As we hurdle out of the last budget of the current council to the upcoming municipal elections in October and the collective decision on who will represent us we need to consider how and where we invest ourselves. In other words we need to consider the intrinsic value of our citizenship, how we apply it, and where we invest our resources and efforts.
We have a number of large decisions in front of us in the very near future. The Performing Arts Centre, Transit, Downtown Master Plan, Cultural Prosperity Plan, and most importantly Rethink London, our Cities Official Plan. In many cases on our local talk radio stations, and in the comments section in the London Free Press, this discussion if often reduced to the point where the only consideration is the dollar value of that investment. In Counsel we mostly see the discussion come down to a matter of dollars and cents. But is this the only measure by which we should consider our future planning and direction? I am not sure
At London X, a conference held by Emerging Leaders of which I am the Executive Director, we heard from Grant Oliphant, CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation. Grant gave us many examples of how Pittsburgh faced their problems locally ,despite an uncooperative municipal government, and came together in a combination of public and private initiatives to retake their river. The river was until recently a picture of the refuse of that cities industrial past. But some community leaders came together and decided to do something about it.
Over the course of more than a decade the work continued until today Pittsburgh is recognized as a world-wide example of how cities can reinvent themselves and grow toward a bright and prosperous future. But in many cases in Pittsburgh the effort was not always about the dollar value but about the civic value of the projects. A great example of this is the fountain by their river.
On it’s face there is no monetary gain to investing in a fountain, What possible economic return could be gained by building such a thing? But to embrace that point of view you would have to ignore the civic value it does bring. It creates a place for citizens to gather, a place for them to come together and enjoy and recognize the one common cause they all have. Place.
In our consideration of where we invest our time and resources lets us also consider this idea of place. The grounds and spaces where we can gather and come together in the common cause of where we live. If we build a beautiful downtown it should not only be about its cost. If we finally invest in our abandoned Thames River it should be about it’s civic use as much as it is about it’s economic value. Are we bold enough to cover the space between Covent Garden Market and Budweiser Garden permanently in Londoners creating a massive civic square? Can we, as Grant said in his talk, bend toward the light and accelerate our transit and transportation plans for the simple reason that they are good for us collectively? And is it possible to not only consider the dollars and cents of a thing we do but also the much more valuable currency of it being good for us to have these as a city and citizens?
The intrinsic value of a city and it’s citizens is not always a formula that results in an economic sum zero game but is equally, or more so, about the deep value of how we get to the places we gather and where we do that. This is ultimately a deeper value than perhaps we are considering at this time in London and, as Pittsburgh has proven, when we invest this way the benefits are there in economics and civic life.