Occupation: College professor, social justice and environmental advocate, artist, graphic recorder, entrepreneur. Previous occupations include: non-profit manager, mediator, lawyer.
How long have you lived in Cambridge?
I first moved to Cambridge in 2011 and have been living in the City for 10 years. In April, 2020, my husband and I moved to Preston and I have been living in Ward 3 since that time.
Do you reside in the ward/city you are running in?
Yes, I live in Ward 3.
Why are you running in this election?
I live in Ward 3 and I want to vote for a resilient and sustainable city where decisions will be informed by evidence about best practices with strong fiscal management to invest wisely in social and physical infrastructure. As a voter, I am wary of politicians who: talk to voters as taxpayers, rather than citizens; over-simplify complex issues; neglect to discuss best-practices based on research or any explanation of how they propose to make the city a better place.
The socio-economic and political challenges facing us today are complex. They are not simple problems easily “fixed” by a recipe; nor are they complicated projects like building a rocket ship with a team of experts. Social Innovation is about understanding that complex social problems are like raising a child, which requires the whole village.
We need all stakeholders to have a voice and to influence decisions and policy. I decided to run for Ward 3 council because I am the only candidate with the experience and training to implement evidence-based policy reform with a focus and vision that is practical, measurable and attainable.
What qualifies you to represent your ward?
I worked in Cambridge for several years before I moved to the city and made the move because I love this place. I love the river and green spaces, the local businesses, the art scene, the neighbourhoods and the friendliness of the people. I love the way the business community supports neighbourhoods and the way that non-profit organizations collaborate to better serve the city. The relationship between a city and its citizen is an essential element to create a place that is welcoming and enhances the well-being of all its residents.
I am ideally qualified for city council. I have decades of experience as a lawyer and as a mediator. I was in middle management in a mental health non-profit organization. I have taught business law, negotiation and social justice courses at both the university and college levels. I am also an entrepreneur and in my business as a graphic recorder, I have supported community meetings for organizations like Well-Being Waterloo, Langs, United Way, and the City of Cambridge.
Why should people vote for you?
People who meet me find me approachable. I believe in collaborative decision-making and the importance of consensus in reaching decisions that stakeholders can live with across a spectrum of interests, needs and concerns. I work hard: to listen with curiosity to better understand people’s perspective; and also to extensively research best practices; and ultimately to negotiate a local solution that includes a global perspective.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of the ward?
I talk about putting citizens at the heart of the City and seeking resilience, sustainability and working together. When I talk to voters at the door, conversations vary: safe injection site; homelessness; parks and greenspaces; concern about fast cars on neighbourhood roads. The Facebook page for Preston includes comments about development proposals for high rise apartments. Some folks are cynical and complain that politicians over-promise and under-deliver.
Urbanization continues to increase and we need to preserve green spaces for food security and ecosystem protection. However, increased city density strains the city infrastructure with respect to traffic, road systems, water, sewage, parks and other integral services. The main issue is how to navigate urban development while making sure the city cores and neighbourhoods are safe, sustainable places that enhance well-being of children, individuals and families.
In recent years, there has been a new approach to urban planning at the municipal level which integrates social impact during planning and design. Developers traditionally talk to city officials about direct financial costs, economic benefits, environmental impact and local stakeholder support. Too often, the complaints of stakeholders are treated as externalities or collateral damage to economic decisions.
However, these factors directly impact well-being and quality of life. (eg: noise, traffic congestion, cycling safety, loss of shade from large trees). When social impact is integrated into urban planning at the design stage, a city becomes a better place to live with improved sustainability and resilience for the residents, neighbourhoods and the city.
I would integrate design criteria and evaluation of policies and development applying the Canadian Index of Well-being and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
What do you see as the main issues facing residents of Cambridge on a broader scale?
In recent times, politics in Canada has become more polarized with insufficient recognition of the importance of social and physical infrastructure. “Spending less” at
provincial and federal levels over decades has taken its toll. Greater and greater responsibility has been placed on municipalities. In addition, there are new challenges: the climate crisis, opiate poisonings; current and subsequent pandemics.
Too often, social problems are not recognized until there is a crisis; reacting to a crisis is often poorly planned, over-simplified and inefficient. A more effective response is upstream thinking, which is about exploring the cause of the problem and putting in place preventative measures, such as early childhood education, youth programs or age-friendly design features. It is much more effective and in fact, cheaper, to fund resources such as sports, employment services and mental health and addiction counselling than paying the cumulative costs of supporting victims of crime; repairing property damage; policing, imprisoning and rehabilitating offenders.
Social problems are caused and / or exacerbated by insufficient investment in our city’s social infrastructure. After decades of short-sighted politics, during the transition, we need to continue to manage and cope with the current crisis while also investing in the future by upstream thinking which uses evidence-based, best practices for an optimal investment in social infrastructure for: food security, affordable housing; infant, child and youth education / support; mental health and wellness etc.
What is the most important thing you want to see changed in Cambridge?
I talk about putting citizens at the heart of the City and seeking resilience, sustainability and working together. This is about relationships within Council and between
Councillors and the people who live in the Ward for more effective communication. In addition, I want to see social impact integrated into urban planning at the design stage.
These are cost-effective reforms that will facilitate a better place to live with improved sustainability and resilience for the residents, neighbourhoods and the City.
What services need to be improved in Cambridge?
City council has a responsibility to facilitate strong citizen leadership, participation and engagement by minimizing red tape and other barriers to communication. I have had the privilege of participating in citizen advisory committees for the Stronger Together initiative in November, 2018 and, most recently, on the Youth and Older Adults Sub-Committee for the Cambridge Wellness Advisory Council.
These have been excellent initiatives for citizen engagement; they can be expanded and revised in order to maximize opportunities and impact by citizen consultation on City decisions. Citizen recommendations need to be fast-tracked and prioritized for improvement of grassroots democracy. When I coached small business start-ups, we emphasized that customer service feedback was more valuable and cost-effective than hiring outside business consultants. The City can also benefit from enhancing the communication channels so that citizen feedback can be integrated into Council decision-making.
Is Cambridge growing too fast, just the right amount, or not fast enough?
It is not the rate of growth that is the challenge. What we need to do is to ensure that infrastructure keeps up with the demands of more people and increased traffic. It is essential to anticipate infrastructure needs and to ensure that current development proposals integrate infrastructure improvement and maintain focus on social impact.
Social impact must be integrated into urban planning at the design stage so that the City anticipates increased population and traffic rather than allowing the pressures of growth to undermine well-being and quality of life.
What can be done at the local level about the rising cost of housing?
There are global and regional pressures on soaring property prices. Unfortunately, land has become a commodity for investment – both locally and internationally.
Government policy at the federal, provincial, regional and municipal level needs to focus on de-commodification of housing to ensure that investor profit does not undermine the chances for ordinary people to have a home.
Subsidizing first time home buyers is a Band-Aid solution. We need to focus on land speculation and land transfers to mitigate impacts on real estate as an investment commodity while also ensuring stability for landowners who are owner-occupiers and/ or contributing to rental housing availability.
This is a complex challenge.
What can be done locally about the homelessness issue?
The long term solution for homelessness is affordable housing so that everyone has a place to call home. Municipalities can negotiate together for increased federal and provincial investment and Cambridge can collaborate with the Region of Waterloo and local housing organizations and businesses to maximize success for housing investment in the city. We can integrate social impact considerations about affordable housing when developers approach the city planning department to order to facilitate business investment / participation in affordable housing units.
In addition, affordable housing can be maximized with social innovation in programming. For example, Housing First ensures social supports for the most vulnerable people for long-term success.
Another promising social innovation are land trusts which can be used to mitigate against rising property costs for affordable housing and other social programs.
As many people are aware, the rare Charitable Research Reserve is a land trust established for ecosystem protection, research and education. Land trusts can also be used to provide cost effective locations for affordable housing and non-profit social services.
How do we make Cambridge an even better city to live in?
We have the tools and strategies to explore global research about best practices and develop a local solution for our city. The first step is to place relationships at the centre of our city: a highly functional city council communicating with respect, collaboration and consensus; and also, efficient and effective communication with citizens and city staff.
What makes a city great is that we all work together to maximize the resilience, sustainability and well-being of individuals, families, neighbourhoods and the City itself. We need to invest in social and physical infrastructure now to be ready for the future.
To learn more about Michele, visit bit.ly/MicheleBraniffWard3