The first public meeting to develop a new Official Plan for the Town of Innisfil was well attended. The Council chambers were virtually full for the opening information presentation. To begin, participants were encouraged to write on a paper-covered wall what they thought made Innisfil an attractive place to live. (It may still be up for view and further notations outside the Council chambers.)
This session then focused on introducing the idea of public spaces, leading to a discussion in groups of how it might apply to our specific neighbourhoods like Alcona or Cookstown or Lefroy. Each group identified specific activities and public space locations that they could envision for their areas.
New York-based consultants introduced the Project for Public Spaces and the concepts behind it. The goal is to design and manage spaces that attract people by encouraging multiple activities and uses through different times and seasons. Periodically, these ‘Our Place’ meetings, social media interactions, and surveys will result in a series of reports that will also be up for discussion. Briefly, I came away with a few overall impressions and some hope for the future:
- Residents want to retain the rural character of Innisfil. That includes keeping agricultural activities viable and sustainable. Participants expressed a desire to preserve more natural areas and increase access to Lake Simcoe.
- There is a desire to have more opportunities to enjoy Innisfil’s beautiful outdoors. We heard suggestions for a skateboard park, canoe and kayak rentals, outdoor skating rinks, trails and bikeways.
- People want more random opportunities to socialize within their neghbourhoods. We heard suggestions for a public square, cafes and food trucks. Every culture gathers around the table or kitchen with food at the centre. We heard suggestions for a community garden, community kitchen, outdoor market and an outdoor oven.
- In the same vein, people said they would prefer smaller, independently owned shops over less personal chain stores apparently for a more casual and social shopping experience.
Can these concepts become part of our urban reality? A poster outside the chambers had this message: “When you focus on place, you do everything differently.” As more reports come forward from “Our Place” consultations, I’ll be offering my ideas and views on what might be needed to help implement them.