Thursday, 3 November 2011

Better Know a Ward: Sarah Doucette

So I'm doing a series for the good people at OpenFile to get to know councillors and their wards better. This is a repost of it. 

Welcome to Better Know a Ward. Taking a cue from Stephen T. Colbert, we’re taking a look at City Councillors and how they connect to the wards they represent.
We’re fortunate to kick this off with Sarah Doucette, (Ward 13, Parkdale-High Park) one of Toronto’s newbie councillors. Born in Winchester, England and raised on the Isle of Wight, Doucette moved to the Swansea area of her ward 15 years ago. Since then she’s been engaged in building playgrounds, volunteering to protect school pools and local libraries and promoting various environmental programs.
We spoke with her by phone last week.
What’s unique about your ward?
Where do I start? My ward has a diverse selection of people living in it. We have the Swansea area, we have the Bloor West area, we have High Park, we have the Junction, we’ve got Baby Point and we’ve got an area in the middle which we need to find a name for.
We’re all kind of slightly different, slightly unique, but we all kind of blend together so beautifully. One of the things I do love about my ward is its determination; they’re so dedicated—to not necessarily preserve their neighbourhood—but to keep an eye on the neighbourhood so that if it is changing, it’s changing for the better.
What are the challenges that come with that diversity?
Certain areas of our ward are quite capable of doing private sports, other areas of our ward go to community centres and other areas of our ward need subsidies for the community centre. So you have different areas of the ward that need different things from the City and for their family lives... So the diversity in the area is also financial but we try not to let that make a difference as to what children and families can do and participate with.
Your mom and grandfather also showed leadership in their communities [as mayors in England of the Isle of Wight and Winchester, respectively]. What did you learn from them?
Well my mother is my main inspiration. My mother brought my brother and myself up. My parents did separate when we were quite young. Still had a great relationship with my father but we lived with my mother.
And she always put other people first. Just an example, she started a group called the Gingerbread Group. It was for one-parent families. So Sunday afternoon everyone would get together somewhere, normally it was a park or somewhere that didn’t cost any money. And we would all just do a picnic or go for a walk in the woods or take someone’s dog for a walk. She brought people together, and I learned so much from her. She was absolutely dedicated to her community.
We were asked as incoming city councillors to bring something to City Hall that represents how we want to be seen as a councillor. I brought my mother’s wedding ring, which actually, I still wear. Because it’s a circle, to me it means that everyone is included, no one is left out, no one can hide in a corner.
One thing you spoke about in your campaign platform was trying to prioritize youth engagement. What kinds of avenues have you explored to promote this?
Well, to be completely honest, during the campaign I was under the impression I would have a constituency office. Not having a constituency office does change things a bit because you’re not actually there every day to bring youth in, to get to know the youth.
My idea was to bring the youth in to get to know the seniors to get them to work with each other. It’s a bit harder when you’re not in the ward, but we are trying to work with the schools to get them to help seniors. Seniors will contact us and say, “They’re brilliant at shovelling the sidewalk but they don’t do the pathway from the sidewalk to the front door,” so that’s where I want to get the youth involved.
Now in connection to that, your ward, for instance, has High Park—and you’ve done a flash mob before. What role can public space play in building community?
In our ward we’re quite fortunate. Up in the Junction, we have what’s called the Train Station. It’s a property where the owner has not developed it yet, and they built a platform there. And he’s very good at letting the community use it. So [yesterday] we used it for pumpkin carving, we used it during Earth Hour, we used it for Farm Fest, to show the sustainability of vegetables. It’s a place where the community can gather and do events; we show movies there...
So I think community space is vital. We have the Baby Point Gate BIA, brand new just this year, and they don’t actually have a space like that, so you have to work in different ways.
Speaking of youth engagement and public space and pumpkin carving, your family loves Halloween, doesn’t it?
Ah, yes... Well actually, it’s my husband’s love of Halloween. We were the first house in the neighbourhood to have a smoke machine. Because I’m in a valley, and we would fill up the valley with smoke, we were called "The Smoke House".
Swansea Public School takes the children up on a walk at Halloween in their costumes, 600 to 700 kids walking around the neighbourhood, to see the decorated houses so I would always make sure we were decorated. We do a graveyard... We have lights, we have music. We had a metal monster, we had a recyclable robot made out of produce. And we had a microphone and speaker in him at one point so my son would be sitting on the front porch and he knew the kids’s names from school and so he would freak them out completely.
Thank you, councillor, you have a very happy Halloween.
Oh thank you, and you too.

1 comment:

  1. Some residents don't seem to be too pleased with our new councillor. See