Last week a post on the McCleod Report had some solutions for London but without much detail or depth to what are mostly good solutions to adopt. I thought about adding some others but decided to spare the blog’s followers until now. Something I read this morning on twitter, but have since forgotten, acted as a trigger scent to make me do the blog now. It is good for London to look beyond its bubble to find solutions to the problems, as John Boyd argues a closed system is only being self destructive.
The destruction London is putting itself through is a good thing and will unlock the potential for London’s survival. I’ve blogged before about London’s silos, bubbles, and cliques. London appears to me to be a collection of warring special interest groups who collectively failed kindergarten. Far to many of these groups believe they have all the answers while the others are living in the past. So let’s take a minute to review some of London’s past. London wasn’t randomly chosen to found a village at, there was good reasons to choose the location.
One of the first industries, the breweries, can show us why. Labatt’s brewery is located near the forks of the Thames River, close to Dundas St and there was a ready supply of resources to make beer. At the time Labatt’s sold his barley farm and bought a tavern to convert to a brewery most households made their own beer. So who was buying commercially made beer? Victoria Park was a British Army garrison, another two garrisons were in Windsor and Sarnia. A road to Port Stanley allowed beer to go by steam boat to the Niagara Peninsula where more British troops and Royal Navy sailors were based. Until the end of the 19th Century each soldier and sailor was entitled to a gallon of beer or spirits per day. Add the garrison in Toronto and the next brewery is in Kingston and see why Labatt became wealthy. To tie into current events the London based regiment was dispatched to the Crime War in the 1850s.
The transportation that allowed London to incorporate and flourish in the 19th Century is mostly gone. There is no longer any steam ship service on the Thames or from Port Stanley, the roads and railroads with increased speeds can zip past London. Increasingly London is so fixated with cars as the only form of transportation that it is leaving itself isolated from the rest of the province. No GO Transit service, reduced Via Rail service, a neglected LTC, a seeming war on bikes and walking add up to a place to avoid.
Until London solves its transit problems its potential will never be met and the fix starts with tearing up roads. Manhattan in the Seventies was an eyesore that was unattractive to live, work or invest in, then they bulldozed the expressway and flourished. London needs LRT, which means some lower population density areas of the city need to be abandoned like much of London’s commercial space has. London needs to eventually extend the LRT service to Godrich, Woodstock, Strathroy, Port Stanley and beyond. It needs to start building bicycle routes that connect into the growing provincial network that is becoming a tourist destination. Building LRT will attract the density required to make it successful, waiting for the density before installing it is trying to harvest without planting seeds.
London is like an Amish community set up in the late Forties that can’t use any ideas or technology created after 1949. The old view of the United States is a big market and we’re close so just manufacture stuff is no longer viable. The world is evolving and changing rapidly, and London is increasingly a horrible place to make things. It isn’t just the transportation problems, it’s the demographics. Our aging workforce, inefficient lifestyle that requires uncompetitive wages and disconnect between education and required skills are also keep manufacturing away. The jobs in manufacturing are potentially going to shift from the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China)countries to the MINT (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey)countries.
This shift is actually an opportunity for London because we are somewhat close to Mexico, have a large Spanish speaking population and skills to share. We also have a substantial Portuguese speaking population to connect with Brazil and a few connections to India. With India’s middle class numbering more than the entire population of the United States it is foolish not to be engaged with India. How about the next council hire a someone to represent the city in each MINT country as well as Brazil and India, I bet the investment will be superior to opening yet another strip mall. London should sponsor a male and female student each year from each of those developing countries to study at Western or Fanshawe, with a scholarship and an apartment. These connections will take time to bring results, many of which will be indirect, but it will be worth it. Closer to home Aboriginal people are a young demographic that London can partner with for future prosperity.
Back to transportation, specifically rail, Canada and most of the MINTs and BRICs are in need of greater rail capacity. London could work with Humber College, the Canadian Railroads, Ontario, the Federal government and other stakeholders to host an international rail conference like this one. Vancouver held a rail safety conference in October last year. Road traffic being lower capacity and higher overhead, combined with gridlock and expensive infrastructure is holding ours and many economies back.
London is a centre of education and healthcare both of which can help developing countries and this needs to be promoted globally. London also needs to better network within Ontario to develop a Geographic Information System to see where spikes of health problems occur. Better information will mean lower costs, which means money to invest in other things. Encouraging our local education and healthcare services to connect throughout the world will bring innovation and possibly jobs to London.
Agriculture surrounds London and yet we still get the bulk of our fresh vegetables and fruits from California. Even the local produce drives by London to Toronto then some of it drives back to our stores. Why not build a South Western Ontario food terminal in London to save the travel time and costs. Of course for it to work we would need to fix our quaint transportation system. An alternative is to invest in an online system so it goes from field to store directly without needing to be warehoused. That kind of system can be exported.
Everytime London subsidizes a long established company it potentially kills a new start up. London has the potential to be a start up centre for the region and again export that knowledge worldwide. Start by converting our over abundance of dead retail space to Hacker Studio style spaces and connecting those start ups to resources in London and around the world. With online shopping it would be smarter for a small London company to ship from the manufacturer directly to the customer. Local retail and small manufacturers could use smaller or shared spaces and not have be hostage to a monopolized commercial rental market.
A recent BBC article on Ethiopia adopting Japanese Kaizen philosophy struck me as something London could benefit from. London should stop thinking it is an established economy in need of being reinvigorated but a developing economy like Ethiopia and many others. The three principles of Kaizen philosophy are a good start; keep workplace tidy, encourage innovation instead of waiting for instructions or solutions, and work with local resources. Maybe Western and Fanshawe should host a Kaizen institute for London.
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. Edward Abbey
Going forward London shouldn’t be focused on growth but sustainability. In fact Jeff Rubin has argued that if we keep using fossil fuels to power our economy growth will be a series of boom bust cycles until we get the point that adaptability is survival. A scenario the current London is doomed under because it is fixated on the old fossil fuel economy. London must kill the old economy in order to unlock its potential, it will hurt and have most of London’s cliques out of their comfort zone but it will beat being the provincial welfare colony.