Monthly Archives: July 2014

Riders on the Storm of Change

I have a confession to make: I hate group cycling.

Well, maybe “hate” is a strong word, but yeah, I much prefer riding alone.

As a busy husband and dad – as well as someone who delivers products, services and solutions that increase energy efficiency and lower operating costs in buildings across Southwestern Ontario – it’s just something I’ve gotten used to: riding solo is my way to de-stress without having to answer to anyone or anything – except the rules of the road, of course ; )

But as the socio-economic status of London’s Old East Village continues to change for the better, my anti-social cycling mentality is downshifting to group-cycle-think.

The catalyst for this change has been the enthusiasm I’ve encountered in the Old East Village Riding Group, led by OEV resident Ken Da Silva.

Ken's ready to ride!

Ken’s ready to ride!

The weekly rides have been a highlight of my summer, getting me acquainted with the historical sites of the city, especially within the OEV – the group also holds rides at other times through their Facebook page. I really enjoy seeing the changing landscape while also feeling like I’m travelling back in time to discover the distinct histories of certain neighbourhood homes that have placards which tell the stories of the people who once lived there; a very far cry from “Little Detroit” as Ward 4’s incumbent, Stephen Orser would have us believe.

OEV 3

Here’s more about the group from its Facebook page:

Riders of all levels may come on a drop-in basis and the group will nominate a leader for the day who will pick a route suitable to the bikes and riders who’ve turned up that day.

Routes might include the streets of the neighbourhood and the city at large or river-side bike trails.

The pace is leisurely enough to chat along the way and to stop and rehydrate or snack along the way.

Email us at: oevridinggroup@outlook.com

I actually had a nice chat with Ken on Sunday about how the group got started, just after a ride from the Lorne Ave School to Springbank Park. I really enjoyed hearing about the proactive steps people continue to take to improve their neighbourhood and the city as a whole.

So it looks like I actually prefer putting physical exercise, relaxation AND socialization into the same activity. Thank you OEV Riding Group!

Riding Group selfie on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Riding Group selfie on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

It’s these types of grassroots initiatives that help lay the groundwork for a socially connected neighbourhood that deals effectively with many of the anti-social issues, whether recurring or passing.

This part of the ward needs to be built up to its fullest potential. The foundation is being laid for some serious progress and the spirit of change is palpable among its residents who are working and cycling for change.

Taken at the London Bicycle Festival.

Taken at the London Bicycle Festival.

Before I end this entry, I wanted to apologize for the post’s dramatic title — I just never thought I’d jump on the group cycle bandwagon, or that I’d be witnessing the genesis of an OEV revival.

Plus, I heard The Doors on the radio recently and couldn’t let that play on words roll by.

– Paul

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Motor City comparison lacks traction

This week, Ward 4 incumbent, Councillor Stephen Orser, added a new dimension to his dystopian view of Ward 4 and the Old East Village when he referred to the OEV as “Little Detroit” on the CBC and other media outlets.

Orser’s rhetoric started a storm of controversy, especially among groups like Demand More For Ward 4 and others who are working towards the area’s renewal.

To understand the dynamics behind Mr. Orser’s statement you have understand his passion for political grandstanding. He’s a shock jock and being a shock jock seems to get him attention – unfortunately, the kind of attention that has led to two consecutive terms as Ward 4’s representative.

The voters I speak with in the ward are fed up with his antics and negative views of community activists and the ward in general; maybe this time around on October 27, his use of the term “terrorist” for those who criticize him publicly will backfire and he’ll be able to take his early retirement.

Given his track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if between now and then he’ll pull of another ‘stunt’ to shock voters while grabbing media attention – a lot of it.

What’s funny, is that as the appointed steward of the ward, he doesn’t seem to make the connection that if the OEV is, in fact, “little Detroit”, then it’s his own personal little Detroit, his baby, which he so thoughtlessly and effortlessly neglected…one of the many by-products of his political malfeasance over the last 8 years!

I’m really tired of his putzing around. It’s one of the main reasons I decided to run for city council: to make sure that this ward has a positive, concerned leader with integrity and is not hoodwinked by the boy who cries wolf, who does next to nothing for the ward he purports to take care of.

His slum-centric view of a small section of the Old East Village on Dundas Street (from Adelaide to Quebec) is his framework; we never hear of any improvements he’s made anywhere else in the ward, only the ‘travesty’ of anti-social behaviour that gives this blossoming area, with lots of potential, a blighted representation to the media and those who do not live in the ward.

Many activists I have spoken with are very aware of the issues that face Ward 4, but it’s nowhere near the scale of the urban decay of inner city Detroit. The vacant Embassy Hotel lot that has been secured for development and the abandoned McCormick factory that has just been purchased by a Woodstock construction company, are all signs of improvement in the Ward – something that hasn’t or doesn’t happen in Detroit very often. In fact, usually not at all.

I just don’t see the soundness of Orser’s comparison.

I’ve been to Detroit and have seen the socio-economic decay that has a violent history of racism and political corruption behind it.

Now, unless the OEV has had a similar experience of social upheaval coupled with an abysmal economic record, even on a remotely small scale, then I’d say Mr. Orser’s assertion might have a pinky toe to rest on…but it doesn’t. Not even close.

Ward 4 is becoming a bastion of bustling socio-economic activity, despite this bombast’s half-baked accusations of urban blight.

For a city councillor to be effective, she or he must not limit his or her thinking to just one small historic area of the ward, but must see – and show others – different areas which make up the collective home.

Does Orser feel threatened by the progress or success residents are making in the Ward; that residents’ efforts are somehow a way of getting rid of him?

In an interview about the sale of the McCormick factory he said it was he who was “finally seeing the fruits of his labour.”  (In this vein, the interview with Craig Needles really revealed Orser’s messiah-complex). To my knowledge, there wasn’t any Ward 4 newsletter nor any other form of electronic media that gave us constituents any indication that he was working on this issue.

And this is the problem with Stephen Orser’s reign as councillor: you don’t know what he’s doing half the time if he’s doing anything at all.

Mr. Orser’s infantile mentality became abundantly apparent when he published the address of Ward 4 resident Peter Strack to defame, harass and intimidate him all because he spoke out against Orser on the Demand More for Ward 4 Facebook page.

Last time I checked this was a democracy, and as a politician, you will be criticized by opponents and voters from time to time, or perhaps, all the time! It’s simply not the end of the world. In a democracy, no one has the right not to be offended. So why couldn’t Mr. Orser just suck it up as par for the course?

I think it’s because he feels threatened by any kind of positive progress made by others than himself, and that takes the ‘spotlight’ off of him giving him a sense of insecurity. But we need a confident councillor who’s not afraid or disturbed by criticism, whether legitimate or otherwise.

I suggest voters look past the last eight years to fresher, more confident and more vibrant political pastures. In the meantime, Mr. Orser is doing a great job turning himself into the persona non grata of Ward 4.

Hey, we all get our time in the sun. Now it’s time to retire to the shade.

 

De-weeding Ward 4

So far, the long anticipated spring-summer season is turning out pretty well for the Forest City: the food truck issue was dealt with professionally, Fontana was found guilty and we have a trustworthy interim mayor who is singing her political swan song by faithfully serving the people. It looks like the conditions are ready to pull out those nutrient-draining weeds which are holding us back from blooming.

Such weeds have been thriving in places like the lot of the former Embassy Hotel, all along nourished by people who have only just begun to remove them – or so it seems.

I recently attended an Old East Village BIA meeting with developers who secured the embassy property in the Old East Village neighbourhood of ward 4. What enthused me most about that meeting was that the developers wanted input from everyone in the room. People were engaged and I personally found it very encouraging to see people so concerned about the direction of development in the ward.

And now that the people are making their voices heard, and the media is paying more attention to the site and the general area, Ward 4 City Councillor Stephen Orser is ready to get his hands dirty.

“Lots like this are valuable but the way it sits scares off investors…I am bringing an investor here tomorrow to this lot. I need it cleaned up, I need it to be safe,” Orser told CTV on Wednesday.

So now it needs to be safe. What happened to the last 1000 days and nights which brought us to this point? Where has Councillor Orser’s initiative been over the last five years since the building went up in a blaze?

In fact, Orser only got into all this redevelopment talk once city staff issued an order to clean up the site after it had been prompted to do so by a complaint issued to the city about the embassy lot – a complaint issued by someone other than the ward’s incumbent.

I love my blog, not only because it gives me a chance to present to constituents what I’m all about, but also because it gives me an opportunity to critique public opinion shapers, such as elected officials and the media.

The CTV report on the redevelopment plan and Orser’s perceived stewardship of it which I provided a link to above, deserves critical attention. And I quote: “Emboldened by recent move (sic) to redevelop the former Beta Brands factory a few blocks away, Ward Councillor Stephen Orser is pressing for action on the property.”

Emboldened…really? There’s nothing bold about Stephen Orser other than the shenanigans he pulls in council. What’s worse is that this part of the article sounds like a PR piece: “…Ward Councillor Stephen Orser is pressing for action on the property.” Right! After years of inaction, intransigence, and political incontinence, now it’s time for action. And how exactly is he “pressing for action”? The funny thing is, he should be pressing for action if he’s taken so long to do the minimum required of him as city councillor.

In short, this is just an Orserian ploy for re-election. I think we can all see through his civic charade. He’s been in office for almost 8 years, and his record proves that when it comes to Stephen Orser, his “wisdom” far outweighs his actions. By the way, Orser did not attend the Old East Village BIA meeting.

There’s much that can be done with the lot and I look forward to speaking with ward 4 residents about their suggestions and concerns regarding the site.

As a husband, dad, engineer, amateur gardener and cycling enthusiast, I know how important it is to have a healthy, well-integrated community where commercial and social concerns cohere and not collide.

I know things slow down a bit in the summer, but please be in touch.

–  Paul