Singular Focus Leads Only to Multiple Problems

By Jason Menard,

I opened the paper today and I was amazed at what I read. It just seemed all so familiar.

A city, reeling from mayoral scandals and political impropriety, is concerned about how it’s going to retain its youth.

A city, with plenty of aging, empty industrial land within its core, finds growth success in the suburbs. While “A louer” signs abound in depressed, historically poorer areas of the traditional core, new megaplexes and commercial centres are sprouting up to support the burgeoning suburban communities.

In the same publication, a youth advocate states that citizens must be involved in each and every decision the government makes, and suggests that what the city really needs more of is candidates under the age of 30.

Les temps sont durs pour les jeunes,” a sub-headline reads. “… près de 19,000 jeunes de 15 à 24 ans avaient perdu leur emploi en juilliet.”

No, this isn’t London (as the French quotes may have given away). This is Montreal. Frankly, the fact that this city has concerns about retaining its youth shocks me — after all, I have it on solid authority that a well-connected city with a comprehensive public transit system, affordable core housing, and a strong social support network is the solution for everything.

All sarcasm aside, Montreal’s one of the most youth-friendly cities that I can imagine. The fact that the majority of people rent their homes and apartments means there are plenty of affordable — and quality — housing options for youth. Public transit is fast, affordable, and connects people with all areas. In fact, in this city many people actively choose to use public transit in lieu of driving to the core — there is no “bus people” stigma. And, of course, provincially funded social programs abound — despite the fact that they’re built upon an economic house of cards that’s just waiting to tumble ($5 daycare sounds great as long as you have those other provinces subsidizing the tax base, after all). And the nightlife. Don’t forget the nightlife.

So if a Youth Mecca like Montreal, with an abundance of elite universities and post-secondary educational facilities, has concerns about youth, what could the real problem be

As James Carville coined for the 1992 U.S. presidential campaign, “The economy, stupid.”

Many people don’t like to admit it, but with the students returning to Western and Fanshawe, it becomes abundantly clear that London is a college town. But unlike other college towns (say, Ann Arbor, MI, or Cambridge, MA) we obsess about retaining the students we graduate.

To a lesser extent, Montreal and Toronto are college towns, benefitting from the influx of tens of thousands of students to support local businesses. But it’s also safe to say most of those students (the ones who come to the facilities from outside the city or province) don’t stay after graduation. Realistically, we shouldn’t be surprised that Western and Fanshawe’s students leave town after graduation. It’s not necessarily about jobs; it’s about familiarity and returning home.

So even if we can’t totally nail down the definitive problem, we can identify the definitive solution — balance.

Montreal’s economy is being artificially depressed by the province’s singular focus on language. With a government that’s actively making it difficult for anglophones and allophones to live comfortably or do business in the province (and let’s not start with public displays of faith), businesses are continuing to pick up and move to friendlier environments like Toronto or Calgary.

In fact, Montreal seems to exist in spite of itself. A government obsessed with ensuring a homogeneous French identity, has somehow created a community of interlinked social and cultural fiefdoms.

But look a little closer and you can see how much the lily (or the fleur-de-lys, in this case) has been gilded. Sure, new academic buildings and luxury condos are rising in the downtown core, but the jobs that support them are continuing their 40-year migration west.

A singular governmental focus works for those within its purview, but for those outside of it, the actions can create an uncomfortable environment for those who don’t fit its primary mandate.

And there’s a danger of that happening in London. The exclusive focus, by some, on insular development has created the perception of a lack of interest in development outside quote-unquote approved boundaries. Focusing exclusively on Millennials’ needs today is both short-sighted and exclusionary.

In both cases, you’re valuing the needs and desires of one group over any consideration of those outside that group.

You can make a one-legged platform look as appealing as you want — when it comes to actually holding any weight, it fails miserably. And despite the belief that London’s problems are unique, there are very real examples of shared problems and attempted solutions beyond our city’s boundaries.

After all, when you focus on only one thing, you tend to miss the potential and opportunities that exist all around us.

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