Saturday, November 18, 2006

Planting Downtown London

The London Downtown Business Association -- which exists only because membership dues are by law non-optional for downtown merchants -- plans to spend about $200,000 to install thirty wrought-iron tree sculptures throughout the core. One supposes that iron was chosen so as to produce a magnetic field powerful enough to pull tourists' wallets downtown by day and capture stray bullets by night. Given the symbolic richness of this plan, the obvious choice would have been brazen trees.

This is not a joke. The economic model chosen by over 60,000 impressionable Londoners in this past week's election is to be epitomized by metal trees. The vagaries of natural growth over time, where trees, trunks, branches and leaves grow, thrive, and die to take best advantage of changing circumstance, are to be supplanted by expensive, dead, metal fetishes to what once was. Remember how great downtown was back in the good old days before the city started blocking the sun, stealing the air, and taking the nutrients to feed a growing flock of white elephants bred for the explicit purpose of bringing the circus to town? I bet metal trees with two-metre iron trunks (for that chic "metal pole" aesthetic) are just the thing to bring a happening downtown back.

The brainchild of architect/developer Andy Spriet, and funded with $200,000 mostly from the London Downtown Business Association, it's part of the city's effort to promote public art in the core area.
That $200,000 left in the hands of the merchants and their customers would presumably just have been wasted on stock and rent and wages. How does that benefit anybody important? How does that display our commitment to our arborial brothers and sisters, artificial or otherwise? After all, we are or at least were the Forest City, ages before we became Pothole City. If Londoners' contempt for other peoples' property extends from City Hall's skyrocketing taxes all the way down to youth forced by rising student debt to take their frustrations out on real saplings planted on downtown sidewalks, then it makes perfect sense to take money from those rich, greedy downtown merchants to pay somebody to replace natural growth in a healthy environment with a few shiny, highly visible ersatz stand-ins in an unlivable one. Trees can't survive downtown? Put fake ones in. Rough times for non-crack-related businesses? Sit back, pay up, and let Creative Cargo Culture do its work.
Coun. Cheryl Miller, who has long championed the core's revitalization, said the tree art could even draw more tourists.

"I think this could put London on the map," said Miller.
Wha? Haven't you heard, Cheryl? The John Labatt Centre already put us on the map. No, we're not bookmarked on Bono's GPS receiver yet like we were promised, but we're a big sloppy drool-coloured dot on the map of cities who re-elect council that spends $40 million up front and $4 million annually servicing debt so as to collect $150,000 a year from contractually unprofitable arenas.

The city is in the business of replacing natural growth with temporarily shiny, temporarily colourful metal replicas chosen and placed by committee. It's almost as if the LDBA were mocking its poor tributaries.


Joe Molnar said...

Hey London, at least the ash borer won't be a threat to the metal trees eh?

aaron robb said...

On the plus side, next year when the city finally realizes that this was a BAD idea, we can take the trees and get a good $50 from metal scraps!

Adam said...


I too think it represents London's economy perfectly. Instead of natural
trees which grow and flourish in proper conditions, iron trees just sit there
and rust away, just like downtown businesses!

Anonymous said...

I think it's appropriate, and in a few years to commemorate the new City nickname we can have steel lined potholes installed on the major roads and a big sign welcoming visitors to the London version of an amusement ride