City manager calls for collaboration to build the City of Opportunity
London Community News
By Sean Meyer/London Community News/Twitter: Newswriter22
London’s new city manager has only been on the job for eight weeks, but he already believes in the strategic vision of the so-called City of Opportunity.
However, while speaking to approximately 300 people at London Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday (Oct. 5) at the London Convention Centre, Art Zuidema said he also understands many London residents are not seeing too many of those opportunities.
“The City of Opportunity, this is a very bold vision in my view. It is a vision that speaks to a desire for London to be a place where people can reach their full potential,” Zuidema said. “But unfortunately, I would suggest to you, if you asked them today, many people in London wouldn’t feel the city has been one of opportunity.”
Zuidema said this negative perception stems from the fallout of the global economic downturn, “which has hit London particularly hard.” He also pointed to the London Community Foundation’s recent Vital Signs Report, which indicated, “Homelessness, poverty and mental illness are slowing London’s heartbeat more than ever.”
But those obstacles, Zuidema said, mean the community must pull together and strive to find the solutions that will turn the city’s fortunes around.
“We know the economy today is one of the most important issues facing our city. It is one that underpins everything we do. We know we can’t do it alone,” Zuidema said. “At the city, we are but one entity. You (referencing the audience) are our key community leaders. You are all essential to the success of our community. We have to work together.”
Before delving into the ways London residents can pull together for a brighter future, Zuidema looked back at his own past. Born in Whitby, he talked about his background in urban planning, his time as a lawyer, and what he learned during a 21-year career working for the City of Hamilton. Although he spent more than two decades working for the Steel City, Zuidema said he was looking forward to collaborating — a word he used many times during his speech — with the community and municipal administration and politicians to build on a future he sees as “heading in the right direction.”
Zuidema focused on the Official Plan, the city’s 10-year prosperity plan, and initiatives such as the recently launched Hire One as examples of what London is doing right. He also praised the landmark work being done around the ReThink London exercise.
“The ReThink London project is particularly exciting to me because, first of all, our planners are doing it in-house at a very respectable cost. That is unheard of for a lot of municipalities these days,” Zuidema said. “Our people are turning this process upside down in that they are approaching this official plan review as something that should start as a community conversation. They have been going out to the community to ask the people of London how the city should grow.”
Zuidema apologized to the crowd for what he called “a mixed grill” of a speech, but said he was excited about the things he sees going on in the city. Those things include the changing of how things work at city hall and how officials deliver the 94 services that are provided to residents at a budget of nearly $1 billion.
A service-based operation is what Zuidema said will bring the city together. In fact, despite the perception by many that London is facing too many “hurdles” to find success, Zuidema pointed to several services as key examples of what London is doing right.
Zuidema pointed to waste collection, park maintenance and library usage as examples of where London far exceeds the results seen by its peer municipalities. But no matter the statistics, Zuidema also said London’s successes will continue to grow.
“We have a lot to be proud of in this city. Two hundred fifty years ago when John Graves Simcoe arrived at the Forks of the Thames, he saw a place of opportunity,” Zuidema said. “London has become the great city that Simcoe envisioned. The leaders of this community are owed a lot of credit for this success. We have the opportunity to continue to work together to achieve results that matter. I am excited about what is ahead.”
Gus Kotsiomitis, president of the London Chamber of Commerce, was quick praise Zuidema for his early perceptions of the Forest City.
“I didn’t expect solutions today, but I expected an openness, collaboration as he said, but don’t try to boil everything in one day,” Kotsiomitis said. “I thought he was good. There are things we have to work on, some things we are very proud of. We (at the chamber) look forward to working with Art. I think he hit the mark today.”
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