Monday, May 28, 2012

ReThink London suggestions

ReThink London has put the spotlight on London's Prosperity Plan (LPP) and the upcoming June 9th meeting.

From May 9th until June 1st, Londoners are being invited to submit their ideas on ways we can work together to achieve the goal of strengthening our local economy and creating jobs. Click the LPP link, learn how the Investment & Economic Prosperity Committee (IEPC) is developing a 10-year plan to move London's economy forward faster and ensure long term prosperity for the community and make your comments soon. June 1st is fast approaching.

My suggestions, not in order of importance:

From the U.S. DOT Buy America webpage.
1. Work with the provincial and federal governments to create a better environment for employers in the province. We need an environment that will attract new businesses to our city while encouraging present employers to stay.

Take the recent exit of Electro-Motive Diesel from London. The "Buy American" movement teamed with the rising value of the Canadian dollar rang the death nell for this once solid London employer. The fact that EMD had recently been purchased by an anti-labour, multi-national, Caterpillar Inc., with a history of union-busting just further complicated an already badly snarled situation.

London's mayor was mainly bluster.
Take a look at the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration website. There were walls going up around the London facility, high walls composed of U.S. regulations which were making the plant difficult to operate profitably.

2. Stop the empty rhetoric. Again looking at EMD. It was a dire situation demanding fast action and great wisdom. Preventing the closure of the locomotive assembler and the loss of as many as 700 local jobs called for a response steeped in a full understanding of the complexities of the fast deteriorating situation. How did London's mayor, Joe Fontana, rally to the moment? He bellowed loudly, "Get your ass down here, Prime Minister Harper!"

The PM didn't appear. No surprise. EMD moved production to the States. Again, no surprise.

Locked out workers were never going to return to EMD.
3. If ever there was a situation calling for proactivity it was EMD. There were numerous, unmistakable signs the London plant was being considered for closure. These signs were brought into sharp focus when the contract talks went into overtime with a six month extension. Yet, city hall did not twig to the looming disastrous job loss. Months before the lockout, London's mayor should have been following the advice he shouted out to the PM.

It was a story of too little, too late.

A lot of  London's water pipeline was buried and forgotten.
4. The City of London has to get its financial house in order. The present zero tax increase approach is not the answer. Cities function because of a complex infrastructure developed over decades. This infrastructure must be maintained. Creating a budget that is kept artificially low by putting maintenance on hold is, as they say, penny wise and pound foolish.

As Gina Barber wrote after the second water pipeline break in as many years:
"It also brought home the importance of well-maintained infrastructure. This is the second time in the last couple of years that there has been a break in this almost half century old system. Just under half of the system has been “twinned”, to allow water distribution to carry on unimpeded in certain areas even when a disruption occurs. The remainder is yet to be twinned, but it’s expensive and the current council has balked at introducing the rate increases that are needed to pay for the infrastructure upgrades. When staff recently recommended introducing a larger flat rate component in the water bill to cover infrastructure costs, the Civic Works Committee was split on the issue. Some, like Councillor VanMeerbergen, insisted that there had to be a better model, one that didn’t cost so much."
Businesses must be able to put their trust in the city's infrastructure. A city that puts off necessary maintenance is a city with one black mark against it.

5. Cities need developers but developers need guidance from cities. It is very clear that developers in London are not given the guidance that they need. This is not good for the city and, in the end, it is not good for the developers.

Affordable housing being constructed on Dundas St., EOA.
Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote in The New York Times, "Even the most majestic cities are pockmarked with horrors." In a city as large as New York or Toronto, there are lots of good buildings to buffer the shock. This is not so in smaller places like London. In small cities, horrible architecture reverberates loudly.

Ouroussoff says the best solution for solving the problems of architectural horrors might be the wrecking ball. I might suggest a little forethought. A little planning. Don't allow the ugly stuff to be built in the first place.

We don't have to look farther than East London for an example of bad architecture.

An EOA century plus building has panache.
The London Free Press calls the construction of 12 one-bedroom apartments above six ground floor commercial units a "rebirth" for a section of Dundas Street that has been in declined for decades.

Sadly, one doesn't have to look farther than the end of the block to see more attractive, but equally dense, architecture. While other communities around the world are demanding more from their developers, demanding beauty along with function, London is failing the grade.

What is really interesting is that the local paper has long been a champion of the ideas of Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. The local paper has also written approvingly of the actions being taken by the small town of Birmingham, Michigan, at keeping their well respected little burg at the forefront of modern thinking on successful urbanism. Birmingham has an urban plan prepared for the community by DPZ.

Maybe London should consider borrowing some of the ideas of this famous architectural firm. Do a little googling and see what other communities are doing. For instance, Birmingham is looking at form based code.

Form-based code in action in Birmingham, MI.
6. Form-based code

A form-based code is a method of regulating development to achieve a specific urban look. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm by focusing mostly on physical form. Land use controls are secondary. Form-based codes address the relationship between building facades and the public space, the form and mass of buildings is controlled in relation to one another, and the scale and types of streets and blocks.

Click this link to form-based code. If FBC was being used in London, Ontario, it might have prevented the monstrosity going up in EOA.

Walkable. Sorta. Mostly designed for car travel.
7. As we ReThink London, let's not be too intent on belly-button gazing. Let's look outside of the city and see what stuff other folk are doing in other communities.

For instance, London has what is being touted as a new gateway to the city: Wonderland Road South.

The London Free Press writer Randy Richmond tells us: The plan is for this southwest corner of London to become a living and economic gateway to the city, a showcase of London's very best qualities.

Is Richmond really serious? I'm sure he has the plan wording correct, but is this really what is transpiring? I don't think so. This development could be much better. For all the local talk about walkability, the commercial development in the Wonderland and Southdale Road area sports few of the features one would expect if walkability was truly a goal.

Legacy Village, Columbus, Ohio
I advise the city planning folk to get in a car, share the expense, and take a drive to Columbus, Ohio to visit Legacy Village. This is one approach that might have been considered as an alternative to what is continuing to be expanded along Wonderland Road South.

Be aware, I am not suggesting London copy Legacy Village but be inspired by it. With all the residential development in the Wonderland/Southdale area, a walker-friendly shopping area that is also car and bus welcoming, would have been ideal.

Another spot that could have benefited from a little Legacy Village thinking is the shopping area on Southdale Road at Col. Talbot Rd. Sad to say, the original plan for the London intersection promised a new urbanist commercial area. It didn't happen and it leaves one wondering what plans today will not happen. Just being a good plan doesn't seem to be enough. Talk is cheap in London.

Well, that's it for today. May post more tomorrow. I've gotta be prepared for the upcoming ReThink London meeting.

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