the well-being of communities means investing in resilient futures.
Bothwell is a creative town with creative people. There are other solutions that can happen for the arena, and at the very least, the town should be consulted. While one missed season of ice time may seem insignificant to some, it is clearly deeply meaningful to others. In a time when mental health and well-being is already greatly under pressure, this needs serious reconsideration.
Dr. Kaitlin Kish Postdoctoral Fellow Economics for the Anthropocene and Leadership for the Ecozoic