Now time to evaluate economic proposals (column)
London Community News
Joe Swan is happy — well, happier — now that the public hearings into proposals to jump-start London’s economy are over.
And it’s not because of the drudgery of sitting indoors listening to hours and hours of sometimes very technical presentations while the rest of the world is enjoying the sunshine.
No, for Councillor Swan, chairperson of city council’s investment and economic prosperity committee, the end of public hearings means the process to find the Next Best Thing has moved to the next level — evaluating and prioritizing almost 50 ideas offered by citizens and organizations.
“I like this idea of public hearings,” he said after the third and final day of hearings last week. “I think we should have more of them. Why should council be saying what to do? Ask the people and the agenda comes to you.”
That agenda is now clearer. For the next two and a half months, a City Hall task force will sift through the ideas to determine, in Mayor Joe Fontana’s words, which offer the “biggest bang for the buck” in terms of creating jobs and adding productive infrastructure to the city. Their report is due in October.
Councillor Swan is quick to add this doesn’t necessarily mean his committee has a bias toward mega projects with high taxpayer price tags. And there were a number of those — Western’s downtown education centre, St. Joe’s research facility, concert halls, a new museum, expansions to the John Labatt Centre and London Convention Centre — each worth millions.
But if anything, some of the more interesting ideas to emerge from the public hearings wouldn’t necessarily cost a lot of money at all.
A significant number were presented by or on behalf of immigrant newcomers to London who know what they’d like to do but are struggling to connect with the power sources in the city.
“There clearly is a far greater sense of internationalism in London than we realize,” Councillor Swan says. “We’ve tended to ignore it in the past when we built roads and rail, airports and serviced land for industry, all hard infrastructure. Now perhaps we need to match that with an organization that focuses on immigrants and exports.”
So one likely suggestion is some sort of entrepreneurial incubator aimed especially at newcomers, a place where they could set up shop, share resources, tap into community expertise to create business and marketing plans until their idea could stand on its own. The city might even have a financial stake in some of those ideas through low interest loans.
“This is something the city has never done before,” Councillor Swan admits, “but sometimes really creative ideas come from the most unlikely places.”
Part of this might also see the relaunch of the stalled Ambassador London program, this time tapping into the connections London newcomers have to unique marketing opportunities in their homelands.
The big ticket ideas, all of which require significant public funding, will certainly get much of the attention, although exactly how to create a community consensus around the best ones isn’t yet clear.
All in all, “I’m very optimistic in where this is going,” Councillor Swan says. “I’m confident the committee is getting stronger. Now we have to prepare a compelling plan to show taxpayers that here are some ideas worth investing in.”
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.