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Kate Nelischer - Senior Public Consultation Coordinator, City of Toronto

19 Oct 2022 9:30 AM | Anonymous


I’ve been in P2 for about 5 years now, and only became a member of IAP2 Canada in early 2015 through my role with the City of Toronto. My background is in landscape architecture – I earned my Bachelor’s in landscape architecture and my Master’s in design writing and I found a job that combined the two disciplines.

Do any projects in particular stand out?

My career in public participation started with The Planning Partnership in Toronto, where I worked under the direction of Donna Hinde. Donna is a landscape architect by training and has been working in P2 for decades. I really couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the field. She is a leader in P2 for planning and design projects, and is constantly finding new ways to engage stakeholders. Landscape architecture is a very public-facing profession. You’re creating places that people enjoy, like plazas or streetscapes, so inherent in that is involving the public in those designs. You’re not only designing something the public will enjoy but involving them in that process.

When you’re creating any kind of infrastructure, you’re always going to run into controversy about what’s cost-effective and even about what’s beautiful. People have opinions and this breeds a great discussion and a great forum. I’ve always been an inclusionary type: you have to be in this trade, because you’re working with all sorts of different people with different ideas and points of view. We’ve never gone to the public with a fully-formed design: I believe the P2 part should always come in the earliest phases of a project, and in my experience, it usually does.

From the Planning Partnership, I went to the City of Brampton as coordinator of community engagement there. I had a chance to work with Olga Lukich and learn more from her, then I came to Toronto in 2015, under the direction of Tracy Manolakakis. I’m fortunate to be able to work on a variety of projects including transportation, planning, engineering, and construction projects

The Public Consultation Unit at the City of Toronto has been around for a long time and the city of TO works to engage the public in its projects. Tracy is a real champion of P2 and has worked incredibly hard to ensure that public consultation has been involved in every project that we’ve worked on and that’s resulted in a better process overall.

There are two. One is the York University Master Plan, which I worked on at the Planning Partnership. They’ve had a long history with York University, and this was a very interesting project because it was a large scale and involved so many different communities. We had to engage students, faculty, staff, seniors, administrators, and the community in the area of the campus. Finding the right ways to engage them was challenging, as was balancing each group’s needs in the master plan. We had wonderful opportunities to engage with the campus community with that. Through that process, Donna Hinde won the Gold Facilitation Impact from the International Association of Facilitators for the project.

The second one is more recent: in 2015, with the City of Toronto, I worked with Transportation Services on a project called “Peak Hours”. The idea was to improve streetcar flow along Queen Street, College Street and Dundas Street by changing some of the morning and afternoon rush hour driving restrictions – when there’s no on-street parking. The rush hours would be extended and reduced in some places.

So we had to look at where the restrictions are, but the routes go through six wards, so we had a number of different communities and BIAs involved. Transportation Services had gathered an incredible amount of data and brought forward the proposals. My colleague, Maogosha Pyjor – also a senior public consultation coordinator – and I took them to the public and the BIAs at a number of public events and meetings. These locals know the area — for example, where seniors’ homes and medical clinics are, where people would need to be dropped off from cars at the curb. Some of the Transportation Services’ proposals did change as a result of the input we got. So the changes were implemented this past December, and Transportation Services is monitoring their impact.

Have you had a “Golden Learning Moment”?

I had the opportunity to work on a lot of smaller neighbourhood-scale projects, and I’ve learned a lot about community relations and that no project is ‘too small’ to have consultation. What seems like “minor” changes turn out to have a big impact on the people living there; so that’s something I try to keep in mind with these projects.

What “big wins” have you had?

The one that comes to mind that was a “big win”, when I was at The Planning Partnership and I was able to work with the team on the Goderich Re-Build master plan. This was after the tornado in 2011 that devastated the town. I was so impressed by the willingness of the community to get involved in the rebuilding: the meetings were packed and it resulted in a plan that was truly supported by the community.

The Planning Partnership went on to work on rebuilding the downtown including the central square, replacing the trees they had lost.

If you had anything to say to someone just getting into the P2 business …

If you’re wanting to do this, at your core you really have to be a team player – someone who values the contributions of the group. You need to value not just the opinions and insights of the public but also of the people you’re working with. I find my job is often as much about engaging internal stakeholders as external and finding ways for everyone to collaborate effectively.

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