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Mobility needs, rights and privileges

I am often drawn to think back to early days and consider my parents reaction to often made threats to leave home, usually after an ultimatum related to tidying my room, not bugging my older brother, washing my hands for fish-dinners or to sit still for a haircut. “You can leave. But you leave the same way you came in, so take off your clothes.”

I’m often also in a mind, due to my own circumstances, to consider Abraham Maslow’s concept of the hierarchy of needs and to notions of what drives my own contentment. Maslow explains that humans have an ascending group of needs ranging from basic physiological needs at the bottom to ‘self-actualization’ needs at the top. Makes sense to me and to most; first you need to be able to breath, eat, have water, intimacy, sleep and I’ll just say, to enjoy the results of a high-fibre diet which address your basic human needs. Maslow’s scale builds from Physiological, to safety, to love/belonging, to esteem, to self actualizing.

I believe Maslow would put guiding a 700-horsepower fire-engine red hand-built Italian around a curvy, traffic free mountain road somewhere in the lofty heights of self-actualization. The POS car that makes up the bulk of the national traffic fleet, and the mobility that it grants naturally sits somewhere in the second-to-third rungs of Maslow’s pyramid, with employment and even more and better sex with gradually more attractive partners. We’re concerned with quality more than quantity as with the thoughts about automobiles above, unless perhaps, you’re like Tiger Woods. These of course are broad arguments about human psychology and provide a framework, not a specific analysis of the way Maslow’s scale applies to individuals, though I’m admit I’m not an expert in psychology.

For instance, thinking about mobility and transportation, some will attain greater feelings of happiness, or at the very least an unconscious, thinking surface level of happiness from walking to work every day while some will achieve it by driving a vintage convertible. I’m thinking here about the concept of first world problems mostly.

My thoughts on these issues are not only driven when I’m engaging in them. I like most people I’ve met, am the most-important sidewalk, road or bike-lane user and that it is the most important mode of transportation, when I’m engaging in it. This behaviour reflects our lizard nature and many people know of the competitive feeling that arises when simply trying to get somewhere. I often find myself giving way to other modes of transportation, identifying that we all have deadlines and places to be other than where we are. I’ll stop at the corner of a street and let a car turn in to get home to their family. I’m not sure how common this is.

I am guided however by some of the observations and thoughts I’ve had over the years. First is that we as human beings have a right to walk and while we come in naked, we should likely do it in clothing. While walking once I came to the conclusion, personally, that we all ought to have the right to jaywalk. Pedestrians don’t require licenses and the carbon footprint of walking is only the difference between that of the food and water required to keep us breathing and the food we need to walk. In Cities, notwithstanding our desire for safety it should be an absolute right to jaywalk – the definition of jaywalking being ‘crossing between controlled intersections AND without causing delay to other vehicles.’ That doesn’t say that cars and bikes can’t slow or stop for people wishing to cross, or that a young athlete who can get across two lanes in 3 seconds, shouldn’t. This is one of my cornerstone beliefs. To the amount that one should be able to not participate in society, or to participate as an isolated individual, and notwithstanding notions of private property one should have the very basic right to walk where and when one wants to subject to the reasonable limit.

I recall an awareness campaign in Toronto that used the phrase “we are all pedestrians” which captures this idea. Perhaps my notions towards transportation and urban planning are not unique but they are guided as much by Maslow, and by the considerations of philosophers around the rights of [sic] man, as they are by Jane Jacobs and the growing body of knowledge that suggests walking is healthy both physically and mentally. Every person ought to have the right to walk, to the most unfettered degree possible.

This also sets aside for a moment, the basic needs of ‘air, water and homeostasis’ all of which are negatively impacted by the vexing problem of transportation system congestion. Those who walk in a City and even more dangerously from a respiratory-perspective, in suburbs, are subject to the negative local impacts of gridlock, those who ride bicycles too and we all are subject to the damages caused to water by over-use of road salt and toxic runoff from roadways. These are some of the external costs of our transportation system that we often subsidize openly as well as blindly and perversely.


More attention to be paid

This blog is primarily dedicated to discussion of urban planning and economic and community development and sometimes slips into my own development. I don’t like to be negative all the time and there are some amazing things happening in London, largely due to the contributions of organizations and individuals who’ve decided to make a difference in the community. When London draws from these partners, it creates successes. This ought to be seen as a best practice and pursued more. For instance, the partnership of the City with the Service Delivery agencies in the Employment Sector ensure that a continuum of services are provided to employment seekers. The work of Joe Kool’s staff to organize community clean-up days are another great example, though some Cities encourage and partner with organizations across their jurisdiction and that’s a model London could use. Toronto’s 20-minute Community Clean-up days were a wide success and reconnected people with their won daily actions and efforts to keep their City clean.

London’s Community Gardens are also a great example of what happens when community organizations and the City come together to provide innovative services, facilities and amenities. And the City’s use of Advisory Committees to inform City officials of the opinion of local community experts  is another great example of listening to organizations such as the Urban League of London and Emerging Leaders and many others. These are just a few examples of the City and local organizations partnering together to improve community living in London and these programs must be applauded.

What I find lacking is the depth of conversation in the City about significant issues and despite best efforts of City staff, the meaningful consultation that doesn’t occur until the very last minute, usually due to a lack of interest or effort by an otherwise well-meaning City Councillor. The blow-up in Old South about a 3 or 4-storey building (that fits quite nicely now that its there) or the last minute change in the City’s Bicycle Plan to accommodate upset homeowners who somehow hadn’t previously known about the plan to change their street.  Londoners would benefit, whether they believe it or not, by paying the position of Councillor a higher salary and demanding the commitment of full-time service. City politicians play a vital role in prioritizing and coordinating the efforts of bureaucrats and acting as a buffer between the City and its citizens. When directed by engaged citizens, full-time representatives work at building their community and by bringing new solutions that bureaucrats cannot or will not necessarily identify or suggest due to the limitations and nature of their role. ‘Professional’ politicians can, in turn be expected by voters to achieve much more, and to be much more accountable for the actions of the City, to be more responsive to voters and communities and ultimately provide a larger benefit to the City that far exceeds the additional costs. I know many Londoners don’t agree with me on this one and that’s fine but until you’ve tried it my way, you’re wrong, not me.

I am hopeful about my upcoming move to Ottawa. While I know no government is perfect, I’m looking forward to getting acquainted with a new municipality, its politicians, bureaucrats and involved citizens and groups. I love Cities and each one is unique. Ottawa holds an appeal to me as it does to any Canadian with passion for politics, our national values and principles and our system of government. I hope to make a huge new contribution but don’t wish to spoil it.  Now to do more research.


Starting over… again.

It’s Monday March 4, 2013 and the start of the last few days that I will be living at my parents’ house in London Ontario. I moved back to my hometown in September of 2009, in hopes of restarting my life in London, using the experience I’d gained as a political assistant at the City of Toronto and as a roadie for a start-up firm. I guess I’d hoped that London had grown as much as I had in the intervening years since I’d left in 1998. 11 years seemed like enough time for my own growth, to be able to find a pretty good job. I quickly found out that London had changed less than I had. This is not meant to be an embittered dear john letter to my hometown but more of an explanation of the rationale for me to be taking the enormous risk that I am in again seeking to make a huge life-change.

For many people, London is idyllic and a great place to raise a family, build a career and pursue one’s personal interests. Unfortunately, it is also a City that suffers from an identity crisis and a lack of clear vision from its citizens and leaders. London’s unemployment rate is stagnant – with new job seekers constantly filling the welfare rolls as soon as others move off them. No new job creation of any significance has occurred since the end of the last recession and in fact, more jobs have been lost than created. Those that are being created are largely part-time, without benefits jobs, rather than progressive career positions. London is becoming a service-sector economy while manufacturing jobs continue to be lost. The dearth of good ideas or any bigger vision of what the City can be, needs to be, must be to survive, is represented by the fact that the sole promise the current Mayor made to get elected was to freeze taxes, saving the average homeowner $30 per year (for every one percent that has been forgone.) Because property taxes are compounding, the 4 years of Mayor Fontana will be felt for another 10 years. (see Toronto after Mel Lastman.)

Because there is no differentiation between tax classes in London, or at least none that is acknowledged by local leaders, assessment shrinkage (or growth) is an underlying issue that no one is addressing. Tax shifts from class to class can be far more financially dangerous than a 1 percent annual increase on the residential class. London’s is a very sadly informed discussion and the preoccupation with taxes indicates that people see little or no added value from their municipal government until cuts are threatened to services that they use.

Regardless of the impact of yearly tax increases, the fact that the choice is simply seen as increased taxes versus cut services indicates that London and its leaders have no real vision about the future of this City. Furthermore, current ideas about economic development initiatives demonstrate a clear lack of understanding about the dire situation in which London currently finds itself, or the future that lays before it. News of Detroit’s recent declaration of bankruptcy ought to have Leaders in London holding emergency sessions to build a new vision. Sadly, if guided by the same thinking that got it to this point, London’s solutions (illustrated by the 5 ‘quick start’ EcDev proposals currently on the table) that might likely lead to a quicker death, rather than a rebound.

London’s biggest issue is this: The City’s financial obligations are funded by unsustainable development. Rather than immediately stopping more unsustainable sprawl, London’s current Mayor wants to put his foot on the gas pedal for a quick return. While we have tens of kilometers of underused arterial roads, he wants to expand them further with little economic support to pay for what we already can’t maintain. The Mayor wants to service lands that are currently agricultural, south of the 401 and with little other than speculation that these lands cannot be leased without services (ie, without massive subsidies, businesses will not locate here.) One might think that the closure of the Ford Talbotville Assembly plant and the Caterpillar facility would be an indicator of exactly what happens when businesses can no longer get location incentives, or when another site offers better ones – that the opportunity cost of providing subsidies is growing a strong local business base that will remain regardless of such factors.

The City we continue to build in London is one that sees short-term savings as being just as important as long-term success. The value of residential permits is generally a one-year source of funds, largely paying for the system that processes building permits. Increases in assessment have a one-year benefit, and a revenue neutral impact with respect to other properties – since City Budgets are first built then divided among assessed properties and the Mill Rate being a result of that process. (Don’t be alarmed if you’ve never heard these terms, as London’s discussion of taxes is entirely simplistic.)

Pursuing 1980s Economic Development strategies, rather than looking to the future and using the techniques that have been successfully implemented in other post-industrial, post-manufacturing locations will only lead to more shuttering of factories, more unemployment and a race to the bottom of public service provision. When you are freezing taxes, and that’s your only vision, as a jurisdiction you are effectively in retreat. Instead of focusing on the tax side, London needs to focus on the tax policy, tax class and assessment side of the equation. The previous Mayor got this though unfortunately her personal issues and seemingly poor judgment got in the way of her continued electoral success.

London is currently suffering the hangover of post-war development patterns and rather than seeing Detroit as the emblem of suburban failure that it is, London is fueling white flight to the suburbs in the year 2013. A few of London’s planners seem to understand this but sadly the citizens, politicians and developers either don’t know or don’t care that the City they are leaving is doomed to certain failure. Instead, the current vision is to build splashy circus buildings, sell public land for one-time injections of cash (that will no doubt be used to move the existing public service provider to a new location) and to cut ribbons at massive large new employers who will solve London’s problem in one or two factories. This is a strategy for short-term electoral success but long-term community failure.

I have tried to voice my opinion in London but have been met with little other than the reply “Why are you so negative?” While I’m nowhere near her stature, intelligence, experience or dynamism, I rarely heard Jane Jacobs appear at Toronto City Hall with positive feel-good statements but rather a good deal of doom-and-gloom predictions regarding the outcomes of development. Do people think Jane was being positive when she was fighting the construction of highways through Greenwich Village or through Forest Hill? My goal is ultimately a positive one; to leave a sustainable (economically, environmentally, socially) world behind and to (the highest of my ideal) suggest that repeating the same actions and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

I love my hometown. I just am not crazy about what its leaders and citizens are doing with it. So now, it is time for me to make a new leap of faith, to trust in the universe and to get back on a path of personal success and fulfillment.

Next post: Why Ottawa.


Someone forgot to blog

Hey folks (who follow?)

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, mostly because I work in retail auto sales and therefore am always reticent about offending people, not that I’m anywhere near perfect at the skill of not offending people and would never claim to be. I write with a knife sometimes and forget the bigger picture, allowing ego to motivate my arguments, as if accepting others’ points of view (not that I usually haven’t already considered and dismissed them if I’m writing about them) would make me a worse or lesser person rather than a larger one.

I must write more. That’s the secret that all noteworthy writers share with aspiring writers. The more you write, the more you write and the more ideas you identify to write about. And so, I am having a look at this blog once again, which mostly discusses urban issues in London and considering reviving it. That’s why I’m here and also to simply get writing a bit, off of Facebook where I have tended to air everything to everyone. I have more blog ideas in mind about various topics. Perhaps I’ll throw some effort at generating followers and readers, if I should be so lucky as to attract them.

This blog serves as my local London ranting stage and so perhaps I’ll keep it that way. This post then says, Happy New Year. See you soon. I’m back to looking for the kind of work that will make me happy to the core.


It’s been a while

I haven’t posted much of late. I’ve had a lot on my plate. I think I’ll set a date. (sorry, got carried away with rhyming but for more you’ll have to wait.)

As many of you know, I’m trying to find work in London. I had an 11-month contract with the Employment Sector Council London Middlesex that was funded through an EI-program called the Job Creation Partnership. I’ve written before about my difficulties finding work and the possible reasons. I’m going to again say that this is a very small City where reputations can be earned and burned in a day or two with people making up their minds about how you think and who you are based on a few Tweets or Facebook Status updates.

I’ve always been a boat-rocker. I almost failed Grade 9 typing because I refused to pay a $1 fee for correcting tape way back in the dark ages when one could reasonably expect all school costs to be covered by the Public Education System. That was the 80’s. I’m pleased to say my protests and areas have risen and at a higher rate than inflation. Anyway. As they say, that was then, this is now. Perhaps my chip needs a bit shaved off.

But sometimes it’s really hard not to comment about what’s going on in London Ontario and in the world at large. But I have also grown tired of debating people. I have ideas, you have ideas. Where they don’t coincide, regardless of the heat of debate, I have long stuck to the mantra that we can agree to disagree. Some people aren’t easily swayed. I should know this well as I am one of these people.

Anyway. Lots is in the works. I’m finalizing work on drafts to produce a demo of a new Radio Show at CHRW that will largely be based on the ideas I put forward in this blog. It will look more closely at our local politics, economic development and land-use planning and examine the relationships between them. I hope to include interviews and in-depth discussions about topics that need a bit more analysis than local media gives them. It will be the antidote to the Jim Chapman anger hour (or however long his show is, I don’t listen because well, he’s small-minded, cheap and lacks any vision except that of his own greatness.)

So stay tuned friends. I will be back with more fodder soon. In a bigger format. Because if there’s one thing this world needs … it’s more of me. I’m thinking of calling the show CityThink Radio. But I may also call it 30 minutes with a Guru.


Another interview, another new opportunity

I haven’t blogged in a while. This one isn’t strictly CityThinking though it does discuss  my experience in looking for work in London Ontario.

I’m not sure what it is that has stood in my way of finding long-term employment and I suppose if I did know, I’d be a lot further along the way to addressing my inability in this area. But I can always speculate and self-deprecate. So here are my top however many reasons that I’ve not been able to find work:


10. My teeth. They’re horrible right now. I hate to admit it. It’s a source of embarrassment. I used to be a nice looking guy but years of smoking and laziness, combined with a lack of a good dental benefit program and my own terrible fiscal self-discipline is starting to show.


9. I’m arrogant. You know it. I know it. I’m also a know-it-all. I occasionally recognize that it’s a function of my insecurities, try to feel better about myself and it diminishes but it’s always a battle. I could go on but there’s no need to completely kill my job prospects.


8. I’m not a pick-up artist. I interview horribly which I think is akin to my courting style. Rarely in my life have I been the one to take a woman home from a bar or pick-up on Spring Break. I need time to wear down opposition to my often outwardly glib persona.


7. I’m less educated than other candidates. This is just a fact. I have a 3-yr BA in Social Sciences. Now, I also think I wasn’t well suited to the academic environment at the time. I kept my loans in check, took two years off mid-course, completed my degree at age 27 and went to work in Toronto largely because my ex-wife was in pursuit of her career ambitions in Marketing (and she’s done quite well to her credit.) I lucked/fought into a job with Michael Walker – who I think I served incredibly well and who rewarded me with consistent pay and title increases. I enjoyed politics but decided to ply my experiences elsewhere though I wasn’t quite sure where, I just knew that my views parted ways with most mainstream views and that politicians often have to do what’s wrong in order to do what’s right in the longer-term. Anyway. I lack big credentials and apply in fields where big credentials are desired – academic ones, not real-world, proven/applied stuff.


6. My resume. It has taken me a long time to realize that my resume has been a very ineffective marketing tool for me. Some of the achievements on my resume are meaningless for the work I seek. I think I’ve finally gotten over this one but it’s taken a long time and every resume requires full-time hours to research and write.


5. The work I seek. I jump from opportunity/posting to posting/opportunity and tailor my resume for the position. They all focus on community development work these days, be it social or economic development. I’m not an engineer (obviously) a planner or sociologist by training so these jobs perhaps are a bit out of my technical reach and given the tight labour market, the ‘employers’ labour market with an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, the good jobs that pay for brains would represent a new area of career development for men and similar to number 7, I face a hard time getting them. I still don’t know what it is I want to do, what it is I am skilled enough to do currently and what will make me happiest. My resume looks like a job-jumpers rather than someone who has pursued the opportunities presented at different times because they were interesting but that ultimately didn’t work out for a variety of reasons. See #1 and #7 above.


4. My Social Media ways… Funny that I used to craft messages for a politician who enjoyed his highest-ever election returns while I was his Executive Assistant and yet today, I seem to have an unparalleled ability to offend the right people with my own memes. Whether it’s LinkedIn, where those who could probably help me see 140 character updates that contain either my critique of policy, organizations, society and/or myself, or Facebook where an ever-growing number of people see my Jerry Garcia pictures, I am sure that anyone hiring for such a position would assume I have absolutely no knowledge of the scope and impact of these new media. To the contrary, I have always been a better spokesman for others than I am for myself. To anyone with a job for me that reads this I assure you … I (Justin, me) don’t exist when I’m speaking for someone else. This is a small City and everyone knows and talks to each other.My Social Media behavior is poor in this market.


3. Politicians? To some degree I believe I face the same fate as do many former politicians, albeit with less notoriety and reputation as my ex-bosses. Whatever I achieved while in the position of EA to a City Councillor can be branded and will offend at least 50% of those receiving my resume or interviewing me, whether I believed in the politics of the issue/position or not. Do I believe contributions to candidates from Unions and/or Corporations should be banned? I’m not sure. There are good arguments both ways. I think they have too much influence but bans are harsh and rarely work. But money follows winners rather than creating them. It goes to recognized groups that support Status Quo or more favourable policies.  And should Union Donations be considered in the same light? This is but one example of the negatives presented by a background in politics. A general distaste for politics is quite another.


2. I blog and I’m opinionated. ‘Nuff said? If I haven’t offended you yet, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time. People take things personally and I know I fail to appreciate that a lot of the time. I know people do what they can with the resources they have and most people act with the best of intentions and there are realities that I’m often unaware of. I must try to relect this knowledge more clearly and be less judgmental. Again – small City, small network is bad news for my big mouth.


1. Bad Luck? Some of it must be chalked up to lady fortune simply not being on my side. More likely, it’s a combination of all the above. Skymeter was very close to winning RFPs in 2007 but ultimately failed and is still struggling to build its market. Recall that visa restrictions meant I had to decline an offer to make 60G US plus commissions in 2009. Recall that I almost had a job at Canadian Urban Institute but that their revenues also plunged in the summer of 2009. Then, when Glen Murray decided not to run for Toronto Mayor, I was also left without a job.  I’ve had near misses with so many jobs.  I’ve had a lot of first interviews that didn’t get to second interviews. I had a job for 11 months instead of 12, worked through the stress of my Mother’s cancer, my father’s heart problems and a fire that torched many of my favourite possessions.

If nothing else, I’ve gained greater self-awareness, a greater appreciation of the struggles of the poor, greater humility and I’ve certainly been able to narrow my group of friends to those that demonstrate their support, love and understanding through thick and thin.

Maybe it’s actually good luck? See: New Opportunity!




Time to Think Locally in London

I wrote this from a chair at the Morrissey yesterday– one of my favourite local businesses in London, Ontario. There’s a few reasons I love the Mo’. One – it’s owned and operated by my good and long-time friend Mark Serre (and perhaps some silent investors.) Two – the beer menu always features local craft beers – or at least as local as Muskoka and Barrie, though often more local than that. The food menu – The Mo’ sources as much of its food locally as possible. I therefore believe, notwithstanding that I’m taking a rare turn and drinking a Rolling Rock, that I am keeping to my values of shopping locally.

A very recent discussion, about a downtown Grocery store, and the stated need for a downtown grocery store, has inspired me to write again about London’s approach to economic development and the constant desire to find a magic pill to ease all our troubles, rather than pursue a plan of day-to-day actions taken to ensure a vibrant local economy. Many people will blame these failures on City Hall. Having worked in politics though, and knowing how much politicians do to please constituents, even in the face of wrongful assumptions about City growth and human behaviour, I can tell you the blame does not lie solely with our local government, though certainly a great deal does lie there.

Rather, there is a complex system that is at fault for the way our City has grown and multiple reasons for the way London has developed. First, we’re all guilty to some degree, through our investments in banks, RRSPs, and retirement plans, of putting money into the world of Real Estate development. Certainly we don’t have a lot of control – all of the major Banks invest in Real Estate as do most Credit Unions. Only the pursuit of the alternative of a local banking system, with input from investors, and ethical rules of investment, could begin to lay the groundwork for any kind of development that doesn’t simply pursue proven, sole-use developments. Investors traditionally have shied away from risky investments, a category which sadly includes Rental Housing. A better, (ie safer) investment is 250 units of Single-Family Housing in a Single-Family neighbourhood built in a greenfield. Redevelopment of heritage or brownfields requires much more risk and mixed-use developments create a need for complex financial arrangements that may or may not ensure a Return on Investment. But so long as these investments compete with, say, Greek short-term Bonds, it is difficult for developers to secure financing.

Much like the dilemma of Detroit Automaker, who both form and respond to consumer demand, the question is, did the market create the housing, or did the housing offered create the market. Perhaps we’ll never know the answer to this question but younger people are quickly making clear they don’t desire the same kind of lifestyle that our Post-War, Baby Boomer parents did. City of London Urban Designer Sean Galloway said to me recently that CMHC statistics showed that sales of pre-built housing was outpacing new construction. While I have some reservations about those statistics (the housing bust has led to collapse of new construction while house purchases are still a part of our economy and therefore, increased purchases of re-sold properties are a natural result – see the Tweet below ) it does suggest that more young people are looking for more traditional neighbourhoods.

@LFPress London Free Press
BREAKING: Housing starts tumble in London CMA – 145 homes in May 2011 compared to 534 in May 2010.

To get back to my original point though, we need to encourage London residents to think about the results of their everyday decisions. All Canadians should. It’s easy (and convenient) to buy the cheapest product, in the biggest Box Store but the long-term consequences of these decisions produce the result of reduced local business opportunities, reduced benefits from employment, reduced opportunities to substitute for imported goods and ultimately, in an economic health situation that is largely beyond our control. If everyone shops at The Home Depot, how long can Copps Buildall continue to operate in downtown London – which incidentally is a source of economic diversity and cross-use of districts. The pressure created by massive buildings like the Renaissance don’t help either – Mr. Copps is sitting on perhaps a $10 Million development site as a result of the heights and built-form density or FSI (amount of the area covered by building) given to the project. While stagnation is not healthy, neither are massive jolts of economic stimulus through one or two building sites or buildings that stand-alone architecturally from everything that surrounds them. The result is similar to the leap-frogging that occurred in Scarborough in the 1960’s that led to significant changes in their Official Plans due to the wasted land that was left in-between these massive ‘Garden City’ developments.

Neighbourhoods are a sum of their parts. Their strength comes from the variation in the strong buildings – not from one or two projects that act as a draw, or a major player in any neighbourhood. Projects of this nature tend to kill their surroundings, like One London Place killed commercial demand in the downtown London core, resulting in an increase in the number of surface parking lots and spaces. London’s plethora of downtown parking acts as a canary in a coalmine for economic failure. When the parking spaces outnumber the interesting places to go, to shop, to work and to live; you’ve failed.

Again, I digress.

London’s economy is a result of these decisions – our daily decisions about life and work. When an employer chooses low taxes over ease of transportation access for her workers, she creates further need for parking, for roads, for tax revenues to provide for those and by using a site by herself, reduces diversity of use and the economic efficiency that Cities are supposed to offer. The result, over the long-haul is to make her business less attractive to employees, less innovative, less supportive of a tax base that helps create the economy in which she’ll thrive – we’re paving roads instead of building Convergence Centres, Performing Arts Centres or affordable housing.

So we end-up getting only businesses that are part of a chain with proven results and a proven business concept and ultimately, through zoning, disallow all but a scarce few locally-owned businesses to pursue similar commercial opportunities. A local business is required by the City to meet the exact same zoning requirements as a non-local, chain or multi-national that can often afford to provide these as a tiny part of a larger corporate plan. Parking costs can much more easily be subsidized through the chain restaurant than by the local business person. A local business also relies on walk-up and casual customers and generally thrive in places where word-of-mouth can flourish. Old South and Old East are great examples of neighbourhoods that have these businesses. The Westmount area is a great example of a pre-planned neighbourhood that lacks all but large, generic commercial opportunities. By reducing commercial opportunities to those zones exclusively demarcated for such activity, through supply/demand, price and regulation, local opportunities are zoned out.

It’s a big circular negative feedback system. The less we shop locally, the more we increase the demand for more Box Stores. The more we drive, the more we demand roads, the more demand for parking, which favours big businesses and harms those who can’t afford cars. It’s inequitable, it’s unfair and it doesn’t do anything to advance our economic goals of lifting people from poverty to the middle class through opportunity.

So please. The next time you’re thinking about going shopping, consider what you’re purchasing and whether there is any local or small-business alternative. Not all goods can be provided as an alternative – those are the best of which to minimize our use. However, those that can be provided by local business ultimately contribute much more to our economy than the few cents we save on the price of the purchase. Local business also provides many more benefits that aren’t found in price – better customer service, recognized loyalty, connection-making and greater circulation of money in the local economy are just a few.

This is why I say, think Locally in London. We need a campaign that reminds people that every single dollar they spend goes somewhere and carries with it a signal. That signal either says, “I love homogeneous environments where little happens out of the ordinary” or it says “I prefer vibrant, walkable neighbourhoods that create multiple economic opportunities and unique places.” Then, perhaps the Methadone Clinics wouldn’t stand out like a sore thumb in a barely-filled punch-bowl.

Once we realize this, there will be little need for London Free Press articles begging the question: “Who are we?” It will be everywhere, in front of us.

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