Saturday, August 20, 2011

Series of Significance: London’s Job Summit

The following three posts about a job summit - 135 minutes long in all - first appeared starting on August 11. They are repeated here under one roof for your convenience. No extra charge. gah

London’s Job Summit PT 1: We can dig a grave. Can we climb out?

[What is London, Ontario? “It’s a low, wide city several degrees hotter than surrounding forests and farmland, built in sprawling, extravagant fashion when fossil fuels were cheap.” G. Harrison, Londoner, July 28]

Tomorrow, Mayor Joe Fontana will preside over an emergency summit involving some business leaders, politicians and interested parties that will brainstorm solutions to our city’s jobless crisis.

The mayor and many others now realize that with unemployment at 9.1 per cent, the highest rate of a major Canadian city (down 3.5% over last year with reportedly 8,300 fewer people employed than in 2010), if something isn’t done now to fill the hole we will not only appear to be standing in our own grave but making it deeper.

Unfortunately, I feel the summit will fail to reverse the grave-deepening trend if local politicians and business leaders adopt one of Mayor Fontana’s mantras, i.e., that it’s only a short-term problem, that if we can get over this jobless hump we can return to business as usual.

Fontana says we need to “get over this hump for 2011,” that he’s “not so concerned about our future, but... 9.1% (unemployment) causes us all to gasp and say in the short term, there are headwinds we are facing.”

Though I appreciate his confidence and enthusiasm, feigned or otherwise, I think we need to bear the long term in mind, especially now that the ground upon which we stand is sinking.

For several decades London has been growing far, fat and wide - in pursuit of the culture of big - on the back of cheap oil. Many citizens of this fair town have made a show of prosperity with bigger properties, homes, closets, cars, pools and countless material possessions while household, provincial, national and global debt has been growing deeper.

For a dozen decades or more many cities and countries became accustomed to growing productivity on the back of finite resources, e.g., petroleum, wood and metals.

Ron Wright, in A Short History of Progress, described our prosperity in this manner:

“We in the lucky countries of the West now regard our two-century bubble of freedom and affluence as normal and inevitable... Our age was bankrolled by the seizing of half a planet, extended by taking over most of the remaining half, and has been sustained by spending down new forms of natural capital, especially fossil fuels. In the New World, the West hit the biggest bonanza of all time.”

Many citizens and businesses grew prosperous, even excessively so, and visible signs of our increasing wealth (the big houses, cars, closets, computers, etc.) became commonplace, as did associated debt.

Now, trapped by the trappings of the big lifestyle they desire and feel entitled to, many countries and cities face the long term battle of not getting buried in a grave of their own making.

Will a frozen pizza factory on the 401 bail London out? Are more companies like it the answer? Is a stimulus package that will return us to ‘business as usual’ the way to go?

I think not. The Corporation of the City of London needs to make a fundamental shift.

In my opinion, one part of the answer lies where some business minds would least expect it - inside an 800 square foot house.


London’s Job Summit PT 2: We can dig a grave. Can we climb out?

[“The Corporation of the City of London needs to make a fundamental shift. In my opinion, one part of the answer lies where some business minds would least expect it - inside an 800 square foot house.” G. Harrison, Aug. 11]

London’s 9.1 per cent unemployment figure has spurred Mayor Joe Fontana into action.

With “his city suddenly the poster child for tough times, Mayor Joe Fontana says he wants to take stock of where we’re at and brainstorm solutions to London’s jobless crisis at an emergency summit Friday.” (London Free Press, Aug. 11)

So, today he’ll meet with local politicians and members of business and make hash, and try to find the secret to more jobs, jobs, jobs.

The entire answer may not be found inside Fontana’s meeting venue, e.g., a large community hall.

As ‘a poster child for tough times’ as well as a poster child for the culture of big, our fair city - built in sprawling, extravagant fashion when fossil fuels were cheap - may find part of the answer lies inside a very small house.

Please allow me to explain.

I don’t mean the answer lies inside my humble cottage (at 1,200 sq. ft.; exterior measurement), as if to say I’m an urban planning guru of any sort. (Urban thinker, maybe, or something that rhymes with thinker).

I mean that part of the answer to future job growth lies in making the transition to building small homes and all the small scale supplies (cupboards, furniture, appliances, heating and cooling units, cars, sheds, etc.) required to outfit them.

Think 800 sq. ft. house.

[“It’s hard to think of one. We see so few!”: photo GH]

Think small refrigerator, e.g., 8 cubic ft., and two-burner stove.

Think 25 sq. ft. (e.g., 5 ft. x 5 ft.) bathroom.

[“All tiles, in 16 sq. ft.”: Little House in a Small World]

Think small furnace and AC unit.

Think sleeping berths over chests of drawers and computer desks in multi-purpose bedrooms.

Think three-wheeled, enclosed, 500 cc scooter-mobile with 2-person bench seat and 9 sq. ft. truck bed for groceries.

[“The truck for me!”: photo link]

Then think of London as the center of the small economy, cornering the market of all things for the small household and families with sustainable pay cheques.

We have no shortage of space to build and display hundreds of small scale items.

Why, one fine looking 800 sq. ft. house - designed and crafted as a joint venture between the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College - will quite easily fit in the snack food section of one of London’s lovely Walmart Super Stores.

And I can think of nothing finer than a three-wheeled scooter-mobile plant to occupy part of the soon to be closed Ford Talbotville plant on the outskirts of our city.


Why, it’s never been done. Our tourism industry will likely get a substantial shot in the arm as people come from miles around to see the creation of all things related to a sustainable, live-under-your-means lifestyle.

I think my plan will work even now, but I know for certain it will work much better once the majority of Londoners, politicians and business owners realize we’ve been digging our own grave for many decades on the back of cheap oil and we have little time left to pursue business as usual before we start digging our way out.

What do you think?


London’s Job Summit PT 3: “We can dig a grave. Can we climb out?”

[“I can think of nothing finer than a three-wheeled scooter-mobile plant to occupy part of the soon to be closed Ford Talbotville plant on the outskirts of our city.” G. Harrison, Aug. 12]

On Friday, London’s Mayor Joe Fontana, local politicians, business leaders and interested parties participated in London’s job summit.

Ideas filled the air related to ways to stimulate the creation of good jobs for London, the city that is the current poster child for high unemployment in Canada. With Toronto at 8.3%, Montreal at 8 and Vancouver, Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo tied at 6.4%, London stands at the top of the heap with 9.1% unemployment.

According to yesterday’s issue of The London Free Press, here are but some of the excellent ideas that filled the air:

1. “politicians said times weren’t as gloomy as the high unemployment rate suggests”

(Surely then, jobs are just around the corner.)

2. “politicians pointed to developing along Hwys. 401 and 402 as a key to future plans”

(Jobs are guaranteed. Start lining up.)

3. “Mayor Joe Fontana let slip his ambition to serve a second term”

(Several really good jobs are likely going to be up for grabs. Comb your hair and brush your teeth asap for an interview.)

4. “Tory MP Ed Holder (London West) said his government had done its part...”

(Hundreds of full-time jobs are essentially on their way to London. Don’t forget to gargle.)

5. “Liberal MPPs Chris Bentley, Khalil Ramal and Deb Matthews lauded the province’s growth record...”

(Are you kidding me? You’re not hired yet?)

6. The construction trades called for more construction, home builders for more homes and realtors for a streamlined process at city hall.

(I can hear them calling now. “We want to construct! We want to build! We want to sell!” Anyone got a bag of hammers and a box of nails? Anyone? Anyone?)

By now, many of the unemployed will realize their future is in good hands and they’ll be on a job site by Monday, Tuesday at the latest.

Though my idea about turning London into the building center of all things small wasn’t mentioned (re small homes, all items that go into small homes, small vehicles, etc.), I’m not discouraged. The jobs coming down the pike (Oh, they’re inevitable. “In five years, London will be the nation’s most prosperous city,” says London’s Mayor Joe Fontana according to the Free Press, Aug. 13) will surely support London in a sustainable fashion until they can’t anymore.

Though one observer said, “This meeting was 95% chest pounding and patting on the back” (KWM) I feel we should be thankful we have chests and backs. And now, thanks to the 135-minute long job summit, we also have jobs coming out of our ears.

Mystery jobs, yes. But jobs nonetheless.


Please click here to read about The Culture of Small.


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