and they all came tumbling down….

note: this opinion is strictly my own and does not represent the views of any organization I have worked for in the past or presently.

My friend Glen Pearson is writing about this subject and others like Gina Barber and Phil McLoed have written about this as well and all of them much better than myself but…

There has been, in our Forested City, an ongoing series of developments that have ultimately led me to recognize that our council is sometime deaf to the concerns and the worries of the citizens of London. Some no longer to listen and respond in reasoned and thoughtful ways. Some no longer listen respectfully to others opinions. Some are no longer awake to the direction Londoners keep telling them they want to go.

We have a committee that is tasked with creating economic prosperity that fails in meeting or quorum or direction. We have committees who are indifferent to years of input by the very citizens whom they asked to become engaged and sought input from. We have members of council who scold the people to whom they are responsible too. We have a Council that seems to be deaf to Londoners.

From Sunningdale to Reservoir Hill to affordable housing to the fluoride debate to backyard chickens, these issues all have one thing in common. The citizens of London have chosen, or were asked to be involved in, citizen engagement and their input, whether I agree with it or not, is often unheeded.

Tuesday night I was at the Reservoir Hill public input meeting at City Hall and from the very opening of the meeting the signals were clear. The first signal? Well the committee room where the meeting was to be held has a maximum occupancy of 60 people. This 60 maximum was quickly achieved and we were told there were another 38  people waiting to get in. We were also told that the Council Chambers was not available due to construction. Councilor Bryant tabled a motion to postpone the meeting to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak. Not one of the other committee members would support Councillor Bryants motion. This spoke volumes.

The meeting was moved in the end to Council Chambers, they gallery was packed, and we began by hearing from City Staff. Staff had been directed by Council to come back with a plan for this site. I’m going to say this again. Staff had been directed by Council to come back with a plan for this site.  Staff did not recommend this development, as one Councilor later claimed, they were directed. Then came the presentation by the Lawyer for the developer. His points concluded we finally got to the public participation. One and a half hours after the meeting was supposed to begin.

The people most directly effected by this issue, the residents that live in and around the proposed development, began to speak about the zoning issues, the OMB issues, environmental issues, the hydrological issues, the historical issues, and I was left deeply impressed by the depth of their knowledge and the authenticity of their commitment. Again and again these citizens spoke with eloquence and knowledge about why this approval, one that negates 10 years of previous decisions at the local and provincial level, was wrong for their community.

This is neatly summed up by Gina Barber in her blog post on the issue about this development:  “This application has been doing the rounds for more than 10 years. It has been back and forth to the Ontario Municipal Board and the courts for interpretation. Although members of the community had fought to stop any development, most had realized that that was not an option.

But neither had the developer been given carte blanche. The original proposal had to be scaled down from two towers to one. Both staff and council had been firm on that, and they had been supported in subsequent OMB rulings. Instead, the proponent put forward a building that was 57% larger than one of the original buildings and kept coming back with the same proposal. It still had not effectively changed.”

And during the meeting Councillor Baechler pointed, “out that previous councils had been unanimous in opposing this development in any of its iterations. That included Swan, Orser, VanMeerbergen, Polhill and White even though now they supported it. Furthermore, staff had consistently opposed the development in its present form. That is why Swan had led the pack last fall to take the approval authority away from staff and hand it over to council. Until then, council had only been in a position to make comments for staff’s consideration. Now, in order to please and appease the developer and his agent, they had given the power unto themselves and directed staff to fall into line. They had bullied the staff in no fewer than five previous meetings

Read Gina’s blog in its entirety here. 

So in the end the committee moved to “accept staffs recommendation” on the site and the residents were left out in the cold. They do not have the option, like the developer has had 4 times, to continually appeal to the OMB. They do not have a higher body to appeal this indifferent and heavy-handed approach too.

So what does this tell us? What does this say about the authenticity of this council’s effort for engagement? What does this say about the fair and open hearing of legitimate concerns by Londoners?

I cannot understand, in any context, the indifference some members of our City Council have shown to issues brought forward by citizens. I don’t understand how they could, in good conscious, ignore these pleas and berate the people who brought these issues forward. I know the people who represent us on Council are not evil. They don’t sit in some dark tower gleefully plotting ways in which they can destroy the confidence of Londoners. They are not soulless or indifferent to their fellow citizens. I know this. I know they care. But they may be misguided and I hope, hope with all my heart, that they find they’re way back onto the path of openness and respect for the legitimate issues brought forward by the people of London. Until that time comes though we must gather and speak and hope  our Council will listen .

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Manifesto for a Creative City

For Michelle, Judy, and Natasha – as presented at Ignite Culture

Let us talk about creation and the creative, about art and making, about the width and depth of London’s creative class and creative places and challenge the definitions of what and where and who and when culture and art is and can be

Let us applaud the grace of the water as it passes us by through the four seasons and glance through hoar frosted trees at the sunlight that tumbles down on our upturned faces and know that we are blessed by the happy coincidence of time, place,  season and each other

Let us savour the lush aromas that slink out to our senses as we struggle valiantly in trying to decide where to feast ourselves. Let us offer our quiet appreciation of a job well done by the ones behind the walls of the kitchen and by the ones who whisk out to our anticipation marvels of palate and poise.

Let us scream our full throated joy in never resisting the beat or in lifting our voices in harmony  – – never wishing to be released from sounds that drive our hearts and fill us with the impulse to dance. Let us praise and thank those who put together music so beautiful that we are left breathless by the audacity of what has just stirred our most secret places.

Let us witness the grace of bodies in movement in the expression of the undefinable and gasp in wonder at the expression of a unique soul made manifest by the extension of arm and leg and neck and toe. Let us shake with excitement at the mad moves made by the mad young in perfected abandon on pieces of cardboard in the middle of a sidewalk.

Let us fall in to a palette of colours and lines and curves that holders of brush and pen, crayon and spray can make for us to gaze on —images so profound or of such whimsy that we want them to be enshrined on our private walls to gaze on and share with those closest to us

Let us clap and offer our thanks to the catchers of light. To the ones with lenses big and small that tell a life’s story or a moments thought in the millisecond movement of a finger on the shutter button. Or in the longer stories of photon catchers who tell us tales in the campfire glow of cinemas screen or monitors glow.

Let us marvel at the artisanship of digital magicians as they create places of play and communication and industry that move forward our entire world. That these keyboard wizards are as much a part of our creative classes as are the arts of the dancer, the actor, the artist, and the writer.

Let us listen to the scribble of the poet and the novelist. the blogger and the news chronicler, the inspiring an the inspired,  as they reflect  the experience of the city in which we live or the world we hope to see. In the sharing of the the personal and the profound, the plebeian and the pedantic, the reflective and the reasoned.

Let us recognize the places we have come from in the procession of our stately buildings and homes as they wind by us in the reflected window light of summer sun and let us be reminded of those who have come before us and built that which we now stand upon and walk through

Let us revel in the green embrace of our parks, trees, and spaces that we share with each other in summer …be suffused by riotous colors, the falling of leaves and the girth of our harvest in fall. Let us contemplate the slow babble of water and the stillness of snow and ice in winter and let us explode in an ode of joy for the release that spring gifts us with

Let us celebrate the playwright and the Director, the designer and the actor who stand before us in manufactured landscapes and make our collective narrative breathe and come to life . These thespians who speak the speech tripingly upon the tongue and dare to hold a mirror up to nature.

Let us look around again at the faces that pass us by and know that the whole of the world in all its the ages live with us and treasure that this has happened in old London town. Let us grab hold of that diversity of sex and race, youth and age, and gather it in the embrace of our beautifully diversifying london.

Let us decide to include the hockey fans and the monster truck rally goers and buyers of metal trees and not succumb to petty cynicism but welcome anyone with the courage to share in what we do  – to invite them to feel they are a apart of something greater than any one of us – our collective culture

Let us go to the holders of public purses inviting them to understand that with out us toiling in the golden seem of creation there would be no heartbeat at the fork of the Thames. That our food would be a little duller, our lives a little grayer, our street a uniform drab, –there would be no laughter amongst the clowns and there would be no tears of joy when the curtain falls.

Let us decide to scatter the seeds of our creativity across the whole of our city and not just to those with pockets deep enough to pay the entrance fee. Let us reach into our schools large and small, junior and senior, and grab by the scruff the imagination of the young, inspiring them to make things that would leave our efforts looking pale and slight in comparison

Let us understand that we do not need to compare ourselves to any other city or place but that within our own nooks and crannies, our own parks and boulevards, that the whole of our lives are encapsulated and all we need is see, and there before us we will find the muse of inspiration leaping to embrace us with outstretched arms.

Let us understand that without the efforts of the creative class this place would be so much less and let us take responsibility and decide to no longer shake our fists at deaf heaven but reach out to the people that pass us everyday and let them know in no uncertain terms that we are here and we make this world, this country, and this city a better place to live by the very act that we are driven to do. CREATE

Let us decide for once and for all that we can no longer attract or expand, make new or revisit old,  iterate or innovate , without the recognizing that the whole of our city is an experiment in art and creativity. That we should no longer make the potential of what we want to be up on the backs of tissue paper wishes but inscribe them into the very soul of our forested city.

Let me offer my clumsy words clumsily offered. I define art as play skillfully done and all that is needed is to understand that anyone or any place can be average but if we chose in this moment and in this time,  that this place, our place,  is brilliant —then we are and have always been a Creative City