Sitting at the bar of Chapter Two Brewing Company with Chris Holt, the two of us sipped beer, discussed politics, and reflected on the current council term.
The ward four city councillor is a co-owner of the new craft brewery located on Edna St. linking Walkerville and Ford City, and Holt hopes he’s going to be able to link the neighbourhoods together.
“We’re a direct line between the two communities, one community that’s experienced the greatest gentrification, the greatest rebirth of a traditional neighbourhood that the City of Windsor has ever seen,” said Holt. “…then Ford City, which is just starting to see the flowers open on the seeds that have been planted over the years.”
The brewery evolved out of “another hobby gone wild” and is the result of a longtime group of homebrewers who decided to commercialize their passion with a small destination craft brewer.
“We’re very proud to be located where we are, maybe drag some [more] investment [and] foot traffic towards Ford City,” says Holt, adding that the group plans on developing the brewery into a true “community space.”
After shifting the conversation to politics, Holt mused that Windsorites need to understand there’s the way we’re currently doing things, and there’s a better way to do things; Windsorites in fact should “aspire to greatness”.
“I could talk about this for hours. Why do you think I’m opening up a brewery? I can sit in this very spot and talk about…transformational stuff that we’re just starting to realize in Windsor,” said Holt. “If we as a community can rally around an idea, we can accomplish some pretty amazing things. I wanted to bring that [concept] to the forefront.”
Referencing Glengarry Marentette, Ford City Neighbourhood Renewal, Downtown Windsor Community Collaborative, and Our West End neighbourhood groups, Holt stressed that strengthening and organizing these groups was a key way to increase a neighbourhood or ward’s political representation.
Looking back on his first term as an elected official, the councillor most admires the growth and impact of neighbourhood groups had on their neighbourhoods and helping them get involved in the political and democratic process.
“Fighting and winning and gaining political strength to keep things in their neighbourhood. They achieve things by coming together as a collective…and finding their collective voice.”
The priorities of the people that live in the downtown wards tend to be ignored due to a lower voter turnout than the suburbs.
“They don’t get out to vote [and] tend to be ignored,” said Holt. “…voters that live in the suburban wards actually come out to vote…they get listened to a little bit more and get a little bit more….”
SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT
Holt engages regularly through social media to communicate with constituents and finds it to be beneficial, though with risk.
“You cannot ignore a constituent on social media…it goes viral: ‘This damn Holt guy, it took him ten minutes to get back to my tweet!’”
It’s not all nice comments though. Holt finds it “heartbreaking” when constituents call him crying or yelling. “I’ve had people that have threatened me physically…it’s because they’re not being heard [and need help].”
When it comes to relationships with his council colleagues, Holt laughingly acknowledged that anybody who watches council knows he “align[s] more with certain councillors than others.”
Some councillors share common goals and visions, and while others don’t, Holt said they all get along.
“Honestly, I like everybody around the council table, I really do. It takes a special person to run for council [and get elected]…but obviously I am closer to others than I am to some.”
Holt is excited to run again and will says he’s focused on strengthening neighbourhoods and main streets.
“I want to see our core neighbourhoods strengthen [and] come back to life,” he said, adding that he wants to see a “seismic shift” away from building new on the outskirts of the city contributing to sprawl, and instead to see reinvestment in core infrastructure.
Bring up the megahospital, and you can tell it’s a contentious issue immediately by his facial reaction.
“Here we are, ripping out piece by piece that things that make the City of Windsor sustainable [and] viable, eliminating the infrastructure that built Windsor,” said Holt, then adding that Windsor was “built around what used to be four hospitals [and] now is two.”
Most concerning for Holt is that two core hospitals are being shut down and a megahospital is being built on land which “until six years ago [was] another municipality, it’s crazy.”
“It bothers me to no end that we’ve had no municipal discussion about this [or] the ramifications of essentially shifting our infrastructure priorities away from the built up environment in the core, to this…it boggles my mind.”
Windsor needs a truly diversified economy and Holt warned that the 1950s thought process which “brought Windsor great wealth might be waning”.
“We have to rely on our own wits…it’s crazy to put all your eggs in one basket where, the silver bullet approach will not be working anymore,” stressed Holt referencing Jaguar and Land Rover. “…we have to rely on our local homegrown resources.”
DETROIT – A MONSTROUS OPPORTUNITY
Look no further than Detroit to see a “monsterous opportunity” right across the river and examples of successful progressive urban planning.
“People in Windsor have to determine the future that they want…there’s a lot of people in this city that think we need a little bit of shift, a little bit of a bump, to the left.”
As Detroit is ripping out freeways that “dissected and killed their community” and reversing their 1950s way of thinking, Holt sees a different story in Windsor.
“The City of Windsor is the economic engine of the entire region, anybody who says it’s not is crazy…if Windsor dies, it’s not going to bode well for the region,” warned Holt. “We’ve been building disposable communities with never ending resources going into highway building, sprawl development, it’s proving to be incredibly expensive, it’s bankrupting communities.”
Council needs to start thinking long term or else “we’re going to continue making these decisions that might benefit our generations, but are going to make our children’s generations suffer. Grandchildren? Forget about it…”
(Photo by Anthony Sheardown)