Democracy Happens in the Engine Room

A few weeks ago, reading through the City of Charlottetown’s Pedestrian Mall Bylaw, I noticed that section 5.7 of the bylaw specifically prohibits dogs from the pedestrian mall, with one exception:

No person shall bring, ride, or leave standing any horse or any other animal of any kind whatsoever onto the pedestrian mall excepting a seeing eye dog.

That exception – for “seeing eye dogs” – while laudable, leaves out many other types of service dogs, and so I sent an email to the chair of the Planning Commitee to see if it might be updated.

To my surprise and delight, he agreed that an update was in order, had a change drafted, and this change received 1st and 2nd reading at today’s council meeting; it will, barring any unforeseen actions in the interim, be passed with 3rd reading at the July meeting.

The amendment will simply change “seeing eye dog” to “service animal.”

Who knew it was so easy to get a bylaw changed!

Now, of course, I wasn’t asking for money to be spent, nor for some controversial step to be taken, just a minor wording change, but it reinforces to me that a lot of what’s important about democracy happens not at the barricades, but down in the engine room.

As it happens there were unexpected fruits of earlier labours in evidence at the same council meeting tonight: council approved the holding of a public meeting to review stylistic and wording updates to the Zoning and Development Bylaw, a move prompted, in part, by the presentation I made to the Atlantic Planners Institute last fall, Planning in Secret: Effective Strategies for Keeping the Public Out of the Planning Process, a presentation that suggested, among other things, that simply through adding whitespace and changing case could great things happen:

Slide from Planning in Secret presentation.

I presented the same talk to the city’s planning department a few weeks later and, apparently, they took some of my ideas to heart: they’ve reformatted, reorganized and reworded the bylaw and will present the results at a public meeting (date to be announced) for review.

Perhaps a drive toward a more open approach to data and information maintained by the city is a reasonable next project? (Although I’m feeling heady now, and wonder, now that I’m on a roll, if I should ask for citywide espresso-plumbing or mandatory letterpress training for all children).