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Previous post: Ward 2 Votes

Election Day is finally here!

Today finds us in a very different place than November 2010. Mayor Fontana stepped down before completing his first term after being convicted of fraud. Councillor Joni Baechler is now Mayor Baechler after being appointed to the position until the election. Several wards are without an incumbent, with councillors not seeking re-election, and Councillors Swan and Brown vying for the mayor’s chair. On top of that, we’ve had upsets in the mayoral race as Roger Caranci stepped down from the campaign, after the advanced polls had opened, to endorse his once-rival Paul Cheng, a complete unknown who is polling close behind front-runner Matt Brown.

So – a lot of potential for big changes on council! I’m hoping that this election will help renew interest in the electoral and civic process, and I plan to continue blogging and closely following the next council session.

But most importantly – make sure to get out there today and VOTE!!!

If you aren’t sure about any part of the election, there is still time to get acquainted with where to go and who your candidates are:

Not sure which ward you are in? Check out this map on the City’s website.

Not sure who your candidates are? The City’s website lists all candidates here.

Looking for where to vote? The City website will show you where to go.

Looking for more coverage of the campaigns? My friend Thomas Thayer (@talkw3rds) has written excellent posts on the campaigns in his blog.

Looking for an election night event? Check out Election Night at the Convention Centre!

To finish this post, I’ll leave you with this poem “Your Voice, Your Vote” by the amazing Holly Painter (@Hey_MissP), check it out!

 

Next post: London Votes 2014 Recap

Ward 2

Ward 2 debate, London Free Press

Previous post: Cheng’s Campaign of Contradictions

I believe Nancy McSloy would be the best representative for our ward. Not only are her views on the ward and our city progressive and closest to mine, but I’ve had the opportunity to get to know her as a person before the election. I was able to volunteer with her on the Strengthening Argyle Neighbourhood Task Force and the Argyle Community Association, and have witnessed her passion for the our ward and the city firsthand. The London and District Labour Board removed their endorsement of Bill Armstrong (more on that below) and endorsed her campaign, saying she would be a progressive voice on Council. As her About page shows, she has volunteered and worked in on a number of fronts, and I’ve been very impressed by what I have seen. In volunteering with McSloy at Argyle local events I’ve been amazed by the amount of community members who know and deeply respect Nancy. Her heart is here, and the community seems to know it. It’s not a far jump from knowing a community well to representing a community well, and shifting from being a researched, dedicated and communicative volunteer to a councillor.

I also believe that her two opponents are not the best representatives for our city.

Bill Armstrong has been known as a progressive candidate but over the past council term has been slipping towards the “Fontana 8” on key votes, including the Reservoir Hill and PenEquity developments. This trend seemed to accelerate once Fontana stepped down from office and Councillor Swan became the heir-apparent of the group, including Armstrong voting against the Fanshawe-Kingsmills deal. This is despite the fact that it would help the school expand operations in ward 3 and likely bring more student activity to ward 2. This didn’t miss the notice of the London and District Labour Council – he lost their endorsement to McSloy because of his voting pattern over the last term. Armstrong has reacted passionately about a few issues in the ward, like the sound barriers along Veterans and opposition to a home for autistic adults that’s scheduled to be built near us (only a few neighbours actually seem to be against this development). Generally his votes are unpredictable, and appear to be based on his personal opinions. Most of the people I have spoken to in the ward who have made efforts to communicate with Armstrong were met with silence. Armstrong seems to have coasted for twenty years on voter apathy and a lack of strong candidates who can beat the automatic boost from being incumbent. Last election he won with only a small margin over Steve Polhill.

On the conservative side is Steve Polhill. If the donations for Bud Polhill and Steve Polhill in the 2010 election are any indication, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Bud Polhill was a staunch member of the Fontana 8 in the last Council term, and has been involved in both secret meeting controversies investigated by the Ontario Ombudsman. The last thing we need is a second Polhill at the Council table. He appears to have made his banner issue the proposed rec centre to be built in 2018 in East Lions Park, and how it should be relocated to another site like the former Churchill Public School site. This issue didn’t actually appear to be an issue to anyone until Polhill made it an issue (we live near the park, and everyone we’ve spoken to has been enthusiastic about the project and what it will mean for the East Lions neighbourhood), and I’ve seen very little else from his campaign to distinguish him as a candidate other than being a Polhill.

How will this ward race go? I think it is still anyone’s guess. 2010 saw a close race between Polhill and Armstrong, I believe down a conservative/progressive divide. Incumbency is hard to defeat, but Polhill has spent these last four years involved in the community, and the lines of progressive/conservative have been blurred. Nancy is a well-known and well-respected member of the Argyle community though and I think has really shook up what could have been a 2-candidate race. The London Free Press gives this assessment: “A horse race, with McSloy winning endorsement from the London and District Labour Council and a record of activism under her belt. Polhill has name recognition, from his politician father, and a pro-development stance.”

How has the campaign gone? These are Nancy’s thoughts on the campaign, in her own words:

The past eight months have been a whirlwind of being out in the community and knocking on doors. I have been through three seasons, spring, summer and now fall. I have also been through almost every kind of weather except for a blizzard.

Ward 2 is full of beautiful streets and neighbourhoods. I have seen so many beautiful front yards and gardens and now I am seeing many awesome Halloween displays. This shows the pride that the residents of the ward take in their homes and communities. I want to work hard for the great people of the ward for the next four years.

My team of volunteers has been amazing; we have walked hundreds of miles as we have been to every street at least once, some two or three times. I have had many people ask for signs for their lawn and many people who have donated to my campaign. For that I want to say thank you to each and every one for putting their support behind me.

Of course there have been some hiccups along the way, but I have been working throughout the community for many years and decided that no matter what I was going to keep going as I want to represent the people of Ward 2 at City Hall. I have made it to “Election Eve” and now it is a matter of waiting for the results. Tomorrow is going to be the longest day of the campaign, but to everyone who has been part of this journey I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Next post: London Votes 2014

cheng brown

Mayoral candidates Brown and Cheng, from London Free Press

Previous post: About Time

In a mayoral campaign full of twists and turns, Tuesday night – less than a week before Election Night – delivered another stunner. Mayoral candidate Paul Cheng, who moved from relative obscurity during the campaign to becoming the closest contender to front-runner Matt Brown, owns many unlicensed rental properties in London.

Cheng has said that he refuses to license his properties or to have them fire inspected as of a matter of principle, because many other London properties are not licensed and not under the same level of scrutiny, so why should he pay when others don’t? When asked if a mayor should choose which laws to follow, he backtracked and said that he would of course properly licence his properties before taking office.

He went on to talk about how painful his experiences with city hall have been, but denies that these experiences had an impact on his decision to leave his business career to run for mayor. In his defense about his decision, he said: “If you want to crucify me for that, yes, I protested and I stood up for my right to defend myself. . . . Is it wrong for me to stand up for my belief? Do you want a mayor that just craters under everything?” 

The more Cheng’s platform and business conduct surface in the last days of campaigning, the more he seems akin to fringe candidate Arnon Kaplansky, who has also run foul of city hall with his development plans. Kaplansky is all about decrying “red tape” at city hall – but his “red tape”, to me, is code for “due diligence”. Kaplansky argues his properties would be so much better if city hall would just get out of the way and let him do whatever he wants.

(There are concerns being voiced that this article from the LFP is somehow tied to Cheng’s opposition, and the timing is suspect so close to the election. This comment was made by the article’s author, Jonathan Sher: “No one leaked anything. I investigated Mr. Cheng’s experience as a businessman as it is that experience that has been a cornerstone of his campaign. In London, his business experience is almost exclusively as a landlord. I conducted land registry searches to find out which properties he owns (many are under a numbered company), then asked city hall bylaw enforcers whether those properties had been duly licensed — a question that any civil servant is required to answer, as these are public records. As best I can tell, neither Brown nor Swan were aware of the issue until I asked them about it.”)

These revelations come on the heels of another controversy, starting the night of Sunday Oct 19 when one Scott Sproul (who has since deleted his account) tweeted a racist message to Forrest Bivens (@ForrestBivens) over his taking over the People of London (@PeopleofLdnOnt) Twitter account. This was awful but not unique for Sproul, who has been trolling London social media for years, but it was revealed to many that he is part of the Paul Cheng campaign team. I and others called the Cheng campaign office Monday to ask what capacity Sproul has on the team, and if the Cheng campaign knows that Sproul uses his vitriol to attack Matt Brown supporters as well as support Paul Cheng. I was contacted by the campaign manager Tom Linden that morning, who told me that Sproul was not associated with their campaign. That afternoon, Paul Cheng’s campaign announced that Sproul was a volunteer with the campaign, and no longer welcome. Hm.

Following that, am980 wrote the story about it and Forrest continued to talk to Linden. Forrest shared the latest e-mail he had received, where Linden denied one of the quotes they had published from Cheng, and said “I honestly don’t know how to get the media to report the truth without editorial sensationalism”. This prompted Craig Needles to publish this blog post including the sound clip of the quote, and saying that Cheng owed him and the station an apology. That evening Cheng contacted am980 and Craig Needles to apologize and say that he never meant to cast doubt on the professionalism of either… but didn’t address all the inconsistencies, nor the fact he referred to some of those questioning him as the “old boys network”.

These are only the latest contradictions from the campaign. Paul Cheng has insisted his campaign is about results not paper, and that London has enough talking and enough studies, time for some action! But he has then stated that some of his first actions as mayoral will be to meet with the top 100 businesses in London and talk with them to find out what they need from city hall, and create plans, including transportation plans, to evaluate what is to be done. Sounds like a lot of talking and studies – all of which are already done. As candidates Swan and Brown have indicated, if Cheng knew his way around City Hall he would already know that, and realize that this work has been done for him.

In an article Wednesday, Cheng himself admitted that his campaign team is “rag-tag”, without experienced team members. Cheng made Tom Linden his campaign manager after he came to Cheng’s door to offer his support, because Linden came across as someone genuine, with his heart in the right place. In speaking to Linden on the phone I was given the same impression – but he immediately admitted to me he was far out of his depth running this campaign. With this knowledge, the glaring errors in the past week make more sense.

This campaign just doesn’t add up.

Worse, Paul Cheng seems like a candidate that sees himself as above the rules. From wondering aloud if all matters before Council even need to go to a vote to now seeing exactly how he runs his own land management business, it’s easy to see the City snared in needless controversy with the OMB and Ontario Ombudsman, should Cheng take office.

I ask anyone considering voting for Paul Cheng to look into his campaign, and these controversies piling up before the big day. The more his campaign is examined, the more it looks like a second rendition of the Fontana years on Council. We know how that story went. I hope that after Election Day, we don’t repeat it.

Next post: Ward 2 Votes

downtowrooftop2

Previous post: Letter to Council – Supporting Fanshawe

I closed one of my last posts with “I say this every time I write and then there is a massive gap between posts, but…I hope that this will mark a return to writing. There has been so much to write about both locally and around the world, will aim to be here much more often.”

That was a couple months ago…

This year has gone by astoundingly quickly, with Molly born in April, and suddenly now 6 months old. I’m still adapting to becoming a father but enjoying every minute of it, though between work and Molly-time it has become very easy to revert to introversion and not make it out to Election 2014 events. Speaking of…

The election season has managed to both drag and blitz by – it’s hard to believe that election day is less than a week away, even as some aspects of the election have made it seem endless. The last weeks have been marked by some major upsets including that once-presumed front-runner Roger Caranci withdrew from the mayoral race and endorsed once-fringe Paul Cheng, who has been making massive gains on front-runner Matt Brown. Yesterday alone saw two racism controversies: a) Paul Cheng dismissing a campaign volunteer who wrote racist/abusive tweets, mostly to Matt Brown supporters, and b) three candidates running against presumed Ward 3 front-runner Mohamed Salih tried to ambush him on CJBK radio with bogus questions about Mo’s residency etc. that they have chased his campaign with since the start. As things have gotten frantic in the last days of campaigning there have been complaints on all sides of campaigns turning negative, and even many that are passionate about politics have been feeling burned out.

I’ve been thinking repeatedly about writing on the election but have struggled to find inspiration, even as my friend (and fellow Fanshawe ILPT graduate) Thomas has written excellent coverage in his blog. His posts have been referenced by many as he has thoroughly and impartially written about the council and mayoral candidates. It’s been great to be able to follow his posts, but has left me with little to do! I appreciate him encouraging me to get back into writing.

So: it has been great to get back to this blog, and hope once again to write more regularly. There might not be too much more to say on this election, but I’m very excited to see who we’ve elected, and what direction they will lead our city. After the disaster of the Fontana 8 I’m hoping for better days ahead… we shall see.

Next post: Cheng’s Campaign of Contradictions

thames

I’m feeling very disconnected.

This has been a very strange, exciting and nerve-wracking year. My work flow has been a rollercoaster of busyness and quiet, changing massively as I’ve moved from trying to manage my own business to becoming an employee of the company I’ve been an associate with. Our family life has changed greatly as Sarah is now 5 months pregnant, and we ready our home, lives, minds and hearts for our first child. Our priorities and perspectives have shifted as we work to find balance to our lives as many things change, and I find myself struggling to stay both sane and living a life I can be happy with. I find myself dropping a lot of things I usually enjoy, hardly reading or writing in the past few months as I often find my mind terribly blank by the end of the day (my RPG gaming is however doing extremely well).

It was a hard decision to make, but as work and life has changed I’ve decided to step back from being on the boards of the Argyle Community Association and Strengthening Argyle. I am proud to have participated in these groups and to meet/work with the amazing people there, and am disappointed to have to step back from these responsibilities.

It also leaves me trying to find my place in our community of Argyle, and in the greater collective community of London. I’m so glad to have met (and continue to meet) so many people across the city working to make it even better, and it leaves me wondering where my place in that community is. I want to continue to participate, yet often find myself wiped out by the end of the day just taking care of home needs, wants and responsibilities. There are no words for how much I appreciate those that do as much or more than I do and yet manage to do so much for our communities over and above this.

So as I’ve stepped back from these responsibilities (while continuing to help manage the Argyle social media accounts) I try to imagine where I may fit, and continue to help even in my limited ability. If nothing else I’m hoping to re-connect with the Citizen Corps community through events like Pints and Politics (especially before our energy and time are devoured with our new arrival!). I am elated to see that this community seems to continue to grow and spread, each time I am sent a digital invitation the guest list seems to be even larger, and to be more names of people I’ve never met, and expansion groups have been meeting in other communities across the city.

So as I imagine what I can do and where I may fit, I have spent more and more of my time following the news from home, unfortunately without being able to gauge what people are thinking and saying except through digital interactions. I hope that it may be the peculiar amplification of moods and thoughts created through a digital medium that inhibits nuance, but what I am hearing is far less than hopeful, even from some of the brightest stars of engagement I know.

Even as I consider greater involvement and attention to events and politics, it seems that things are breaking down in our country at every level. Between the constantly changing narrative in Ottawa over the Wright/Duffy Senate/PMO scandal, the ongoing Ontario Liberal controversies or the daily international headlines over Rob Ford, something is rotten in the state of Canadian politics. And we’re all getting tired of it.

I think it is partially the deep need to be involved reawakening in me as I find a new normal as I prepare for my new life, but I am realizing that issues like this oddly energize me as I come to realize how badly all government needs to be closely monitored and corrected. Completely understandably, the more things go off the rails (especially at all levels, simultaneously!) so many Canadians are turning our backs on politics. Sadly, the more things like this happens, the more credibility there seems to be to attitudes like “they’re all the same”.

So, what is to be done?

This is the question I am nowhere near answering. I hope as I get back into writing, and being involved in the London community and beyond, I can read and think and share and discover solutions to this killer, poisonous politics atmosphere we seem so completely surrounded by.

Because the more things like this happen, the more we need to assess our choices as the electorate. We need to examine all possible candidates in all positions, and perhaps more so, we need to continue to hold those elected officials to account between elections. Every person we elect has a duty to represent us in their positions of authority, but we are also responsible for holding them to account.

In times like this, with politicians seemingly making up the rules as they go along, it can be far too easy to give up. But it is in times like this that we are more needed than ever, every one of us, to hold their feet to the fire.

In his latest blog post, Glen Pearson notes:

The simple reality is this: it’s not really about Rob Ford and his ilk; it’s about us, and how much incompetence we are willing to endure.  We got what we voted for and now we’re paying for it.  We need better politicians, but our only way of achieving that target is to be better citizens.

pride flag

Right now is an exciting time in our church community, as we launch a new church from First Baptist Church London, called Maitland Street Church.

The team that is dedicated to the launch is meeting several times a week in a flurry of enthusiastic activity to iron out details as well as prepare the building (819 Maitland Street) for services starting in the fall. When I first committed to the project, I was likewise excited at the prospect of starting a new church founded on a philosophy of community, relationship and service.

But I’m struggling to remain excited, at no fault of the church or the people there.

I’ve always been hesitant in my Christianity. I came to faith in my early 20’s despite strong misgivings with many aspects of the global church and my experiences growing up (I wrote about it in more detail in my post What I Believe), and am always conscious of the associations that are created by saying I believe and attempt to follow Jesus Christ.

Even as we prepare for our new church, one that may be the closest thing I’ve found yet to a church I may be truly comfortable to call home, I feel more conscious than ever of how much Christians are in the news, in my mind, for all the wrong reasons.

This summer a debate has raged in Texas and elsewhere in the United States over female reproductive rights, with conservative Christians leading the charge for draconian measures that will put many lives in jeopardy. Even as a major victory for equality and civil rights was won when DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was declared unconstitutional, conservative Christian groups across America continue to push to keep the definition of marriage only one man and one woman. Though it is absolutely no cost to them or their relationship, these conservative Christians are working to continue to deny thousands of homosexual couples the rights heterosexual couples enjoy.

Closer to home, the news isn’t much better.

Metro News reported recently that despite dropping levels of hate crimes in London, not all the news is good:

The bad news is that hate crimes against the LGBT community across the country rose by 10 per cent in 2011 after an increase in 2010 as well.

Local numbers weren’t broken down by race, religion or sexual orientation, but Pride London Festival president Andrew Rossner believes the local LGBT community is still too often the target of abuse.

Far too often the Bible is wielded by ignorant minds and inept hands as a cudgel instead of a message of support and encouragement, and Christians the oppressors instead of allies. In a Metro News article written yesterday on a Pride London event called Ignite Pride (hosted by Aeolian Hall, mirroring other successful events such as Ignite London and Ignite Health), the one commenter chose to quote Romans 1:18 as a Biblical example of why homosexuality is apparently sinful. Pastor and author Mark Sandlin has written the best commentary I’ve read about this kind of misappropriation of scripture, calling such methods “Biblical” gay bashing. I also wrote this post last summer on sexuality and scripture, and why methods like this of lifting text in an attempt to make a point not supported by the entirety of the Bible does a disservice to God and to scripture.

When I marched in the Pride London parade last year, the only mar on an otherwise great day was the clusters of people holding signs along the parade route with scripture similar to Romans 1:18. Unfortunately, so often when I think of Christians, this is what comes to mind: people that worship the same God I do, but (in my mind) doing it so very wrong. What I struggle to accept that we are all part of one broken, splintered and diverse church. And, there are many that are just as unhappy that I’m part of the fold.

What I hope to remember instead as I reflect on my belief and my faith is people like this I met at Pride, instead:

Pride London sign

I discovered that day that there are many people that believe like I do, including the directors of a London “Centre for Spiritual Wellness and Exploration”, called Sabbath Place. They conducted a church service in Queen’s Park before the parade got underway on the spirituality of sexuality and on how we are all God’s children. I’m so glad that I happened upon the gathering that day, in doing so I’ve made new friends, and found much needed renewal of my faith.

It also helped me to reconfirm my commitment to the church and the community, something that in writing this I hope to do again. I struggle as I see so many Christians doing what I see as so much damage to the world and each other, but have found that there are others that think as I do, and are willing to remain in the church despite so much pain, knowing that it would be much easier just to leave, knowing what is easy is almost never the right choice.

I know that we need to be the change that we want to see, and that if I were to just turn my back on the church, it would only become even more of what I despise.

And we all have so much we can give to the church, and there is still so much the church can do for the community. Churches continue to be one of the foundations of many communities, supplying counseling, support, encouragement, food and shelter to those that need it most.

This is what I want to focus on as I think of the new church we hope to build. The goal is to create a church founded on community and support, being a relational centre where the members are there for each other, but much more importantly, are there for their community at large. My hope is that I participate in this church by connecting with the community associations in the area and finding ways that we can support each other, while drawing further experience that may assist the Argyle Community Association as well. There are brief moments (including the Awesome London pitch party this week) where I see and feel the power of collaboration and what people can do together when they share experiences and assets to the benefit of all. I hope that as our communities and L0ndoners in general discover their strengths and those of the people around them, these experiences will only grow.

It can be daunting, but it is so important to stand up for what we believe in, and surprisingly community connections can be made when we do. I can’t wait to celebrate Pride London again this year, it is so important to stand up and be seen as an ally, and to celebrate our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you’ve been out to Pride before, I hope that you’ll be there again, and if this is your first time to the event, I especially hope that you’ll come and see what it is about!

Pastors often say that to be truly living a Christ-centred life you need to follow God out of your comfort zone. As a Christian, I feel that it is our duty to give voice to those who are marginalized, to be an ally to those who need support, and to remember that the most clear instruction we receive from Jesus was to love others and love God. If we start looking at the world through the lens of love first, everything else second, it becomes absurd to say my books says you and your partner should have different chromosomes to be together.

Step out of your comfort zone, and love extravagantly. That, to me, is the real purpose of the church.

gathering discussions

Previous posts:

I’ve been trying to grapple with everything I heard at the Tamarack Institute gathering in Kitchener, and figure out ways this information can make me a better participant and member in my community and the entire city. One thing that has helped has been reading though books by two of the speakers, “Community Conversations” by Tamarack president Paul Born and “Neighbour Power: Building Community The Seattle Way” by Jim Diers.

Jim’s book in particular has helped me understand what his city of Seattle has done, and dream of what is possible in London. The following quote is quite long, but please take some time to read and consider it, it is a terrific condensing of the spirit of the Tamarack meeting:

Perhaps more important than the financial and other material benefits of civic engagement are the social benefits of a strong sense of community. No amount of public-safety spending can buy the kind of security that comes from neighbours watching out for one another. Similarly, neighbours supporting latchkey children or housebound seniors provide a kind of personal care that social service agencies can’t replicate.

There are other things that communities can do better than government can. Community members have local knowledge and can provide local perspective. At the same time, they think more holistically than governments that tend to specialize in specific functions.

The community is often more innovative than the city bureaucracy and can constitute a powerful force for change. When the City of Seattle planned to build incinerators to deal with its garbage problem, the community demanded a recycling program instead. When electricity rates escalated after the city bought into a nuclear power project, the community pushed for a model conservative program. It was the community that introduced the Seattle Police Department to community policing and insisted on its implementation.

None of this is meant to suggest that there is no role for government. While the community provides a local perspective, government must look citywide to ensure that neighbourhoods are connected and that each is treated equitably.  Community innovation needs to be balanced by a certain amount of government standards and regulations. My point is simply that cities work best when local government and the community are working as partners.

True partnership requires government to move beyond promoting citizen participation to facilitating community empowerment. Citizen participation implies government involving citizens in its own priorities through its own processes (such as public hearings and task forces) and programs (such as block watch and adopt-a-street). Community empowerment, on the other hand, means giving citizens the tools and resources they need to address their own priorities through their own organizations.

In his book, Jim outlines many methods Seattle has used to empower communities across the city, and bring them together in sharing goals, aspirations, dreams, people and projects so that they can move the city together more effectively instead of overlapping.

One particular example that jumped out at me was the city’s Neighbourhood Matching Fund (similar to London’s SPARKS Neighbourhood Matching Fund, though larger in scope), where communities could bring forward proposals to the city with requests for money, resources and city personnel the community have identified as needed to see their project into reality. The projects are ones identified as being high priority by the community, instead of from the tradition where the priorities are identified by the city, often with little or no community consultation. The matching comes from an expectation the community would include in their proposal their “share” in the project, where skilled work by community members and donated materials would be valued and added, making the proposals more accessible to lower-income neighbourhoods.

It also challenged communities to assess their assets, a key component to the community philosophy of the Tamarack Institute. Jim tells countless success stories in his book, highlighting that communities identified as “high-risk” or “struggling” in city assessments were some of the most mobilized by the matching program, allaying initial fears they would be ignored against better presented and argued proposals by affluent neighbourhoods.

The part I’ve been struggling with since returning to London from the conference with a head full of great information about what other communities have been doing is trying to condense it down into easily actionable projects and events in our city.

So what can we do?

Here are 3 online resources that are great starting points:

Urban League of London @ULld

The Urban League describes itself as “an umbrella group whose members include a number of neighbourhood and ratepayer associations in the city of London, as well as a smaller set of (primarily) environmental or heritage community organizations.  Individuals with an interest in urban or civic matters may also become individual members of the League.” Their website provides a number of terrific resources, including a listing of all registered community organizations and neighbourhood associations with a search that points you to the closest association to you, planning notices in the city, information on how to get involved with the League and other helpful links.

The NeighbourGood Guide @LDNeighbourGood

This website allows Londoners to “like” and share their favourite gems in their community, helping communities promote their favourite places and find out the great places to go in others. As an awesome bonus, the community with the favourite gem is eligible for a $5,o00 neighbourhood enhancement project! The website lists all communities (such as Old East Village and Argyle) for easy searching to see the gems by neighbourhood, as well as providing tons of other links, including 2013 community initiatives and community news in London. The site is fun and interactive, allowing anyone to mark new gems not yet identified, so the content is built by users. Spend some time on this website, I guarantee you’ll find new great places to explore all over the city!

Better London @BetterLondon

Better London is a terrific forum for sharing ideas on how to make our great city even better. You can share brief ideas on the site to be discussed by users and given priority based on how popular the concept is. Other social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook can be used to further the audience reach, often sparking great conversation on the merits and drawbacks of different ideas. Better London allows Londoners to connect with others in their community, dream together what can be done to make our city and communities better, and work out goals and actions that would make these ideas a reality.

And a bonus fourth! Shameless community plug time: Discover Argyle @DiscoverArgyle

Discover Argyle is a summer-long project launched on Canada Day in East Lions Park that highlights events, places and spaces in the community. The program includes a personal “passport” to Argyle that participants can get stamped at the destinations. The website link includes a full list of events in the community, places passports can be picked up and dropped off, and a blog that will be written over the summer on everything happening.

Over the summer, many community associations are on a break to participate in and enjoy the many events happening in their communities and throughout the city. Events are a terrific way to meet with others, get to know your neighbours, and sew the seeds of further participation. This summer I hope to be in the city as much as possible, hear and see what others are working towards and hoping for. I ask that this summer you may do the same, learn about some of the great things happening in our city, and dream with others of what can be while looking for ways to make it happen!

downtowrooftop2

I’ve struggled to complete my series on my experience at Tamarack, as the concluding day tackled deeper issues. These included what a strong community looks like, and how we can each return to our own communities with renewed purpose and energy to make the community visions a reality.

As I’ve reflected on community and what we can each do to grow a vibrant and caring city, two major developments passed the city’s planning committee, despite the protestations of both planning staff and many concerned citizens. The mayor has touted the construction developments in environmentally significant areas as a major win for our city because of the potential 1,200 jobs they will bring. This is against concerns that this growth further spreads the sprawl already too typical of London, the fact that the jobs would be mostly minimum wage jobs to multinational corporations not invested in the best interests of our communities, and that it would draw opportunities away from neighbourhoods across our city that are already struggling.

I was motivated to write this letter after reading Shawn Adamsson’s letter to Council expressing his concerns about the direction these developments will take our city. Please consider writing a letter to Council (wards and contact information available here). The more people who are sharing their thoughts and opinions on important civic issues, the stronger our city becomes. Please feel free to use this letter as a template if it helps to express your thoughts on this issue.

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To Councillor Armstrong, Mayor Fontana and members of London City Council,

I believe the two developments approved by the planning committee this week are the wrong direction for our city for several reasons.

As a student of urban planning and a participant in the highly successful ReThink London process, I’m concerned that these proposed developments are contrary to the public will and the wisdom of the city’s planning staff. The recently published ReThink London discussion papers and specifically the paper Creating a Mixed Use, Compact City demonstrate the public will to utilize our existing lands more efficiently and creatively, instead of the further hollowing of the core these developments would represent. If Council opts to ignore these massive citizen engagement initiatives, to ignore the advice of their paid professionals and instead to side with furthering urban sprawl for very little net job gain for our city, we risk further disenfranchising and losing valuable London citizens.

As a member of the Argyle Community Association board and a member of the city-led Strengthening Neighbourhoods Argyle initiative, I am very concerned about the impact these proposed developments will have on our community. Strengthening Argyle has worked diligently to survey the community to understand their priorities, with the ultimate goal of creating a vision statement and action plan for citizens to see their desires realized. One of the underlining goals for the community is jobs, especially jobs that provide a living wage that allows Argyle citizens to live comfortably and be contributing members of the community. I am deeply concerned that these jobs will do very little to provide new net jobs to our city, and only further drain opportunities from communities already struggling.

I recently had the opportunity as a member of Strengthening Argyle to  join the Tamarack Institute gathering on neighbourhoods and communities in Kitchener with many City of London employees. One of the key features of the gathering was walkabouts in Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge communities to hear their success stories. One of the walks we were able to take was to see downtown Kitchener, featured as “The Revitalization of an Urban Core”. In it we saw many repurposed buildings (most notably the extremely successful Tannery District) and infill developments, making the most of existing sites. The planning staff that guided the tour noted that these kinds of projects help save the city money by slowing the need for expansion, reducing strain on public utilities and infrastructure.

As a previous employee of London Hydro working in the engineering office (2010-2011) and as a current contractor to hydro utilities, I see first-hand the costs of expanding developments into unserviced areas. On top of the massive environmental impact of clearing and developing an environmentally significant woodlot and wetland, the city needs to consider the burden servicing these developments will have on the citizens and infrastructure of London.

As a family that depends on public transportation to get around the city, we are concerned that these developments would either be unserviced by the LTC and therefore costly to reach (especially by the minimum wage employees of that site), or by being serviced by the LTC, would further strain an already over capacity and underfunded public service. There are many routes in the urban core that are unable to deliver sufficient seats to people that depend on transit (including students who pay for a bus pass as part of their tuition), and the LTC hopes to keep up with neighbouring cities by introducing express bus service. Furthering our urban sprawl will sacrifice these kinds of ambitious projects, and put us further behind the kinds of innovative communities we must compete with for our post-secondary grads.

As we struggle with 9.8% unemployment and the continued drain of our younger generation, these new developments may seem like big gains for our city. However, the generations of young educated professionals we want to keep value the environment, value having efficient public transportation, and recognize that a city with long strips of vacant commercial space (like the Pond Mills area, or McCormick area) already being serviced is short sighted to abandon that neighbourhood to decay for the sake of the appearance of progress (shovels in the corn fields).

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Brian Gibson, Ward 2

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After the morning discussion, we broke into workshops to start the afternoon. I joined one called “Social Capitol and Neighbourhoods” at the Victoria Park gazebo hosted by Milton Friesen, who is completing a Ph.D. at the University Of  Waterloo School Of Planning.

gazebo meeting

Milton’s discussion centred on the research he is doing, including understanding how people move in their environment, and how this data can help us to appreciate how connected a community is and estimating social isolation in the community. Part of his research includes subjects being voluntarily tracked with a small GPS device (currently being invented by Milton) that would simply log their location every 15 seconds or so, for one week (the data would be entirely geospatial, without any personal information attached). In theory, with enough willing participants chosen by random sample in a community, the community could be “mapped” by seeing where people tend to congregate and when, how far they travel on average from home to work, etc.

I found his study very interesting, partially because it reminded me of research I worked on as part of my undergraduate degree, “Estimating Population: A Case Study”. The research I did (lead by my GIS professor Martin Healy) investigated how people can move through their environment in London, based on the case study of the outdoor pools across the city and how accessible they are to the local population around them. My study used paths (walkways, sidewalks, roads) in the GIS to estimate how people can access the pools, but this data would allow the researcher to see how people really move in their environment, and as more communities were studied, start to develop a stronger understanding of trends, and to be able to spot communities that are more or less connected. At least, in theory.

Very soon, we walked from the gazebo back to the pavilion to take one of the school buses to communities in Waterloo and Cambridge for our second walkabout. I chose to visit a community called “Lang’s Farm Village” and their village association, drawn to the prospect of talking to another community association and seeing what they’re doing. Not knowing what to expect, I found myself in a Cambridge community started in the late 60’s-early 70’s.

We were greeted by a harsh looking neighbourhood, and a very friendly community leader, Bill Davidson. Bill briefly told us the story of Lang’s, a community built on what had been farmland, replacing the arable soil with many brutalist high rise apartments and town house complexes. He described the community as one of big problems and big hearts, where social issues such as high drug use, pregnancy and school drop out rates are seen as opportunities. The community has pulled together against tough odds, and is flourishing.

He took us quickly through the community association building (what started as the unit of a townhouse, but soon spilled into an additional portable unit because of the need and the desire to work there), which has evolved into a youth and teen centre, which includes daycare and afterschool programs, cooking and fitness classes.

Langs Village Association

As we left the townhouse, Bill grinned and said, “we’re very proud of everything happening here…this isn’t what we brought you to see, though.” Some others from the group who were more familiar with the region seemed to guess where we were going, but I followed the group down the street, not knowing what was coming next.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for what I’d find as I turned the corner.

Bill beamed and welcomed us to Lang’s, the community health & wellness centre built in 2010. This project was a joint venture from all three levels of government, creating a regional centre, but built primarily for the immediate community of Lang’s Farm Village.

Langs entrance

At the front entrance is a map and list of all the community partners. In this one centre, the community has a multitude of different services, workshops and facilities available to them. Many of the speakers at the gathering had been talking about “breaking down walls” and “connecting communities”, but I hadn’t envisioned something quite like this.

The community was instrumental in every aspect of the centre, from pushing since the 80’s to have an integrated place where all needs of the community and region could be met, to consulting on the design and choosing who would occupy the space. This even includes the interview process – when selecting professionals that will work in the centre, the community is welcomed to meet the applicants and help choose the person they want serving them!

Langs community partners

This is the main space that greets visitors, with seating in front of floor-to-ceiling windows, a large reception/help area and entrance to various wings of the building.

Langs main area

Behind the reception area is a large gymnasium, with windows looking out into the reception area. Bill impressed on us that the centre works to support health and wellness in the community, from teaching fitness and recreation activities, supplying many different medical offices, to various forms of counselling and support.

View from gym

This is Bill telling us about all the medical offices in the building. Many of the practitioners in the centre are there on rotation from other offices, but they also have dedicated staff. Many of the people that have come through their doors have never been to a doctor or a dentist before, but now they see one regularly, as well as having access to specialized care such as chiropractic and massage therapy.

medical centre

The centre was built with many green features to keep the maintenance and energy costs down, including a green roof.

green roof

A mural above the gym was designed by the youth of the community, and created with them by a team of graphic designers working in the community that continue to mentor aspiring artists.

gym mural

After a whirlwind tour of the community centre, we were back on the bus to Kitchener. We were invited to return to the pavilion in the evening for lively line dancing. I lingered with a group of others from the conference over dinner and beer and ended up getting to the pavilion just as things were winding down…so we went over to the Victoria Park Boathouse instead. Not a bad way to end the day!

victoria park at night

Next post: Tamarack Day 3: Benefits of Organizing Neighbourhoods

Previous post: Tamarack Experience

I’m so grateful to have been a part of the Tamarack Institute’s gathering in Kitchener last week on neighbourhoods and community building. Each day was packed with excellent talks, small group discussions and walks around the surrounding communities.

The only problem from the events is that there was so much to take in that it left me somewhat struggling to find the most pertinent points to take away and share.  It was amazing to join a national conversation with community leaders from across Canada and the States, but it can make it difficult to take everything shared and apply it to our city and Argyle community.

One of the messages that stuck with me through the entire gathering was one introduced near the start by John McKnight about gifts. His challenge was for us to turn to someone near us that we didn’t know and simply ask them, “What are your gifts?” I and many others were flabbergasted, this is not something I’ve ever really, deeply considered before…plus it was 8:30am after waking at 5:30am to drive there. Not the perfect time to be considering who we are and what we have to offer.

But conversations got rolling, and when John asked the audience what their answers were, they came back, numerous and varied. His challenge was to ask this question often, when we gather with colleagues and community members, but even when we’re with friends and family. It can be tough to answer, but quickly reveals we all have a lot to offer. We are repositories of experience and expertise.

I found this an excellent reminder, as I sometimes struggle to find ways I may be helpful, and have heard many members of our communities I’ve spoken to say things like “I’d like to help/be active in the community, but there’s nothing I’d be good at.” John’s message was: when we can unlock and encourage all the gifts in our communities, only then are they truly strong. Communities can be served by the city and civil services, but when citizens are recognizing and using their gifts, that’s when great communities are truly shaped.

The big question is how is this achieved? The talks were excellent, but left us with a lot of questions. The power of the talks we heard may have been in igniting or reigniting our passion for community building, and helping us recognize the potential every community has. The greater challenge ahead will be turning that passion into actions and decisions.

After John’s talk and small group discussions we broke into workshops for the first part of the afternoon. I joined a talk by Tamarack President Paul Born called “Deepening Community in Neighbourhoods”. We reflected on what community means to us, and how we can experience shallow vs. deep community. Some of the ways that Paul believes we can deepen our communities include:

  • Telling our story and achieving unity by opening doors between ourselves
  • Enjoying time with one another and finding ways to regularly spend time together
  • Caring for one another and building a sense of belonging through mutual acts of care
  • Working together for a better world and moving from a life of them vs. us to one of all of us, together

After the small group discussions we had the chance to go on one of four walks through communities being showcased. I chose to take the walk through Kitchener’s downtown. I’m always interested to see what other cities are doing with their downtown spaces, and I wanted to better understand London’s downtown community and learn ways that it may be further improved.

We walked through Victoria Park and checked out two co-working spaces, TreeHaus and the Tannery District (pictured below), finishing by examining the streetscape along King Street including in front of City Hall. The impression I’m getting is a downtown core very similar to London’s, in that until very recently it had a rough reputation, one that it continues to overcome.

tannery district

One of the strategies shared on the walk was the changes city planning staff have implemented in the way people move through the downtown. I was deeply impressed by how some of the leaders in the planning department had researched and visited cities around the world that are showing leadership in creating truly walkable, environmentally friendly, safe communities. The vision the staff has for downtown Kitchener is something along the lines of Nice (France) where a vibrant street market happens all day long, ranging from fresh flowers in the morning, fresh produce in the afternoon, and a lively restaurant and bar scene in the evening.

Admittedly there is still a way to go to match such high ideals, but the staff feel that the vision is slowly going forward. Some of the elements shared on the walk include:

Green planters. These planters look similar to those found all over our cities, but the downtown stormwater drains have been engineered to flow into the planters instead of into the sewer system, reducing impact on downtown infrastructure and making use of the water to feed the plants, reducing city labour and upkeep costs. The planters are filled with local, salt-resistant plants that are both attractive and able to thrive in the water coming from the streets.

IMG_1048

Great bike racks, adding to the overall attractiveness and interest on the street.

awesome bike racks

Moveable bollards that allow the city to adjust the parking and patio space along the downtown core. In this picture, there is both space allowed for parking where the bollards are against the sidewalk (background) and space where the bollards are against the road, making more room for walkers and/or patios (foreground).

kitchener downtown parking

I may also have a serious case of City Hall envy.

Kitchener City Hall

Next post: Tamarack Day 2: Organizing Ourselves