The Potholes of Community Conversation

I found myself this past week thinking a lot about the definition of civility, how tenuous it is and how our community is the owner of it. Civility can tear as easy as tissue paper.

The Institute for Civility in Government defines civility as being more than just polite. It is about “disagreeing without disrespect, seeking common ground as a starting point for dialogue about differences, listening past one’s preconceptions, and teaching others to do the same. Civility is the hard work of staying present even with whom we have deep- rooted and fierce disagreements. It is political in the sense that it is a necessary prerequisite for civic action.” 1

Recently Council had the pleasure of hearing a delegation present about the challenge associated with meeting physical distancing while operating food and beverage services. The delegates spoke
at length that these new requirements are going to pose a challenge that might actually be insurmountable to business. Our Covid-19 response is a priority of Council and we moved to support this delegation by asking staff to bring us back a report outlining tools that would serve all of our business community during these uncertain times.

In very short order, staff rose to the challenge and presented us with an opportunity to support our business community. Our Historic Downtown patio policy has been very successful, our community is now familiar to the concept of sharing spaces to create a vibrant downtown. It was an easy decision to then rescind our Historic Downtown patio policy which was very restrictive and move towards a new more flexible policy that allows retail and business to expand into the street to sell their products, a temporary opportunity without the rigid design standards to support businesses expanding their spaces.

Our goal with this policy was to make sure it supported all business should they want to apply, and is available in the following zones; C1, C2, C-Hwy, C-WF, CS-1, CD-2. This policy includes a specific 2020 provision where fees would be waived as our goal is to support business in response to Covid-19.

In addition to the patio policy, staff took the opportunity to provide Council a report detailing closing Second Avenue. A number of communities have supported their business community meeting physical distancing by closing their main streets, so this was a very logical report for Council to consider.

The very idea of closing Second Avenue saw our community deeply divided. Whether it was a Second Avenue stakeholder, or a community member at large, each person represented a completelydifferent perspective, each person spoke about the vulnerabilities they are facing in this challenging environment. They were honest, and often raw conversations. The shared concern from stakeholders on both sides of this argument was quite simply that their business survives.

The next 18-months in Fernie are going to be difficult, require new and bold ideas and the only way we are going to encourage creativity to help drive Fernie towards resiliency and a new future is if we create space to listen to ideas. Good ones, crazy ones and ones that seem impossible but awesome!

The next time a big idea comes forward, I would encourage you to participate. We are in the midst of an international siren call right now, being asked to commit to challenging our own biases and assumptions, to practice civility and to call out shameful behaviour.

The happy accident of striking a nerve in our community, is it has a lot of people talking. Considering the future. Our downtown businesses are talking to each other.

I can hardly wait for the next big idea that gets our community speaking about a single issue.

Community engagement can be pretty fantastic, but remember, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” (Tomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke).

The Second Avenue issue will be something we are going to be evaluating again in the future, so stay with us, stay engaged and meet us in conversation without degrading someone who might not share your opinion.

1. instituteforcivility.org/who-we-are/what-is-civility/

Photo courtesy of The Brickhouse