By Paul Everest/London Community News/Twitter: @PaulEverest1
The government of Canada spends billions of dollars to defend this country against the threat of foreign aggression and terrorism.
But there’s another threat that is just as serious.
“It’s the threat of cynicism,” said Peter Mansbridge, CBC’s chief correspondent and host of The National.
He added too many Canadians believe government has nothing to do with them and politicians won’t listen to the public’s ideas.
That’s why the ReThink London concept is so crucial for this city right now, Mansbridge said, because it gives people a chance to be heard.
“It’s time to put aside that cynicism and for us to step up.”
Mansbridge shared these comments in front of a sold-out crowd of roughly 1,300 people packed into a conference room at the London Convention Centre on Thursday evening (May 3) for the official launch of ReThink London.
The yearlong project aims to bring community members, civic leaders and urban planners together to prepare a plan that will chart the course of how the city grows and develops over the next 20 years.
Over the next 12 months, the city is asking London residents to share their ideas on how to make the city a better place to live, work, play and visit through community conversations, events and an extensive public feedback campaign.
Living less than an hour away in Stratford, Mansbridge said he has a special connection to London as he often comes to the city to shop or visit relatives.
“London is kind of part of my family,” he said, adding he was asked to speak at the launch because of his extensive travels across the country where he has seen how communities and their leaders have made decisions that shape their futures for better or worse.
ReThink London is important, Mansbridge said, because so often, those who are tasked with running a community don’t give the public a chance to share their ideas on how to shape the future of their city or town.
He offered the examples of Beijing, Berlin and Niagara Falls, N.Y., as cities which have sought to, or are in the midst of, improving themselves.
In many cases the planning efforts in these cities failed because their governments and planners never asked the people what they wanted for their community.
So, Mansbridge said, London residents need to jump on the opportunity being offered to them now.
“You’ve been challenged by the city to participate in a civic demonstration to care for your city,” he said. “Are you, London, up to the challenge?”
Decisions made during the ReThink London campaign will affect not only the city’s current residents, but also generations to come and for the project to be a success, many people within the community need to be involved, Mansbridge added
Having 1,300 people come out to the project’s launch is a good sign of things to come, he said.
But Mansbridge also offered a “note of caution,” pointing to the low voter turnout in recent municipal and provincial elections.
Such low civic engagement points to the kind of apathy Mansbridge referred to earlier in the evening and he said the way to change that is for politicians and planners to pay attention to what they people want instead of focusing on their own pet projects.
“They started this process and having done that, they better listen.”
To wrap up, Mansbridge said Londoners should take note of the city’s effort of asking the public for its ideas about the future instead of telling the public how the future will be shaped.
“London is reaching out for good ideas,” he said. “The train is leaving the station and it’s leaving with or without you.”
After Mansbridge’s address, John Fleming, a city planner and the city’s director of land use planning, asked the event’s attendees to fill out and hand in comment cards distributed as people arrived at the convention centre.
The cards ask people to describe what they like about London and what changes or improvements they would like to see.
He also said the project’s website, rethinklondon.ca, is a way for people, especially those who find it hard to get engaged on civic matters, to get involved “on their own terms.”
People can also submit ideas online and become involved with conversations about planning the city’s future through social media channels linked to the project.
Fleming said a number of ReThink London events are also coming up in June including information and “visioning” sessions as well as planned community “cafes,” celebrations and festivals all connected to the project.
Information about such events will pop up on the website, he said.
After the session, some of the attendees expressed cautious optimism about the project.
“It will take a while for me to be impressed until I actually see something happen,” said Brendon Culliton.
Jess Conlon, a member of the London Youth Advisory Council, agreed and added she would have liked the launch to be more about the city bringing up problems and having the public offer solutions to fix them.
But she said she’s happy someone is actually making an effort to listen to the public.
“This is an example of true democracy.”
Bryan Knight said he believes the project is a good idea in that it puts more say in the hands of the public rather than a small committee.
He hopes, however, the public’s ideas won’t be swept aside for the “pet projects” of planners and politicians.
Such a situation, Knight said, would lead to the kind of cynicism Mansbridge spoke about.
“We just have to hope apathy doesn’t get in the way.”
Knight also said an emphasis on people using Twitter or texting to share ideas encouraged during the launch might alienate some people who aren’t as involved with social media.
The city should be careful, he said, to promote the project through other more traditional means so as not to exclude those who are not savvy with technology or the Internet.