Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

What About Real, Tangible Action?

This morning, I came across this New Orleans project, where residents post stickers that look like “Hello My Name Is…” stickers, but instead say “I Wish This Was…”, followed by a handwritten wish for the location the sticker is posted.

It’s a lot like this project, really; it’s based on imagining something for your surroundings as a basis for one day making these imagined possibilities come true.

But what are the people in New Orleans doing to make their home a better place to live? What am I doing? Is imagination enough?

I’ve tried, though likely not enough, to suggest courses of action to help London acheive its potential on this blog: things like applying politial pressure or starting with changes on a personal level that might grow to larger changes in the urban environment. I’ve also tried to connect with other people and groups in London who have an interest in making change happen.

But the problem still remains, when tackling issues like “how to make London a better place”, where do you even really begin? At the Emerging Leaders Idea Salon, our main response to the question of “If you were to transform Dundas, what would you do first?” was “Make a plan and stick to it”. But we didn’t make a clear statement about what that plan should be. We just listed a few vague “problems” we thought Dundas was facing.

So I don’t mean to be a cynic, but when our thoughts on London are based half on complaints and half on imaginary futures, how can citizens really make a difference?

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What About A Rooftop Greenhouse?

What’s the problem?

A lot of our produce come to us coated in pesticides from factory farms in South America, it’s sometimes not as healthy or as flavourful as organically grown produce and we’ve become totally detached from the labour involved in the food we eat. Additionally, roofs downtown are incredibly inefficient in terms of insulation, which affects our environment and power bills because of the extra power require to heat or cool apartments. And, because there’s no grocery store downtown, accessing fresh produce can require driving, which isn’t great for our environment either.

What kind of solution can we imagine?

Solar-powered rooftop greenhouses!

What might make this solution possible?

You could start your own tiny rooftop garden with approval from your landlord. Invite others to garden with you and talk about the satisfaction that comes with growing your own food. The more people start gardens, the more likely building owners will take an interest in investing in a greenhouse.

What do YOU think can be done to make this happen?

What About Unused Space?

What’s the problem?

Abandoned space! As said in another post, 31% of space downtown is not in use. And boarded up windows are unsightly and make our downtown seem disreputable. Also, downtown’s walk-in clinic is quite far down Dundas, and a closer clinic would be much appreciated by many. Also downtown currently has no multi-purpose community centre that’s accessible to people from all income groups.

What kind of solution can we imagine?

A Community Centre and Walk In Clinic downtown, along murals on boarded up windows.A community centre, a walk in clinic, and murals replacing boarded up windows would improve access to services downtown and also could possibly make our building fronts more attractive without detracting from their heritage value.

What might make this solution possible?

Pressure from locals on building owners/developers and on city council.  Let them know you can’t see the value in empty buildings when people are struggling to access affordable housing, healthcare, and other services. What if City Council set up a fining system for building owners who left lofts unoccupied and storefronts empty and barren? This might encourage initiatives to populate and to beautify our downtown core.

What do YOU think can be done to make this happen?

What About A Dog Park?

What’s the problem?

Downtown is lacking in green space—officially, the “downtown core” only has two parks, the Rotary Reading Garden (which is only accessible through the library, and only open at specified times) and a very small patch of grass just off Dundas near Colborne. What’s more, Rotary does not allow dogs and the other park isn’t fenced in, so there’s nowhere to let a dog roam off-leash. It’s hard to get pet-lovers—and there are loads of them—to live in an area where their pets’ needs are ignored. Additionally, a lot of downtown pet owners take their dogs to the CCH fields and then don’t clean up after them, which is disruptive for CCH athletes who are too busy sprinting to make sure they’re not stepping in dog piles.

What kind of solution can we imagine?

A Dog Park off King Street

The image depicts a dog park in one of London’s parking lots. I know, I know, controversial; there aren’t enough parking spots downtown as it is, but this is an ideal London, right? And in my ideal London, everybody bikes or takes the bus and parking is unecessary, so there! Dog parks are self-regulated by other dog owners who will judge you if you don’t pick up your dog’s crap, and dog parks are also a great way to connect with people in your community with similar interests (aka cocker spaniels, labs…ferrets, chimps…whatever you want to take to the dog park).

What might make this solution possible?

First off, encouraging alternate modes of transportation (i.e. not cars) if you really believe in the idea of making parking (almost) obsolete. This can entail participating in bicycle promotion like Critical Mass, or taking efforts to make transit more efficient and accessible by attending public transit planning meetings. Then get involved in initiatives like ReForest London to get London more public green space.

What do YOU think can be done to make this happen?

What About Housing?

What’s the problem?

Urban sprawl in London is causing suburbs to move out further and further away from the downtown core, and families are moving further and further away from each other and from London’s services. Urban spawl is not sustainable environmentally, because there’s only so much land we can gobble up, and it’s not sustainable socially as well. Communities thrive on closeness, not on having to drive an hour to visit friends on the other side of town. Also, London could do with much more affordable, subsidized, and income-geared housing.

What kind of solution can we imagine?

Buildings On King St...But TallerWhat if we build up, not out? The real buildings in the drawing (you can find them across from Market Square on King St.) are like three stories high, maximum. What if we built them up and created room for mixed income housing, making downtown living accessible to more and more people? Even though admittedly a lot of apartments downtown are occupied, in the past 8 years the downtown population has more than doubled, and it’s only going to grow from here. Who’s to say in twenty years high rises won’t be more feasible than suburbs?

What might make this solution possible?

Support the farmers that are being pushed off their land due to urban sprawl by contacting your city councilor or members of City Council’s adjustments comittee. Commit to living downtown and not in a suburb—the more people do it, the more will follow.

What do YOU think can be done to make this happen?

What About A Pedestrian Mall?

What’s the problem?

Traffic on Dundas gets all kind of congested, what with busses, cars, bikes, pedestrians…the sidewalks are quite narrow (case in point: two wheelchair users could not go down the Dundas sidewalks side-by-side) and drivers can’t even turn off Dundas throughout most of the day. Also, many merchants on Dundas are looking for ways to improve their business—not that many of the businesses aren’t doing well, but things could always be better.

What kind of solution can we imagine?

What if Dundas St., between Wellington and Ridout, was a pedestrian mall? It works in other cities—Montreal, Vancouver, many European cities. It could create walking traffic of pedestrians who are more likely to stop in to retailers and restaurants, and turns a visit downtown into an outing or day trip and not just a place you drive to/through. Trees could be planted down the middle of the street, and of course a pedestrian mall would encourage walking and biking, so it might help keep our Forest City green.

What might make this solution possible?

Talk about it. Ask people what they think about the idea (it’s pretty controversial, especially because it’s not actually clear whether it will help or hurt downtown businesses). Try and approach the issue using baby steps…before suggesting that whole chunk of street be car-free, discuss the possibility of eliminating on-street parking or creating flexible, moveable parking spaces, so as to widen sidewalks. Get involved volunteering with initiatives that help make Dundas temporarily car-free, like Car-Free Sunday or Park(ing) Day, and use these initiatives to inspire locals to think about the possibility of Dundas being a pedestrian space all year round.

What do YOU think can be done to make this happen?

#mydundas

Today was the Emerging Leaders Idea Salon about what downtown could be, which was a follow up to last night’s Downtown London AGM featuring a Toronto urban planner as guest speaker. There was a great turnout and some great discussion. You can find out more about it by searching the #mydundas hashtag on Twitter, but some of the basics discussed were:

  • Living space! Downtown is never going to compete with White Oaks and Masonville as a retail centre–and it doesn’t have to. Those places are just shopping places, Downtown is a community hub. So give it a community, of people that live there!  Refurbish the upper levels of buildings for “loft” style living space–it’ll attract students and young professionals, but housing hopefully can still be kept affordable, and downtown businesses will benefit from having more people around.
  • Change peoples’ perceptions of the area. It’s not dangerous. It’s not dirty. Smokers and panhandlers and youth and people in line for OW and other such services are valuable parts of the community. No need to fear them or dis them or assume they somehow detract from downtown’s viability as a pleasant place to be.
  • Engage youth. They’re already spending time downtown, what with highschools and community groups (like Original Kids, etc.) that have a base downtown. We just need them to keep spending time downtown as they get older.
  • Should buses be redirected around Dundas using King and Queen Streets? Some businesses are wary of this–will people still spend money on Dundas if the bus doesn’t drop them off right at the door of where the want to go?–but a lot of residents are pretty enthusiastic (Dundas is a hella congested street with all the buses).
  • Should on-street parking be reduced to make sidewalks wider? Just like the above point, merchants and residents have different views on this.
  • Events–cultural, artistic, community based, whatever–are key! Car-free Sunday, for example, has been a resounding success at getting people downtown this year. The London Fringe has that sort of success each year as well, as do the Victoria Park festivals. But there could still be more! What about spontaneous artistic events in unused spaces like abandoned buildings? What about street theatre, busking, etc.
  • Networking is important as well. With so many widely variant community groups trying to do what they can for London, things can get fragmented and there’s sometimes not enough communication. Emerging Leaders need to work with City Council or the London Downtown Business Association, etc. because communication and cooperation are always key.
  • WHEELCHAIR ACCESS is a problem downtown. This wasn’t mentioned explicitly during the idea salon, but it was implicitly present throughout the meeting, which was, by necessity, held at a non-wheelchair-accessible venue and thus was exclusive to walkies. Boo.

Anyhow that’s just some of what I gathered from this lovely little meeting. Emerging Leaders is doing a great job in London (if only there was more opportunity for wheelchair access at their events!) and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. Great job folks!