By Jason Menard
There’s an interesting species of bird that’s taken root in the Forest City. It appears benign and works, but left unchecked its territorial obsession can serve to prevent other areas from flourishing.
The species? Parrotus Downtownicus.
You’ve likely heard them without knowing what they are. They have a couple of distinct calls. The first is a distinct squawk heard every time there’s a new proposal for the city.
Mention bringing food trucks to the Forest City? “Bwak, put it downtown.”
How about a casino at the Fairgrounds? “Bwak, put it downtown.”
Attracting new residents to London? “Bwak, force them downtown.”
And on and on. Parrotus Downtownicus, sadly is a very anti-social bird. It looks down its long, aquiline nose at those whose natural habitat is not within its preferred five block radius. It’s pronounced raised eyebrows question the value of other lifestyles.
Yet while the Parrotus Downtownicus‘ harsh squawk is quick to shout down other birds, it’s noted for its tendency to flail dramatically when it perceives an affront to its presumed dominance. Much like a soccer player, it flounces about drawing attention to the perceived injustices perpetrated against it when mere suggestions of other alternatives that don’t involve fluffing its own nest are produced.
What this species tends to ignore is that there are a number of birds in this Forest City. And while they share many of the same feathers, they’re not encouraged to flock together unless they follow Parrotus Downtownicus‘ lead.
But one only needs look at the Canadian Goose to see that true progress and incredible feats can only be shared when other birds assume the lead from time to time.
London is comprised of 14 wards and even more communities. Yet the focus for a significant portion of council and council watchers is the core — often to the exclusion of the other 13 areas. Those who decry NIMBYism are often the worst at selective OIMBYism (only in my backyard) — picking and choosing only the best, whilst decrying the reticence of others to accept anything less.
Parrotus Downtownicus has another cry. It sounds like “How? How?”
It’s delivered in a supercilious manner: “How could they vote for candidate X?” or “How could they support proposal Y?”
Sadly, the bird appears to be deaf — asking the question, but unable to listen to the responses. It is unable to understand that there are a number of other birds in the Forest City that are upset with the insular and narrow focus on city growth.
What Parrotus Downtownicus misses is that a forest grows not in isolation, but is made strong and viable long-term by its diversity — no one part is greater than its whole. Just as a lake without tributaries quickly dries up, so too will a downtown without supportive communities suffer the same fate.
I have the honour of working downtown and I frequently choose entertainment options based downtown. But I live in another part of the Forest — and am often made to feel that my neck of the woods is less-than-important.
Our flock is chastised for shopping at brand-name grocery stores or malls — the very same stores, however, that employee the children of my neighbours; the very same stores and establishments that allow our community to support downtown venues as well.
We need to learn from history. How many empires, consolidating power and wealth, have been toppled by angry peasants outside the chosen area, frustrated by the lack of equitable distribution of resources? Today, we fight back not with weapons, but with the ballot — choosing those candidates who best represent our interests. That’s why Parrotus Downtownicus is frequently incredulous at our voting and priorities — it has no idea what our interests are.
But it shouldn’t be us versus them. No species of bird is more valuable and the Forest City needs to work together to continue to be a healthy, viable living entity.
There are those who say downtown is the heart of London. And while that may be true, it’s also true that you can ‘live’ without a heart. There are artificial solutions, there are machines that can keep the ol’ ticker moving.
What we can’t live without is our brain. We can’t live without a functioning central nervous system that sends — and receives — messages from all over. A system that prioritizes some messages and delaying response to others — but a system that knows that a gangrenous appendage can lead to death. A system that works to ensure all parts of the body thrives.
And while it’s true that we can live without a heart — is it really living? To enjoy a successful life, we need to work in harmony. To see the Forest City flourish, we need to appreciate all of the forest and not just selected trees.
Will that happen? I wish I could be more optimistic, but when think tanks allegedly promoting all-city growth are essentially confined to a two-minute walking area between the Convention Centre, the Central Library, and City Hall, it’s hard to feel that everyone’s valued.
The kings of our jungle need to explore the other parts of the forest. We need to go out to the Cherryhill Malls and talk to the seniors; we need to visit the White Oaks area and talk to young families; we need to head out east to Argyle or west to Byron and make every tree in this forest feel equally majestic. There are plenty of trees falling in that part of the Forest City, but there’s nobody around — or inclined — to hear.
We need to listen, learn, and act — sharing the wealth across the forest to ensure a thriving ecosystem.
There are issues and resources that all parts of the city can learn to use better. But instead of focusing on the needs of one, why can’t we discuss ways to find solutions that — while not perfect for one area — effectively consider the needs of all? When can we stop thinking of ourselves as downtown residents or Westminster residents, core versus suburbs, and just think of ourselves as residents of the Forest City? Instead of focusing on creating a better London for me, why can’t we all start focusing on a better London for all?
To start? It’s time for Parrotus Downtownicus to spread its wings.
I was searching for an essay on “us vs. them” and I Google found your post. I have attended a lot of ReThink London events and was often made to feel like I was from suburban hell. Why anyone would live in as unwalkable an area as Byron was beyond comprehension for many at the ReThink meetings. I’d tell ’em I walked to the bank, the grocery store, the LCBO, to restaurants and more but it made no difference. My home was in an unwalkable waste land and nothing I could say was going to change that. It was Parrotus Downtownicus against the suburbanite Byron bird.
I was searching for an essay on “us vs. them” and I Google found your post. I have attended a lot of ReThink London events and was often made to feel like I was from suburban hell. Why anyone would live in as unwalkable an area as Byron was beyond comprehension for many at the ReThink meetings. I’d tell ‘em I walked to the bank, the grocery store, the LCBO, to restaurants and more but it made no difference. My home was in an unwalkable waste land and nothing I could say was going to change that. It was Parrotus Downtownicus against the suburbanite Byron bird.
In all, I believe people have the best intentions at heart. My concern when the discussion focuses less on what’s best for London as a whole and more on a small group. I think ReThink is a good concept, but the execution was lacking — focusing on the core and having all meetings in the core. That’s fine for one group of people, but what about seniors in Cherryhill, or new Canadians in White Oaks? We have to take the discussion to them and weigh everyone’s opinions equally. Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry your ReThink experience was negative.
I think the suburban issue comes about because people focus on the here and now. But we were all “Millennials” at one point — as we age, our priorities tend to change (https://jaymenard.com/2013/07/04/millennials-theyre-just-like-us-wait-and-see/). Yes, there are a few exceptions, but for the most part we need to focus on a sustainable and inclusive life cycle, as opposed to ‘shaming’ people because they choose a suburban life. It’s counterproductive and pretentious.