Have Your Say: Revitalization
of Westmount Park survey

Did you have your say about the proposed revitalization of Westmount Park?

January 14, 2021

Do you know there is a plan and a survey?

Time is running out for those of you who want to have their say on the revitalization of Westmount Park – the City of Westmount’s much frequented central park. The city has earmarked several million dollars of taxpayers’ money for this project but it seems many citizens don’t know there is even a proposed refurbishment plan on the proverbial table.

It was presented via Zoom at a virtual meeting on November 18, 2020, to 120 persons who signed up to attend. Subsequently, the City posted on the Westmount.org website, a video of the presentation along with associated documents, as well as a survey to gauge citizen reaction and input to it. The problem is, to date, the survey has received very few responses.

Is the proposed plan the way to go?

I can’t believe less than 0. 3 % of the citizens of Westmount have answered the survey and that more aren’t concerned about the ramifications of this costly project. The last major refurbishment of Westmount Park took place over fifty-five years ago and today, in 2021, the park certainly does need a vast degree of tender loving care. But is the proposed plan, drawn up by the consulting company Stantec, the way to go? Many of those to whom I have personally spoken are not in agreement with many elements of the plan but the recorded response rate to the survey, where citizens have a chance to express their opinions, is at the time of writing, extremely low.

Is everyone leaving it to the last minute?

Now that’s not to say everyone who wants to participate has left it to the last minute, and that is always a possibility, but I’m more concerned with those to whom I have spoken who didn’t, and don’t even know there is a plan or a citizens’ survey to gauge their reactions. Why is that?

The timing is all wrong

I am suggesting that now at the height of the pandemic is not the time to approve the City’s wide-reaching park plan. The proposal from Stantec for the refurbishing of Westmount Park is far too extensive a solution to the degradation of our central park to be pushed ahead now i.e. December 2020-January 2021 during a worldwide pandemic. Citizens are being asked to make some far-reaching design decisions that Westmount residents will have to live with for many years (if the previous major refurbishments of our namesake park are anything to go by).

Stantec’s proposal, as it currently exists, will be extremely costly to implement and if it goes ahead based on the feedback of very few citizens, are we facing yet another expensive fiasco like the Westmount Recreation Centre, which had to go back to the design stage several times?

The timing of this questionnaire is problematic (COVID, Chanukah/Christmas and other holiday upheavals and shopping, caring for our families and loved ones, stress and other mental health issues, back to school for kids, etc.) along with the swiftly approaching mid-January survey deadline. It is far too short. Many citizens are already over-burdened. Plus a significant number either did not get their PIN or did not realize what it was, and so it went out in the recycling (one hopes) or else with the household refuse. Thus many are now unable to provide input even if they wish to. However, a system has been set in place to get a replacement PIN by email at Communications@westmount.org or telephone at 514 989-5260 or 514 989-5284.

An online survey disenfranchises those without access

Nevertheless, the requirement for online access to answer the survey disenfranchises a significant number who are not that savvy with technology, or who don’t have access to a computer or Internet with the library closed. They deserve a say, too, along with seniors in elder care homes or who live alone (both those segments are big users of the park).

Why the rush?

I have spent time reviewing the material available on the website and have some serious misgivings about the project and also the timing of it. Why does it need to be done now? The project presentation by Stantec was delayed due to the lockdown in March 2020 but suddenly it seems it is being pushed ahead very fast: A mid-November online presentation with little time for questions; a mid-November to a mid-January survey of citizens; late January 2020 compilation and presentation to council, with February approval and move to go to tender? That leaves Councillors and the media with little time to explain to citizens exactly what the options truly are and what dislocation to park use will occur once approval of the plan, as it is now, will mean especially in a time of pandemic (both this one and future ones), when we desperately need all the exterior places we have available to permit us to escape our homes. I ask again, why the rush?

And why my concern?

The creative drawings provided by Stantec are pretty but it’s very unclear after studying the maps and drawings exactly where some of those changes will be implemented. The drawings are fanciful but one is not able to visualize exactly where they are, or what space we are going to lose in terms of existing green spaces, access to nature and what trees will be cut down. Speculation abounds, as does disinformation.

The haste to ‘get it done’ seems to indicate the plan is very much a done deal. Why is that?

Although some of my concerns are related to the eventual cost (understandably unknown but certainly substantial) but also I worry about some of the refurbishments that have been proposed as they seem far too extreme. Citizens need more time to be encouraged to review the proposal and provide their input to ensure Council ends with more satisfied citizens rather than risk the alternative.

I am fully cognizant of the fact no one can please all of the people even most of the time, but at least a bigger effort should be made to please as many as one can… at least in the consultation phase, allowing citizens to feel they had more of opportunity to voice their concerns and/or approval?

The timing of this public consultation could not have been worse. We continue to be in the throes of a pandemic. We’re not yet certain when it will be when we can gather safely again and a significant number of citizens can’t settle to think about future life in our park and to make these decisions while they are concerned with living through the pandemic.

In some ways, the entire park refurbishment project could be considered more a part of Westmount 2040 than a project for the present mandate. The changes proposed are too extensive and Westmounters will be forced to live with them for a long time. More time is needed to reflect.

The City of Westmount began the process with public meetings and it owes it to the residents to conclude it with the same. There’s really no rush!

The survey Deadline is January 18, 2021, but there’s a problem

For those who aren’t aware, there have been some technical issues with the online survey. The City of Westmount, Head of Communications, Sebastian Samuel, has confirmed the average length of time for completing the survey with comments was 27 minutes. This is too short a time as some of us already know since we have spent considerably longer filling out and commenting on the significant changes proposed by Stantec, the consulting company hired (at sizable expense) to spearhead and guide the City through this project.

What this means is that some citizens attempting to fill out the survey might have been timed out but didn’t know it, and may have thought their comments were recorded when they were not. Since being alerted to the issue Samuel has fixed the issue as of January 13, but it may be a bit late in the process since there is no way of knowing who was timed out and who wasn’t unless he can find if your PIN corresponds to a survey received but it still won’t tell him if it was a complete or partially complete questionnaire. Also, the deadline for responses is January 18. That’s in a few days!

Now I only first tried to respond to the survey on January 7, 2020, since I had been led to expect I would be receiving a reply from the Commissioner of Parks to some concerns I had communicated to her long before then, and which I had been promised in an email response I would be receiving “within a week”, and which might have changed some of my opinions on the Westmount Park revitalization project. Since by the first week in January I still did not have any more information, I decided to go ahead and submit my comments.

Thus I spent several (five) hours reading and preparing my answers and during that time I did get one pop-up message telling me to hurry up, or my session would be timed out for ‘non-activity’ or words to that effect. So, I immediately complied and when I ‘hurried-up’ and since the message did not re-appear, and I did not receive a further message alerting me that I had ‘timed out’, which other online surveys tend to do, I assumed all was okay. This meant that I continued for a few hours more. And yes, I do write a lot and yes, I had a lot to say. So don’t fret, many of you possibly won’t need, or be willing to spend the time I did.

When I had finished and pressed the green “Done” button, instead of getting a “Thank you for participating” message that is also typical with these types of online questionnaires, I got taken immediately back to the log-in page and asked to sign-in with my PIN.

Sometimes it helps to ‘sleep on it’

I immediately didn’t feel comfortable with that scenario. It bothered me. Where was my ‘thank-you for participating’ message? So the following day, after ‘sleeping on it’ as the saying goes, I went back to the Westmount.org website and signed in again with my same PIN. The first time I inserted it, it didn’t work, but sometimes I mistype (since the PIN characters appear as dots and are not visible) so to be sure, I retyped my PIN and gained entry. Since these are individual PINs, the theory is if my answers had been kept, I shouldn’t have been able to sign in again, a built-in safeguard to avoid multiple responses from one person. That’s the reason for Westmount’s insistence on giving everyone who wants it an individual PIN.

Luckily for me, I had been careful enough to do a copy/paste of my answers to the survey, although many others possibly won’t have done so. This meant the second time filling everything in, it all went a lot faster. I ended that experience with a note to the City (in the relevant box provided at the end) telling them of my concerns and asking them to use this second version since I had added a few changes to the first version I had submitted the previous day. This was to alert them to the fact if they had received the first version I wasn’t trying to play the system by submitting two questionnaires, but I merely wanted to ensure they used the second version in compiling their citizens’ responses.

Following that, I shared my concerns with a few other citizens who, it seems, have had the same experience as I but hadn’t thought anything was amiss. I then reached out to speak with Samuel and he began to check for glitches in the software used. At the time of publication, I continue to be unsure if my comments were registered as Samuel can’t seem to find any info connected with the PIN I used. I remain hopeful one of my two attempts will have registered.

The glitch has been fixed

Samuel has also confirmed he has since removed any timing out function in the original programme, so if unsure I would suggest you go back and re-enter your data if you did not receive the “Thank you for participating” message after you pressed the green “Done” button.

But the numbers don’t quite ‘compute’

Thus the concern now is: “How many other Westmounters were also possibly ‘timed out’ but didn’t realize, or know that’s what had happened to their comments and, more significantly, that they weren’t recorded by the online survey programme?” Is it significant enough that it will make any statistical analysis of the responses received invalid? This is such an important and likely to be a very expensive project. With a response rate of less than 0.3% and counting, remember the survey is still online, this week, so please do go and register your opinion. The number of responses received to date doesn’t sound quite right. Surely more interested Westmounters would have responded to the survey, especially if they had taken the time to participate in the Zoom session and/or watched or read the transcript of the November 18 Zoom presentation posted on the City website?

The time period for the survey was extended

As some of you may have noted, the City did decide to extend the timing of the survey to January 18, which I like to think I, and some other citizens, who also wrote in to request an extension, had a hand in achieving. However, they only announced the extension on the engage.westmount.org webpage (which it appears has been difficult for some citizens to find) and also in the E-Westmount newsletter that so many people get but sadly, few actually read, or read intermittently, since those to whom I have spoken with have no knowledge that a survey on the Stantec proposal for Westmount Park even exists, or that a Zoom presentation even happened in November.

What can you do about it?

I suggest you contact Sebastian Samuel either by email or phone at Communications@westmount.org or 514 989-5260 / 514 989-5284 and check if they received your completed survey.

If not, and you no longer have your original PIN, request another. Or reuse your PIN (Samuel has assured me it will work) and re-enter your answers just to be sure. But time is short. January 18 was the extended deadline; but even if the deadline is passed, the City needs to know you made an attempt and due to a timing glitch, your responses may not have been recorded.

While this may, or may not, persuade them to re-open the questionnaire to citizens. But at least you will have tried and Sebastian Samuel will know of it. Failing that, or in addition, call, or email your councillor with your concerns. You can find phone and email addresses at westmount.org/en/city-council

Good luck.

Wanda Potrykus
Lansdowne Avenue

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.

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