Is my town like yours?
My town, London, Ontario, has a population of about 400,000 people who politically either lean right or left depending on the mood. We have a river that runs through our town. We have a hockey arena downtown and a sort of chic market. Our main branch of the library is pretty cool but resides in a failed mall. We do not have a particularly inspired set of political leaders. They go from the petty and corrupt to the genuinely caring and engaged. Our wealthier neighbourhoods are hotbeds of NIMBYISM where they will drop a few bucks in the Sally Anne kettle at Christmas, but you try building something in, or at the edges, of one of their neighbourhoods to help the neediest in our city and you can expect an avalanche of opposition. Charity and helping people is all well and fine but keep it out of our sight seems to be the message.
Our city has 20% of our children living in poverty and a Food Bank that grows and grows and grows in response to the demand from our citizens. We do not have a very strong local arts scene. We have some amazing visual artists in London, for which we a have a world-class history, but generally, we import our talent, and almost all of our young artists go elsewhere to train and live.
Our transit system was the focus of a 3-year battle that really was a proxy war for two different political tribes in our community—the Progressive and Conservative. The result was one of the most brutal arguments, filled with lies and deception, that resulted in a kind of kludged solution that will ultimately serve no one, especially those that need transit the most. It was likely the most divisive political event to happen in our community in more than a decade that was full of sound and fury ultimately creating nothing.
Our town has a history of serial killing.
No, really it does. London, Ontario was at one time the serial killer capital of Canada. Weird eh?
We have, at times, an incredibly generous response from Londoners to emergencies. Like the time the whole town came together when a drunk driver rammed into a house that caused a fire and almost destroyed an entire neighbourhood. Hundreds of people came together to offer food and comfort and their own homes as a place to stay. We also volunteer almost more than anywhere else in Canada. We are the longtime champs of volunteerism as a matter of fact.
Parts of our town are so pretty they take your breath away. We have some of the most gorgeous neighbourhoods in the whole of our country, and the Thames Valley Pathway System is and treasure that needs to be protected and enhanced. We have these collections of natural parks and sites that are unique, and the neighbourhoods that surround them are stalwart wardens for them. They have driven off many a developer. And our downtown recently went through a transformation that was both inspired and will lead to a more robust downtown.
My town is ultimately directionless when it comes to longterm thinking. Its political seasons are filled with arguments for or against taxes. Candidates and incumbents jostling for position and advantage but rarely talk about big ideas and bold visions that chart a course to economic and community growth. When those people come along and propose a bold vision or clear path, there is inevitable a feeding frenzy on local radio, or from former reporters, that shoot it down. Not a good place to have an idea and stick up your hand, London Ontario, lest it is chopped off and shot down.
In the end, my town is neither fair nor fowl but a directionless beige that doesn’t dare to be something more but can still show flashes of brilliance now and then. It is a place of the middle. A place that is and is not.
Is my town like yours?