The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: emerging leaders

Top, Bottom, Inside, Outside

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“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”  So said perhaps the pivotal voice on cities, Jane Jacobs, in her, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

I rather prefer Italo Calvino’s observation that, “You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.”

At present, millions of us entertain questions about the places in which we live.  They can be as great as, “Will our city continue to prosper?” to, “When will they plow my street?”  Cities, overall, represent a vast array of intersections between individual and collective designs and pursuits.  Cities are great, but they are remarkably complex and confounding things.

Which makes the London X conference, taking place this weekend in my hometown so typical of the modern era.  We are a city hiding in our own shadow, lest the sun’s rays reveal even more of our insecurities.  We’ve tried everything to reboot, but to little avail.  Initially we attempted top-down ideas, only to discover that our community was tired of the old ways of elites making decisions for others.

And so we proceeded to try a vast array of bottom-up initiatives, gathering the grassroots and adding a populist voice to our city’s aspirations, but experienced great difficulty gathering them all together into a movement.

Then we attempted to move from the inside-out, only to discover that our city’s institutions seemed somehow risk-averse, worried lest their vital hold on London’s life be lost through reaching.  We’ve had big plans and talked a good game, but in the end it appeared as though these great groups appeared to lack the courage of their own convictions.  This was especially true of our political class.

And now we have come to a new phase in our current struggles.  The group Emerging Leaders has opted to step up and ask for some outside voices, passionate speakers in their own way, to bring their world to us and help us to see how we might perform some of our own miracles that could once again place us on a level of one of Canada’s great cities.  Call it the “outside-in” approach.  It might just be the ticket to move of us off of dead-centre and into the mainstream of innovation and creativity.

Again, it’s not the big players coming together to host the conference, but a rather fledgling group, with little in the way of funds, but rather huge in the realm of ideas.  By partnering with the London Community Foundation, they have been able to pull off a major event.  And by landing über popular Calgary mayor, Naheed Nenshi, to deliver the keynote address this coming Saturday, Emerging Leaders is reminding its community that part of its rebuilding process is going to be discovering how other cities reshaped their future and became relevant to new possibilities.

UnknownGrant Oliphant, CEO of the Pittsburgh Foundation, has some interesting things to tell us at the conference as well – developments than run eerily parallel to the challenges London presently faces.  Pittsburgh’s renaissance is now old news, but how they accomplished it in such a short period of time is both remarkable and teachable.  Thanks to his leadership, Oliphant took one of the older, more established community players and turned his city’s foundation into a catalyst for relevancy.  Along the way, the community rediscovered new life along its waterfront and new vigor in its bones.  There is nothing that Pittsburgh possessed that London doesn’t.

The final speaker is Randal Charlton, and he knows a thing or two about being down on his luck.  A former journalist, dairy farmer, jazz club manager, and consultant with a global bank, he also led failed businesses and faced numerous personal challenges – justFE-RCharlton-240 like the city of Detroit where he lived.  The community faced a 20% unemployment rate, along with the almost near collapse of its famous auto industry.  Traditional approaches never seemed to work.  Then Charlton cooperated with Wayne State University to build TechTown – a business incubator.  In short, he was charged with developing a more entrepreneurial culture in Detroit instead of merely following traditional patterns.  Neither he nor the university could accept the status quo any longer and the decided to challenge the city to head in a new direction.  Their success is the stuff of national coverage, but it was in the details of how they set up that new entrepreneurship that the real story is told.  Charlton will explain it all on Saturday.

Two top women leaders were to speak at London X but due to scheduling pressures had to back off at the last minute.  That’s too bad because some remarkable women pathfinders have taken part in the new urban renaissance.  Hopefully we’ll hear some of those voices in a follow-up conference.

In this new world of possibility for cities, beauty is no longer in the eye of the beholder, but in the builders of the reinvigorated cities that include all of us and answers our questions as to why we choose to live where we do.

The excitement around London X is palpable, and right now this community could use a strong dose of the possible. The good citizens and leaders of London just have to believe they can pull it off.



Moving On, Not Out

As the days of the Occupy London protest continue, its future remains in a state of flux. The official letter delivered from the City of London last week has served notice that bylaws for Victoria Park will be enforced at some point. There are valid points of argument on both sides, but for the protesters a majority will get to decide how they will handle the veiled ultimatum.

However it plays out, here is some friendly advice from someone who has supported the movement from the beginning and wishes it to keep its relevance. Here are some things that could be undertaken to keep the issues alive for which they are protesting.

First, show up in solid numbers for the Cenotaph memorial on Remembrance Day. The right to protest has been baptized in the blood of tens of thousands and that sacrifice must be honoured and respected. Whether or not your tents are in the park, be there, wear your poppies, and willingly take part in something that’s far greater than all of us. To be sure, the older generation has endeavoured to comprehend your principles, just as the younger folks have been excited by your vigilance. Let them know that on a very important day that you recognize your responsibility to those who fought for this country and on that day at least you are one, even with those who oppose your efforts.

Second, I spoke with a number of you at the park in this last couple of weeks and there has been a reticence to move to the grounds of St. Paul’s Cathedral when they were offered by the church leadership. The hesitancy was founded, in part, on the concern that leaving Victoria Park would spell something of a defeat. That’s a valid worry. But some of you recounted to me a suspicion of anything to do with organized religion. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider. For the past eight months I’ve been writing a book on the movements of peace throughout history. Time and again, regardless of whether you were Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., the church housed the desire for a better world for such individuals and their followers and their successes depended in large part on the resources – physical, spiritual, moral – that the churches brought to bear. Currently, some of the key leaders of churches surrounding the park are together endeavouring to move this community towards more equitable social justice for those lost in poverty. That’s what you have wanted all along as protesters. Ally yourselves with these leaders. Ask for a meeting with them. Urge their congregations to fight for a fairer country, for an environmentally sustainable nation, for a new political order that will respect those marginalized by a dysfunctional wealth distribution system. These are established leaders in this community who can bring much to the table and who already possess the moral clarity and historic lessons of right over wrong. Combine with them.

Third, even whether you’re in or out of the park, start bringing together university profs, media personalities, and community leaders and start asking them how you might turn your important beginnings into a sustained force that will help you to win the day. Right now, in London, small business owners feel like they’ve been marginalized by the economic system. Talk to them and their associations. Start building a case for the new jobs of tomorrow. Almost 80% of those jobs will come from that sector anyway and small to medium-sized business owners require your help to have their voices heard. Their concerns are valid. Start building those partnerships with community associations that will help build your credibility for the future.

Fourth, there is a group of emerging leaders that are starting to make their presence felt in this city and who have been ingenious in using the digital world to lend you their support and further your cause. Ask for a meeting with them and seek guidance as to how your effectiveness can be expanded. You likely know who many of them are; utilize them and request their long-term assistance.

Finally, I ask you to look beyond Victoria Park. Your real place of residence and  protest should be in the minds and hearts of citizens. Your principles and the things for which you struggle transcend any physical location. It is no defeat if by moving out you are moving on with your message. We as a community have to figure out how to best house your spirit of reform. That’s where the churches and the emerging leaders come in. You as a community have to determine how you will expand your efforts to include even more of us in our common pursuit of justice. Don’t let Victoria Park be your Rubicon. Your real place is among us and togethewe all have to discern how that will look in the future

You have done more to raise the profile of poverty in just a few weeks than I have done in years. In part because of that fact, I want to assist your effectiveness where I can. We are all a part of this community and you have drawn important attention to some key irregularities in our society. The question is will you acknowledge your need of us.

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