Further thoughts…on CityThink or London Urban Institute

After a few replies and about 12 hours of thought on my last post (it was mostly written before I completed and posted it) there are some points to clarify. I am engaging in early-stage work here but rather than sit on the sidelines and carp about things, I figured it was probably time to get out of bed a bit earlier and start doing. Certainly some of the thoughts listed on the post below are disparate – can an independent Urban Think Tank also engage in Lobbying? (possibly not) Can a Think Tank that advocates for Urbanism be completely non-partisan? (probably not.) But too many Think Tanks do nothing other than Think – I believe it’s time for action.

However, I believe that there is enough evidence amassed to support the ideas of urbanism. Part of the initial work of creating an organization that I am thinking of is building the body of evidence to demonstrate to people of all political stripes that building a denser community is in everyone’s interest including the development community.

I firmly believe that London is at a crossroads of urban growth. The skeleton is here but it keeps getting stretched and now is the time to reconsider how we’ve grown. The days of happy free motoring are coming to a close and there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we need a new course of direction. The demonstration is seen whenever a community meeting is held to discuss a new development or a change to a street. Major complaints arise about traffic and parking. There are only two solutions available to these problems and one of them has proven itself absolutely flawed and unsustainable. There is near total agreement amongst Planning professionals that widening roads and sprawling out further only makes problems worse. While I love to drive and love cars, it has come time to re-think the way we spend public dollars. It’s time to infill. It’s time to start increasing the density of existing development before we choke in traffic all day long and bankrupt our City.

There is a huge body of knowledge about economic growth too. And we have the experience of living in a City that has seen the impacts of globalization – both the positives and negatives. I love cheaper products but I also know that we have a growing income inequality gap. We have a shortage of jobs. Small business struggles due to no fault of their own. And yet we have incredible entrepreneurial forces that are creating local businesses. Since Small business creates the bulk of jobs in our economy and since local businesses inject more dollars back into our local economy, it only makes sense to foster an environment where those businesses can thrive.

Cities are about replacing imports. Jane Jacobs wrote extensively about this. Adam Smith also wrote about this but he’s the most misunderstood economist ever – people take but one lesson and it’s been misconstrued. When speaking of the Free Hand of the economy, Smith was mostly talking about labour. He wasn’t advocating de-regulation or a corporations-as-persons free-for-all. He was arguing against feudal labour markets.

While politics can be devisive, Municipal politics may offer the least partisan level of government. The job of local governments is first, to provide the basic infrastructure that we use on a day-to-day basis – from water and garbage to local parks. Local government is charged with developing Official Plans and permitting buildings. It derives the majority of its revenues from Property Taxes. In this way, local government builds the communities we have. I am not satisfied with a City that caters primarily to cars nor do I believe this is sustainable – or is it proving to be sustainable.

The aim of the organization/Institute will no be to alienate people but to bring people together to advance urban issues in London. Certainly there are existing organizations in London working on various issues and finding a niche amongst these will be important. The Community Gardening effort that is part of the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition is one group. The Emerging Leaders group is another. Transition and Post Carbon London are other groups that may share an interest. But so too should the traditional groups like the London Club, the London Chamber of Commerce and London Economic Development Corp. Certainly I am open to partnerships – and sponsorships, etc..

People I’ve been speaking to are calling out for ‘community’ and change. For Open Government. They’re wondering why City Hall seems to have its back turned to the public (whether they do or not I’ll leave aside.)

So… I started at the 100,000 foot level but that’s what brainstorming is about. As I get closer to identifying exactly what it is that we’ll be engaged in and writing a business plan, I’ll aim to provide greater detail on the specifics. Thanks for the great feedback so far folks. Consider this open-source business plan development. There are no secrets.


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