Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Canopy of Lights – Approved Yes, Feasible Maybe

It has been about two or three years since the Christmas tree on St. John’s Sideroad, just West of Yonge Street, was last illuminated. Driving by many times I noticed that the strings of lights are still on the tree, so I hope that someone, someday will light up the tree again for the holiday season.

Now let’s talk more about holiday lights and more specifically let me express my thoughts on the installation of a Canopy of Lights in downtown Aurora, to be installed permanently along Yonge Street between Wellington and Mosley Streets.

A Canopy of Lights is a great idea but in my opinion it may not be the best fit for our downtown Aurora.

However during the September 24th Council meeting the Canopy of Lights motion put forward by Mayor Tom Mrakas was discussed and eventually approved. The discussion at the Council table was quite interesting [watch here]. In one of the Mayor’s recent posts the focus is simply on the result, that the Canopy of Lights motion was unanimously passed! But for inquiring minds I thought that the Auroran news article grasped the Council discussion quite well and definitely expanded more on the challenges of the decision.

The reality is that for any professionally managed project, regardless of how good the idea may be, a simple feasibility study would specify the requirements, constraints, approvals, costs, benefits, timeline, and consequences.  Unfortunately, the Canopy of Lights motion proposed no such thing.  Rather than requesting Town staff to assess the feasibility of the idea and report back, the Mayor’s motion simply directed Town staff to install a permanent Canopy of Lights in time for the Santa Under the Stars Parade on November 23, 2019. Strange that “permanent” word was not explicitly mentioned in the motion but only brought up during the discussion.

The idea of permanent lights and to be ready for this year’s Santa Parade didn’t sit well with four Councillors [Gallo, Gaertner, Kim & Thompson]. To be ready in time for the parade also meant “that the provisions of the Procurement By-law be waived to allow sole sourcing.” This amendment was defeated, meaning that the permanent Canopy of Lights will be installed in downtown Aurora but will not be ready for this year’s Santa Under the Stars Parade on November 23, 2019. Following proper procurement channels takes time and to follow proper channels is the right thing to do after all.

Confused yet? Well, in summary all I am conveying here is that although it seemed the Mayor was anxious to fast-track the Canopy of Lights over Yonge Street in downtown Aurora for November 23rd, it was quite clearly an unrealistic request based solely on the Town’s procurement process.  It’s likely that he would have thought to investigate how long the Town’s procurement process would take before tabling the motion and realize that instead of two months in the request, it would be more realistic to plan six months.

During the Council meeting the Mayor Tom Mrakas noted, “If it can’t be done, then that’s fine. As we all know, within government circles, things tend to take a very, very long time, so sometimes you have to light that fire to get people moving a bit and sometimes I like to push the buttons and get people moving a little quicker because that’s how you get things done sometimes.” Source: The Auroran.

After all was said and done, Council did approve unanimously the installation of the Canopy of Lights for a later date and instructed Town staff to work with the BIA (Business Improvement Area). However, what is concerning here is that Aurora Council voted and approved the Canopy of Lights not knowing if the project is actually feasible to proceed.

Ultimately, before moving forward with the Canopy of Lights motion were the critical parties consulted other than suppliers or contractors? Was Central York Fire Services consulted regarding strings of lights obstructing overhead emergency access to the mixed use commercial / residential stretch of Yonge Street from Mosley Street to Wellington Street? Was York Region Traffic services consulted about the clusters of lights interfering with the visibility of traffic lights including rain and snow weather conditions, potential wind and ice storms? For those that live above the commercial properties, how about light pollution and urban birds perching on the lines?  It would be a shame to contrast the welcoming light show at night with a “Birdy Poop” show during the day. At this point many questions remain unanswered, yet Council agreed to install this Canopy of Lights over busy Yonge Street in downtown Aurora.

Lastly, if the following statement posted in the Auroran is valid – why bother with the lights, “With the bulk of the heritage properties in Aurora’s historic downtown core being owned by less than a handful of individuals, the Town of Aurora is leaving the door open to possible redevelopment as it looks at options to beautify the Aurora Promenade.” Source: The Auroran

In the end it doesn’t matter if we are discussing a Canopy of Lights over Yonge Street, development of the Armoury, or Library Square – the common denominator remains the expectations that we have for our elected officials.  We expect them to make decisions in the best interest of the entire community of Aurora while providing true transparency, exercising due diligence, following due process, and upholding the integrity of their positions.  Sometimes that means focusing effort and resources more on the planning, success, and sustainability of long-term priorities and less on short term accomplishments with high visibility.

Anna Lozyk Romeo
Aurora, ON



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