Strengthening London’s Neighbourhoods

I’ve just started to read the documents of the Strengthening London Resident Task Force. First, this is a laudable initiative and I don’t at all wish to discourage or criticize those who participated in generating the report or its recommendations. In fact, in a City like London, I think these people are to be commended for their participation and leadership.

A few things pop out at me almost immediately, confirming things I already had a pretty good idea and strong opinion about. I had started a blog last night that I will soon finish discussing London’s Big Question that will answer most of the rest of the questions that London has been asking for some time. These include, how do we keep young people in the City, how do we reduce car use, how do we create greater sense of community?

The problem and answer to these questions lies in our pattern of growth and continued sprawl, both of which have stretched City finances to an unsustainable point. We have relied on the Private Sector and the private realm to create community and now, after 40 years of suburban development, we are finally realizing all of the problems that this unsustainable growth pattern of created.

Of the most glaring pieces of data in the report are answers regarding community meeting places. One of the lowest responses given by those surveyed for where people meet other people is in the street/sidewalk. To me this screams aloud about a key component of community building that our City lacks. People report knowing or recognizing people from their neighbourhood but without further information, it’s hard to assess how relevant that fact is. (ie, how many people do they recognize, how well do they know them?)

One other simple fact I’d point out is that the average size of the neighbourhood/planning area considered is well, massive! I’m not even sure many of them are appropriately called neighbourhoods. Sprawl so inefficiently uses land that someone can live 5 kilometers away and still be considered in the same neighbourhood.

Other factors that confirm my suspicions are the lack of community centers that since they don’t exist, can’t offer programming for people even on an informal basis. Private institutions, churches and semi-private schools (without children, most people don’t venture into a school) offer much of the community facilities and the opportunity to participate. The neighbourhood I live in, Westmount is one of those most devoid of space and as one participant’s answer about community events indicates: “Have no idea – don’t think that there are any community events in this neighbourhood, don’t believe that

there actually is a neighbourhood here.”

London is largely a City built to accommodate travel by car. Only 7 percent of people walk to work. There are few local grocery stores, most neighbourhoods lack diverse economic activity and few people can identify local neighbourhood associations.

My central question is now: How do we change this. The list of action items in the report is exhaustive and while well-intentioned and worthwhile, would most likely bankrupt the City or cause the need for double-digit tax increases to address them. The question of voter engagement and Council outreach alone would surely cost millions to adequately address. One cannot expect voters to turn out if they’re rarely engaged in decision making in their neighbourhood.

I know what the answer is to all of these questions. We must rebuild existing neighbourhoods. Piece-meal solutions that are pursued while the City continues to sprawl will simply drag this problem out and will continue to create a situation where it gets harder to find the funds and impetus to address the problems.

Instead of Greenfield development we need an immediate stop to new subdivisions. We need infill desperately. There are tens of kilometers of underdeveloped arterial roads that need intensification BADLY. Without this step, we are on a path to unsustainability and ultimately, collapse paved with good intentions.


1 Response to “Strengthening London’s Neighbourhoods”

  1. March 3, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    “We need an immediate stop to new subdivisions.” I absolutely agree with that. And a stop to building new roads also. Anybody who watched my webcasts during the budget process could not have missed the message that kept coming up every time that the Police budget was discussed. Nobody disagrees that we need the service. Certainly not me. Witness citizen travel behaviours (drivers, cyclists, pedestrians all have to clean up their act) and it’s hard to say that we have too many police. And how can the Chief deploy more officers on roads detail when there’s things like drug dealing, prostitution, B&E’s, robbery, etc. taking place at it’s current clip? As part of this budget process he took officers off the CORE units so that there would be a more visible on-streets presence. It’ll make some people feel safer, maybe, but it won’t make us safer. Call me jaded, but it’s simply an election-year gesture for politicians at a time that they’re so challenged by the size of his budget. More officers would be better. There’s no question in my mind about that. But those who say that the police budget isn’t sustainable (by the City) are also correct. Because the municipal funding model is broken. Back to your original point. The more that the City grows outward, the greater the workload of the Police. And the other emergency services as well. And the roads and utilities budgets. And on, and on … And don’t get me started on the subject of building new subdivisions on agricultural land, like Meadowlilly. Any green men in our future? Maybe that’s what it’ll take to stop our species’ seeming consumptive march towards oblivion. A higher life form. Because right now, being at the top of the food chain doesn’t bode too well for this planet that deserves better than the way that we’ve been treating it.

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