Since last summer, there has been an unending stream of protests and letters to the editor concerning Trio Marine’s proposed water slide project in Skaha Lake Park.
There have also been letters in support of the project, of course, but it’s quite possible the ongoing opposition came as a surprise to city hall. Opposition to a project isn’t unusual, but it is common for it to die away in a short time.
The enduring opposition to the water slide project is of interest because it highlights the rift that sometimes shows up between perceptions at city hall and those of the public.
In any argument, it’s easy to dismiss the other side by saying that “they just don’t understand.” In the case of interactions between city hall and the public, it’s too easy for those in charge to dismiss the public as reacting emotionally, getting the facts wrong and not understanding the information.
But just like an argument between two people, it is always possible that your opponent not only does understand, but understands more than you.
Even the so-called facts aren’t always all that certain; often, they are inextricably entwined with values and biases on both sides of the equation. The city’s perception of this corner of Skaha Lake Park is that it is underutilized. But the public sees it as an important green space. Even doing a count of users wouldn’t undercut that perception, since it wouldn’t include those enjoying the park’s beauty at a distance.
The problem with the water slide developed because of the difference between how the public and city hall—both the councillors who make the decisions and the city staff members that supply the information—perceive the risks and benefits of the project. And there are really two entities that make up the city hall side:
Each group is going to bring their own way of looking at the world to the table, but the onus is on the councillors, the decision-makers, to step into the public’s shoes, and not dismiss their perceptions as misinformed or just plain wrong.