04
Nov
10

CityThinkLondon Mission Statement.

City Thinking

 

I blather. Here’s the short version; 2006, I register the e-mail citythink@gmail.com address, use it for some consulting, blogging and for a while tweeting (stupid mistake to kill it) and I really like it. Present day, I think it’s a great term to describe the need to consider the place and space we live in, to realize the interconnectedness of our choices and the impacts of those choices and the need for holistic community-based and innovative approaches to problem solving. (uh-oh, here I go again. Read below for the long version, this is the abstract.) How do we build on the discussions London’s been having in disparate rooms? How do we create an institutional knowledge around the realities, paradoxes, confines, and functions of municipal government and create the City we think we’d like? What are other Cities in Ontario, Canada and around the world saying about governance, finance, food security, etc., etc., and how can those be applied to our City? How do the 3 Sectors come together to build an existing database of understanding about the how Cities work? And of course, what is the sustainable business case/model for the facilitation of this dialogue? Read on if you wish….

 

I came up (well, adopted) the term Citythink a few years ago when I was between jobs. This was just after I’d packed it in at City Hall, walked away with a healthy severance. I had some time and some money and was in the running for a position as a municipal lobbyist at one of Canada’s top Law firms. Something about my outright honesty in answering a question about the ability of any lobbyist to influence policy under the Miller administration – against the ban on pesticides, against the plastic-bag charge, for very large mega-garbage bins – which was going to be limited for a few years, made them revisit their entire practice and hire no one. The kicker being that the process had lasted 6 months until the month right before the municipal elections in 2006. I was screwed.

 

In a fit of desperation as my money began to dwindle, my debt climbing while being stuck in a way-too-high rental agreement with a nice new car I was paying to park in downtown Toronto, I decided to take the only gig I could lay my hands on that built on my experience. Sadly, that meant writing policy papers (or trying to) for my good friend but outright Mayoral Hail Mary candidate Stephen LeDrew. Perhaps that was my fatal step as Mr. Miller proceeded to win by a massive majority over Jane Pitfield and I was left looking once again for work only now, with the designation of ‘persona non-grata’ in the Mayor’s office.

 

Still, through good strong personal connections, I managed to find a little bit of contract work and adopted the name CityThink as a name under which I could become a consultant and bill for my work. I made up some business cards, I wandered City Hall, had lots of coffee meetings and got to work on a business plan and worked to identify my particular areas of expertise, which included an understanding of urban planning, solid waste and transportation and the system of financing of roads and transit (as well as all other municipal programs.)

 

My first major client was Skymeter who decided to hire me full-time after just a few meetings and with the announcement of the US Department of Transportation’s Urban Partnership Agreement, an innovative program that would grant money to States and Cities that were willing to try-out various forms of Road Pricing to address congestion. The 4 T’s – Tolling, Technology, Transit and Telecommuting were the techniques to be applied and Skymeter’s GPS-based system that calculates distance driven with groundbreaking accuracy even in dense urban environments, while also providing a telecom platform that enables parking payment, seemed to be perfectly matched to the programs stated goals. I parked CityThink as a practice.

 

We achieved one solid partnership and with the aide of our US Lobbyist, were included in the application for the southern area of Nevada including Las Vegas. We were one of 32 applications submitted to US DOT. We also had interest from Dallas’ DART, San Francisco’s MTA and Transportation as well as their private consultants and we were also in deep discussions with King County under former Supervisor Ron Sims. A host of other Cities were interested and discussions are still ongoing with a few. At any rate… I did very well in my job but the market was still pretty far away and so I was laid-off (on my recommendation really.)

 

So that’s when I revived the CityThink tag again and started to see what I could possibly come up with. This story is becoming old. At any rate, I love the name. It’s not registered. I can’t prove it’s mine in any way but since we’re in an Open IP world, and since it’s not a terribly novel or unique name, I’m not terribly worried about it. As long as I can continue to use it, no harm, no foul. I suppose the fact that I have the gmail name Citythink@gmail.com should count for something yes?

 

If CityThink has a mission, it’s fairly complex and rarely focused. But I think I can state it as something close to: The basis to encourage a deeper consideration of how and where we chose to live and work and shop and the impact of our decisions on the tenuous relationship we have with our home.

 

Like any good mission statement, I think this one says a lot, and nothing all at once. But if I were to state it succinctly, it is a focus to my work and my interests in our collective choices and the economic, social and political consequences of those choices. It builds on my knowledge and interests in political theory and philosophy, my experience with political reality and my hope reborn to have a minimal impact on my planet and maximum impact on my peeps! Lol (sorry, it got stuffy in here.)

 

London is a great place for CityThink. We’re approaching a critical mass, I believe, for the creation of some truly dynamic projects, places and people. The regional draw of London is significant. However we are also in a new economic paradigm with pressing dilemmas that threaten our stability and the health of the region. Big questions face us: What is our energy future? How will climate change affect our way of life? Where will we work and what work will we engage in there? How do we make the public sector more financially sustainable? How do we encourage people to move here, study here, stay here, build businesses here, find partners and build families? Is the new Global market sustainable or are we in a bubble of success funded by cheap oil that is doomed to grow higher in price and without suitable alternatives leave us in an energy-deprived and therefore depressed future economy? See? These are big questions and I wonder who is looking at them? How are we marrying them together to build holistic, innovative approaches while also working to solving the old questions of poverty, homelessness and violence?

 

Locally, how are we managing land use to ensure we build a sustainable community? It’s quite possible that when the dense and assessment-rich, efficiently managed parts of a City are outnumbered by the inefficient, assessment-poor, low-density sprawling and heavily infrastructure-reliant parts of the same City that a municipality enters a kind of death-spiral of increasing costs and service erosion. We don’t really know because the Cities we have created over the last 60 years, since the end of the Second World War are new economic creatures, unseen in history. Didn’t the Roman Empire fail because it had grown so large and its expenses so great that it couldn’t provide infrastructure and services – death through over-expansion? I’ll have to consult some historians on this one.

 

And the sprawl has had its own consequences. It fits neatly with a world of global finance based on safe investments with reliable quick-turnaround returns on investment – like house farms and disposable commercial and retail developments. What is the message that has been sent regarding the old development patters including rental housing above stores and small buildings – that the low-end of the housing market is not profitable enough, certainly not when faced with a choice against the investment vehicle of sprawl. That’s an easy choice for the investor. It’s sad though that we have created so many no-place places in London. When we wonder why we don’t have a clear sense of who we are or where we’re going, we should probably keep this in mind.

 

Okay. There’s plenty above to think about and for me to review and delve deeper. I’m still getting around to how CityThink becomes a vehicle for discussion of the interconnectedness of Cities, economies, social cohesion, taxation, heritage, culture, education and innovation, health and wellness, poverty reduction, environmental stewardship, etc., etc., London has a great number of silos even though I’ve quickly remembered how many people know each other. CityThink maybe is the Constellation? (see Tonya Surman’s work on Constellations for CSI/ONN) Or is it the Ecosystem in which different Constellations intersect? And where’s the business model?

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