By LARRY CORNIES
It seems the number of broken arms showing up at London’s hospitals is no higher this summer than the average. Which is odd, given the amount of backslapping lately at city hall and its assorted arm’s-length agencies.
In case you’ve been on vacation or sheltering under an umbrella for the past month, a series of surveys and reports has suddenly made London hot and living here cool.
First came the survey in early July by Maclean’s and the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, declaring London the seventh-best-run city in the country, behind Burnaby, B.C., Saskatoon, Surrey, B.C., Vancouver, Longueuil, Que., and Sherbrooke, Que. We’re ostensibly the best-run municipality in Ontario.
Then mid-month came the annual State of the Downtown report, subsequently delivered to the city’s planning committee. It showed a dramatic increase in the number of people who make downtown home, a trend toward higher property values, falling vacancy rates, and rising affluence among those who live there.
This week, yet another favourable rating, this one by Next Generation Consulting, headquartered in Madison, Wis. Using census data, the firm compared cities on seven indices: vitality, earning, learning, social capital, cost of living, after hours, and around town. Bottom line: London ranked ninth in the country in terms of the “top
Canadian hot spots for young, talented workers.” Ahead of London on the list were Victoria, Ottawa, Vancouver, Kingston, Halifax, Toronto, Calgary and Saskatoon.
Three reports in four weeks, all showing London’s star is rising.
Back in May 2004, when Jeff Fielding was introduced as London’s new city manager, he told a crowd at London’s Chamber of Commerce, “I don’t own this franchise.” Rather, he said his job would be to act as a coach and “make the team better.” In various private and public settings, he spoke of his goal: He wanted London to be one of the 10 best-managed cities in the country.
Having observed the Linda Reed, Jeff Malpass and George Duncan debacles at city hall, the messy departure of chief executive Don Edwards from London Hydro, the platinum parachute handed to David Oliver at the London Convention Centre, complaints about a culture of sexual harassment among some city workers, and more closed-door meetings at city council than an abacus has beads, many of us in the media had one reaction: Yeah, OK. Good luck with that.
Well, if Fielding hasn’t already done it, he’s getting awfully close.
Measuring success in public administration is difficult and always somewhat skewed, because “municipalities aren’t all the same . . . there will always be some limitations on the way those data are collected and analyzed,” says John Yardley, president of St. Catharines-based research and consulting firm Metrics@Work. “This is true of all research — even laboratory research.”
Peter Moorhouse, Next Generation’s Canadian consultant, thinks London’s top-10 ranking could be the early fruits of its 2004 creative city task force report and continuing references to it.
“In London’s case, you don’t have a single score in any one of the indexes that falls well below the on-par average,” Moorhouse says. “The only index in which you’re slightly below the average is the after-hours index (bars, restaurants, music stores, etc.) They’re an indicator of the . . . life that’s being catered to in the city after 5 p.m. on a weekday and on weekends.
“The one index where London scores very, very well is what we call the around-town index,” Moorhouse said, defining the measurement as the ability of a young person to get around town if they choose not to own a car (public transit, “walkability” and bike lanes) as well as the availability of means to get out of town and back again (buses, trains, planes).
Fielding, meanwhile, says he uses a basket of measures to gauge the city’s progress toward excellence and that he hasn’t yet formulated a single index that would tell him how we’re doing. But he’s modestly gratified by the “steady improvement” compared to other cities.
It’s been a while since “London” and “cool” have been seen so often in the same sentence. Gotta admit, though, the two words look kinda pretty, side by side.