Tonight I attended a public participation session at City Hall to hear regular citizens talk about the LRT/BRT debate that’s currently happening in our city. I had it in the back of my mind that I might talk but I walked in completely unprepared. As speaker after speaker took the microphone I wrote down some remarks and then I screwed up the nerve to take my turn before council. Here are my remarks:

My name is Shawn Adamsson and I live in Ward 11.

I’m here to speak in favour of LRT.

Since the change in direction to a BRT-only solution I’ve spoken to more than a hundred people and even the most fervent BRT advocates that I’ve encountered can’t seem to get excited about putting another bus on the road. Practical? Sure, if you only look at the bottom line infrastructure upgrades. Game changer? It’s LTC 1.5. Not a chance.

Want to see what BRT can do for a city? Cast an eye to Winnipeg. Their five year old system has attracted almost zero private investment along their BRT corridors.

Want to know what an LRT can do for a city? Travel down the road to Waterloo. Short term traffic issues? Sure. But you’ll also find a community of people gathering to support businesses impacted by the construction. But there’s excitement, cranes are rising in the air along the LRT route and there’s an optimism about the future of the city.

Sure rapid transit moves people around efficiently but just as importantly it builds cities and, as we can see from Waterloo, it can also build civic pride.

A few other points:

Some say we can upgrade the system to LRT later. Ottawa’s doing it right now after-all. I’ve spoken to an engineer working on that upgrade and they were despondent that the city made the mistake of putting in BRT 25 years ago. The upgrade is an economic, traffic and environmental nightmare and it could have been avoided with a little bit vision from the council of the day.

Buses can be environmentally responsible they say. Forget the impact of fuel consumption for a minute, building a bus creates FAR more environmental impact than running the thing. Building 3, 4 or 5 times as many buses to serve the same number of passengers as LRT is far from environmentally friendly.

One last thought, I’m a business owner and every couple of months I have a one on one meeting with each member of our team. Today I sat with one of our Fanshawe co-op students that’s finishing up school in December, a brilliant guy, and when I asked him what his plans were after graduation he said he was looking to leave the city. The naval gazing around things like uber, food trucks, green bins and rapid transit is pushing him to look to progressive cities. This is not the first time I’ve heard this from students. This is who we are to a lot of young people. You should be deeply concerned about this.

Is this who we are?

This will be your legacy. We’re a big city, the time for baby steps has passed. Take a leap.

Make us proud. (end)

Speaking in front of people terrifies me and I was shaking through the whole thing. It was disappointing to see the mayor leave the room at the beginning of my remarks and return at the end but other than that it went better than I could have hoped for.

Kudos to all the excellent people who stood up and made their voices heard tonight.

A Debilitating Inferiority Complex

Anyone who reads my blogs could come to the conclusion that I have a hate-on for this city. I’m the first to admit that I didn’t love this place for my first 20 years here — London was not an easy city to love. The great news is that it was very easy, at least for me, to fall in love with the people here and that is where my passion for this place grows.

Why is London so hard to love?

I think part of it is a lack of identity. Sure, some neighbourhoods have developed fantastic identities for themselves: OEV, Old South, Woodfield and SoHo, to name but a few. We lack an identity as a city, though — I don’t really see anything that binds us together or that would be notable or remarkable to anyone from outside our city. What is London? I’ve been here for 31 years, and thought about it for 10, and I have no idea. There is one thing that I can point to, though — we have a crippling, possibly terminal, inferiority complex.

“The big city that thinks it’s a small town” is a label that I heard bestowed on this city only a few weeks after I arrived here in 1985, and it’s the closest thing that I can find to an identity. And it is it killing us.

London literally doesn’t think it deserves nice things. And don’t even discuss investing in anything good or different because that’s a non-starter.

Politicians know that they’re going to get clobbered by citizens if anything exceptional makes it anywhere near Council Chambers. So how does Council placate the enthusiasts and the naysayers all at once? They do their damndest to wear both the naysayers and enthusiasts down. Debates, reports, referrals. No matter what flavour went in, what comes out of the process is almost always vanilla.

Inoffensive, palatable, vanilla. Safe vanilla.

And that might be okay. Vanilla isn’t so bad, right?

We don’t live in a world where vanilla is going to cut it. We live in a world where cities must rise to face the challenges of the future and cannot be solely mired in the mundane practicalities of the present. The manufacturing economy that London held so dear has faded and there’s no reason to expect it to come back. Our economic drivers have changed, and we, and our city, have to change too. We’re positioning ourselves for a new kind of economy pitted against cities with a decade-long head start on us.

That’s the world that we’re competing in. Yes, it’s a competition and a brutal one. It’s a contest for hearts and minds and it’s been waged across the planet over decades. We need to position ourselves to retain our best and brightest; we need to attract an influx of new talent and new Canadians to offset a declining birth rate and the impending loss of the Boomers. The decisions we make today will echo for years, and we’re making safe, inoffensive, palatable choices while the world races ahead. We need to be looking up and ahead, and we need to stop navel gazing.

So when we face big decisions and ideas, like The London Plan and Shift London, and we know we’re going to need help bringing them to reality, we need to think bigger than “safe.” We need to stop being meek and we need to demand the same kinds of things that our competition already has. We need to start thinking 30, 50, even 100 years in the future and not 30 years in the past.

In the late 1990s we made big, risky and ultimately successful investments in our city through the Millennium Plan. We need to keep making serious investments in our city’s future. We need to get in the game with the big folks. And we need to get over this notion that we don’t deserve the fundamental things that make a city attractive, desirable and competitive. It’s a fight and it’s one that we can’t shrink away from anymore.

Maybe if we start demanding to be treated better we’ll actually start believing that we deserve it and maybe then we’ll find out who we really are.


Special thanks to Laurie Bursch for her invaluable assistance editing this blog.

Better than Better

Why do I even care about rapid transit in London? I mean, after all, I’ll be in my seventies – or, more likely, dead – when this thing is built. I care because I love my city and I want to see it take a meaningful leap into the future present. And, I care because I’m tired of London acting like a third-rate city.

London needs to be more than “conveniently located along the NAFTA superhighway.” We need to be more than “halfway between Toronto and Detroit.” We need to be more than “that town near Waterloo.” Geography alone cannot be our biggest advantage because geography means less and less with each passing day. We need to start feeling our strength, flexing our muscles, and taking calculated risks to become the city we want to be.

Last week, city staff put forward a recommendation that the city implement a bus rapid transit (BRT)-only solution for London. This was a big change from the initial staff recommendation for a hybrid light rapid transit (LRT)/BRT solution that council unanimously endorsed last fall.

Some people are concerned there would be insufficient ridership to support LRT in London. To address this, the recommendation put forth by council proposes that after BRT is up and running and ridership increases, we could take the BRT infrastructure and lay down tracks to install LRT. They’re positioning this as a sensible, phased approach.


In a time of record-breaking citizen engagement we’ve decided to ignore the wishes of the citizenry who overwhelmingly voted BRT-only as the least preferable form of rapid transit.

In a time when other cities are investing in meaningful leaps forward, our city is setting the bar for success so low that anyone who’s actually paying attention to us has got to be laughing.

While we’re writing ambitious plans for the future of our city, we’re pulling punches on the most impactful infrastructure investment that can be made in our city – and for our future.

In a time of practically free money (near 0% interest rates), we’re nickel-and-diming investing in London, and in ourselves.

In a time when federal and provincial governments are both ready to match investments, we’re arguing in favour of the least ambitious rapid transit proposal possible and not even trying for something better.

Is this really how our City Council sees London? Is this how we see ourselves? Do we not deserve nice things? Do we lack courage to demand that we be treated equally with other cities? Are we utterly unwilling to expend any political capital to accomplish something great for our city?

Still, why does any of this matter? Well, I’m in tech and we have something close to eight hundred job vacancies in the London tech sector because we can’t attract and retain the talent we need. Conservatively, that’s well over $50,000,000 annually that these companies could be pouring into the local economy in just these new hires. That’s for one small industry. We’re losing talent to KW, Toronto, and Hamilton every day because London can’t won’t compete.

Bottom line? If I were a 20 or 30 year old starting up a company right now, I would start it elsewhere. I would go to a city that sees itself for what it can be. I would go where people scream “hell yeah, let’s do it!”

We need to take a leap. We need to set the bar higher for ourselves. We need to demand more for our city. Let’s not just demand to be at the big table, let’s be missed when we’re absent.

I love this city. Let’s not strive just to be better together, let’s be bold; let’s be amazing together.

If this resonates with you, please consider signing Jesse Helmer’s excellent petition.

B Minus

One year ago London elected a new council and it was a pretty great night.

I backed a number of candidates that got elected and my hopes were high for some real change. 365 days later and I am unimpressed.

Now I’m not an idiot, I knew going in that a number of the folks that I was backing weren’t what you would call progressive. Some of them will be career politicians and this office is just a stepping stone so those councillors weren’t going to be blazing any new trails. But even then I thought that there were some no brainer decisions that they would get behind.

They’ve managed a few small victories but nothing to write home about yet.

Their biggest failures in my eyes:

  • Food trucks: D-
  • Uber: F
  • City Strike: F
  • Police Carding: F
  • London Plan: C-

The first 2 items showed just a complete lack of vision and innovation and that was what I was really looking for from these folks.

My councillor, Stephen Turner, has been especially disappointing on the carding issue.

In spite of that I’m still giving them a B-. Why? Well, they haven’t torched the city so I’m giving them a lot of latitude for not being a complete disaster. I still have some real hope for a few of them.

There are a couple of standouts in this bunch: Jesse Helmer is doing an amazing job and I’ve been impressed with Virginia Ridley as well.

Some people tell me it’s too early to tell what their real legacy will be and maybe they’re right. But I would think if they were going to make any really progressive decisions we would have seen some kind of sign by now.

Let’s face it, the last council was a spectacular embarrassment so pretty much anything was going to be an improvement but this council sure isn’t making the grade in my books.

Hopefully I’ll come back to this in another year and I’ll be singing a different tune.


UPDATE 2: It’s all over. Was the experiment a success? Nope. Lots of traffic to the blog but little participation. I never thought it would do that much but hoped that it would do more than it did. I’ve put more money towards less worthy causes though so I’m ok with where things ended. Thanks to everyone who voted and helped spread the word.

UPDATE: I’m increasing the prize amount from $25.00 to $50.00 for the remainder of the day. Nothing else has changed.

If you’re under the age of 34 here’s a small incentive to vote at the advance polls today (Thanksgiving Day 2015).

  1. Take a selfie OUTSIDE the advance polls when you vote today with an Elections Canada sign clearly visible in the shot.
  2. Tweet or Facebook the pic with the #ThanksVoting hashtag (make sure the post is public so I can see it).

That’s it. Every hour that the advance polls are open today I will select a random #ThanksVoting poster and I will send that person $25.00 $50.00 (transferred via Interac eTransfer, iTunes gift card, PayPal, or even a cheque).

Rules (subject to change today if people try to game the system too much):

  1. You must be eligible to vote in Canada and between the ages of 18 and 34 (why? Because they have the worst turnout numbers and those are the people that I want to incentivize) .
  2. Don’t violate anyone else’s privacy.
  3. Listen to the nice Elections Canada officials and don’t break any of their rules.
  4. No photoshopped pics.
  5. No pictures of ballots (either blank or completed).
  6. Be Canadian. Be respectful. Be nice. Offensive/disrespectful photos or messages will not be considered.
  7. Your face AND an official Elections Canada sign must be visible in the picture.
  8. This contest may be cancelled at any time if it becomes too much of a hassle (but I can generally tolerate a lot of BS).
  9. Encouraging people to vote is the whole idea here so your picture must be public and include the hashtag #ThanksVoting.

If anyone is interested in financially assisting me with this I would welcome the help (but only up to a total of $250 – this isn’t a money making venture).

If you want to match the prize that would be swell too.

In either case you can email me and we can chat.

Post Emergent

I reacted emotionally when I heard that Emerging Leaders was on the brink. I got angry and I judged and then I took some time to reflect on what impact they have had on me and on our city.

I remember being there the day Emerging Leaders came out to the public, wandering around The Arts Project packed with youth and ideas. My skin was tingling with the energy in the place. I remember thinking that this was the future of London, right here, right now.

Of course the cocktail crew was there to network and be “seen”, they always are but there was something else too, people on the fringes of the room, people listening intently to conversations, people thoughtfully sharing their vision for the future of London. You could pick them out if you looked. People who deeply cared about London and were willing to put skin in the game.

What’s happened in the intervening years has been remarkable; a citizen renaissance.

Was what happened in the room that day the start of something? No, probably not. Was it a catalyst for what followed? Absolutely. Not a doubt in my mind.

Here’s how it impacted me that day … I advocated hard for our company to support an initiative called Ambassador London and we worked our asses off for it. Ambassador London was a great idea that failed spectacularly and showed me all the ways that silos, personal interest and politics have failed this city for so long. So I held a ChangeCamp to examine that stuff. It was the most terrifying thing imaginable for me but it had some very tangible results. That led me to lead a failed voter mobilization initiative called Hack the Vote where I met many amazing people (some of which are leading this city today). That led to another ChangeCamp, a citizen engagement initiative called CitizenCorps, 20 Pints & Politics meetups  and now to a grassroots engagement initiative around our history and heritage.

Anyone who has been inspired to action by anything that I’ve done owes that to Emerging Leaders.

How many others were inspired to action because of Emerging Leaders? How many others donned the mantle of leadership either as a direct result of EL or of the environment that they continue to nurture to this day?

I’ll forget the community stuff for a minute and look at it purely from a business perspective. We’re starving for tech talent in this city. Neither the City of London nor the LEDC have any holistic, ongoing initiatives to attract and retain the demographic that is quite literally the lifeblood of the exploding digital media sector in this city. There are hundreds of tech jobs unfilled today and large companies are cannibalizing the smaller firms right this second. $70,000 isn’t a THE solution but is that small investment for the only initiative we have in the pipe too much to ask?

The mission of EL, the attraction and retention and engagement of our youth, is no simple task and EL isn’t the only ingredient required for success but it is a critical part and the success or failure of such a complicated task is not easily measured (no matter what chart you throw at me).

Some will argue that this could be folded into other organizations to which I counter that this isn’t a part time job for a subcommittee that meets on a bi-monthly basis. I can’t think of another group that would be willing to be such an outspoken, unflinching advocate. Not one. I can’t think of another that can inspire and speak to this demographic on their terms. Not one. Who’s enthusiastically and unabashedly putting their career on the line for the future? Where are the people putting skin in the game?

Is EL perfect? Far from it. The ED (a friend of mine) is maybe a bit too polarizing, the current board is largely ineffective and many people should have seen this financial crisis coming. It’s still valuable, it’s still fixable and letting 9 years of incredibly hard, inspiring work die for those shortcomings?

The current cry to “pull the plug and we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards” seems incredibly shortsighted and completely dismissive of what the organization has done for this city.

So how forward? I’m not the best guy to ask but my gut reaction is that the organization needs a stronger board with more advocates – everyone needs to be active. The organization needs better balance – if everyone’s agreeing on everything then a bunch of those people are redundant. And if you have an outspoken ED then you need a strong board chair that can work with that and balance that out*. Finally, they should set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable Ambitious, Realistic, Time-Bound) goals and report on them annually (they may have these already but I couldn’t find them). Not everything that can be measured is of value but there needs to be a good mix of tangible and intangible outcomes.

While the energy that we had in that room 9 years ago will almost certainly never be recaptured in the same way, Emerging Leaders continues to to be the oxygen that will allow out future leaders to grow. It’s worth a small investment and it’s worth fighting for. I encourage you to write, call or tweet your Councillor and Mayor Matt Brown to voice your support for this important organization.

* I can speak from first hand experience here because David and Josh bring a great deal of balance to our business partnership.

Forward to the Past

Having made the decision to hand Pints & Politics over to a new set of leaders it’s time for me to start thinking about the future … um, the past … um, the future of the past.

Let me back up a bit. History and I don’t have the greatest history. Like many I expect, it was something that we studied as a requirement to getting through school but it wasn’t anything that we dwelled on much. Also like many, I went to work, came home, ate dinner, watched TV, went to bed and then did it all over again. I was only peripherally involved in The World.

So when people stood hand in hand around the Talbot block to preserve a bunch of old buildings I didn’t get it. This, despite the fact that I took architecture in college and constantly decried the state of modern building design. That I wasn’t there with them is one of the larger regrets I have.

Then rtraction happened and London seemed to matter to me like it never did before. Then Twitter happened and I fell in love with London’s people like never before. 25 years after moving here London finally became home and every decision became about doing right by her.

So when it came time to move our business we wanted to do honour to our city by using this opportunity to invest in its heritage. It’s safe to say that it was love at first sight with The London Roundhouse and I made a commitment to the building owners that I’d learn everything that I could about the building’s past.

Oh boy.

Before I cut the cord on TV (who the hell has time for TV when you have community?) I loved detective shows and it turns out that historical research is solving mysteries. I was talking to people from all kinds of fascinating backgrounds, sifting through clues, following leads, hitting dead ends, righting wrongs, hearing amazing stories and learning, learning, learning.

The best bit? I found a couple of tribes to belong to: heritage folks and railway enthusiasts. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on my new passion. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, it’s relevant and it’s strangely zen.

It’s a bit selfish but now I want to spend more time with these tribes and want to find cool ways to help grow them as well.

Let me preface this next bit by saying that I know that there are a lot of excellent people doing a lot of excellent things in this area and there’s no intent to reinvent the wheel … maybe, if everything goes well, we’ll just be adding a bit of grease to the wheel.

The intent is to start a small, casual gathering of folks to get together and chat about the past. London’s past, Ontario’s past, Canada’s past. A Hops & Heritage kind of thing. What will it all look like? This is just the beginning so I have no idea, I hope you will be one of the excellent people to help with that.

So this Wednesday, January 21, I hope you’ll come for a bite and a beverage at Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium at 5:30pm before wandering over to the London & Middlesex Historical Society meeting at the old courthouse at 7:15pm.

If you’re interested in this gathering or future developments please drop me a note, or just show up and say hi.

Movember is here

“The Movember Foundation challenges men to grow moustaches during Movember (formerly known as November), to spark conversation and raise vital funds for its men’s health programs. To date, 4 million moustaches have been grown worldwide, but we won’t stop growing as long as serious men’s health issues exist.”

After some consideration I’ve decided to bow out of growing a Mo this year after doing it for the last 3 or 4 years. Instead I’m buying my way out by supporting a few fellow Mo Bros in my own way.

In October I donated $400 to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation so I’ll be donating the same amount this month.

I asked for 5 people to step forward and join my little team and made as initial $30 donation to each. On November 30th I’ll ask each to tweet a picture of their Mo and whoever gets the most RTs & favourites on their pic will get another $250 of sponsorship. Pretty simple.

These are my bros, please give them a follow, donate a few bucks and get ready to help them out on November 30th with some favourites and RTs.

Robert Anderson – TwitterDonate
Jason Clarke – TwitterDonate
Pernell Goodyear – TwitterDonate
Lincoln McCardle – TwitterDonate
Jeremy Oegema – TwitterDonate

Thank you!

Moving Forward Together

It’s been an exciting week. 11 new councillors, a new mayor and a 10% jump in voter turnout. It’s hard to say how much of that was made possible by a new generation of voters, volunteers and donors but it certainly felt different from the 2010 election.

So how does this all look going forward? Here’s what I would like to see …

I’d like a council that acts like a governance board and not a bunch of micromanagers. They should set a strategic direction, let expert staff work out the details and then stick to the plan and support staff when conflicts arise. This alone would be a massive shift at City Hall.

I’d like a council who, as Mike Moffatt suggested, sets a small set of 6 month goals as part of a larger set of “big picture” strategies and makes those happen. You eat an elephant one bite at a time right?

I’d like a citizenry who work together to lobby for, gather support for, and work with council on those 6 month priorities.

I’d like us all to keep expectations for short term change in check. It takes a while for a new council to set a strategic direction for its term. So expect a “keep the lights on” budget for 2015, a strategic plan in mid 2015 and a long term budget plan for 2016. Your brains, your voice and your passion is critical during this period.

All of this is to say that, in spite of the fact that some of us might be tired and feel like we can hang up the “mission accomplished” banner, NOW is the time that we need to be involved. We need to figure out what are the long term, strategic initiatives that we want to see and to start moving towards that.

The next 6 months will be a lot of fun and a lot of hard work for everyone and we all need to be there.

Change is upon us. Are you in?

Matt Brown: The Mayor We Need

(Note: this is the final blog on why Matt Brown is our best 
choice for mayor on Oct 27)

Over a year ago I sat down for coffee with, then Councillor, Joni Baechler. I was one of many people that was encouraging her to run for the mayor’s seat. Joni politely refused saying that she couldn’t make this council whole so she wouldn’t run. I wasn’t satisfied with that answer and continued to push her to run (as did many others).

In January of this year Matt Brown filed to run and it became clear that no other progressive voice would step forward and risk splitting the vote. Matt wasn’t in my top 10 list of people that I wanted to run for mayor, in his bridge building he had struck a couple of deals that I really didn’t like and I wanted someone with more strength in the role.

Fast forward 9 months and I’m all in on Matt. I’m not a cheerleader for him but a pragmatic supporter. How did I get here? Matt really impressed me on the Fanshawe downtown campus deal, he showed that he could work an issue, build bridges and make something good happen. On the flip side I saw the “stronger” mayoral candidates being divisive early on and started to question what strength really means in a mayor, maybe it’s the patience and resilience needed to bring people & communities together?

Maybe what Joni was trying to tell me a year ago, and what I didn’t want to hear at the time, was that some members of council would never work with her. All of the stuff that made her such an exceptional councillor couldn’t bridge the gulf between her and some of her colleagues. What she was saying was, council needs to heal, it needs a bridge builder. She knew that London needs a new kind of Mayor. And now I know that Matt is that person.

Joni is an amazing mayor; thoughtful, sensitive, personable and knowledgable. But, after four years of divisiveness on council, she’s not the mayor we need right now.

Joni is the mayor that London deserves, she’s just not the mayor we need right now.

Matt is the only mayoral candidate that can bring this to an end, to bring everyone back to the table and to start moving us forward, together again. I’m proud to support Matt Brown and I hope you will consider doing likewise.