By Jason Menard,
It turns out that, as we get older, those so-called bubbles don’t disappear. In fact, they grow more plentiful — and more insular. But for London to thrive, those bubbles need to burst.
In many cases, I consider myself an outsider on the inside. I believe it gives me a unique perspective, in both life and business, but by no means do I consider myself unique.
That statement may seem paradoxical, but it’s a perfect statement to explain why we, as a city, need to be aware not just of our experiences, but also of our self-imposed limitations.
As we grow up, certain experiences come to define how our foundations are built. I was born in Montreal, but moved to London at a young enough age to be able to say that I spent my formative years in The Forest City. When I went to Western, I resisted the Western bubble, due to my suburban roots. And, when I eventually served as Editor-in-Chief of The Gazette, I did my best to try to bridge the town-and-gown gap that persists to this day.
I moved back to Montreal and spent a number of years away from London. With family roots here, I was aware of what was happening in the city, but was by no means intimate with its changes. Since moving back a decade ago, I’ve been able to temper my opinions with a broader perspective.
I try to apply that to my work life as well — combining perspectives gained (and maintained) in journalistic exploits with my day-to-day business communications role.
So what have I learned? That I only know what I don’t know. And that my greatest growth has come from listening to a variety of opinions and perspectives.
And what have I seen? That those most certain of their actions and beliefs are those most insulated in their bubbles.
If I wanted to be misrepresent myself, I could position myself as a voice of reason, but that wouldn’t be honest. If I have any strength, it’s a comprehensive understanding that I don’t have all the answers — and that my various experiences have shown me that there are many different types of shoes in which to walk.
There are so many bubbles in the city of London. The town and gown situation remains — and likely always will. Certain segments of the city are clearly differentiated. I’ve always lived in the south end of the city — Glen Cairn, Pond Mills, and now Westminster — and we feel the difference. Stuck in the philosophical middle between an affluent north and the often-discussed ‘need’ areas like SoHo, OEV, and downtown, we often feel not just left out, but completely overlooked. And there’s a downtown/suburban disparity that further divides the city — a certain dismissiveness of suburban life that attempts to denigrate the value of those suburbanites’ contributions. And that doesn’t even get into the divide between the local Twitterverse and the people who contribute to the London Free Press’ on-line comments and the silent majority of London’s 360,000 people.
Everywhere you look in this city, there are bubbles. Council and pundits alike joke about NIMBY-ism, but ignore the motivations behind that sentiment. They forget to add the two most important silent letters in NIMBY — WC.
I am engaged in, but not a part of, several communities in this city — both on-line and off. And I see the disconnect. There are so many different ways to engage with the community, yet it seems never the twain shall meet.
We have an aggressively opinionated on-line community, but those ideas are formed often in isolation of what’s going on outside of that universe. Conversely, there are many Londoners who choose to engage in more traditional methods who may be missing out on vital information that’s being presented on-line. There are students at Western who have no idea that White Oaks or Argyle Malls exist; just as there are suburbanites who haven’t set foot downtown since before Galleria ran Godzilla-like over the area’s small businesses.
There is no one perfect Londoner out there with all the answers. But the only way to solve the puzzle of this city’s problems is to gather all those pieces — the rudiments of ideas and solutions — that exist across the city and its demographics.
We need to burst the bubbles. We need to stop thinking our way is the best way and start figuring out how to bring all these ideas together. We have to understand that the 90-year-old living next to what they still call the ‘126’ is just as valuable to the process as the hotshot youngster burning up the blogosphere from her downtown apartment.
Of course, that’s just my experience. In straddling so many perspectives, it’s only served to open my eyes to how little I actually know.
But the one thing I’m sure of is that the answers are out there — and if we keep sticking to our bubbles, then the only thing that will burst is our chance to improve our community.