If want to make an impact on your city, voting is a pretty easy way to do it. You walk into a room, put an x through a circle, and walk out again.
But what about in between elections? How do you go about shaping the city during those four years that separate voting days?
That is what Rowan Caister would like to figure out. Next month he will launch the Toronto Civic Handbook project. His goal is to citizen-source a guide to engaging with city government outside the ballot booth.
Tentative topics include how to run for city councillor, stage a successful protest, adopt a park, and give an effective deputation at City Hall.
Caister, a residential designer who helped organize the #TOpoliWTF event series, hopes the guide will help people who are thinking, "‘we've got this great idea, how do we get started?'"
The first workshop for the handbook project will be held on March 17 at the Academy for the Impossible. Participants will be asked to share their frustrations and success stories about dealing with city government, and to give input for a first draft of the handbook.
While he's open to all ideas, at this point Caister expects the guide will be light on words and heavy on images, and not just because he's a designer by trade. A non-negotiable priority for him is making the handbook usable by all of Toronto's diverse population groups.
"One of the absolute musts for this project is to be able to reach as many people as possible. From a very early stage we've talked about translation, and accessibility," he says. "That means reducing the amount of text, that means considering it as much of a graphical document as we can. Which makes things interesting of course because often the language of the city bureaucracy can be confusing."
While the project should have little trouble finding fertile ground in the tight-knit community of downtown civic activists and citizen journalists, Caister's real challenge will be to get people who don't follow the #TOpoli hashtag involved as well. He says he hopes that residents from all over the city attend the workshop, but if not he has plans to take it on the road to places further afield, like Rexdale and Scarborough.
He's also planning to reach out to community groups outside the downtown core to help him get input from someone other than the usual suspects who show up at City Hall committee meetings.
So far, there's no funding or publishing plan for the handbook. But Caister is targeting the fall of 2013 as a potential release date. With a little luck, he'll convince libraries, schools, and community groups to distribute it.
With a lot of luck, the handbook will help an as-yet unknown Toronto resident get elected to council, or teach a group of suburbanites how organize a business improvement association.
For now, Caister doesn't know where the project will go.
"I'm not really sure what's going to come out of this in the end," he says.