Hawkesbury is infected by community apathy. There is little to no community pride; it’s hard to have it. There, I said it. Someone had to say it. Lots of people know it. When people talk about it, they get blasted for complaining. Yet, the fact that people have stated how disheartened they are with this town is all over Hawkesbury’s Strategic Plan. It’s also all over the Community and Business Survey Results that just came out in October of this year. It seems like this stigma is an accepted reality. I’ve even met people tell me that they are proud of being rated as one of the worst towns to live in in Ontario. That false belief is dangerous because it people are starting to believe it. This is a conversation we need to have if we are going to fix it.
One of the main problems with Hawkesbury’s image problem is that the very citizens of Hawkesbury have a very poor image of Hawkesbury. They express frustration due to their increased isolation and individualism, the lack of prioritizing for adapted housing, the fact that housing stock is not adapted to the realities of aging demographics, small families, etc. There is a negative perception due to densification, lack of public transport, lack of community spirit (lack of volunteers), lack of planning, no marketing strategy adapted to Hawkesbury’s specifics, lack of entertainment and lack of young professionals.
So how does one turn this very real problem around and get people actively help restore a healthy community spirit? I believe civic engagement projects that aim at achieving certain goals: to reduce citizens’ sense of apathy; to increase awareness of the organizational efforts that had resulted in positive changes in the community; and to enhance the citizens’ level of sense of confidence in their control over their desire, action, and social context.
Examples of what we could do to promote a healthy and active community spirit would be to:
- Organize a group of volunteers to clean up areas like the river shore, parks, roadsides and any other areas in Hawkesbury that are sullied by litter.
- Host a monthly get-together at the sports complex where people could meet, talk, dance, play games, etc.
- Organize group outings to visit Ottawa, Montreal or Cornwall and invite groups from those cities to visit us.
- Organize a monthly barbecue at Confederation Park.
- Organize a run/walk to raise money for a local charity.
- Ask local law enforcement staff to walk the streets so that they can meet the citizens that they protect.
- Add more sidewalks, bike paths, benches and garbage cans.
- Create scenic community spaces that allow for people to sit and talk. Most towns have fountains, gardens, etc. for citizens to socialize around.
- Host movie nights at the sports complex.
- Beautify the Robert Hartley Sports Complex and sidewalks.
- Ask the city to communicate equally in both official languages.
- Organize field days where citizens are invited to play and compete at certain games and other activities.
- Organize a monthly farmers’ market and invite the local farms and vendors to display their produce and products.
The mayor should acknowledge that there is a problem with the amount of apathy within Hawkesbury and address ways to improve civic engagement. There are all sorts of free resources that could be brought into play like so many cities have done.
This problem can’t just be fixed by throwing money at it. The problem starts with city council. There has been such a huge disconnect with what the council sees as reality and what the rest of the population are experiencing. There seems to be a deliberate effort to disconnect themselves from the very people that elected them.
I hope the next candidates who run for council address this problem as being one they would like to fix. Ignoring it only makes it worse.
Here is the link to Hawkesbury’s Strategic Plan: https://www.hawkesbury.ca/images/hotel_de_ville/publications/Plan_Stratgique_HAWKESBURY_Final_LR_VA.pdf
Here is the link to Hawkesbury’s Strategic Plan: