Letter to Council: Two Developments, Two Chances for a Better London

June 22, 2013

Councillor Denise Brown, Mayor Fontana and members of Council,

This week, I was one of a large number of London residents who watched in disbelief and dismay as the Planning and Environment Committee (PEC):

  1. disregarded three years of public participation1 to endorse a development that ignores quite specific (and Council-endorsed) design guidelines recommended in the South West Area Plan (SWAP);
  2. set aside over a decade of environmental leadership in approving a development that will clear cut 5000-10,000 trees in a municipally-designated, environmentally significant woodlot.

The fast-tracking of both the PenEquity and York developments as “who are we to stand in the way of jobs?” is a gross simplification and a disservice to the communities that you serve. This isn’t about anyone standing in the way of jobs; this is about citizens expecting their elected representatives to follow the rules that this city has established for urban design, forward looking community development and ecological preservation.

As citizens, and taxpayers, we rightfully expect your responsible stewardship of our communities and environment.

These proposed developments will be with us for decades. They will define the city that we will become. But these developments fly in the face of the feedback that you have heard, and will continue to hear, from citizens at every major citizen engagement event.

The primary argument being made in favour of these developments is that they will create additional jobs. This is a specious argument. While there may be a small net increase in jobs, it likely won’t be significant, as these potential new jobs will not be high paying (2011 retail average salary $27,113), or even full-time. It’s also likely that unless our current transit system is expanded, these potential jobs will be out of the range of anyone who relies on public transit.

Another important fact is that these big box centres tend to bring larger chain stores to the community. A wealth of research shows that these types of businesses siphon money out of the community while local businesses retain a much higher percentage of money within the host community2. Council and the Mayor have stated again and again that small business is the engine that drives London’s economy3. Causing these local businesses distress ultimately harms our community and the local economy in an already trying retail economic climate4.

Council has also repeatedly stated that London needs to do a better job of attracting and retaining Gen Y and Millennials. For these demographics (and this cannot be understated), community design is important, walkability is important, transit is important, cycling is important, the environment is important. Disregard any of these at your peril. Other communities are way ahead of London in this regard. We cannot afford to take it slow and easy; we have to make a deliberate decision to catch up.

Since the current council took office, London has experienced a resurgence in citizen engagement. Record numbers of Londoners have become involved, bringing personal insight and experience, and their visions and aspirations for the city that they have made their home.

They have come out for their downtown (DMP), for their transit system (Smart Moves), for culture and heritage (Cultural Prosperity Plan), for their neighbourhoods (SWAP, Meadowlilly, SoHo, etc), for the local economy (London’s Prosperity Plan) and for the future of London (Rethink). Rethink alone involved the participation of more than 10,000 people. London’s diverse and engaged citizens are thinking about jobs, they are thinking about the environment, they are thinking about an accessible and age-friendly city, and they are thinking about cultural diversity. Together, we are trying to help build a better London.

The proposed developments that the PEC considered this week ignored the input of current Londoners, potential Londoners, City of London planners, top Canadian urban planners, environmentalists, economists … and the facts.

Ms.Brown, Mayor Fontana, Councillors, the decision that you hand down on these developments will demonstrate the political will of this council to stand by its own policies and your willingness to listen to the voices from your citizen engagement initiatives.

Please don’t let ill-advised developments like the ones currently proposed be your legacy. Please reject these proposals until they better align with the recommendations from your staff and advisory committees and adequately reflect the community that Londoners wish to create for our future.

A proud Londoner and business owner,

Shawn Adamsson

1 http://www.london.ca/d.aspx?s=/Planning_and_Development/Southwest.htm

2 http://www.civiceconomics.com/featured-projects/the-civic-economics-of-retail/

3 “Sure it is great to bring in those companies that will bring with them 300 or 400 new jobs, but each and every day the small businesses that drive London’s economy need to be recognized.” http://www.londoncommunitynews.com/news-story/1359246-hire-one-to-help-small-businesses-grow-london-s-job-market/

4 Retail spending in Ontario declined from 2012 to 2013 (source: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/trad43a-eng.htm)

cc: Cathy Saunders ℅ The City Clerk’s Office