An Edmontonians view of London and the Fringe – guest Blog by Kenneth Brown

In the face of some recent economic hardship, London is trying to remake itself as a civilized city of the 21st Century.  During the festival, I was a guest of Sean Quigley and his family, who live a quietly sane life in a comfortable, inauspicious condo in the northern part of the city.  Because Sean lent me a bike for the duration of the festival, most of my transportation around London was by pedal, and I thoroughly enjoyed my early morning and late night rides through elm and maple-canopied streets.  I like the way the sidewalks all seem to have wheelchair-access ramps, and I like the way that no one objects to sharing the sidewalk with bicycles.

Londoners are very typically Canadian.  They are polite, they use irony in many economic exchanges, and they are neighbourly in a way that people from my oil-booming home town of Edmonton have forgotten.  On three occasions, strangers pursued me down the street to restore something that I had left or dropped.  Twice, it was because money had fallen out of my pockets.  The guy I bought a bus ticket out of town from cracked a really funny political joke about how my bus ticket would be used to profile me.  People still say “I’m sorry” a lot, like proper Canadians do when they mean “let’s pass each other without getting in each others’ personal space.”

The physical beauty of London is, to someone used to the utter industrial utilitarianism of Edmonton, a pleasure for senses.  Massive trees, dignified brick and stone buildings, old churches, a kind of attention to attractive detail make this Westerner envious.  Yes, I did pass grotesque, aesthetically-controlled (that is to say impoverished) mass suburbs under construction in the outlying reaches of the town.  I pity the people who are trading the aesthetics of the old town for that extra thousand feet of space and the three-car garage where they can store their internal combustion engines.

Our Edmonton contingent, comprised of three different theatre companies with crossover membership, brought five very divergent kinds of shows:  a small-cast new American classic, a satirical one-man show, a raucus collective creation that a friend of mine once described as “rock and roll theatre”, a drama about aging, and a very delicate and sensitive one-woman show about a Bosnian refugee.  Having all decided to apply for the London fringe (on the strength of the relative success of last year’s Letters In Wartime), we all had high hopes that these shows would find an audience that would more than pay for the expenses of traveling three thousand kilometers.

We were greeted and welcomed graciously by everyone.  Our London Fringe organizers and hosts could not have been kinder or more helpful.  Joe Belanger, of the London Free Press wrote a huge preview article that was focused on me and my collegues.  Our technicians at the two venues we used were excellent; I can’t say enough kind words about Stephen Mitchell at the McManus Studio; he was simply wonderful, helpful, and good humoured.   We placed posters in all the strategic places we could find, we tried to find opportunities to get the word out, we put the shows up, and waited for the audiences to appear.

To say they didn’t would be unfair.  There was a dedicated core of Fringe-goers who attended several shows.  Joe Belanger did yeoman work coming out to as many shows as he could in order to get the word out in the Free Press.  The volunteers not only served their time in lineups and ticket booths, they made a real point of coming into the theatre to see the shows that their labour was supporting.  But the critical mass of ticket-buying customers willing to lay down ten bucks (a very modest outlay, in 2013) and be taken to some imaginary world for an hour or so never materialized. Only one single performance of one of our five offerings put enough people in the theatre that they became, not a collection of individuals, but that vitally different entity, an audience.  That is to say, a group of people who breathe, respond, imagine with group consciousness.  Anyone who makes theatre for a living knows how important that critical mass is.  There is an energy in the room that is unique to theatre.  The full house differs from the sporadic audience in an exponential way.

And then there’s the problem of money.  And yes, it does boil down to money, sad to say.  “It’s Just The Fringe” is a phrase that doesn’t make sense to one who has spent as much of their life as I have making my summer’s living producing Fringe plays. Fringe is not an opportunity to indulge myself in a little theatre.  It is my way of making a living by my wits for four months of the year.  The hard fact is that, where amateurs (and I use that word in its strictly economic sense) can AFFORD to do Fringe for love, I do it, as I have for over forty years, for money.  Not much money, but enough to pay the bills.  So I wont be bringing work like this summer’s back to the London Fringe; I simply can’t afford it.  So although Anatolia Speaks was so generously received by Londoners, I won’t be taking that risk again.  Even with the honours it was done by the London public, as our most successful play this year, it just barely paid its expenses while we lost money on the other shows we presented.

This has happened to me only once in 30 years of fringing at a dozen festivals in Canada and the USA (in Toronto, of course, where I took the first episode of a trilogy about a Canadian Spitfire pilot, and resolved thereafter never to bother with that festival again). It’s a bit of a shock to the system.  My unfragile ego took a little correction.  The main point, however, isn’t about how one theatre artist feels.  The main point is that the London Fringe as an entity will have more trouble attracting artists from far afield to share their vision of the country, the world, or the human psyche.  I believe I share the whole Edmonton contingent’s feelings.  Great people, lovely city, economically unviable theatre-making.

I truly hope that London comes to embrace the Fringe, that young people in this city come to see theatre as something as sexy, as important, as stimulating as a blockbuster movie or a night at the pub.  It’s certainly no more expensive.  I hope that the brilliant Jason MacDonald continues to work his subversive theatre magic (he is, by the way, a real star on the Western fringe circuit). I hope the Fringe finds that central gathering area where you can put up a beer tent, and get people together chatting and arguing the merits of plays.  I truly believe the city would be a better place for it.  Close the damn screen and get out amongst your fellow citizens.  That’s what theatre is good for.

Maybe next year Sean Quigley and I will write a show together and we can have an excuse to visit, hang out, blather absurd Gaelic humour at one another on stage.  And hope to pay for Fringe fee and the airline ticket.  After 31 years, I’ll be back to being an amateur.

Kenneth Brown, June 2013

Left / Right and 0%

START:In the debate about around the 2013 Municipal Budget I have noted an ongoing debate on twitter and in person on the role of government and the efficiency/inefficiency  of government regarding the collection and spending of our tax dollars. This has most often come up for me when speaking about supporting those who are living near or below the poverty line or in the provision of service for things such as transit, bike lanes, or Library services.

In thinking about this there are a number of divides that surface.

One: Governments role should be limited to providing only the most basic of services and that the impact of the services should be minimal on the tax rates established by government.

Two: Government is always inefficient and therefore where the option is to have a private/for profit service deliver this it will be better for efficiency and for commerce.

Three: It is the responsibility of the individual to make their own success and wealth and that it is not the role of government to provide this.

Four: Economic development can only be enhanced if the municipality provides economic incentives for businesses to locate in London such as reduced servicing costs, tax incentives, and reduced buying costs for land.

At the heart of the argument is the divide between the philosophies of the “right”and those of the “left” but I actually think this is a false place to consider the issues of the 2013 budget from.

One: If Government at any level provides only the most basic of services then we end up with a number of issues that cannot be addressed by the private sector. The private sector is premised on the idea of creating profit , within the confines of supply and demand, for the services and products it sells. It will not be motivated by, for example, a need to provide health coverage for anyone who cannot afford it nor would private enterprise see a benefit in providing affordable housing. Government would be motivated to provide these services if it is the will of the electorate and in the public interest. We must also recognize that the cost of not providing service such as affordable housing is actually greater in the long run than not providing it. The costs to our health, policing, ambulance, mental health, and welfare systems is actually greater in the end. Of note is the impact government programs have on taxes. Staying with affordable housing a study by the State of Utah in 2003 showed “Another measure of economic impact is state and local taxes generated by the increase in income earnings. The estimated income, sales and property tax generated by affordable housing programs in 2003 was $20.4 million.  This estimate was derived by applying an effective state and local tax rate of 10.2% to the $200 million in income generated by affordable housing programs”

In looking at the previous example we can recognize that Government can provide a service, in this case affordable housing, that can have a positive net economic impact on a cities economic well-being. The same example can be applied to transit or bike lanes etc. if in providing a service there is a net benefit to the population government can and should act on it.

Two: The idea that government is always inefficient is a popular meme that emerges repeatedly as a justification for moving services to the private sector or not providing that service in the first place. We have to recognize the roles of each sector, government and business, to answer this question.

Economist  John T. Harvey in Forbes Magazine said the “question still stands: does it make sense to run government like a business? The short answer is no. Bear in mind, first, that “efficiency” in the private sector means profit. Hence, to ask that the government be run like a business is tantamount to asking that the government turn a profit. The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable.” and goes on to say “Those arguing for a business model for government must necessarily be ready to shut down all government functions that do not earn a profit, regardless of their contribution to our well-being.” .  It is also important to remember that the most disastrous economic calamity since the Great Depression  happened because of private business.  If we follow the idea that government needs to be efficient by responding to its citizens needs , maybe through the use of deliberative polling, but is the best way to serve the social good it may help us to focus where we should put our efforts in the 2013 municipal budget.

Three: We all love the idea of the rugged, self reliant, independently made individual and much of the idea of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps “ or “ the self-made man” is attractive we have to recognize that no one achieves success by themselves independent of any others help. If we look at Bill Gates for example we know, through books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, that he had opportunities that others didn’t from access to early personal computers to the time on those computers “  this case Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule” to became an expert in developing software for them. Of course Mr. Gates was highly driven and created many opportunities for himself and Microsoft but even so he did not do this alone and we must recognize that if not for the generosity of some early supporters he would never have achieved his success. Should we not look at supporting those who are less fortunate the same way? If we provide the means for them to become housed, achieve a stable income, and access to training and education, could we not also be also helping to support another Bill Gates? And if not a Bull Gates how about a Bill the Plumber? Or Bill the Electrical Engineer? Or Bills kid the Doctor?

My point is that in assisting those who need our help we create a better overall outcome socially and economically for all of us. If we create the means where more Bills, or Beatrice’s for that matter , can succeed then we create a better social and economic well-being. In terms of the services we provide municipally this is an issue in the upcoming budget debate.

 Four: If we only look at economic development through the lens of tax relief and servicing we miss some other areas that may be of equal or greater benefit. it is no secret that I am a fan of Richard Florida and his thinking on economic development and the creative class argument. The greatest attraction for me to this thinking is that it is talent, not only a company or corporation, that makes economic development possible and through the attraction of talent we create opportunities for business and the municipality.

I view increasing our transit capacity and the development of bike lanes, pedestrian only areas, place making, and arts and culture as a means of economic development. The Arts and Heritage Councils working with the Creative Cities working group and through the London Culture office is about to present some new research on the impact of Arts and Culture on London’s economy and the results are staggering. The report, released to Council at the end of January , will show that these sectors have had significant impact on London’s economy.

By investing in these areas the municipality creates fertile ground to attract and retain talent to London that results in companies such as Digital Extremes or Voices.Com or The Uber Cool Store.

In and Article in Atlantic Cities Florida Quotes  William Fulton of Smart Growth America “This Millennial generation is the generation that decides where it’s going to live before it decides what it’s going to do.”. If we want this generation to decide London is the place where it’s going to live than we have to create the infrastructure for it to be attractive. Economic Development cannot only be seen through the lens of incentives for business but incentives for quality of life that attract the talent needed to support and create those businesses.

Finish: There is not a left or right to the above arguments but rather a how, where, and in which manner you want to live and by extension how you want your city, your London, to reflect those values. For me 0% does not offer enough of a balance of tax burden vs quality of life and quality of growth. The city we want to live in is in your hands and all you need do is express that during this important time of decisions. Share that view-point as I have shared mine here.

Solid Ground

We have gone through what seems to be an unending series of calamities and misfortunes that at times for me seems to shake the fabric of the world and I am left standing like a witness to a mugging. What was stolen was us, the collective we, and the ground we were standing on. The place where the crime happened is our forested city and perhaps like many bystanders we let this crime happen.

Our Annus horribilis began with racism on ice that fled to discrimination in a market which catapulted into park occupation in hopes of equality that was then dismantled which hurtled into the eroding of the middle class jobs, locked gates, and picket lines, that then staggered into the facts of increased poverty, lower employment, lack of opportunity for newcomers and new generations, that slid into the daily horror of bullying which finally sighed into the wavering of our belief in public office.

We also had moments and movements of hope this last year. Gatherings of the concerned and optimistic, heartfelt conversations over beer and coffee, presentations of excellence and inspiration, and revelries of who we are in dance, music, theatre, and words. These shared experience in twos and threes, hundreds and thousands, made the last year bearable when things seemed to have no chance of being better.

In the face of all this some come to the front to offer a way forward and drop out of site when they cannot find consensus, some are tenacious and keep iterating and creating, hoping that the next time the combination of idea, people, and place will coalesce into a magic moment and it will all come together. The majority will stand on the sidelines and remain mute hoping for a brighter day.

It is to all of you that I am writing this. I am writing because i believe that in order to know where you are going you have to recognize where you are and where you have been. I have been in places of bright optimism and bleak pessimism. In places where I have been comforted and have offered comfort. In places of screaming in rage and in places of counseling clam and tolerance. And it is in that we find the rub dear reader.

We are in a time and place of wild swings of intention and action, of inattention and inaction, of tolerance and rage, of expectation, hope, cynicism , decay and rebirth. We have no solid ground to stand upon and survey where we are and what we are doing, and know not where or who we want be today or tomorrow.  We are ricocheted around these times like rubber balls on concrete walls and we are left unstable.

We have lost the old solid footing of community institutions like churches, clubs, political parties, and often the comforting familiarity of community, neighbor and family. If this is the case then we must build new institutions on the old or rebuild that which has crumbled. Organization that do the work now that was once the purview of government and who work for the common good should come together and buttress each other, standing forward as places for community to grow from. Our institutions of higher learning can no longer look inside their own walls or so far beyond them thy the cannot see the people living around them. We live just outside the doors. Collective recognition of old institutions like churches should begin because they are the ones feeding and caring for the most untouchable and unloved amongst us and do this despite our growing disbelief and distrust in them.

Those with voices clear and strong need to step forward now and take up the reins of leadership in our community with the pledge that they will restore our faith in the offices of political power but with the understanding in their marrow that all of that power is derived from the people who live around them. They must pledge to never shun the input for those that gave them this great gift of trust and pledge that they will work tirelessly, not for themselves, but for us and our collective hope for a better place to be and live.

If we do this then we shore up the ground we are standing on and have a stable place to build upon and to look out at the world. If we decide to do this then we must not only point out what is wrong but point out how to make it right.

This is not about policy or party but rather it is about belief. The belief that we can achieve anything if we have the collective will to do so and that if we chose to, we can stand together again on solid ground.

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

City of Opportunity III – Resolve

Those of us who were hoping against hope for a change of heart by certain members of council last night all faced a hard lesson in a number of ways. For some it was that the best arguments don’t often win the day, for others it was the shocking display of naked one-upmanship, for a few it was about the anger at those councilors who would say anything to win an argument, but for me it was simply about one lesson.

I was amazed in the last 10 days at the generosity of friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers who rallied around the issues I was facing with my last two blog posts and the reaction by Councilor White and was often left speechless by the unqualified expressions of support and understanding. I am grateful to all of you who supported me through that difficult time but I also stood rapt by the power of the community to come together so quickly and with such focus around the issue of affordable housing which council was about to cut anyway.

In a matter of days we collectively went from vague unease to outright, full-blown advocacy on behalf of those in our city who could not be heard. I saw tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, and in person conversation that gathered together in numbers that the powers in City Hall heard clearly and could not be lightly ignored. We decided we would not stand for cuts that would leave behind our fellow citizens whether they had disabilities or needed a home. We knew and believed that London should be a city that was about our collective good not expedient cuts to justify a policy that our current circumstances had determined was no longer relevant. I was held rapt by the potential of community.

In the last year we have gone through a trial by fire in London and more and more of us are waking up to the fact that we are afraid for our future and that the only way to overcome this fear is to face it openly and transparently, to consider not just our own well-being but the wellbeing of every one of our neighbors as well. We are learning that the world has changed and the only way for us to succeed is to make sure no one is left behind and that the basics of housing, health, and dignity are not open to negotiation.

But because we create community at the speed of light, an idea expressed brilliantly by Glen Pearson, other things can as quickly distract us. Social Media as a means of community building is like quicksilver and flows along the path of least resistance and at this critical time we cannot afford to be distracted.

I am not assigning blame here, I often get as distracted quicker than most, but I am pointing out that we must understand our goals, focus our resolve, and not be distracted by anything until the issues of economic equality, environment, livability, intelligent growth, and fairness in London are achieved. Once we achieve them, and I have great faith in my community that we can, we cannot ever let them be taken away or watered down. This is not only about politics and running for office but is also about continually gathering an authentically engaged community and applying a steady tide of pressure to those who hold public office in our name so that they understand that we demand more than only our participation at the ballot box.

So I’m asking you all friends to think, to talk, to gather, to move forward, to not be distracted, and build upon the amazing accomplishment you all made in the last week. Let us decide to throw out the old ways of power, and create for ourselves and for our neighborurs a place that we can proudly say is city of opportunity for all.

City of Opportunity II – I speak as a Londoner


Councilor White in the previous Blog Post to this asked a question at the beginning. She asked ” Will you kindly clarify your comment about the Glen Cairn Centre? Are you speaking for them or as the Emerging Leaders, ED?”  Respectfully I have never claimed publicly nor privately to speak for Glen Cairn Centre or on behalf of Emerging Leaders who is my current employer. I ask Councilor White that when she called my previous employer and current employer Friday to complain about me was she speaking as a City Councilor or as someone who works for Children Aid Society or as a Private Citizen? Does she represent the City of London Council when she handles a CAS case? Does she represent CAS when she speaks at council? Or is she or any other Londoner allowed to speak out when they see something they disagree with?

I have never once spoken on behalf of Emerging Leaders or Glen Cairn Centre here or on Facebook, and would never do so, without express permission. The problem becomes when this happens it has a chilling effect on free speech and citizen engagement. But so be it, I can not be silent, even if it has personal consequences for me and my family.

Councilor White and the Mayor have made some points in defending their position. But the heart of the matter remains and while both of them and others have direct experience with people in poverty and Londoners with mental health issues so do I both within my family and amongst many friends. I have advocated my entire life both privately and publicly on behalf of those who are most often left behind because it affects my life and the life of my City, Province, and Country.

Mayor Fontana had posted the following in response to the outcry on the cuts to affordable housing, he did this on Facebook and I post it here unedited and in it’s entirety:

With a reduction in the contribution into the Affordable Housing Program, we will be shifting our approach to affordable housing. Right now there are a number of vacant units out there and a lot of individuals and families who need them. Instead of focusing on building all new units, our focus is shifting to filling existing units and entering into public private partnerships to convert exisiting spaces (like commercial space no longer being used as commercial space) into affordable housing. It’s a different approach, but it’s still a good approach and we will be able to increase the number of people we can help. London has done incredible unique things and we will continue to do so.

Affordable HousingThe reduced funding for the Program will result in a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.Changes were made to legislation January 1, 2012. The New Housing Services Act repeals Social Housing Reform Act and gives the City of London as Service Manager more flexibility and discretion within local rules.This will give our housing experts the needed flexibility to create new housing policy and new housing programs based on the needs of Londoners, moving away from the previous prescriptive approach set out by the province.This shift in strategy is designed to achieve greater efficiency in using the City’s housing funds: 
• Families and individuals will have access to housing. While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. 
• The City can leverage the same amount of federal and provincial funding. 
• Jobs continue to be created through construction and renovation projects. 

Working within our funding, we will be using a combination of:
• convert to rent units (increase)
• creating more short term rental supplements (increase)
• home ownership program
• building new affordable housing units (decrease)

Affordable housing right now means keeping people in their homes.”

I think there are a couple of key points here to pay close attention to and to understand more fully and to seek clarification on.  I notice in this post the Mayor states ” a strategic shift from creation of a maximum number of permanent units to an emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term.” . Notice some important words here?  An emphasis on creating housing measures in the shorter term? This will mean an increase in temporary housing and not permanent housing.

It’s important to note this as well: “While fewer permanent rental units will be created, the number of families who can quickly be accommodated in short term housing will be more than doubled. ” .  Fewer rental units and more short term or temporary housing.
What we need to recognize here is that we are in every case reducing the number of permanent homes as a means to achieve a 0% tax increase. We also need to understand there is an 8+ year waiting list for permanent housing and while moving more families into temporary housing may be attractive in the short term we will in fact be delaying the issue at the expense of those most vulnerable and  sadly who is to say that that temporary housing budget will be there in a year or 3 years or 5.
We also need to understand the economic as well as the human impact of this cut. Abe Oudshoorn ,a recognized voice in homelessness and housing issues, wrote in his blog “this means that the $1M cut to the Housing Reserve Fund represents a potential $8M loss, or at $140,000 per unit, 57 units of affordable housing not built.  Each new unit also represents 2 person years of full-time employment.
Abe goes on to say ” affordable housing represents a much cheaper way to house people who are experiencing homelessness.  Housing an individual in shelter costs $1,450 per month, jail costs $140 per day, psychiatric acute care costs $650 per day, and acute care inpatient over $1,000 daily.  These statistics are clearly outlined in your Council-approved London Community Housing Strategy.  Therefore, putting money into housing up-front saves us much greater costs down the line.You can read the whole post here
Councilor Joni Baechler wrote on her Facebook page ” In My Opinion
Some members of council indicated they support the cut in Affordable Housing by $ 1Million because of the “Mayor’s plan” presented to committee yesterday. To be clear, there was NO plan presented. The Mayor simply outlined how he would divert the Affordable Housing $’s. What may have been missed by some councillors was the “KEY MESSAGE” from staff on the briefing note which states: “The reduced funding from the Program will result in a STRATEGIC SHIFT from the creation of a MAXIMUM number of PERMANENT units to an emphasis on creating shorter term TEMPORARY housing MEASURES”. The plan presented is a significant divergence from the Council adopted COMMUNITY HOUSING STRATEGY. Staff DID NOT recommend the budget cut in this area.As a result of this cut, we will not be able to leverage the same $$’s in order to meet our housing targets ($20 M in municipal housing dollars has leveraged $140 M from other sources). We will construct 75 less units per year which results in the loss of 72 associated jobs. The “temporary plan” does not address the housing crisis as year after year we will fall further behind.The cut to Affordable Housing is permanent. It will temporarily solve a fiscal shortfall on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our community
Important in what Councilor Baechler states is that Staff recommended against these cuts and that we will not be able to leverage these dollars and we will construct 75 less units per year.
So despite assertions to the contrary we are left with the same terrible loss at the expense of those that can afford it the least, but if we can focus and share our concerns with Council and the Mayor for just one week ,as so many on twitter and email and by phone have, then maybe, just maybe, we can convince a thoughtful Councilor or a thoughtful Mayor to change their vote and end this tragedy and begin to create a city of opportunity for everyone.

The Best Opportunity We Have

We are having a hard time right now in the Forest City.  There’s a strike at Electro Motive Diesel, Unemployment is around 10%, and there are some 3500 people per month needing to use the London Food Bank. So what are we to do? Our Mayor, Joe Fontana, gave a speech on the state of the city and we got a song about London being the city of opportunity. Doesn’t feel like that right now though.

And while we could collectively shrug our shoulders and sigh there are people in London who are trying to create change, are agitating against the common belief that there is nothing we can do, and are trying to create a more meaningful community. People like Abe Oudshoorn who is ringing the bell on homelessness, companies like rtraction, Echidna Solutions , Orpheum Web Hosting, and so many of those in our local unions  who give back to the community again and again.

Then there’s the group I have been working with over the last few months, the Citizens Panel. Born out of a want to engage and a request through Glen Pearson by the City to engage other citizens, we are trying to create meaningful dialogue and change around the questions of social assistance and how we support those in our community who are the most disadvantaged. You can come and talk to us and your fellow citizens about this on January 29th 2012 @ 1 pm. At the Convention Centre..

We have groups like Pillar, The United Way, Glen Cairn Community Resource Centre, The Food Bank, The Sisters of St.Joeseph, London Community Foundation, and my new place of employment Emerging Leaders, where people can get involved and add to the discussion and work of who we are and where we are going in concrete ways. Yet still this is not enough.

Shakespeare said through the lines of Hamlet “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals”. Powerful words those. They speak of “our better angels”. And right now we need those qualities to be put to use in London. To be applied to questions of economics, wellbeing, and the commitment to how and where we live.

So many of you, and yes me to, don’t show up and don’t engage when those better angels we all have speak to us and ask us too. Times are tough and are likely to remain tough for some time to come and that is why now is the very best of times to look around you and ask where can I add my voice? Where can I contribute my time and labour? Where can I offer some of what I have to those that might need it, be that financial, spiritual, or emotional?

We have so much potential here in London but it is only realized through our combined efforts towards a common goal of community and caring. In order for that to happen we need you .We need you on the line at EMD, or volunteering in your neighbourhood, or asking questions and sharing your opinions with our leaders, or on the 29th at the convention centre. Add your industry to those mentioned above and join in on what may be the beginning of what may be the best opportunity we have.

The Undiscovered Country

Shakespeare’s Hamlet said something interesting:

“To be, or not to be–that is the question”

The traditional interpretation is that Hamlet is weighing whether to take his life or not but beneath or beside this is another struggle, to take action or not to take action. For Hamlet he is also struggling with deciding to take the life of his uncle/step dead and honour the request of his father’s ghost or to not.

But there is something about Hamlets soliloquy that has had me thinking for quite a while now. Our collective “To be or not to be” is around how to get to that, to borrow a phrase from the Puritan John Winthrop,” City upon the Hill”. That place of potential we all want and which,  should we take actions, could be a better for us and our fellow citizens to live. To create that forested city on the hill.

I was lucky enough tonight to run in to my good friend Adam Caplan and we fell into, as we often do, these meaningful conversations about who we are and what we believe. Adam pointed out to me that he found the system of our traditional political parties to polarizing and that it was difficult to engage in critical thought and the dialogue that follows in the face of the contentious poles of Left and Right. I agree with Adam here, it is hard and there is a sense, one that I am sometimes guilty of using, that you’re either with us or against us. But perhaps there is another path here that we need to consider.

My friend Glen Pearson and I have been having an ongoing conversation about the ideas of citizenship, this is something Glen has been talking about for some time, and from those conversations I have come to agree with his ideas that the new power that needs to be developed amongst us is that of the engaged citizen continually speaking to the issues in his or her community/province/country rather that the politics of left and right. What we end up with is community coming forward to make sure our political, business, religious, and community leaders understand what we support or don’t support.

In the past months I have been involved with the citizen’s panel with Glen, James Shelley, Kevin Dixon, Eric Shepperd, and Sue Wilson. We have been working away at the Social Assistance Review Process at the behest of City Council. At the first City Symposium last month we had a huge turnout of Londoners who were interested in learning about the income gap and we will ask them to become further involved in two events this month so we get their input on the systems that most affect the disadvantaged in our city. This is a clear example of the idea of engaged citizens becoming involved – of answering their own to be or not to be question.

Today I went down to the Electro-Motive plant with James and Glen to support my fellow Londoners on the picket line. Essentially their employer, Caterpillar, has said to them take a 50% pay cut or nothing with no middle ground. The shear indifference of this offer is breath taking. But it has led to some troubling thoughts and discoveries as well. Many people whom I respect and genuinely like are not supporting their fellow community members in this struggle because they don’t like unions. But if using Glen and Adams ideas of having critical conversations outside of polarizing party lines and of citizens coming together to move ideas forward we then reach something else Hamlet talked about: the undiscovered country.

Our friend Hamlet goes on to say:

“But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of”

Our Danish pal has some important ideas in these lines that I think we need to consider. Let’s take that first line, the dread of something after death. We can, and again I’m as guilty as anyone else, speak to an issue not out of critical thought or even compassion but out of our comfortable well-worn beliefs that may be an uncritical habitual reaction – our individual death of reason. In the case of the CAW on strike is the reaction against, or at the very least not in support of, these workers\based on an assumption, or maybe one or two bad stories , of what unions have actually done ? Has this opinion been politicized in terms of right and left? Is our will puzzled because we cannot imagine being in support of such a group? Do we not support our fellow citizens because to do so would go against our comfortable viewpoint of the lazy union worker and that is uncomfortable or deadly to our previous viewpoint? And does this lead us to” bear those ills” and see these workers go down alone rather than come out strongly in support of them together?

The beginning, the middle, and the end for me are the following 3 points when it comes to the fight at Electro-Motive:

  1.  It is not fair that these workers are being told to cut their wages in half even though we , as represented by the federal government, have given this company tax incentives to be in our community
  2. If we allow this to happen without a fight then this will happen again and again and again and the result will be a race to the bottom in terms of wages – something that has already happened in the service industry(can you say Wal-Mart?)
  3. I cannot stand by and not speak out in support of my fellow Londoners when they are being unfairly treated by a company that has shown indifference toward their wellbeing and the wellbeing of our community

I know for some of my friends reading this that it is a difficult place to be in – on the one hand they do not like the  unions but on the other hand they do not like to see their fellow community members be treated like this. To them, and to all of you, I suggest we resolve the to be or not to be and discover the undiscovered country of critical thought, compassion, and engagement in order to make London a better place for us all and support those who need it even in the face of what maybe personally uncomfortable.