Thursday, 3 May 2018

Mike Bloxam declares candidacy for Ward 6 council seat

Yesterday afternoon, I registered myself as a candidate for London City Council in Ward 6. Press release below!


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Mike Bloxam declares candidacy for Ward 6 council seat

Heritage advocate and environmentalist Mike Bloxam has declared his candidacy for London’s Ward 6 council seat.

“I am a champion for sustainability, including financial sustainability in the budgeting process, environmental sustainability, and sustainability in terms of community planning 
and maintaining London’s character,” said Bloxam of his focus if elected.

For Bloxam, seeking local office is a natural extension of his life-long commitment to community involvement. Londoners may know his name as a recent president of the local branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), where he has advocated for sustainable development and preservation of London’s heritage buildings. Then again, that may not be the only reason it rings a bell.

Bloxam is nearly ubiquitous: he has argued for decommissioning the Springbank Dam, as a past chair and current member of City Hall’s Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE); and worked to make sure the Forest City lives up to its name as a board member and Trees Committee chair for ReForest London.

“Mike is committed to his family and his community, working towards making London a healthier and more vibrant community for citizens today and generations who will follow,” said Linda Lustins, Chair of the Board for ReForest London, where Bloxam has served as a director since 2015.

Beyond his community efforts, Bloxam has the varied experience and perspectives of a business owner and non-profit worker. He launched SunTap Technologies in 2009 to install solar energy systems on homes and businesses across Southwestern Ontario, and continues to offer that service.

These days though, most of the hours he puts in are at the London Food Bank, where he joined the staff full time in 2016 after more than 16 years as a volunteer. It’s that time, spent face-to-face with people experiencing poverty in London, where Bloxam finds much of the inspiration for his campaign.

“I want to see the next Council take poverty and homelessness in our city seriously,” Bloxam says. If elected, he would push to expand London’s Housing First strategy, which has already started to make a difference, as well as advocating for changes to benefits at the provincial level.

Bloxam will kick off his campaign with a launch party in June, to be announced at

- 30 -

Mike Bloxam is running to be your next councillor for Ward 6 in London, Ontario. He aspires for a better London that is an ideal place to live, work, play, and stay.

Campaign hotline: 519-518-2273 | E-mail: | Web site: | Twitter: @Mike_Bloxam

Thursday, 26 April 2018

More than bricks and mortar

Earlier this month, my two-year term as president of the London Region branch of Architectural Conservancy Ontario (or ACO London for short) came to an end, and I felt it would be worthwhile to reflect on that time.  ACO is a non-for-profit organization with 25 branches across the province with a mission to "preserve Ontario's architectural and environmental heritage by helping communities and owners preserve buildings and structures of architectural merit, and places of natural beauty or interest".

During my tenure as president of ACO London, I learned a lot about our city beyond just architecture:  history; land-use planning; culture; urban revitalization. Buildings (old and new) are more than just bricks and mortar—they are a major thread in our cultural fabric.  The growth of our city tells the story of its people, and if we choose to thoughtlessly bulldoze "old buildings" for the sake of "progress" to build new structures in their place, then we will become disconnected from our past and permanently lose that part of our culture.  There are also the environmental and economic impacts of simply tearing down a building - the greenest brick is the one already in the wall!

London is rich with built heritage, and in general most people have an affinity for buildings with unique or interesting architecture.  Those who become members of ACO are typically those with a particular interest in heritage conservation, and end up speaking on behalf of buildings that can't fight for themselves.

One of the biggest losses during the past two years was that of Camden Terrace. A true architectural gem, and a rare example of Victorian row-houses, this complex on Talbot Street was left for years to rot: it's called "demolition by neglect" and unfortunately it tends to be effective in persuading cities to allow a building to be torn down instead of being restored. Cities such as London need to take a hard look at by-laws pertaining to vacant properties, but that's for another blog.

Camden Terrace in 1987.  (Photo courtesy of the City of London planning department.)

The loss of this building—the property is currently an empty lot full of broken iconic London yellow brick—really stung.  What's worse is that the promise to build 30+ storeys on the land right away was not kept, and the viability of the project is still in question.  Camden Terrace will serve for a long time as an example of urban planning gone wrong.

Camden Terrace on April 22, 2018.

Buildings of all ages give that tangible connection to distinguishable periods in our history, and by no means are meant to be placed under glass to never change for the rest of time.  Heritage conservation is about maintaining streetscapes while allowing for additions and new construction.  Doing the latter in conjunction with an old building is the most sustainable method of introducing a new building: reducing waste going to the landfill; retaining important cultural inventory; and better payback on the final building by way of more demand for units (even if it costs a little more up front).

One highlight of recent note is the acceptance to incorporate two historical barns into a new subdivision on the city's northern border.  After advocacy from ACO London and others, the developer worked the clay-tile barns into the plans for the new subdivision.  They will be re-purposed likely for commercial use and will give a unique flavour to a new neighbourhood.

One of the barns at 660 Sunningdale Road East. (Photo from The London Free Press.)

Of course, there was much to celebrate during my two years as president.  2016 was the 50th anniversary year for the London Region branch, founded in July 1966 by four dedicated Londoners who wanted to see the Ridout Street complex saved from demolition.  50 years later, those buildings still stand and are in full use, currently as a private school.  It was an enormous honour to have served during this important milestone in our branch's history.

Receiving a certificate of congratulations on the branch's 50th anniversary from the office of London North Centre's Member of Parliament.

2017 was the sesquicentennial of Canada's confederation, a year filled with reflection on our nation's past.  Our branch was very active in promoting the history of our city that one experiences through its buildings, and as a society we must continue to value those connections as London continues to grow.

I look forward to serving another two years with ACO London as past-president.  The work is never done when you're an advocate for something as vital as the shared cultural resource we call built heritage.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The 'R' stands for Reliable

If you haven't checked your mailbox since Friday, make sure you do so before the weekend finishes. You will find a pamphlet outlining some open houses coming up over the next week to learn more about the options being considered for London's bus rapid transit (BRT) system.

Back of the brochure delivered to households this past Friday.

On a personal note, I had the pleasant surprise to discover comments that I had made at a public information meeting in December about the need for rapid transit appear on the back of the pamphlet! Seeing this inspired me to further explain the importance of implementing this method of mass transit, and I'll use our household as an example.

Our family has one car for two working adults, and we have a child in daycare. My wife takes London Transit to and from work most of the time and drops our daughter off in the morning, and I drive to and from work most of the time and pick our daughter up in the afternoon. While both of our workplaces are near a bus route, transfers downtown create long waits and only worsens during rush-hour traffic.  

It normally takes my wife 50 to 60 minutes to get home on a roughly 10 km journey, when it shouldn't be more than a 30-minute bus trip; however, heavier traffic and a meandering bus route through neighbourhoods double her commute home. She finishes work at five o'clock, but would have to leave work a few minutes early to catch a bus and get home by quarter to six, and typically has to wait 20 minutes after work to catch her bus to get home shortly after six. My commute of about 6.5 km would take 30 minutes by bus (it's typically 12 to 15 minutes by car), but I would either arrive at work 20 minutes early or 5 minutes late; on the way home (I finish at four o'clock), I would leave 5 minutes early or have to wait 20 minutes for a bus, getting home at about ten to five.

Map of where people reported to live, work, and go to school at the December 2017 public information centre for Shift.

We both have the goal of getting to and from work without the use of a single-occupied vehicle, and having dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit (therefore making the system "rapid") will ensure that schedules remain punctual and reliable. People who want to take public transit only really ask for comfort and reliability: the major problem that has plagued London's transit system for decades has been unreliable schedules -- a bus that arrives early and leaves early at transfer points, for example, so in essence doesn't arrive at all -- and is a deciding factor for people to drive their car instead of using public transit, myself included. Not being assured that I would be home in time to pick up our daughter from daycare is a huge reason why I still drive to and from work.

Having the backbone of the system in rapid/reliable transit will speed up commute times and increase the efficiency of the feeder routes that cover the rest of the city.  Since the rapid lines will be every 5 minutes (during peak hours) or 10 minutes and feeders being no more than double the rapid line, people will be able to get around much quicker and with minimal transfer times.

Getting home earlier from work would allow us to spend more quality time as a family, and in my wife's case would give her about three more hours at home in a normal week. A more reliable transit system will allow us to continue as a single-vehicle family; otherwise, we would have to explore adding to London's congestion with a second vehicle, while also greatly increasing our household expenditures. We are only one family: multiply our situation by thousands, and the impact of having better transit will easily help young families reduce their need for a second vehicle -- not to mention empty-nesters who want to downsize, single folks who would rather not own (or perhaps can't afford) a vehicle, and a multitude of other family situations where reducing vehicle use is beneficial for them both financially and socially.

When we consider moving forward with the BRT, we already know that it will:
  • improve our local economy by getting more people to more places quicker and easier;
  • be better for the environment by reducing the number of single-occupied vehicles and directing higher-density development along transit routes; and
  • enhance our social lives by giving us more time with the people we love. 

It's a sustainable solution that we can't pass up.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

It's not how dense you make it...

All right, everyone, now say it with me!  "It's not how dense you make it; it's how you make it dense."

Good.  Now with that out of the way, let's explore how we can have exciting new buildings in our city that have a positive effect on existing architecture, and more specifically heritage buildings.

By integrating heritage buildings into the design of new builds from the get-go as a foundation for the new construction, a city keeps its character while allowing for higher density.  Responsible and forward-thinking land owners will maintain the buildings on their properties right up until the time of construction, and throughout, in order to preserve the integrity of the existing structures.

Camden Terrace in 1988.  Photo courtesy of the estate of Lois Marshall. 

Lately in London, we have had quite the opposite, from the demolition of 505/507/511 Talbot Street to make way for another uninspired concrete monolith (think of the hideous Renaissance towers on Ridout Street North between King Street and York Street) to the pending destruction of 175/179/181 King Street (although thankfully 183 King Street will remain) for another 30-storey tower.

Now don't get me wrong: we need a proper mix of high-rises, mid-rises, and low-rises in the downtown.  New buildings are always going to be required to regenerate and grow a city.  Making them the right density in the right locations builds a city inwards and upwards, which is what is needed instead of outwards and sprawling.  Urban infill is a good thing and a necessity; however, it has to be done with consideration for the existing built environment and adaptive reuse in the forefront, not as an afterthought.

Camden Terrace (479 to 489 Talbot Street) is under threat of complete demolition.
These row houses have a significant and rare form and style, designed by the renowned London architect Samuel Peters (click for short video on Peters and Camden Terrace).  This brilliant gem in our downtown core tells the story of how our city grew and evolved, and warrants a respectful integration with this infill development.  Instead, the developer prefers to tear the building down to make way for a 9-storey mixed commercial/residential building as the first phase, with plans for two towers (also mixed use) on the north (29 storeys) and south (38 storeys) as the second phase.  Plans also show a three-storey parking garage in the back.

I am a fan of the mixed use: it is ideal for a city where we want people to work and play all within walking distance of their home, which has huge benefits economically, socially, and environmentally.  The design of the nine-storey first phase can easily integrate the entirety of the original row houses, with appropriate modifications to permit the desired entranceway as proposed in the designs.

Camden Terrace in 1987.  Photo courtesy the City of London planning department.

The London Plan aspires for no more aboveground parking, and rightly so:  parking in the inner core start to disappear with driverless cars and rapid transit, and therefore the people who are living and working downtown are less likely to own a vehicle.  The proposal has four levels of underground parking and three levels of aboveground.  In reality, the aboveground parking will become obsolete in the very near future and would be better use of space to expand the nine-storey construction: this keeps the nine-storey portion virtually unchanged (or potentially larger) and allows room for Camden Terrace to remain. Talk about win-win! The investment for the developer and the city will be huge if all phases are built: don't we want this done right for ourselves and for future generations?

Adaptive reuse has become prominent recently with the Cornerstone Building, the London Roundhouse, The Cube, and many more.  Not only does it maintain a city's character, it is also easier on the environment by not sending tonnes upon tonnes of building materials into an already-strained landfill site.  

Camden Terrace must be given designation and maintained in situ, as any needed changes to the buildings can be considered through a heritage alteration permit.  In fact, the London Roundhouse remains in place and will have a tower built behind it: why can't we do the same here?

Heritage needs to have a voice at the table, and be included from the beginning of projects impacting our shared historical buildings.  A mature city values its heritage.  Other mid-sized cities in Ontario have been willing and able to push the creative inclusion of heritage buildings into new developments of various size:  isn't London good enough to have the same?  Shouldn't we demand better for ourselves?

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Disastrous dyke design

Last Monday, June 13, a public information centre took place regarding the plans for the West London Dyke Replacement – Phase 3.  (Disappointingly, the files for the latest information centre are not available on the City's Web site.) The display boards showed plans for a replacement of the existing dyke between Rogers Avenue to Carrothers Avenue, an uninspired design that would extend the current sheer cliff constructed in 2007 from the forks of the Thames to Rogers Avenue.

The area of the dyke to be replaced, running from Rogers Avenue north to Carrothers Avenue. (April 2014 aerial photo from City of London)

While many (yours truly included) enjoy the pathway portion of the 2007 reconstruction as a means of recreation and transportation, there is a significant lack of shade (i.e. no trees) and no means of interacting with the river, something that Londoners over and over again have said is a top priority for rejuvenating Askunesippi (AKA "the Thames").  It very much conveys an oudated mindset of constructing the built environment as a "concrete jungle" by dividing humans from the natural environment.  Even the guardrail – aside from being ugly as sin – with its prison-like bars evokes the sensation of separation, as if the river was an exhibit at the zoo.

A view of the West London dyke, with the 2007 replacement visible in upper-right. (February 9, 2013)

As seen in the photo above from 2013, the sloped dyke almost has an amphitheatre vibe to it.  Instead of replacing this slope with a vertical wall, we need an imaginative concept that would allow for citizens to transcend the dyke, perhaps with a stepped design to allow people to walk and sit along the river in a safe and enjoyable manner.  What would it be like to have a concert or play happening on the banks of the river in Harris Park, with the audience taking it in while seated in a stadium-like setting across the water? Sounds like an ideal setting to me!  Isn't that what the "Back to the River" project is supposed to be all about?

Don't get me wrong: the design isn't a complete failure.  I do like the aspects of having a sitting area at the top of the dyke situated at the end of each of the beautiful dead-end streets in Blackfriars akin to the one at the terminus of Rogers Avenue.  The displays also included a variety of options for guardrail that don't include prison bars.

A view of the West London dyke, with the 2007 replacement visible in upper-right and existing guardrail along the right of the photo. (July 8, 2012)

In addition to the shortcomings of the dyke design, current plans include taking down at large number of trees, including some majestic cottonwoods that primarily thrive along rivers and other damp areas.  Removing this canopy coverage is hugely detrimental to the pathway along the river.  While one can understand having to remove the myraid of trees that have grown in the dyke (although it could be argued that trees will hold up a slope better than any man-made construct), removing any along the path will take decades to replace.  Trees do not grow overnight, and need to have their value fully considered and not simply viewed as an obstacle to construction.

Finally, the existing guardrail allows folks to view the river with ease, and also to get up and down the dyke without hiking for kilometres to the nearest access point.  I fully encourage reusing the current style of guardrail, and even better would be to use the current materials: they have a charm unlike any other spot along the pathway and mesh wonderfully with the culturally significant Blackfriars Bridge.

Comments are being accepted until Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016.  This construction project won't only affect the denizens of the Blackfriars neighbourhood, but the population at large: we have a chance to make something beautiful out of something so mundane. Be sure to get comments in by sending to:
Cameron Gorrie, P.Eng, Stantec Consulting Ltd.
600-171 Queens Avenue, London, N6A 5J7

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Council haste makes heritage waste

"The wrecking ball cometh."

These words (apparently) bring music to the ears of eight members of London's council, given that they voted against designation of 759 Elizabeth Street (AKA the "Carling Cottage") as a heritage property at the November 10th council meeting, the winning decision in an surprisingly-close 8-7 vote.  A week before at the Planning and Environment Committee meeting on November 2nd, the committee voted 3-2 against designation, with those voting against using flawed logic to guide their decision, including red herrings like the condition of the roof and the outdated furnace as reasons to allow demolition.  The two voting for designation made great arguments for not demolishing the cottage, specifically the historical context of the building and the fact that its orientation predates the surrounding road network.  Not only that, but heritage designation does not preclude applying for a demolition permit.

505 Talbot Street, at left, undergoes deconstruction after the demolition of 507 and 511. (Nov. 11, 2015)

This scenario has played out all too commonly with the current council:  we recently also lost three heritage buildings at 505, 507, and 511 Talbot Street (the building at 511 formerly home to The Shire pub) to be replaced with a very uninspiring skyscraper.  While I fully support intensification when it comes to new developments, councillors would do well to remember the following adage: "It's not how dense you make it, but how you make it dense."  Developing bland concrete blocks at the expense of cherished heritage buildings is reckless and irresponsible.  Unfortunately, only one councillor – Bill Armstrong – voted against the demolition.

To justify the demolition of heritage buildings and endure the resulting loss of history and culture, the structures replacing the existing must provide a positive net benefit to the community.  Unless plans for the new highrise include some beautiful architecture and mixed use, a net benefit will not be in the cards for the Talbot properties. It is certainly not the case at 759 Elizabeth where the developers are proposing to build a duplex in place of the cottage.

The Carling Cottage, as seen in the London Free Press on Nov. 2, 2015.

Now, the Carling Cottage may not be a grand mansion or the home of anybody famous, but it provides an impeccable example of vernacular architecture.  The cottage was built in the "Regency" style, as outlined in this description of the property from the 2010 MLS listing (462279):
A unique Ontario cottage purchased by the owners great grandfather from Sir John Carling at the time of the Wolsey Barracks purchase in about 1878. “Carling Cottage” as it is known, is one of the first brick homes in the district built in 1827. Initially it faced Adelaide St which was the concession rd at the time and the carriage house was located on Oxford St, now demolished. It has been maintained in the style period having original pumpkin pine flrs, fireplace, large 6x6 Georgian windows, many original glass, however the whole house has been refurbished, which inc. the fireplace, wiring, new plumbing, shingles(07) new sub-floors (kit, bthrm and mudrm) and the large covered front porch (30.8ft x 6.2ft) to its original design where you can sit in one of 4 black rockers. If you appreciate a perfect peaceful piece of London history this is the cottage for you. Large 8 x 12 storage cottage also located on 78 x 150 ft lot(exclude chandelier in DR)
This property is steeped in history, originally belonging in London Township.  Charles Henry and his family lived there, on lands owned by Sir John Carling of brewery fame, to work the farm. The house's front orients toward the forks of the Thames, which would have provided a wonderful view over the farm fields leading into the town of London. Years passed and the city grew up around this place as it endured for over 150 years. 

Preserving vernacular buildings is just as important as keeping Eldon House and other large, elaborate homes: we don't save nearly enough buildings that represent the working-class person of the day.  A good example of this is the number of plantation houses saved and restored as compared to the slave quarters, even though the humble slave quarters were lived in and represent the lives of many more people.  We should pay special attention to and cherish those rare small buildings from the past that provide insight into the lives of everyday folks.

I applaud the seven councillors who voted to save the Carling Cottage, and thank them for their serious consideration of this important home.  The members of the community who supported keeping the house intact also require recognition for trying to conserve an important property. 

Everyone needs to know that the greenest building is the one already builtUnfortunately, the demolition equipment has arrived and deconstruction is expected to begin tomorrow (December 3), so we must bid farewell to the Carling Cottage.  Maybe you can pick up a piece of history from the rubble and pay tribute to the past inhabitants.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Do worry, bee not happy

Most people know intuitively the importance of pollinators to the food chain. Pollinators include bats, birds, and primarily a variety of insects such as bees and butterflies: without them, about one third of our food would disappear. Bees in particular play a very important role, ensuring pollination of food crops and plants in the wild.

The past few weeks have highlighted the importance of pollinators. On November 24th, Plight of the Pollinators: making London pollinator friendly took place at the Central Library and attendees packed the Wolf Performance Hall. Experts in the field told the audience how bee populations are suffering, mostly from the advent of the use of neonicotinoid pesticides on food crops and even in plants at garden centres.

The next day, the provincial government released a discussion paper entitled Pollinator Health: a proposal for enhancing pollinator health and reducing the use of neonicotinoid pesticides in Ontario.  It calls for a reduction in over-winter the mortality rate of honey bees to 15% by 2020, and reducing the number of acres of corn and soybean treated by neonicotinoids by 80% by 2017.  

On December 9 (last Tuesday), two Ontario ministries held a public forum to have input on the discussion paper.  I sat at a rather insightful table with three farmers and three local-food activists. 

The representative from the agriculture ministry told us that in 2014, honey bees experienced a 58% mortality rate.  In 2012 and 2013, 70% and 75% (respectively) of the dead honey bees had neonicotinoid residue.

One of the farmers at the table tends to just under 100 acres, and she claimed that reducing the use of neonicotinoids would just mean farmers would have to find other pesticides, possibly reverting to older products that potentially pose more harm.  While she doesn't use neonicotinoids on all of her crops, she believed in the necessity for her sweet corn and snap peas.  Luckily for her, sweet corn currently falls under the exception list for the proposed ban.

The other two farmers had a larger operation, planting soybean for many seasons. They claimed that they saw very little difference in pest control between the untreated seeds and the seeds treated with neonicotinoids, and in fact that the treated seeds grew with more difficulty.  The only problem now: they can't purchase untreated seeds.

Applying neonicotinoids has the goal of killing insects that eat the plants; however, it has a detrimental effect on the good insects doing the pollinating.  The substances are derived from nicotine and gets used on almost 100% of corn crops and about 60% of soybeans - which, according to the representative from the environment ministry, gives little to no benefit for the latter.

In all, the proposed ban focusses on where the pesticides are needed and eliminate needless application. The way the neonicotinoids attack the nervous system of bees leads to the question of the effects on human health: we eat the very food treated with these pesticides.

Pollinator garden at Church of the Transfiguration

I have had the great opportunity to visit some pollinator gardens in London, three of them located at churches in the city (Church of the Transfiguration, St. John the Evangelist, and St. Andrew Memorial).  I encourage you to visit them and learn more.

There are some easy ways to help your local pollinators, including planting a pollinator-friendly garden (check out the University of Guelph's Honey Bee Research Centre), ensuring that the plants you purchase at the garden centre are free of neonicotinoids, and pull those weeds instead of using any chemical pesticides.  Make sure those plants are native species, too!

If we take good care of the bees, the bees will take good care of us.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Keeping PACE with our energy use

During this term of council, I have been proud to serve on London’s Advisory Committee on the Environment (ACE). The committee provides input, advice, and makes recommendations to City Council on environmental matters affecting London.

Aside from firsthand experience with how thing get done at City Hall, serving on the committee has given me a chance to discuss exciting new ideas for improving our city’s environmental performance with smart and committed fellow citizens. One of these proposals I think is so promising that I have included it in my platform: a Property Assessment for Clean Energy (PACE) program.

Here’s how it works: property owners make energy improvements to their homes or buildings. This may include installing high-efficiency furnaces and water heaters, new windows and doors or other air sealing measures, renewable heat sources such as solar and geothermal, and more. Rather than paying the cost of these improvements up front, property owners would pay for them over several years in instalments added to their property tax assessment.

There are several benefits. By making our homes more energy efficient, we reduce carbon emissions that are contributing to climate change. Property owners who participate save money on utility bills, since they are using less energy.  They money they save goes toward paying the loan back, and what remains left over can be spent in the local economy.

Energy improvements are beneficial, but they can have high upfront costs. A PACE program will put these kinds of improvements within reach for families with a wider range of incomes, allowing them to save money and lower their carbon footprint as well.

Another upside to PACE is that even if a family plans to sell their home within a few years, energy improvements still make sense. The new furnace, windows, or other improvements stay with the home and continue generating savings for the new owner. The cost also stays with the property, and the new owners who are seeing the benefits of a more energy efficient home continue to pay for the improvements on their property tax assessment until they are paid for.

The other part of this win-win-win situation is economic stimulus.  There will be many local jobs created for the vendors and installers of qualifying equipment, which means the money being spent by property owners will go to companies in London to employ workers living in the city.

The City of London is currently investigating the benefits of such a program and how it could be implemented here. An ACE proposal in 2013 was passed by City Council, with staff investigating in 2014 for a planned pilot project in 2015. Several US states have made this kind of program available already. Toronto also approved a pilot program in 2013, which they call the Home Energy Loan Program, or HELP.

I have championed a PACE program at the Advisory Committee on the Environment and will continue to do so on City Council. It makes sense to provide Londoners with easier ways to improve energy efficiency at their homes and businesses, and to create a stable environment for employment in this sector. We can help people save money, create jobs, and make London an environmental leader at all at the same time.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

How taxes work for you

Taxes are nobody’s favourite. Most people don’t enjoy paying them and don’t enjoy talking about them either. Doing both is important, though. Since property taxes provide the annual budget for crucial city services, Londoners need to understand how they work and so we can discuss how to make them work better.

There’s a brief video by the City of London that explains how property taxes are calculated – using the cost to provide services and the value of properties. It’s even more important to understand where this money goes. Even if you’re not a homeowner, you pay property taxes indirectly through your rent.

About 15% of your property tax bill is a provincial tax to fund education. The rest goes into the annual budget for city services. That includes everything the city provides  police, fire, and ambulance services, roads, sidewalks, transit, parks, trails, museums, recreation centres, and libraries. A breakdown of how much goes to each of those services is available on the city Web site.  Keep in mind that Ontario municipalities receive only 9% of total tax revenues, yet are responsible for over 50% of the infrastructure.

These are things we need as a city, so obviously I can’t promise to make your taxes go away if I’m elected. What I can promise is that I will consider with every decision and vote, whether the proposal at hand provides good value for taxes that Londoners pay. I also will strive to provide you with clear information on how well the city is delivering its services. The city has a responsibility to provide the services that Londoners rely on. It also has a responsibility to collect only as much in tax as it needs to deliver those services, and to do so in a fair and transparent way.

That doesn’t mean we can get rid of everything that isn’t police, garbage collection, or transit. The other parts of the city budget – things like culture and recreational facilities – are also crucial to making London a good place to live, but they need to make sense.

Part of being respectful of the taxes that Londoners pay is making sure that the city grows in a responsible and sustainable fashion. As noted in The London Plan, all growth patterns are not created equal. The more spread out the city becomes as it grows, the less efficient and the more expensive it will be to provide adequate transit, waste removal, and utility services. That means the city would need a higher tax rate to provide these required services.

On the other hand, if London grows in a more compact way – growing up rather than out in areas that can handle it, and finding infill projects that are a good match for the existing community – it will be much easier and less expensive to maintain and improve city services.

On council, I will support budgeting and planning decisions that provide Londoners with good value for the public dollar. I will work to ensure that your taxes are spent in meaningful ways that improve the city, that we take into account how we are going to provide services over the long term, and that you have access to information about how well the city is doing on both of those things.

Taxes still may not be your favourite thing, but you can have more confidence in how they are being used to build and maintain our city.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Common courtesy for your neighbours

I have heard many ideas and concerns from Ward 6 residents over the last eight months of my campaign. There’s one issue though that has come up at every single debate, and more frequently than others at the door. That issue is student housing.

Londoners are proud of our college and our university. We know how many people they teach and employ; however, they can sometimes be a source of neighbourhood conflict for those living nearby. Ward 6 residents have reported untidy lots, buildings with heritage value left in disrepair, and safety concerns with large numbers of people sharing a single-family home.

How do we find a balance between making sure there is affordable housing for students and young people, while maintaining the character of our neighbourhoods? There are a number of things to consider.

First, there is legal precedent that more than three unrelated people sharing single home makes it a lodging house. Lodging houses are not allowed in R1 residential zones, where only single detached homes are allowed. Some neighbourhood groups would like to see this implemented in London, and in general, I support the idea. Not everywhere is an R1 zone, so lodging houses would still be allowed in higher density residential areas – places that are more likely to have the services, like transit, to support the extra people.

Fixing transit in London will also help our neighbourhoods over time. If students can get quickly and efficiently across town by bus or bike, more will be willing to live farther away from campus. That means they will get to know the city beyond the campus bubble better, and hopefully start to think of London as home. It also means that housing all of the city’s students won’t fall to just a few neighbourhoods in the same way it does now.

In many cases though, students or tenants aren’t the problem at all. Some landlords neglect their properties, putting in the minimum amount of time and money it takes to find renters. This is where we see uncut lawns, buildings in disrepair, and where we start to worry about the safety of some of our student neighbours.

I hope there aren't any properties as bad as this in your neighbourhood!

Some of these landlords aren’t concerned at all about how their properties are reflecting on the community because it isn’t their community. Many live in Toronto or even further away, and own property in London either because their children were once students here, or merely see it as a good investment. We need to make sure these property owners do their part, even if they aren’t around to live with the results.

Most of the things neighbours complain about are covered under existing by-laws, whether it’s maintaining the yard, disposing of waste, or making sure that fire safety regulations are observed. The trouble is that most of these by-laws are only enforced when a complaint gets filed.  

London can do better at holding absentee landlords accountable, for the sake of both long-term residents and renters. We can increase inspections under the Residential Rental Licensing program, and also step up by-law enforcement in targeted areas near campus.

All of these measures will help maintain the character of our neighbourhoods, while keeping all residents safe and allowing them to enjoy their community.