An Open Letter to Council (June 2012)

As our elected representatives, you have asked us, the citizens of London, to become engaged with you in planning the future of our city.  Thousands of us have taken you up on this offer since you took office in 2010, on a wide range of local and city-wide initiatives: the Community Engagement Task Force, the Strengthening Neighbourhood Initiative, the London Homelessness Plan, the SouthWest Area Plan, the SoHo Community Improvement Plan, the McCormick Lands Area Plan, and a number of others.

The latest round of engagement is with ReThink London – the 20-year Official Plan Review.

I have to tell you that I am getting a little cynical about whether you really want us engaged or not.  This is just my opinion, of course, though I suspect that it is an opinion shared by enough people that it should cause you some political discomfort.

I will remain engaged in ReThink London, in spite of my cynicism, because it is important work that will shape the city that London will become long after you have left office, voluntarily or not, and because I remain hopeful that some of you will finally come to understand what “community engagement” really means.  I say “some” because it is clear to me that not all of you will.  Or can.

A good place for each of you to start is with Community Improvement Plans (CIP).  Notice that the first word is “community”, not “council”.

The CIPs come about as the result of long and often complex processes that involve hundreds of citizens in helping to plan their own neighbourhoods, in collaboration with their elected representatives, city staff, developers, service agencies, and so on.  It should be noted, and taken note of by you, that these people are “engaged citizens”, who are highly likely to be in the one-third of Londoners who vote in municipal elections.

Please, cure yourselves of the compulsion to meddle in or micro-manage these Plans.

Not every hare-brained or half-formed thought that comes into your heads needs to be inflicted on us.  Nor is every opinion you have on “new ways of doing planning” worthy of five mind-numbing minutes of blather or bombast.  Stick to your bloody knitting, folks.

If any of you truly believe that CIPS are but a guide for you, to be tossed aside any time your attention is caught by some new, bright and shiny bauble, please have the decency to stand up in your place and say so.  Tell us that your right to tinker trumps our right to participate in the planning of our own neighbourhoods.

Above all, councillors, do this one little thing:  act as if you love this city!