Oh, it warms my heart to see it.
— Brian Skakun (@BrianSkakunCity) August 26, 2014
The Prince George city council meeting was full- full!- last night. This does not happen often. And why was it full? Not because of some controversial neighbourhood development or group lobbying for more funding.
It was full because people want to be able to sell used video games after 8 pm.
More context: a newcomer to Prince George’s downtown business scene is GameQuest, a shop specializing in retro video games and systems. It’s a cool place: arcade machines line one wall, and tournaments in things like Street Fighter and Smash Bros. are a regular after-hours occurence. It’s a community as much as a store.
But there’s a hitch. The owner of the store, Kelsey Polnick, was informed that because he buys and sells used goods his store falls under city bylaws targeting pawn shops.
City bylaws. Blech. Boring.
But as those of us who sadly and solitarily read through city council agendas know, bylaws affect the way we live our lives. They are the rules created by our local governments in an attempt to nudge the development of our cities and neighbourhoods in one direction or another.
So yes, bylaws affect your ability to buy and sell that vintage edition of Super Marios Bros 2.
You can read the details here and here, but essentially there are rules in place aimed at targeting illegally acquired goods from being sold in pawn shops that include a holding period of 30 days and no sales after 8 pm. At some point, the city saw a problem and created bylaws to try and fix it.
I’m going to take a guess that most of those hundred plus people who showed up at council last night hadn’t heard of this bylaw before Polnick discovered and started a petition to try and get it changed. And I know for a fact that most of them don’t regularly show up to city council meetings.
But whether they knew it or not, those bylaws were in place, affecting their lives! And your life!
And so they showed up, and Polnick presented to city council, and council voted unanimously to look into changing the rules. Democracy in action! That’s the awesome thing about local government- get a hundred or so people together and you will definitely be noticed by the people making the rules. Heck, I’ve seen delegations of like two people make a change. You’re not guaranteed to get your way, but it’s a heck of a lot easier than provincial or federal politics. There are much fewer layers.
And look, I don’t expect these guys and gals to show up at every single city council meeting from here on in. But here’s what I hope: I hope that this is a small example of why local government matters. Bylaws can be boring but they have real consequences. They tell us what we can build where, how many parks we have per thousand square feet, and whether we can buy and sell used video games after 8 pm.
So even if you don’t want to sit through every single council meeting and read every single bylaw change proposal… pay attention to the people who do. This November we are going to be electing a new mayor and council and the decisions they make will affect your life. You may not always notice it, but trust me, those rules are there, shaping the way the city develops.
Only 28.8% of Prince George’s population voted in 2011. Voting day is November 15. Let’s see if we level up.
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