Engagement

Apathy bothers me. Apathy isn’t just not showing up on Election Day. Apathy is indifference or silence in the face of our challenges. People need to use their voices to make a better London (or whatever city you happen to live in).

After trying a couple of other things (two ChangeCamps and one voter mobilization initiative called Hack the Vote) I’ve come to believe that regular events and an ongoing dialogue is likely the best way to get people activated and keep them activated. Whether this works or not is yet to be seen.

So I’m a cheerleader for Citizen Engagement. I define that as the interaction between citizens and the bureaucracy/politicians that determine the shape of the city that we inhabit.

You never know what someone will care about. Some people will care about public spaces, some about soccer fields, some will care about music on patios, food trucks, off-leash dog parks, street repair, snow ploughs, etc, etc, etc.

Occasionally when I don’t engage somebody on a topic I get something like this: “I thought you were Mr.Engagement?” Or “I guess you’re all talk when it comes to engagement”.

Here’s the thing, I don’t expect people to care about all the things that I care about and people shouldn’t expect me to care about the things that they care about.

The fact that I’m encouraging citizens to talk to city staff, their councillor and mayor in no way obliges me to interact with everyone about any given topic that they think is interesting or important to them. It doesn’t mean that what they care about isn’t terribly important, just that I have no time or energy for it. We cannot care deeply about everything after all.

Our time on this planet is limited. Find something to care about and care deeply for it. If you ‘re lucky and you look hard enough you will find a community of people who will care along with you. In the end maybe you’ll change a couple of people along the way and that’s a pretty awesome thing.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead.

One Good Reason

A song just came up on my playlist and I felt compelled to write this.

Let me just say right away that I had strange taste in music as a teen (come to think of it … I have strange taste now too). My parents didn’t know who The Eagles were until the 21st century so I’m going to go ahead and blame them for that.

My recollection of all of this stuff is a bit foggy. Under the best of circumstances I don’t remember things well and these were far from the best circumstances.

As I’ve mentioned before, the 18th year of my life was bumpy, so much so that I almost didn’t have a 19th.

Immediately after my near death experience I drove to school and told my guidance councillor what I almost did. Not 5 minutes had passed and I was obviously in a pretty rough state. I told her what happened and she made a couple calls after calming me down a bit. Then we drove to the hospital.

I can’t remember a lot of the rest of the day but I checked in to the psychiatric ward. They probably asked if I’d try it again and I was certainly not in a state of mind to guarantee that I wouldn’t.

Over the course of the next 3 or 4 weeks I talked a lot and spent a lot of time by myself. I had a DiscMan with me and listened to music a lot but not a lot of music. I listened to one Paul Carrack CD for the most part.

Did I “get better”? No, not really. I was depressed and that’s not something that I’ve ever really left behind. There was no breakthrough from my time in the hospital, maybe all I needed was space. High school was a lot of noise, too many thoughts, too many pressures and my brain was ill-adapted to deal with all of that.

I checked myself out and got on with life. My friendships were never the same. Nobody knows how to deal with a kid who does something like that. One girl went so far as to write me a note saying that she needed to focus on her study and couldn’t deal with me anymore. That one still sticks with me.

I’ve had a couple of relapses since, including one close call a decade ago, but I live a very different life now. A rich life filled with excellent people, a fulfilling career and I’ve found a purpose.

The name of that Paul Carrack CD was One Good Reason and the chorus of the title song was:

Just give me one good reason baby
One good reason now
One good reason, I should
I should hang around

I have so many good reasons to hang around now. The darkness is only in the corners of my mind and heart now. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who fill my life with light and laughter.

And thank you Paul for keeping me company through the darkest time.

Pride, London and the Sochi 2014 Games

Dear Mayor and City Councillors.

Canada set the bar with Vancouver’s Pride House in 2010 and cities across Canada are flying the Pride flag in solidarity with our LGBT olympians.

This Council has enthusiastically supported Pride events here in London and I hope that you will continue to support our LGBT community by supporting the motion to fly the Pride flag at City Hall for the duration on the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Shawn Adamsson

cc/ Cathy Saunders

Replies from Council (posted in the order received):

Nancy Branscombe:
“Shawn,
Thanks for your email. I will be happy to propose your motion so we can join many other Canadian cities in support of ALL of our Olympians. It would come forward at Tuesday’s Council meeting as an emergent motion. I will look for a seconder and notify the Clerk and the Mayor tomorrow that it is coming forward.
N”

Joni Baechler:
“On Fri. I sent a note to the Mayor and Cathy Saunders requesting the flag fly until games are over. Cathy may be able to ok request internally. If not, we can make a motion at SPPC tomorrow night to go to Council Tue.Cheers
Joni”

Judy Bryant*:
“Hi Sean,
Sochi presents a great opportunity and I am on board. I do not want to start an electronic illegal meeting.
Thanks,
Judy”

Stephen Orser:
“I will fully support this Joni and Nancy.
Ward 4 Councillor
Stephen Orser”

Cathy Saunders:
“good afternoon. You would need to direct that the policy be amended.”

Denise Brown:
“Shawn, you can count on my support “

* I sent this to all of council in one shot so “reply to all” could be considered a “meeting” I guess.

Death and Life

When you love your city you want it all to succeed. Every city boosting initiative, every idea that worked somewhere else, every person that has the energy and initiative to put it on the line.

They don’t all work. Many, or even most, fail and out of the ashes comes new energy, new ideas and new lessons.

Many people here in London have been aware of an initiative that’s been kicking around for years – a centre for social innovation for our city. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my role models, Mark Kuznicki, a few years back at Toronto’s CSI and have been excited to see this kind of space happen in London. Why? I hate silos. HATE them. And the city that I love is full of them. We need a space to bust up some of these silos and to get our very best and brightest working together.

We were invited to be an anchor tenant in London’s CSI a few years back. A number of locations were investigated, we were committed to the idea and wanted our skin in this game. Time marched on and our lease was coming to an end, things looked promising with the centre but we had to find a new home and we needed certainty. Backing out of the project was one of the tougher decisions that we’ve had to make.

We were very excited to hear the news this week about the pending deal for a home for the Social Innovation Shared Space (SISS).

This doesn’t come without some mixed feelings for me. Although we are gaining a potentially groundbreaking centre in our city we are also losing a century old retailer from the core as well. We’re at a crossroads of heritage, traditional retail and social innovation; all things I care deeply about.

Kingsmill’s was already up for sale but it always felt like it would be a long shot. It’s amazing that they had survived so long in this day and age of big box stores, suburban shopping malls and online retail. The clock was always ticking and we all knew it deep down.

So, while I feel a lot of joy at the birth of something extraordinary and celebrate that an extraordinary piece of our heritage will be preserved., I’ll also mourn the loss of something special.

Life’s like that.

A Moment of Clarity

Twenty six years ago I was seconds from death. I was speeding down the road in my parent’s car and as distraught as one can get. It wasn’t worth it anymore. I saw a huge truck in the oncoming lane and braced as I prepared to swerve and hit it head-on.

And then a moment of clarity.

The guy driving this truck doesn’t deserve to live his life with my suicide in his memory. Nobody does.

So I stayed in my lane and I drove to school to tell my councillor what just happened. I spent the next few weeks in the hospital “getting better”.

I’m not going to tell you that the years since have been all wine and roses, there have been some really dark times but there have been way more really amazing times. I should have given therapy a chance but never did. Life could have been much easier.

I cling to that moment of clarity, that millisecond that saved my life.

Maybe one day you’ll be there. That thought, that moment, grab it and don’t let go.

 

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

Two Apologies

Had a little dustup on Twitter the other day. Not terribly important who it was or what it was about. A guy slagged at me pretty hard and I retweeted it. Why retweet? Might have been a bit hurt and wanted friends to slag the guy back, maybe just to call him out, whatever the reason I was wrong in doing it. What I ended up doing was getting others upset.

For anyone who witnessed the exchange please accept my apologies.

The guy in question sent a note over today to apologize.

“I want to apologize for my comment yesterday, it was rude and unduly harsh. I have taken it down.”

My response spilled out quickly and from the heart. Right or wrong this was it …

“I really don’t know who you think I am dude. I’m a guy with no particular agenda aside from getting people involved in their city. I might be progressive but I don’t care who shows up, just as long as they show up.

I also know that by sticking my head up I’m going to get kicked in the teeth from time to time (some deserved and some not) – so be it. As much as it sucks that’s just part of the deal.

I have zero idea what you get out of slagging me in public. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me that you haven’t either heard from others or invented in your own head.

No, I’m not the smartest guy out there, I’m just the guy who stood up. Yes, I act like a fool sometimes. Yes, I’m an asshole sometimes. No, I don’t expect to be universally loved. Don’t care. Somebody needs to do this shit and I’ve taken it on until someone smarter comes along to relieve me.

I didn’t deserve any award and I didn’t want it. I took it so that other little people like me might find it in themselves to stand up and do something. I find the attention embarrassing and I’m glad that it’s over.

So I’ll accept the apology and feel free to continue slagging me at will.

But before you wind up to slag the next person please try to give them the benefit of the doubt for a couple minutes. That’s not an ideology you’re about to attack, that’s a person and they carry all the happy/terrifying/complicated shit that makes them the way they are. Cut them some slack, show them a little respect.”

(Note to self: Don’t use “I” so much in the future, you come out sounding like a self-centred jerk and it’s bloody lazy.)

FYI: I don’t know what I’m doing

This is my journey.

My journey is to try to make my community better, to find other people that want to make this place better and to make others realize the potential in themselves to make it better. That’s it. Nothing else. I’ve no aspirations. Every project and group that I’ve ever belonged to have focussed on this single goal. Most have failed, a couple have had victories and one has met with some success.

There never was a plan (there still isn’t a plan) because I’m discovering the terrain as I go. Sure I could sit back and figure out every little detail, set a plan and execute it but I have chosen to live this journey openly so that others can share in it (not because I think it’s something remarkable but because I hope others will travel this path – hopefully for the right reasons). Every failure and success is out there. Every enlightenment, frustration and misstep.

As with all journeys you get to know people along the way. And on this particular journey you also get a peek behind the curtain. Some of it will make you happy, some will make you angry and lots of it will make you feel utterly helpless.

The anger and helplessness is enough to make most people avoid this particular path. After all, who invites this stuff into their lives? You’d need to care about something a hell of a lot to deal with this stuff.

And so I’ve come to discover how much I love London. And so I’ve come to discover how much so many other people love London. And THAT is what makes the journey worthwhile – in the end it is the people that make it awesome.

But the frustrations still get to me. The helplessness still gets to me. Sometimes I manage to keep all that poison inside and sometimes a little slips out.

Here’s the important bit: I’m just a regular guy. I have a hundred thousand faults and absolutely no plan. I’m fumbling my way through this shit as I go. I’m trying to expose myself to ideas and other valuable points of view that might help me along this road.

I choose not to look too deeply into the dark, ugly places. I choose not to be someone who looks on the bright side all the time. I choose to live with one foot in idealism and one foot in pragmatism. Depending on the day you catch me I might be more in one than the other.

If you happen to be on this road and we walk together for a while I’m bound to piss you off, confuse you with incomplete thoughts, champion your amazing ideas, cheer your victories and on the rare ocassion maybe inspire you to be a part of something bigger than either one of us.

But there’s no plan. I’m tryng to get better at the journey but I stumble, fall and backtrack all the time.

“Who does that guy think he is?”

I’m no different than you or anyone else. I have no more potential, intelligence, creativity or energy than you do.

I know the obstacles, I know the futility and I know the insanity of this journey and I hope you’re crazy enough to walk the road with me a while.

Didn’t ask to be this guy, didn’t want to be this guy but this is who the journey has made me (for better and worse).

On the Ropes

I doubt many people would deny that London is having economic challenges at the moment. Unemployment, while not the highest we’ve ever experienced, is high and most wonder when we’ll break free of this “forever recession“.

Many in our city favour the strategy of tackling these hard times through austerity. I’m not an economist and I don’t pretend to have a deep knowledge of these matters but I have to wonder about the effectiveness of such a strategy.

I love analogies so you’ll have to forgive what follows …

If you’re a good (not great) boxer and you’re up against the ropes getting pummelled is it strategically sound to cover up, pull back and conserve your resources in the hope that the other guy tires out? Does it make sense to bet on having enough stamina to withstand the barrage of punches?

Or is it a better strategy to muster all of your resources and fight back?

If your coach was recommending that you to just take the beating and that it will get better soon would you consider that sage advice? Would that increase your confidence in a positive outcome?

This is our home so what are we going to do about it?

(this isn’t a new argument – see links in the second paragraph for deeper discussion)

Letter to Denise Brown re: London Public Library Comments

Hello Denise,

I am a resident of Ward 11 and am concerned about remarks that have been attributed to you in today’s London Free Press regarding Library service.

Quoting: “The library has cost jobs in this city. They have first-run movies and Rogers and Blockbuster have gone out of business”.

I’m not terribly knowledgable in this sector but knew immediately that this statement was not representative of the actual state of the industry. I spent 15 minutes doing a bit of digging and have summarized my findings below.

I started by looking for the latest “blockbuster” release and came up with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I’m sure you’ve been to a large rental chain in the past and know that a typical store would carry 15-25 copies of such a DVD (estimating 8-12 stores across London that could be upwards of 300 copies per chain). Doing a simple search on the London Public Library’s website I see that they have 22 copies of the film in the entire city with 444 people on the wait list (source: London Public Library).

I worked in an independant video store 25 years ago that was eventually put out of business by Blockbuster. Back then VHS was the medium of choice but what most people don’t know is that those tapes were prohibitively expensive to own (video ownership wasn’t really in our vocabulary). This was the golden era of Blockbuster, expensive media that the public could only access through rental. The advent of inexpensive VHS and DVDs have decimated that market. It’s not unusual to find homes with 100+ purchased DVDs. This is a radically different economic environment.

The final nail in the coffin of these services was the advent of Netflix home DVD delivery and more recently their Internet streaming offering (<a href=” http://articles.businessinsider.com/2011-03-01/tech/30045214_1_netflix-blockb…“>see this article and infographic).

Convenience rules in this market. Being last in a queue of 444 is decidedly inconvenient and people with enough money will shell out the money to use another delivery mechanism like Netflix.

However, services like Netflix are in no way affordable to low income Londoners they require a monthly fee ($8 or more) and a premium Internet service (add $10-20/month on top of basic Internet fees).

All of the facts that I’m seeing regarding the demise of the video rental industry point to commoditization and the advance of the internet.

I’m all for a goal of 0% but only after thoughtful deliberation and that is not what was demonstrated today. I would beg that you consider your words more carefully in the future when representing our ward and our city.

Shawn Adamsson
Ward 11 Resident