In Part 1, I argued that if London was to successfully address its many social challenges throughout the city and particularly in the core, it needed to not just place a higher value on our private sector, but embrace it and enable it. Our overall goal should be to do everything possible to recruit, retain, and support businesses in our city, to help generate the jobs and incomes necessary for us to meet our broader social needs and desired lifestyle.
To this end, I have outlined a number of near-term and longer-term actions steps that I believe our city could take to not only enhance our relationship with our commercial neighbours, but improve the overall look, feel, and appeal of the place we call home.
And in an effort to help qualify, clarify and prioritize these steps, I have categorized them under a management process that I’ve used successfully in the past entitled, “Now, Next, After Next”.
As the naming convention suggests, “Now, Next, After Next” (Parts 2, 3 and 4 respectively) identifies a series of action steps, often all deemed critical, and prioritizes them to give its intended audience, be it an employee, organization, or in this case, a city struggling with too many challenges and too few resources, some guidance on what to do and when to do it.
This action list is by no means absolute, and additions, amendments and refinements are certainly welcome. However, my participation in last year’s election afforded me a unique opportunity to learn about our many challenges, and I can now offer an unencumbered perspective on how best to overcome them.
- Materially increase the number of Police Officers and social service agents in the downtown.
- Provide sustained funding support for short-term housing providers and rehab centres.
- Help our most vulnerable from elsewhere find their way back home.
- Expand the use of angled parking.
- Instill a business-friendly culture throughout City Hall.
London needs to dramatically increase the number of police foot patrols and social service responders in the downtown area to effectively cleanse the core, and reset its foundation. This blanket coverage, designed to emulate the success of similar initiatives in other large urban centres and our own World Figure Skating Championship, would help build public confidence in the core and supplement the city’s investments in Dundas Place, etc.
However, clearing the core will only shift the problem, not solve it. Therefore, we need to immediately ramp up every near-term housing option available to us to provide those among us struggling with homelessness, addiction, mental illness and/or poverty a safe place to live and reconnect. It is my understanding that reconnection is the key. Addiction is as much a symptom of loneliness and isolation as it is a chemical dependency. We need to help find a way to not just address the chemical hooks but the isolation in people’s lives. Mission Services, London’s Inter-Community Health Centre and Youth Opportunities Unlimited are all agencies doing extraordinary work in the recovery, treatment and re-engagement of our most vulnerable. However, given their limited resources, we are effectively treating a broken arm with a band-aid. And yet, the aggregate cost of providing these services is actually equivalent to what we are paying right now in police calls for service and emergency health care , without having anywhere close to the same impact. (See https://thepaolattoreport.com/londons-underground-part-6-the-price-tag/) . As such, we need to significantly increase our support of these services to the point where downtown London is not just a safe place to live, work shop and play, but a source of pride for our entire city.
We also need to recognize that London’s social service apparatus is at full-capacity, and not in a position to support the 50-percent of vulnerable citizens now residing here who may have been directed to our city from other communities. That is why I am also proposing that the City of London either petition the Provincial Government for more funds to help us address this vulnerable cohort, or we help them find their way back home, where their own family/community can step in and provide the necessary supports. While ours is a generous town, Londoners can no longer afford to accept all of the region’s social challenges without additional resources.
While far less emotionally compelling than our social issues, parking also continues to be a challenge, particularly in the downtown. The continual removal of public parking spaces compromises convenience, increases private lot prices and reduces the competitiveness of our core. I also appreciate the need for us to better accommodate active modes of transportation (pedestrian and cyclists) and want to ensure that everyone can move around our core safely. In fact, the more ‘feet on the street’, the better. Therefore, I would encourage our City to explore the deployment of angle parking similar to that employed along Dundas east of Wellington. During the election, I had a consultant conduct an informal parking study of our downtown, and he determined that we could add 150-200 spaces without much intrusion into our streetscape. In addition to improving parking density, the angle approach would help slow traffic and create a much more efficient use of our streets. My hope is that one day the expanded use of public transit and autonomous vehicles-for-service, will make the need for short-term parking largely obsolete. But for now, our core merchants desperately need more parking, so why not try to accommodate it.
Finally, it would be wonderful if everyone working at City Hall committed to a culture of enablement. While there have been some positive strides in select departments (e.g. substantially improved builder support as a result of the split between Planning and Development Services), there are still pockets of our public service that seem to impede investment, economic activity and job creation. For example, why does it seem so hard to get appropriate commercial signage in our city? And why can’t our By-law Officers assist businesses with the timely process of securing compliant signage rather than simply point out the problems and leave the business to their own resources to resolve. I understand the importance of their role, but the application of these cumbersome rules only slow the pace of business, diminish marketing efforts and discourage investment. Another opportunity to improve business relations is in the area of construction planning. Everyone recognizes the need and importance of maintaining our public thoroughfares. It would helpful if the City proactively engaged impacted businesses in the planning process up front, and consider bridge loans and/or abatement options to help them manage during the interruption. After all, we are all in this together. So let’s work together to ensure our collective success.
All of the above recommended actions are immediate, doable and impactful. There may be other initiatives that can have a telling impact on our local businesses and our economy. However, the key word is on action, and time to act is now.
We owe to our businesses and we owe it to ourselves.
Tomorrow – Next