Written by: Dave Heidebrecht, from CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network
Most mornings of my life follow the same routine. Early alarm. Quick shower. Hot coffee. Clean clothes. Off and running. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Recently, however, my morning routine changed. In September 2017, my wife and I welcomed our son into the world—he is hands down the best thing that has ever happened to us and we put every ounce of our energy into raising and providing for him as best as we possibly can.
One year later, we’ve survived our first year of parenthood, and as my wife recently returned to work, we have now entered the “get everyone out of the house dressed, alive, and (somewhat) on time” phase of our lives. That early alarm is now our little one waking us up before the crack of dawn. Hot coffee? Forget about it. Clean clothes? I’ve learned to wait until after the morning food fight to even attempt to get dressed. Each morning routine is a bit different, but the routine always ends with myself and my son off and running—or should I say rolling—out the door to take on the day.
After a mad dash to get ourselves bundled up, we head out together on my bike—first stop daycare, second stop my office. And every single day, including this morning, this routine involves the feeling that my city—Hamilton, Ontario—hasn’t fully reached its potential in being the best place for me to raise my son. We have collective work to do.
Ironically, Hamilton’s vision is to be the best place to raise a child and age successfully. Sadly, this isn’t my reality each day and isn’t the reality experienced for many in this city.
Every day I bike to work with my son between my handlebars. It is one of the best parts of my day. It is also one of the scariest. Every single day I experience people driving past my son and I at double the posted speed limit. Every single day I risk my life crossing a 400-series highway on-ramp along one of Hamilton’s official east-west bike routes.
This morning someone threatened me, swore at me, and honked for me to hurry up because I was waiting for a gap in traffic to cross a major road along one of Hamilton’s official bike routes. I guess the 15 seconds delay it caused him (a father too, I assume, given the minivan loaded with family accessories) blinded him from the fact that I too am in a rush to get to work, that I too had a wild time getting out of the house this morning, that I too am just another person trying to get from point A to point B.
Despite our lofty vision, I don’t feel like our city has fully actualized its potential to best place to raise a child and age successfully. I want my city to be a place where children can travel safely with their parents on neighbourhood streets. We certainly can’t be the best place to age successfully if we don’t prioritize the efficiency by which cars leave your city over the lives of people walking and biking from one neighbourhood to another.
Which brings me to the point of this essay—responding to CivicAction’s request for a variety of community builders throughout the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area to ask the question what I would do if I were mayor? If I were mayor, I would wake up every day and ask myself what I could do to ensure that Hamilton can be the best place to raise a child and age successfully.
If I were mayor, I would wake up to my morning routine each day with this vision top of mind—asking myself what actions I could take to empower my colleagues, city staff, and all Hamiltonians to work towards this vision collectively. I would be thinking not only of my own challenges navigating the city, but of the many complex challenges that people throughout our community face on a daily basis—poverty, displacement, hunger, unemployment, unsafe streets.
I would start each day by asking myself what role I have to play in striving towards this vision.
Drinking cold coffee, surveying the cratered landscape of toys strewn about the house, I would look at my son and ask myself how can we make this city the best place for him and every other child in our community. That’s where I would start. Every. Single. Day.
I’ve spent the better part of the last decade organizing and building coalitions to advocate for safer streets throughout our community. This was before I became a father.
When I could hit the snooze button on my alarm.
When coffee was still hot in the morning.
When the only life I risked on my way to work each day was my own.
So would I do if I were mayor? I would get through my morning routine and head to work each day to ask my council colleagues, my staff, and our community how we are going to get to our vision. I would ask this question every single day, in every single meeting, at every single committee, so that the question of whether we were pursuing our vision would not be an afterthought, it would part of our everyday routine.
Early alarm. Quick shower. Hot coffee. Clean clothes. Off and running to be the best place to raise a child and age successfully. That’s where I would start. Every single day.
The “If I Were Mayor” blog series profiles the ideas of youth and rising leaders from across the GTHA as a way to add their voices to the municipal conversation. Posts have been curated by CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network, For Youth Initiative, Laidlaw Foundation, Toronto Youth Cabinet, Citizen Empowerment Project, Young Women’s Leadership Network, and the Centre for Community and Immigration Services. The views contained in this post are the author’s and are not reflective of CivicAction or the CivicAction Leadership Foundation.