Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making Sense of Mental Health; It’s Not ‘Black or White’


Wherever you are right now, take a good look at the people around you. Or, if you’re by yourself, imagine being in a supermarket, a cinema, on a bus, walking through a shopping mall, or even at work. Do a visual tour of those in your immediate vicinity. Got it? Good.  

Now consider this: virtually nobody that you’ve just seen is in absolutely perfect mental health. 


People tend to think in polarities. Black...and white. On...or off. Rich...or not. 

This tends to be the case with mental health, too. Someone has ‘mental illness’...and then there’s someone else, ‘normal’, with ‘not-mental illness’. In other words, there’s ‘Them’...and then there’s ‘Us’. 

But the truth is actually quite different. And quite sobering. 

I bring this up mostly because of the current ‘t-shirt’ campaign in support of the eight patients/clients of Charlton House who are being denied the opportunity to move to 121 Augusta by City Council. The campaign is called ‘S O S Stomp Out The Stigma’. 

Even in the phrasing, and the discussions that have surrounded the effort, there is an ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ paradigm going on. “Help (Us) stomp out the stigma attached to mental illness (Them).” It’s a paradigm potentially more injurious than ‘Us  vs Them’, the bane of local governance, because it's based on a real dearth of understanding. 

Going back to my initial thought, there is an acknowledged mental health continuum. On which all of us sit. At various points long that continuum, with our location changing all the time. I present it here:
At the one end, ‘Healthy’, with all its familiar attributes. At the other end, including the potential indicators listed under ‘Illness’, are the committed, the institutionalized, those in care. (Even here, there’s a continuum.)

Precisely speaking, everyone possesses varying degrees of mental health. In the same way that everyone possesses varying degrees of physical health. And again, as organic, adaptive creatures, aspects of health are always in flux, always changing. One of the many wonders of being human.

In fact, I’d venture to bet that the number of people who are in no way ‘afflicted’ with the equivalents of ‘sprains’ or ‘bruises’ or temporary ‘headaches’ mental health-wise is infinitesimally small; you may well only have met a handful in your entire life. 

Indeed, most people ‘out there in the world’ would sit to the right of ‘Healthy’. Meaning that almost everyone you come in contact with at any given moment is in fact, dealing with an aspect of ‘mental illness’, no matter how small. So chances are that the average person would be surprised to learn how many of their co-workers, fellow transit users, supermarket shoppers, neighbours are coping with ‘mental illness travails’. 

Taking it one step further, probably the one aspect of this conversation that receives the shortest of short shrifts is not the issue of how to best –and humanely– accommodate those in need of care in our communities, but the fact that so many amongst us actually require attention in this sense, but either aren’t aware of the need, or simply cannot or will not pursue help.

With this in mind, I can’t help but see a certain irony in the t-shirt attempt to embrace ‘Them’, who have supposedly been ostracized or marginalized in this particular Lynwood-Charlton  case.

Because in truth, given what I’ve just presented, nearly the entirety of ‘Us’ is in fact, ‘Them’. 

Kinda puts a different spin on things, doncha think...?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Latest 2012 DFC Award Nominee

"Good try Skippy.....  

Lived in Hamilton before the 1956 one way conversion.....YoungH..All residents of the city matter, that's the point. Motorists, cyclists, pedestrians and scooter drivers from anywhere in the city have equal access to the core and have a voice in how the city operates. The people who want two way streets are mostly residents or business owners from the area. This would be OK if it was a small community or small area of the city that a majority of the population didn't travel to or through but to try to dictate traffic flow in a major downtown for self entitled reasons that don't benefit but the small group pushing the city. The conversion of James and John South cost taxpayers millions and I would welcome anyone with proof on how this benefited the city.          "

Commenter 'DifferentWorld' on my Spec op-ed 'One-way, two-way: little known facts'.



You know, I wrote that piece as a reaction to the intractable, dogma-entrenched view of Those Who Want To See This Grievous Wrong Righted'. To go back once again to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts.'

We are so entrenched in this absence of vision in Hamilton, so clenched, so constipated...

...so fearful of change, even if we're not even sure what the change will bring, no matter what our greatest dreads are...

...that we can't even see straight. 

This is why I believe in town halls. 

Period. 

Full-stop. 



M Adrian Brassington

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gobsmacked = Me.


The accompanying graphic is the back cover of this month's issue of urbanicity.

And when I was at Jet this morning for breakfast and finally got to it...

...I sat there and stared.

'Queer juxtaposition' came to mind.

'Hilariously ironic' came to mind.

And, as the title of this post says, 'gobsmacked' came to mind...and I became it.

It's not a biggee, I'm not criticizing Martinus for having Jackson Square (Yale) as an advertiser, nothing like that. It's just...

Well, the tenor of 'some' of its contributors is such that Jackson Square represents the worst mistake the City of Hamilton ever made, development-wise. (Oh, the screeds I could point you to... The funny thing is that almost to a one, none are old enough to remember any of it in-person.) So to have the entire back page paid for by this 'débacle-of-débacles' seemed a bit...well, rich.



All of this got me thinking about how things would have been if one, two or all of the following had happened:

-The overall design of Jackson Square hadn't been so utterly botched. (Best explored by the paper 'The Facelift and The Wrecking Ball'.) Had it cleaved more closely to the original 'Civic Square' design, had it not become a concrete monstrosity, had the streetwall been so arbitrarily and arrogantly enacted (hand-in-hand with the south side of King not having mirrored this approach) so as create an inhospitable environment, one non-conducive to authentic 'downtown' experiences.

-Even if it had been built this way, if the City had possessed the forethought and understanding regarding the implications of Stelco Tower going away and the cumulative impact this (combined with the arrival on the scene of Limeridge, Eastgate, Oakville Place and Mapleview) would have on the downtown. And acted. (Instead of effecting more sprawl.)

-Vic Copps' prophetic words regarding the utter importance of the need to focus on development from James east to Wellington once Jackson Square had been completed had been listened to and afforded the credence they deserved. 



And so here we are, forty years after the mall's Phase One opening...with this ad. 

I believe Jackson Square/Hamilton City Centre needs to be re-imagined. Just as it was re-imagined downwards as its main customers then anchor tenants jumped ship. I believe it needs the kind of makeover that all other area malls have gone through. (And not in the sense of temporarily accommodating the Farmers' Market.) 

I have no idea if Yale possess the kind of chutzpah necessary to do what I'm suggesting, whether or not they've developed a long-term, revitalizing strategy possessed of vision, faith and synergistic thinking incorporating the anticipated potential of the downtown-core,...or merely one that befits Hamilton's inner-city tendencies. ('too little, too late')

But I do know that considering that I made a living in that mall for two different employers and that my mom worked at both ends of the property over the course of twenty years, I have to admit that staring at the ad provided me with at least a little bemusement. Of the head-aslant sort, but still... 

So here's to hoping that Jackson Square has something to celebrate not necessarily in another forty years, but ten. Yeah; I'd settle for that. 





M Adrian Brassington

Nice to hear it on other fronts, from other sources. However...


"We must ensure that we have a broad community conversation about these lands. People from Dundas, Ancaster, and Stoney Creek have just as much at stake in the redevelopment of these lands as people who live in the immediate area. However, before we even talk about what we want on these lands, we need to assert a sense of urgency to make sure they are in public hands, so that uncompromised redevelopment is possible.


We often talk about the potential of Hamilton. At a recent Chamber of Commerce event focused on the city’s renewal, writer Christopher Hume remarked that there is no question that development is going to happen in Hamilton. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we want to be active participants or mere bystanders."



The above are excerpts from the Spec article 'Don't dilute west harbour's potential'. It was written by David Premi and Paul Shaker of RethinkRenewal.

As its title indicates, the piece focuses on West Harbour, the rail lands and (by extension) the recent agreement that was reached with CN, the tail end of an OMB appeal involving Setting Sail. 

I'm not an expert on relocating the rail yards. I've heard some pretty qualified opinions about the practicality and feasibility of it being done, as have I heard and read thoughts about the residents-engineered plan that kicked off this recent phase of interest, which focused on the 2018 date of potential game-changing circumstances. 

But what caught my eye was the the stance taken by Messrs. Premi and Shaker regarding the importance of residents being part of the process to ensure that ideal development is created. This notion isn't anything new to this site. In fact, it's a mantra, and connects directly with the Town Halls Hamilton effort, the Hamilton Neighbourhood Associations effort, and This is Our Hamilton. So it's heartening to hear it on other fronts, from other sources. 

Because the truth is that by-and-large, currently, general resident concern or enquiry is not framed this way. Yes, we email our councillor. Yes, we comment on blogs and newspaper feedback sections. But ultimately, that's not what I'm referring to and I don't believe it's what the gentlemen from RethinkRenewal are talking about, either. 


'You don't ask, you don't get.'

A pretty simple mantra I was presented with decades ago. And in both the development-of-our-city and general governance fronts, I'm not convinced we're programmed to do this. Part of this is simply a legacy mindset; the development of a city is left to the 'powers-that-be', and we as citizens take what we're given. (Understanding of course that our Council and City Staff are there to more-or-less protect the common good, the common interests of common Hamiltonians.) Instead, we react. 

Garbage pickup policy. 

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board headquarter relocation and schools closings. 

Ward boundary review. 

AEGD. 

Yes, some of our 'aware-and-energized' residents let their feelings be known. In the creation of civic causes such as 'S.O.S.', of 'We Need 3', the efforts that Environment Hamilton spearhead. And we do get flurries of social commentary online, of delegations to Council, and well-intentioned protest efforts. But –and this is directly connected to our habits at the polls– in the main, we don't marshall sufficient numbers to attain critical mass, so a) we're not taken as seriously as we might be, and b) we're not taken as seriously as we might be. To borrow a phrase from City Hall, we never achieve quorum



For a second, let's go back to the op-ed piece. Within the context of the excerpts, two reference points stand out: 'conversation' and 'active participants or mere bystanders'. 

The former implies a process. Comprised of corralling information, exchanging ideas, developing qualified opinions, debating differences, attaining compromise...reaching consensus. In an 'I want it now!' world, this takes protracted effort. (Here are two wonderful Scott London essays, ones that I've mentioned previously: 'Thinking Together: 'The Power of Deliberative Dialogue' and 'The Power of Dialogue'.)
And when you toss in the fact that we have a culture in Hamilton greatly influenced by 'legacy malaise', seasoned by long-term frustration and cynicism, where distrust and resignation abounds, then even looking at this in theoretical terms is daunting: never mind the tradition of development being one of City officials and developers being in lockstep with residents reacting after-the-fact, we simply aren't inclined towards dealing with issues in rational ways; we tend to want to vent, to rant and to rage. Be it on Facebook pages, on posters, or in the Comments section of The Spec. So we're not feeling empowered en masse, and we're not well-equipped to express any empowerment anyway. 

And in terms of the standard conversation that takes place, of being genuine participants, we complicate the issue by not asserting ownership of the arena. 

What I mean by this is if we as residents, as primary stakeholders in our community don't 'own' the arena of conversation, then we're ceding power. Time and time again. 

So the ARC sessions as put on by the HWDSB? The delegation procedure that exists at Council? Any 'meeting' produced and presented by anyone other than residents? Subtly, unconsciously but inarguably reinforcing the power dynamic. 

Yes, we need to be participants in the conversation regarding anything about how our city is going to be re-imagined, about what changes we're going to see. But my belief is that unless we are the ones holding the events, unless we are the ones setting the stage, inviting the other player at the table into our arena, we're invariably ceding power, and the chances of us being taken seriously –no matter the lip service paid, no matter the polite, patronizing bafflegab being bestowed upon us– are slim and none...and Slim just left town. 

I'm not stating anything revolutionary here. I'm not claiming to have discovered something heretofore wholly unrealized. This is no different than being called into the Boss's office to 'discuss' something. That power dynamic is entrenched. It's almost impossible to change it. But ours? There is nothing preventing us from framing things in our favour. Nobody has ever said 'You can't have community meetings that aren't 'guided' or 'presented' by your councillor.' (In that instance, we have a tendency to be grateful when they step up and 'guide' proceedings, as if some act of beneficence has been bestowed upon us. I've been to councillor-generated, presented-by meetings. And the ones I've been to have been well-run, well-intentioned events. But they do nothing to ameliorate the power structure. Which is odd, considering that we're the employers and they're our employees.)

The other thing I have to point out that the event referenced by the gentlemen was not, at its core, intended for 'regular Hamiltonians'. Not at the advertised ticket price. (An event that Christopher Hume was a focal point of, the same Toronto Star writer/commentaryist who gave a free talk for we, the people, last autumn at the Canadian Football Hall of Fame auditorium.) And other events that have taken place say, over the past year, have not targeted residents. They have been constructed and executed for what I suppose you could refer to as 'professionals'. Or, if that label doesn't apply, then 'urban planning aficionados', those 'aware-and-energized' amongst us who are perhaps leaders in their fields, or who can afford (and are inclined) to attend such events. 

So in order for us to have Hamiltonians who are authentic participants taking part in the vital conversations about how our city is going to be reinventing itself, we need to be especially mindful what the goal is: Is it to provide more opportunities for our forward-thinkers within our professional community to rub shoulders, reinforce commonly-held beliefs about what needs to be done and allow for more networking to be done...or is it to impact the skill-sets and awareness of those from the streets, the neighbourhoods, the communities and wards, to inform and inspire them so that they choose to become participants in the conversation?

Both of these factors contributed to me initiating the Town Halls Hamilton effort last year. Because I saw a need for us to own the conversations that should be driving the re-envisioning of our city, and that they be accessible and open to all. What's required for this initiative to blossom is for various groups...The Hamilton Civic League, the Chamber of Commerce, RethinkRenewal, neighbourhood associations across the city, The Spec, CHCH, the potential list is endless...to work together, to collaborate to maximize efforts, and in doing so, provide credence to the underlying effort, that of better equipping our residents to take their rightful places at the governance table. 



M Adrian Brassington

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Regarding 'Our Duty as Elected Officials'


Mayor Bratina has a post on his blog. 'Our Duty as Elected Officials'.

It's pretty straightforward stuff.

In it, he says "People sometimes ask about the roles and responsibilities of the Mayor and Council." I won't deny that there are some who want the kinds of answers he's provided in quoting from the Municipal Act. But I'd bet a fair amount of moolah people aren't actually asking about remit and purview and limitations of power, job duties and performance expectations. My guess is that they're trying to ask a pair of pretty uncomfortable questions. (Uncomfortable to ask as well as to answer.)

"Why doesn't anyone actually lead at City Hall?"

and

"Why is there so little vision?"


Granted, most Hamiltonians possess only small amounts of understanding and comprehension of what goes on at City Hall. (In fairness, in terms our 'civics' in our education system, it's apparently limited to a Grade 10 course. Never mind the fact that most of us can't ) Such small amounts, that when something happens that seems an 'issue', when something blows up good, the existing cynicism and general distrust gets magnified by this ignorance. (Or vice-versa) Because we don't have a deep, working understanding and appreciation of the ins-and-outs, we tend to overreact. This isn't extraordinary, or peculiar to 71 Main Street West; it tends to unfold in all aspects of Life. What's that philosopher's belief? 'Knowing is half the battle.'

So it's good for all of us to have resources at hand so we can properly contextualize things. To appreciate what's reasonable, what's not, to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were. But I'd pay an additional pile of moolah to hear what Mayor Bratina has to say about leadership and vision.



M Adrian Brassington