OPINION: Roundtable a map to chart London’s course

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 12.58.34 PMThe future of Canada’s quality of life and prosperity are directly tied to the health and vitality of our cities.

More than 80 percent of Canadians live in urban areas, so whether you live downtown, in a suburb or in a rural area nearby, we all benefit when our cities work.

So we cannot afford to ignore our urban areas by implementing policies that hurt cities and the people who live in and around them.

Therefore, We Are Cities, a new national campaign has taken the initiative to engage Canadians across the country to shape a vision and action plan for how we can build livable cities — exciting and healthy places to live, work and play.

London recently participated in the campaign by hosting a We Are Cities roundtable discussion with about 25 participants who are highly involved and engaged in our community.

Participants identified London’s strengths, weaknesses and discussed ideas of how we can make this city a better place.

Our strengths consist of being in a great geographic location, in between Detroit and Toronto – close to borders, lakes, rail and major hubs. We have an affordable city with an excellent health care and educational sector. We have natural resources that are a competitive advantage but also give us a sense of pride.

We have the desire to make our city great and we have talented people who live or go to school here. London is also home to a growing digital tech sector, advanced manufacturing, and an agri-food industry that is gaining international recognition.

We also have challenges ahead of us. We need to stop being a city with an inferiority complex that does not dream big enough and does not embrace change. There seems to be a fear of failure and frugality to fault. Our infrastructure gaps for roads, water, waste, multi-modal transit and internet that need to be addressed by decision makers.

Our economy needs to be diverse and we need to make bold decisions to create an environment for job creation in the city. Poverty and mental health remain to be issues that need more attention. Talent retention and attraction has continued to be a challenge for London. Lack of cross-sectoral collaboration and support mechanisms for people are also challenges that need to be taken into consideration.

One of the main reasons why our city often has a hard time moving forward or embarking on ambitious projects is because we have organizations and entities that often get caught up into silos. Rather than collaborating with one another, we see them compete and hinder each other. We will always do better united as a community than divided with separate agendas.

Participants had many ideas for our future as well. One was to provide the best mentorship our community has to offer and connect it here physically and digitally. Moreover to remind local institutions that they have a responsibility to facilitate mentor-mentee relationships.

We need to speed up decision making, steal good ideas, and be proud and courageous. Our community needs to do everything possible to support each other, be ambitious and take ownership.

In order to support our most vulnerable and dramatically reduce homelessness we must provide accessible treatment for mental health and addictions. We need a 24/7 mental health crisis centre, a housing first strategy that eradicates homelessness, and perhaps a basic income initiative.

It’s time to start thinking about the future of our city. We are in a competitive global economy, so what are we going to do to remain relevant and successful? How are we going to showcase our city to the world?

One thing is clear; for cities to succeed, citizens need to take an active role in identifying a path forward to achieve resilience, prosperity and inclusivity.

Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi

Amir Farahi is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of the London Institute. He is an entrepreneur, columnist, public speaker, and is currently specializing in Economics and Political Science at Western University.

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