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August 10, 2016

Gerry Post

The subject of our fourth profile is local disability advocate and accomplished city planner Gerry Post. My conversation with Gerry took place in the Public Gardens on July 29th.

Gerry Post was born and raised in Delft, the Netherlands, described by Gerry as a medieval canal city best known for its pottery. Post remembers where he grew up as a special place. “I essentially grew up living/playing outside, and the neighborhood was like a village unto itself. It was a traditional Catholic neighborhood with the church and the school at its centre.”

As a teenager, Post relocated to Canada, eventually enrolling in Ryerson University in the Toronto area in the early 1970s. As Gerry explains, his first year was spent taking courses in business administration, as he followed a path that others had set out for him. “When I was growing up, the view of everyone around me was that I was going to go into business.” However, the social and political climate in the City of Toronto at the time would eventually push him in a different direction. “Around this time, there was a lot of debate around the issue of urban development in Toronto. In particular, there was a movement taking place known as the Reform Movement, which expressed concerns about the nature of the urban development that was happening. I volunteered for the election that took place around then, and as a result became interested in urban planning as a possible career. I made the switch, and haven’t regretted it at all. I later found myself with a summer position with the City of Ajax, and subsequently was offered the position as Director of Planning for Ajax, which at the time made me the youngest one in Canada.”

As Post’s career progressed, he would become involved in projects of various scales in different locations around the world, including Grenada in the West Indies, and in Amman, Jordan. Asked the benefits and drawbacks of having such a varied career, Post responded, “the biggest benefit you gain is the understanding of different cultures, and how things work. There is also the practical experience. I’ve worked on projects of various scales, from the town level all the way up to the level of a nation with over 150 million people There are different circumstances in different places, So I’ve learned a lot.” In terms of the drawbacks, Post identified the time spent away from family and friends as the biggest one, but that while away, he always tried to keep in mind an adage that his mother taught him, which was “the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

Post was able to parlay his hard work into a number of important awards throughout his career. Asked to name the one that sticks out above the others, he named the World Leadership Award for Town Planning, which he garnered in 2007 for his work in Amman, Jordan, where, according to his C.V., he “led many land use planning and real estate development initiatives in the Arab region…this included leading large scale real estate development projects through the full cycle of land use planning, design, and business/financial planning and negotiation with private sector partners.”

Approximately three and a half years ago, Post’s life changed dramatically when he became afflicted by a condition known as an aortic dissection. This is when the aorta, the main artery in the body, develops a tear and begins to leak. Often a fatal condition, Post was rushed to surgery, where he survived the operation but became paralyzed from the waist down. Despite this, he says he awoke feeling blessed. He does point out that the new reality was, unsurprisingly, an adjustment, as he had previously led a very active lifestyle that had included playing a number of sports.

One of the results of Gerry’s changed circumstances was a new commitment to volunteer work and community engagement. Says Post, “I made a decision in the first week after the surgery to help my community.” And that he did. In his first week out of the rehab, he met with the Mayor, and declared his interest in helping. He was quickly invited to a Healthy Communities session, where council adopted a Healthy Communities initiative with three priorities, one of which was accessibility. In fact, Post began to make an impact even before his stay in rehab came to an end. This happened when he was sharing a room with three other patients, and one of them noticed him using his iPad, and wondering what it was. It was at that point that it occurred to Gerry that there was nothing in the rehab’s programming that focused on adaptive information technologies for the disabled.  With this in mind, he began to team up with others at the rehab on a project entitled, “Independent Access to Technology.” The program works to develop bundles of technology, each of which is geared specifically toward persons of a certain level of injury or disability. They then teach the person how to use it.

Indeed, Post’s volunteer activity is extensive. He is also working on reforms to transportation for those with disabilities in the city, hoping to augment the existing Access-A-Bus service with the use of accessible taxis, which will greatly increase access to transportation for the city’s disabled population. As Post points out, the average cost of an Access-A-Bus trip is approximately $37 one way, with the average length of trip being less than eight kilometres. Conversely, the same trip in an accessible taxi is less than half of that, at roughly $17. So, not only would this change increase access to transportation, but it would do so without raising costs. Post calls the idea “a market driven approach.”

His favourite project, however, is one he calls the Healing Garden at the Common Roots Urban Farm. The idea for the project goes back to when Post was still in rehab. While there he wandered into a farmer’s market outside the facility and bumped into the Common Roots proponents and asked about accessible garden plots. They built two raised beds, which Gerry is now using.  The project continues to grow with funding in place to expand it and include garden plots for the blind. Common Roots is a social enterprise located on the old QEII High School site across the Halifax Commons and next to the QE!! Emergency Department. It operates on donations, with much of the produce given to the Parker Street Food Bank. Post describes it as one of the most inclusive projects in the city, with users ranging from children to university professors and Syrian refugees.

Our conversation then turned to life with a disability. When I asked Gerry how his life differs from that of a non-disabled person, he answered, “I think we live in a different timezone, in that things take longer…It requires planning-how do we get around? What’s the topography like?” Asked his experience living in Halifax with a disability, he responded, “I’d say we’re not doing bad as a city when compared to the rest of the world. I’d probably rate it a 6.5 out of 10 for accessibility. As a comparison, I just returned from Montreal, and I’d give it about a 5 out of 10,” adding, “there is still a lot of work to be done, but the City Council recognizes this, and is endeavouring to make this one of the most accessible cities in North America.” That notwithstanding, he did express some frustration with the sometimes lackadaisical pace of the city’s bureaucracy, saying that despite good support at the political level, “things get lost in translation when they get to the bureaucracy, they take too long to take action on political directives, even when there are considerable savings to be had.”

I wrapped up our conversation by asking Gerry if he had any parting thoughts. He responded to this question by quoting Winston Churchill, saying, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Following my interview with him, it is apparent to me that Gerry Post has indeed made a decision to live by this maxim, particularly since becoming disabled. He has certainly lived up to the vow he made following his surgery to help the community, and the city of Halifax is all the better for it.

-Jeremy MacDonald

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