Monday, March 13, 2006

Another claim to fame for London

In her 2006 State of the City Address, mayor Anne Marie DeCicco shared her and council's goal of positioning London "among the top cities in our country." Now Londoners need wait no longer for recognition of their efforts. Paul Tuns of Sobering Thoughts lists his five least favourite Canadian cities:

5. Fredericton — what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland

4. St. Catharines — Fredericton but un-navigable

3. Vancouver — Canada's Amsterdam

2. Winnipeg — it's cold but nothing to do with the weather; unfriendliest place I've ever been

1. London — I've felt safer in downtown Toronto and New York at 2 am than I do downtown London in mid-afternoon
Of course, this is the opinion of only one man, and a Torontonian at that. But it is instructive to note that London even merits inclusion, let alone its ranking, in such a list by anyone. It's one more prick in the bubble of complacency and self-congratulation blown out in every media release and public statement from anyone at city hall, and dutifully supported at most opportunities by the London Free Press. As far as the premise of Tuns' dislike of London, he expands in a subsequent post why he put London on the top of the list:
Oh, let me count the ways. In a nutshell it comes down to two things.

1) The downtown, where I go when in London because of one of Canada's best used bookstores, is a hole. It is dirty. There are drunks walking on the streets in mid-day. I haven't felt safe downtown in 20 years.

2) The north and south edges of the city, where I go for shopping when visiting relatives in the area, are identical big box store areas. There is simply no charm to the city.

To be fair, I am not familiar with the area around the university and I hear it is nice but I have driven through that part of town maybe twice in my life. The rest of city, which I have been visiting for nearly 30 years (that I remember, at least) has nothing much to recommend it. And really, the downtown, I cannot stress enough, is the most frightening place I've been to outside Mexico and Jamaica. One of my college instructors said he wouldn't let his wife go to downtown London by herself during the day. Perhaps that is an over-reaction, but one that is based in some heart-felt and understandable perceptions of the city.

I am no longer qualified to speak about the city's politics, but my memories of reading the London Free Press growing up in nearby Woodstock did not inspire confidence that many city councilors were Rhodes Scholars. Or knew what a Rhodes Scholar was. The people I know from London are all great people although I don't think many of them are London-born and raised.
Many born and bred Londoners are very nice people, in a Stepford Wives sort of way, but I must acknowledge that as someone London-born and raised myself, my political education and indeed my awareness of my surroundings and their impacts upon my consciousness truly began with people from outside London, so I cannot disagree with Tuns' final sentiment. His memories of local politicians do not deceive him — if his memories had included reading the London Free Press in the last decade or so, the newspaper itself would have been added to the grievances in the same category.

To address the safety of the downtown, I cannot say that I feel exactly unsafe there during mid-day, but certainly most uncomfortable. Dirty, squalid, boarded up, the downtown seems to be unoccupied except for vagrants and unpredictable loutish teenagers, apart from the office workers who seem to hurry to their destinations without pause for window-shopping or casual conversation. It is quite understandable that non-residents or even people who rarely go downtown to conceive of the area as unsafe — until recently I lived near downtown and avoided it as much as possible myself. This is despite the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars that have been poured into aggrandizing yet oddly parochial capital projects in the core — if revitalization of the downtown has been the objective of these projects, as so often stated, then Londoners have received an appallingly poor return on their investment.

The Paul Tuns link is courtesy of Gods of the Copybook Headings, who goes on to say:
The more I learn about London, from those who have lived in and visited the city, the more I am convinced that the city's destruction would be for the benefit not only of the residents, who would be dispersed and integrated into the rest of Canadian society, but for civilization as such.
The periphery of London is perhaps worth saving, but it is ennervated and impoverished by its apathy towards the dirigiste culture at city hall striving to shelter the rundown core and east end of London from the free market that could, ironically, save it from the same neglect and decrepitude city hall is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to avoid, if not in the same gilded-age romantic form as fantasized by the bureaucrats and politicians. With efforts beginning to curb growth on the periphery, however, London will be condemning itself to a hermetically-sealed high-tax progressive-facade welfare and redistribution zone. For myself, the countdown to graduation in the fall finds inspiration with the thought of finding a career elsewhere.


Robert McClelland said...

You people should just kill yourselves if you're so damned unhappy with everything around you. At least that way you'll spare the rest of us from your griping.

MapMaster said...

Deleted: sorry we don't indulge semi-literate morons on our private property unless they are at least funny-stupid rather than just stupid-stupid

[thanks to sanborn here]

Publius said...

It's not like you've been invited or anything, Robert.

Anonymous said...

I have spent my entire life in London except for a few years of University in Windsor. London has always been split in so many ways. When I was a teenager it was known to all of my friends that one didn't get near the East end of the city after dark, now all of downtown seems dangerous. 25 years ago I could get on a bus and go downtown for a movie with my friends, now I don't go downtown at all unless I have to, and only during the day.
All of this aside I love this city and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. I may make a move to just outside city limits at some point in order to relieve my stress about our incompetent city council. For the time being I live in Lambeth and wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

Daniel said...

Excellent post -- a beautiful ode against London -- and I'm sure your new home will be even more rewarding than you could expect.

Yesterday morning the cops were taking down some violent criminal in the parking lot outside my office -- they had the paddywagon and squad cars, and bloodied him up pretty good... ah, East London...

Robert, you sound pretty unhappy and gripy yourself...

(MM: It's coming, seriously...)

Pietr said...

He probably wants you to kill yourselves to save him the trouble of doing it himself.

Come the glorious day, naturally.

Honey Pot said...

I would go anywhere in London, but not live anywhere. I have lived here in the east end forever. You know we have our things going on here, but it is never boring. I find the rest of the city boring. It seems like everybody is the same in the rest of London. It is that sameness that I find boring, I guess. I find it odd that the rest of London brag about Storybook Gardens, as if it would be something that would make anyone want to come here to visit. Can anyone think of a good reason that anyone from anywhere else would want to come visit London?

Lisa said...

Honey Pot:

Can anyone think of a good reason that anyone from anywhere else would want to come visit London?

If people want to see the results of an utterly incompetent municipal government, they may enjoy a pot hole tour. Anyone studying beggars might also want to visit the downtown area.

MapMaster said...

Hello there, Daniel. I had suspected that you were a Londoner... now that it's confirmed, I'll have to get together with you for coffee some time. Of course, I ought to wait until the famous email arrives first ;-) Judging by the length of time it's taking, I'm assuming that you must be saving up for an enormous electronic money transfer... yes, the London Fog is for sale at the right price!

I do look forward to finding a home elsewhere. Contrary to the (anti-)philosophy practised at city hall, regional economic productivity is advanced when individuals are allowed to pursue opportunities unobstructed, not by spurious centrally-planned cultural and heritage carrots followed by a whack from the stick of high taxes and burdensome regulation. So far as my obligations to the community, if one wants to speak of such a vague and arbitrary thing, they are completely interweaved with my obligations to myself... and my obligations to myself include very much finding and developing a community in which my abilities and opportunities are welcomed rather than restricted. And, apart from the typical gripes found on the London Fog, London simply is not home to very many high-paying startup jobs, especially in the technological sector. I do not think that there is really much of a future (economic and otherwise, flip sides of same coins) in London or even Ontario for that matter.

Sorehead, you are, as usual, quite right, if not entirely in the literal sense. Should Robert and his kind ever find their complete aspirations finally represented in political power, we'll be suitable material for the coercive instruments of punitive confinement or economic ostracization that will inevitably follow. "Come the glorious day, naturally."

Brent Gilliard said...

I second the inclusion of St.Catharines. It's like Sarnia, except there are more people and fewer jobs.

Why do I visit London? Mostly for Walmart, I'm ashamed to say.

basil said...

I think St. Catharines has a certain old world charm (not just because it looks run down) that London lacks. It does seem weird as hell in its way but I've never been there more than a couple of days - and I was quite wasted for those days. But it is an interesting place to visit architecturally.

Robert: I think you'd miss us if we were not here.

Pietr said...

Of course.
It's not like he doesn't have a conscience or anything.

Honey Pot said...

Lambeth is even more boring than London. Even the name Lambath, sounds so sissy like.

Lisa said...


You people should just kill yourselves if you're so damned unhappy with everything around you.

The suggestion that unhappy people should end their lives is surely grounds for a human rights complaint. I hereby charge you with hate crime.

Brent Gilliard said...

At least you get to pronounce your 'b' in Lambeth. In Lambton we've even given up on that.

Anonymous said...

Honey Pot said...
Lambeth is even more boring than London. Even the name Lambath, sounds so sissy like.

Of course it's boring, a dozen shops, one grocery store and no city busses. However, I'm raising 3 kids in this city and choose to live in a spot where hopefully nothing happens.