Weekly Posts

Amy-of-All-Trades

Today I want to ask you a question; what is your passion? What do you love to do?

Are you sitting in front of your screen smiling because I just caused you to think of something you love, or are you scratching your head wondering how to answer this query?  If you’re identifying with the latter, you are not alone.  Most people are not in tune with their passion; just getting by in life, not ahead.   Discovering your passion is one of the best things you can do for yourself because what happens next will delight you and will unfold before your very eyes.

I have come to learn that my passion has always been my passion but I never gave it the time it deserved.  You will likely find that your passion has presented itself to you on a number of occasions before you actually discovered it and with some thought and consideration its recurring theme will flash at you like hotel signage on Las Vegas Boulevard.   

In discovering my passion my world has opened up.  I am more confident, more knowledgeable, more content and more motivated about my future.  I am a better person, a better mother and a better wife.  I have done things that are out of my comfort zone, made new friends and begun to surround myself with people who share similar interests.  I now have a better appreciation for the things I value and the goals I want to achieve. 

One of the remuneration for all this hard work has come in the form of a new friend.  Her name is Amy-of-All-Trades.  Actually she is just called Amy but Amy-of-All-Trades is her business name.  I have taken a fast liking to her and have felt a strong connection with her.  This doesn’t happen to me very often but I attribute it to the fact that her whole philosophy behind her business is based on pursuing her life’s passion.  She has created a blog and business based on two common goals:

1.  To live a jubilant  life and 
2.  To provoke thought in others about how one lives

Amy has created a challenge for herself:

Goal:  Amy is eager to fulfill her need for soulful work. She wants to raise $500 to source the cost of a training course required to pursue her life’s passion.  Of all funds raised, 25% will be donated to a good cause. She provides experienced services while wearing many hats:

  • Dog caretaker (walks, visits etc.)
  • Fashion Designer/Sewer
  • Visual Artist
  • Child caretaker (she is a former nanny)
  • Provider of Purpose Sessions (establishing your Life Purpose Statement)

Progress:  Amy has earned $260 so far.  She is more than halfway to her goal of $500.

I really respect Amy’s attitude and spirited outlook on life.  I want to spread the love as my contribution and as a means to pay it forward.  Visit her blog to find out more about her and to catch this contagious bug.  Consider booking one of her services to be a part of this unique concept and tell her City Mom sent you and you’ll get an extra smile! :)

Amy`s contact information:
Web: www.amylynn.intuitwebsites.com
Blog:  http://amyoat.wordpress.com
Email:  amy-of-all-trades@live.ca
Twitter:  @amyoat
Phone:  (519)868-6721

London Votes 2010 Part IIII – Eric Southern

Eric Southern

Eric Southern

 

One of my favourite sayings goes like this: “Time is a healer, a friend, a maker of dreams.” I always liked this saying because it shed a favourable light on time opposed to the usual tendency towards it. No one ever has enough of it; it moves too quickly or moves too slowly. In today’s case I don’t have such a positive attitude. It’s because I do not have enough time as a full-time Mom with a full-time career, whom is also a full-time daughter, sister and friend with a giant part-time passion. It is because of this lack of time that I decided to narrow my inquiry into the 2010 Mayoral Campaign down to the two ‘front runners’. I did not see how it would be possible to interview (in person) 14 candidates, dictate the conversations and create the subsequent blog entries, so I only bit off as much as I could chew. 

Thankfully, a persistent Mayoral candidate, Eric Southern, helped me see the error of my ways. Could it be true that we perceive the two front-runners based on the exposure we have received from the various media sources? There are 12 other candidates that I did not interview and that we really haven’t heard much about. 

In the interest of time, I interviewed Eric Southern via email and am happy to share the results with you today. 

City Mom: Can you share a summary of what your 2010 campaign platform will include?  

Eric Southern: My campaign platform includes innovative ways to help correct some of the issues of our city. To address the issue of unemployment and make London a strong leader in technology I am proposing the city build a fiber network infrastructure. To increase the quality, delivery and efficiency of city services I plan on implementing a philosophical change to a Kaizen style of management and procedures at city hall and all city services. A Kaizen philosophy empowers the workers to increase their quality of life as well as their own productivity, which results in a more effective delivery of service as well as a happier and more engaged workforce. To increase the accountability of the city government to the people of London I plan on adopting the principles of open government

CM: I often enjoy walks throughout the downtown core with my husband and young daughter, but we always stay away from Dundas Street, between Ridout and Wellington. I have seen plans for revitalization of that area such as the LTC pilot project to reroute bus service, and the attempts to fill retail space with national chains and large independent businesses. What else are you planning to carry out to bring that section of downtown back to life and make it a family friendly place?  

ES: I plan on incentivizing the development of unoccupied or dilapidated buildings in the downtown area by increasing the tax rates for those buildings. I am also considering increasing taxes on parking lots that do not meet a vehicle occupancy rate which would incentivize creating multi-level parking facilities as opposed to more flat (unattractive) lots. I also plan on restructuring the bus routes throughout London to be based on arterial routes and support changes to the LTC restructuring of routes throughout the area. 

CM: There are many wonderful parks in the downtown core. A new recreational swimming pool was opened in Gibbons Park this summer and the revitalization of Piccadilly Park took place. What other Parks & Recreation enhancements are scheduled for the downtown core for 2011 and on? 

ES: I currently do not know all of the enhancements scheduled for 2011 but would like to have the city highlight and showcase the parks in the downtown area to better attract young families and professionals. I would work with Parks & Recreation as well as non-profits such as Reforest London to help increase the quality of green space in London. 

CM: Will the Parks & Recreation budget receive the same funding as we saw in 2009 & 2010? 

ES: I think that the Parks & Recreation budget is reasonable and hope to help expand the parks in London during my tenure. Considering all of the work accomplished by the Parks and Recreation Program, I will do my best to maintain their $11 million budget. 

CM: City Plaza (formerly Galleria) has seemed to struggle for years now. Do you have any long-term plans for City Plaza? 

ES: I currently do not see very many issues with City Plaza, if you have any please let me know. 

CM: Is there a possibility that we would see a big chain grocery store moving in to make it more convenient for families and individuals living in the downtown core? 

ES: I think there is a definite lack of service for groceries in the downtown area. I am not certain that City Plaza is the most appropriate place for locating a grocery store. I would do my best to have a developer in the area build a ground level grocery store in a new or existing development by using possible tax incentives. There are many factors that will make this feasible such as the fiber network being deployed downtime first, the attraction to downtown for new businesses due to the fiber, and the incentivized tax rates for dilapidated or abandoned buildings. 

CM: I recently created a post on City Mom called a Tale of Two Cities where I made a comparison between London and Toronto. I received feedback from my London readers that there was a lack of Mom & Tot programs available in the city. Do you have plans to increase city funding for such programs or offer incentives to private businesses wishing to open such programs in the downtown core?  

ES: I plan on supporting the libraries and community centers in their execution of services to the people of London. As I have a vested interest in expanding Mom & Tot programs in the near future I will do my best to see that those services are adequately covered by the libraries and community centers throughout London. I will also support non-profit groups in providing these services to families in London. 

****** 

Eric’s Campaign Site:  www.ericsouthern.ca
Twitter: @EricForMayor

Autumn Inspirations

Fall is my favourite time of year. I adore the crisp cool weather, the changing colours on the trees and the smells of burning leaves, freshly baked pumpkin pie and roasted turkey dinners; all things that autumn brings. This time of year always inspires me, and when I feel inspired I love to cook and bake. This past Saturday I woke up with a plan, and that plan involved making magic happen in the kitchen so I set off to the market to collect my ingredients. 

The Covent Garden Market has not received enough attention on City Mom. We are  really lucky to have such an eclectic, quaint and convenient market so close to home. There are so many fabulous things to see and do at the market and some amazing food vendors. I started out by purchasing a Halloween costume for little S at a 100% Canadian children’s clothing vendor called Happy Wear. All the clothes are made here in London. It feels so great to buy and support locally.  

Next I explored the food vendors. I scoured store after store and became inspired to make my two menu choices completely organic. This is not something I normally do. I buy some organic items here and there at my local grocery store but (due mainly to the cost and availability of organic ingredients) I usually go for the more cost-friendly option of non organic so I was rather surprised when I fell in love with a store called Homeopathy London in the northeast corner of the market. I found everything you could ever need to care for your family in the organic, enviro-friendly format from chlorine-free diapers to complete skin care lines for women. There was an entire section devoted to babies & children with names like Seventh Generation, Erba Organics, Weleda & Green Beaver Company.  It was confirmed for me that cost truly is a big factor when buying organic. For example a 32 pack of Broody Chick 100% natural, fully compostable diapers is $27.95 in comparison to $17.97 for a 140 pack of Pampers Baby Dry at a store like Walmart. Obviously you get what you pay for and the more expensive choice is clearly the better one for your child and for the environment but you need to have the budget available to shop in this manner. I long for the means to shop like this on a regular basis. 

But I digress…back to my dinner. I found all of my dry ingredients in this store, my fresh organic vegetables at Havaris Produce and my meat at Field Gate Organics. After a quick validation of my parking voucher (parking is offered free for two hours on weekends and thirty minutes on weekdays) I was heading back home to create my masterpieces. I’m sharing the recipes because they were both so delicious and perfect on a cool Fall evening.  

Autumn Beef Barely Soup
2 lbs ground beef (I used extra lean)
1 large onion chopped
½ cup chopped celery
3.5 cups water
29 oz beef broth*
1 cup barley
29 oz canned diced tomatoes
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
*I used 1 tsp of Better Than Bouillon organic beef base to 8 oz of boiling water as an alternative to the beef broth.  

Directions:
1. In a Dutch oven, cook the ground beef, onions and celery over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the water and broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Add barley and simmer for 10-20 minutes.
2. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Reduce heat to low; simmer for 1 to 2 hours.
This recipe yields 3 quarts and is perfect for freezing. Thaw in fridge. Place in a saucepan and heat through. There, two meals already sorted out for your busy week ahead.  

Autumn Beef Barley Soup

Chocolate Pumpkin Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups sugar
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice*
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
4 eggs
15 oz canned pumpkin*
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup canola oil
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
*I used a 15 oz can of Farmer’s Market Organic pumpkin pie mix as an alternative to the pumpkin pie spice and canned pumpkin.  

Directions:
1. In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients. In another bowl, combine the eggs, pumpkin, water and oil; mix into dry ingredients just until moistened. Stir in chocolate chips.
2. Pour into two greased loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 70 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 – 15 minutes before removing from pans.  

This recipe yields two loaves. Wrap one in foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature.  

Chocolate Pumpkin Bread

Note: Soup is best enjoyed with a glass of red wine and pumpkin bread with a hot cup of coffee. Mmmmm! Happy eating and Happy Fall!

London Votes 2010 Part III – Anne Marie DeCicco-Best

London Votes Part III

City Mom with Mayor DeCicco-Best

A first and exciting opportunity for City Mom to sit down with London’s Mayor, Anne Marie DeCicco-Best, to discuss the city of London and her current mayoral campaign as it relates to City Mom. 

City Mom:  Can you share a summary of what your 2010 campaign platform will include?
Mayor DeCicco-Best:  The campaign is really going to focus on a couple of things.  The economy is going to be the main focus as it has been in every one of my campaigns.  We have a new economic action plan that our council has unanimously supported and it will be the thing that drives our economy during this recession but also taking advantage of the new clusters of areas where we think we can compete very aggressively and proactively for new jobs. 

First and foremost we have a new advancement in a green technology park that broke ground where we have partnered with the University of Western Ontario, Fanshawe College and the private sector to create a specialized Advanced Manufacturing and Green Park.  Council has already designated 25 acres for Western and 10 acres for Fanshawe, College.  This partnership will create leading-edge production facilities, integrated research, training and workforce programs that target new opportunities for green technology, such as solar, specialty heating, metals, composite materials and equipment.   Green area is going to be very competitive for us and we think we have an advantage because we’ve got good rural/urban areas and these relationships continue to build well for us. 

Building on that, one of the other areas that we’re pushing very hard is to make London one of the centres of a new transportation corridor where we are going to be very competitive again because it brings in the whole issue of jobs as well because companies need to know that they are close to the American border and Toronto.  They will also want to be in a city where the cost of living is competitive.  For us, because we are connected to the 401, 402 & 403 and connected by rail and international airport, it makes us the perfect site to be right in the hub of that transportation corridor. 

We recently opened our new cargo terminal which has been another one of our initiatives working with the Federal Government and the airport.  It’s going to open up new markets particularly in Europe and the US and there will be a lot of new jobs that come as a result of that.  We are going to be building a new downtown campus that will be led by Fanshawe College with the city as a partner.  It’s the last piece to the downtown revitalization vision that started with the JLC, Central Library, Splash Pad and building up the businesses and residential by not having development fees. 

Building the downtown campus is going to focus on the technical performing and theatre arts area for Fanshawe.  It’s not going to be just one building but spread over many buildings as we want to build that campus flavour.  It will bring new youth and professionals to the core which will help build the economy and as a part of that connection we felt it was important that because we have such a growing cluster of technology and gaming jobs in the city, that we build a centre of excellence for digital media.  We have put 5 million dollars into that project as well as others and we are also looking at involving the federal government, so we are moving full speed ahead with that.

We have been hit like others have around the world with the loss of jobs but we’ve also been able to continue to bring jobs to London.  The part of that which is of most interest to Londoners is to make sure there is a great affordability of living in London.  While I don’t campaign with empty promises that I am going to freeze your taxes, because I believe that is a step backwards rather than forward, we always say that the plan we have as a council focuses on managing our debt, paying as you go, bringing money from other levels of government like stimulus money and we try to balance the affordability of taxes with the reality that we have to continue to invest in our city.  There was a time when we let everything deteriorate in this city.  We didn’t focus on our sewers, having good infrastructure in place or investing in our neighbourhoods, so in the last 10 – 15 years we’ve had to invest a lot into the quality of life to a very high level so we can offer our citizens everything they want and desire and still be able to afford it.

We were very fortunate [in the middle of what is a recession that hit the entire world] to be rated by MacLean’s magazine as the best-managed city in Ontario and the sixth best in Canada.   For me that says a lot about the plan that we have in place; that we’re moving in the right direction and that we need to stay the course and continue to implement as we go forward.

CM:  I often enjoy walks throughout the downtown core with my husband and young daughter, but we always stay away from Dundas Street, between Ridout and Wellington.  I have seen plans for revitalization of that area such as the LTC pilot project to reroute bus service, and the attempts to fill retail space with national chains and large independent businesses.  What would you be planning to carry out to bring that section of downtown back to life and make it a family friendly place?

MD:  In the last 10 years we have invested well over 100 million dollars in downtown and I think that it has been one of the most successful downtown revitalization anywhere in the country.  We set up [what was main street which is now] downtown London as a separate area of the downtown business association to really focus on the things that you’ve spoken about.  So when we the built the JLC we knew that was going to be a very strong anchor in the west end.  Obviously if you take walks and you walk down towards the splash-pad that’s all family friendly areas because we wanted people to have that experience and we certainly continue to invest in that.  We also have the investments in putting our library right on the main street of downtown rather than a free-standing building where it used to be.  That brings a lot of people walking and that is another really important part, to get more and more people living downtown because the more people we have living downtown, the more positive things there are to do rather than perhaps some of the more negative things that would detract people from coming.

The LTC pilot project still is something that needs to be approved by council.  I want to clarify that we’re not getting rid of the buses, but what we’re looking at is moving the buses that go down Dundas Street one block over where they can still transfer at those locations to get anywhere else they want to go.  We are going to ensure that they are still able  to transfer from where they are to get to where they want to go.  We know that the decentralization of the buses is one thing that can help with safety because the police very much support this initiative in trying to see if it helps with the issues of safety that people might have, perceived or otherwise.  Because it’s not always real, but if you perceive it, it will still stop you from coming.  The other thing that we have done is started with the decentralization of the Ontario Works location at Dundas and Richmond.  We are trying to bring that service to other parts of the community where we know we have our clients so they don’t all have to come downtown but that they also can be served in the Argyle and Glenn Cairn areas which happen already and the White Oaks area.  I think that by decentralizing some of the offices that we have there [that often bring people together in one area] we can remove the fear factor from some people, again, perceived or not. 

The London Economic Development Corporation has also been advertising for downtown and the city of London in other markets like Toronto and elsewhere.  They have an active strategy to help fill the empty spaces downtown.  I sit on that board and am very supportive of the efforts that are going on there.  The downtown campus is going to be a huge part of it.  The Digital Media Centre is going to be right in that area so all of these things combined are going to help with the downtown revitalization.

CM:  What is the timeline for these initiatives?

MD: The decentralization of Ontario Works has already been approved by council and we are working on finding proper locations so that will happen in due course.  The pilot project for transit will be part of the next budget cycle for consideration so council will still need to look at whether they want to do that or not.  That budget cycle will be concluded by February so the timeline if that one is to go forward has to be for a full year so you get all the seasons so it would likely start next Spring providing council approves that project.  The downtown campus and Digital Media Centre are already approved concepts, so it’s about Fanshawe getting their information together to really look at how that faculty would work for them because it’s a new area for them and when they get ready to launch they want to make sure all their ducks are in order.  These are all in some ways short-term and long-term, it’s not going to happen overnight but it is the last piece what has been 10 years of revitalization of downtown.

CM:  There are many wonderful parks in the downtown core.  A new recreational swimming pool was opened in Gibbons Park this summer and the revitalization of Piccadilly Park is taking place.  What other Parks & Recreation enhancements would you carry out for the downtown core for 2011 and on? 

MD:  We have a whole list of things that we’re going to be doing that are part of the recreation master plan, so it’s not just about downtown, but all over the city.  Each of those areas is approved through the budget cycle.  The newest thing we are going to be opening [not downtown but in the city] that is going to be a strong addition to the neighbourhood and family focus is the new North End Community Centre, Library and YMCA.  If you have never seen it, it is spectacular and it also has a green component to it so it is very much being built with the future in mind. That is a multi-million dollar facility and we have two more big projects like that [longer term] in the works.  One in the west end and one in the south-east end.  It’s about finding land and money for the project.  Those are the bigger sides of it.  We are constantly doing renovations and trying to improve our projects such as the skateboard parks, to new swimming pools that are part of stimulus dollars to the new Springbank Gardens Community Centre off Wonderland road.  There is no shortage of things in the works that we have already opened and that are coming not just for downtown but around the entire city.

CM:  Will the Parks & Recreation budget receive the same funding as we saw in 2009 & 2010?

MD:  Its good news/bad news:  People are complaining about all the construction around the city but it’s because we received over 100 million dollars (from the Federal government) for projects that need to be complete by March 2011 or we don’t get the money.  This was an anomaly year for us and it helped to bring us forward at least 3 years in advance so we spent an extraordinary amount of money in this year’s budget and part of next year’s and then it will level off again unless we’re successful in getting more money.  Everything is with a plan in place and with a vision and we follow our master plan that says what our timing to build certain things is.

CM:  Citi Plaza (formerly Galleria) has seemed to struggle for years now.  Do you have any long-term plans for Citi Plaza?

MD:   Citi Plaza is privately owned and the management there has made some overtures and announcements that they are looking at bringing in lots of new tenants.  They have done very well in the last few years to bring in new clients and business.  It’s not something that the city is involved with but we are always very happy when they fill up space with new companies and businesses. 

CM:  Is there a possibility that we would see a big chain grocery store moving in to make it more convenient for families and individuals living in the downtown core?

MD:  Yes there is a possibility.  That is something that our downtown association has been working on.  Part of the difficulty is that no grocery store is going to go somewhere unless there is a critical mass of people living there so all of our efforts to get more people living downtown by lifting the development fees and getting condo and apartment buildings, that all helps to make a case that the time is now to bring a grocery store on side.  I know that efforts have been made.  I don’t know the timing of being successful with that but I know that it is a very real possibility and a lot of people are working towards that.

CM:  I recently created a post on City Mom called a Tale of Two Cities where I made a comparison between London and Toronto.  I received feedback from my London readers that there was a lack of Mom & Tot programs available in the city.  Do you have plans to increase city funding for such programs or offer incentives to private businesses wishing to open such programs in the downtown core?  

MD:  We need to be careful in the sense that we can’t be all things to all private businesses so a lot of the responsibility comes with the businesses that want to promote that.  We do support a number of daycare programs throughout the community.  We have received both federal and provincial funding because daycare is primarily their responsibility and they have cut a lot of that funding.  Without some new programs that they announce at those two levels, I think it will be a bit of a struggle to again be everything to all people.  One of the things that we are promoting and pushing, because they are going to full day kindergarten, is funding for after school care to make sure there are after care programs throughout the whole community.  It is better run by private sector with support from the city and support from the school boards rather than having the schools have to do it themselves.  We have made a pretty compelling argument to the government and they have said for the next two years that they agree with our assessment.  We hope that they will listen (longer term) to some of the suggestions that we have had and I hope we can prove to them that the model we are using is the right model rather than trying to reinvent the wheel on something completely different.

London Votes 2010 Part II – Joe Fontana

Interview with Mayoral Candidate Joe Fontana

As promised, I present part two of the City Mom London Votes series. I was given a unique opportunity to sit down with Joe Fontana to discuss his mayoral campaign. I asked Mr. Fontana to summarize his 2010 campaign where he outlined five key components of his platform:

  • Taxes
  • Opportunities for Families
  • Openness & Accountability
  • Recreational Facilities
  • Transportation

 I also questioned Mr. Fontana on issues relevant to City Mom and its readers:

City Mom:  Can you share a summary of what your 2010 campaign platform will include? 

Joe Fontana:  I’ve spoken a lot about taxes:  I think it is essential that the people who want to come to London, stay in London and that it’s affordable for people to stay here.  Tax increases of 40 or 50 percent in the last number of years and projected to do the same, I don’t think is the way to go.  We need to make sure that London is an attractive place in terms of taxes so that seniors, families, and new families starting off can afford to live here.  As someone who has been involved in the federal government or even the private sector, I know there are ways of making sure that we don’t waste money and that we spend on the proper things and that we are focused on getting true value for every tax dollar.  So the primary plank is making sure that we’ve got affordable taxes and I’ve proposed a tax freeze which is doable without giving up the core services that we want in all of our neighbourhoods, including the downtown. 

Secondly, I think it’s important for London to be a future for young families so that children can be here, stay here, and work here, therefore we need to make sure that there are jobs and opportunities and we’re keeping businesses here.  We need to make sure that we’re attracting opportunities to London so that our kids don’t have to move away.  A vibrant community needs to be made up of families, seniors, young people and therefore it’s important for us to make sure the opportunities are here and we are not forcing people to make choices elsewhere.

Thirdly I believe in openness and accountability in municipal government which means that everything we do needs to be open and transparent and we have to be held accountable each and every day.  I intend to open up the system much more than it is. 

The fourth part involves  making sure that we have recreational facilities and activities for families to do and making sure that in every part of the city that we have those kinds of facilities; cultural facilities, recreational facilities and things for young people to do to keep active.

Lastly, it is important to have an efficient transportation system so that people can get around the city in the most efficient way. If that’s by car we need to make sure that our road network works really well but also equally promote public transit so that at least everyone rides the bus, as I have tried to do on an ongoing basis.  Those are essentially the planks in my platform.

CM:  I read today that you stated that if you were to become London’s next mayor you are only going to stay in office for one four-year term.  Why is that?

JF:  It’s funny to be discussing [before I am elected] how long I am going to stay because most politicians who run for office say ‘I’m going to do a job for the term and then I will see a little later how it’s going.’  I am so committed to making sure that the city  moves in the right direction that I want to be totally preoccupied in the four years, day and night, to get the job done and not necessarily think about ‘what if I do this and I’m not going to get the votes’ I want to do what’s necessary, work with the right people to get the work done in four years.  I’ve said that’s my personal goal and I’ve always tried to operate personally business and politics is to say I’ve got some objectives.  I’ve got a target and I’m determined to get it done and then in four years from now, let’s see, but I don’t mind telling people I want to do this and if I can get it all done in one term then I believe in renewal.  I believe in new people coming forward and getting new fresh ideas as to where the city needs to go into the future.

CM:  I often enjoy walks throughout the downtown core with my husband and daughter, but we always stay away from Dundas Street, between Ridout St. and Wellington St.  I have seen plans for revitalization of that area such as the LTC pilot project to reroute bus service, and the attempts to fill retail space with national chains and large independent businesses.  What else are you planning to carry out to bring that section of downtown back to life and make it a family friendly place? 

JF:  The viability of downtown is directly dependant on there being a significant residential component.  That is very important because if you are going to have a vibrant downtown commercially then you must have people living downtown, so I think that is absolutely essential and having families downtown is even that much more important.  We need to make sure our downtown is clean, secure and safe for everyone and we need to make sure that more residential development can occur and that is why I will devote quite a bit of attention to building a viable downtown.

We’ve invested 100 million dollars in public infrastructure; libraries, the JLC and a number of other things.  Now we’ve got to get a lot more of the private sector to come forward to build more residential and to build more convenient commercial so the downtown people can go to a grocery store, can get what they want.  To build those recreational facilities downtown, public/private partnerships can help us achieve that.  I would also like to see a vibrant downtown  and we need to fill those vacant spaces with new businesses; new entrepreneurs. We need to look at the cultural district.  Look at boutique studios for the artists.  I think we can create a people friendly city  and make sure that the entire downtown is open for people where we create a nice promenade where people can enjoy downtown free of cars and that we have bands, music, cafe’s and make them family friendly.  We need to create that sort of dynamic downtown atmosphere, that’s safe, that’s secure and that’s exciting and make it possible for more and more people to come downtown and help us develop downtown.

CM:  There are many wonderful parks in the downtown area.  A new recreational swimming pool was opened in Gibbons Park this summer and the revitalization of Piccadilly Park is taking place.  What other Parks & Recreation enhancements will you schedule for the downtown core for 2011 and on? 

JF:  I think we’ve got to build on the existing foundation.  Good parks and facilities that will accommodate a young family. In terms of pools and recreation, I think we can do a lot more.  I think that because in the past the downtown has not had an awful lot of residential they haven’t had the opportunity to bring additional services downtown.  I think we ought to take a look at the assets we have in terms of the schools that are available with their gymnasiums and other assets to see how we can work with the Board of Education to use all of those great assets with the purpose of helping young kids, teenagers and families,  I am determined to continue to enhance the availability of those kinds of recreational, family friendly services in the downtown core.

CM:  When you speak about freezing taxes; those are the funds that pay for a lot of the programs you just mentioned, so in terms of the Parks & Recreation budget, would we see it remain the same as we have seen it in the past?

JF:  Yes…what I’ve talked about is not cutting services.  Keeping the same level of services but within every part of the budget one has to look for opportunities.  In fact I would be in favour of more Parks & Recreation expenditures and cultural things that we can do downtown.  When you structure a budget you need to make choices about what you can afford and can’t afford; what’s important and what’s not important.  Essentially it’s a billion dollar budget.  A lot of it is capital that we spend on facilities and the other part is operational and within those operating cost I want to get the most bang for the buck.  That means not having a lot of administration and not paying for a lot of City Hall managers and making sure that we are getting the services to the people.  For example:  in terms of neighbourhoods and families, there’s an organizational chart that has twenty-nine managers.  I have talked to a lot of not-for-profit groups and they say they spend most of their time answering questions to twenty-nine different people and if they could just be allowed to do their work [serving children] like the Boys & Girls Club as opposed to having to fill out paper work and that sort of thing.  I think we have become so bureaucratic, so administrative that we’ve lost sight of what the purpose is.  We need to make sure that we get every dollar in the budget to go to the purpose that it was meant for.  I want to eliminate a lot of those administrative costs and give more of that money to the city. 

CM:  Citi Plaza (formerly Galleria) has seemed to struggle for years now.  Do you have any long-term plans for Citi Plaza?

JF:  We need to get back to the notion that downtown can be vibrant if in fact you look at ways of providing incentives to new, independent businesses to start-up.  It’s not only about Citi Plaza but how we can look at all of our commercial and institutional spaces; because let’s face it, we’ve get fifteen to twenty thousand people who work downtown but a lot of them leave after that and never come back to downtown unless there is an attraction like we had in the summer.  I think we have to make sure it [downtown] has a lot of activities permanently and commercially too.  We have to look at second and third story buildings in our core and provide incentives to turn them into residential spaces or boutique studios etc.  It’s about the whole of downtown and Citi Plaza is just one component.  Of course it has gone through a big change as it started off as a big mall and sucked all the independent businesses off Dundas Street and then all of a sudden it was not viable for all of those independent businesses.  I am happy to see that there’s been some movement on Dundas Street in terms of businesses.  What is unique about downtown is that you don’t find the kinds of shops that you would find in Masonville, Westmount and Whiteoaks. That is the beauty of a downtown; it usually brings independent entrepreneurs that are a bit different from the national stores that you would see in a mall. 

CM:  Is there a possibility that we will see a big chain grocery store moving in to make it more convenient for families and individuals living in the downtown core?

 JF:  I hope so.  People in the downtown have been waiting a long time for a grocery store.  That is why I believe in Public/Private partnerships.  The city should  encourage and incentivize the private sector to build that grocery store so the people will have the services that they want.  I think that we can do that with Public/Private partnerships.  Obviously the city can’t build a grocery store but we can make it attractive enough for a chain to come downtown and help service the increasing number of people who are living there. 

CM:  I recently created a post on City Mom called A Tale of Two Cities where I made a comparison between London and Toronto.  I received feedback from my London readers that they felt there was a lack of Mom & Tot programs available in the city.  Do you have plans to increase city funding for such programs or offer incentives to private businesses wishing to open such programs in the downtown core?  

JF:  Absolutely; and throughout the entire city.  Again if we want to attract families and people downtown we need to make sure there are daycare facilities, recreational facilities and cultural facilities that are family friendly and therefore will be an attraction.  Again with encouragements, incentives and the city taking leadership by saying these are the kinds of things that we need downtown, so how can we make that happen?  Bring the people together, let’s decide what it is we want to create downtown and let’s set down that path of an incredible exciting, creative, safe and secure downtown.

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So there you have it London.  Stay tuned for the third part of London Votes 2010 where I will share my interview with London’s Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best.

London Votes 2010: Part I

We have a job to do London: on Monday October 25th, 2010 we will determine who will serve as the city’s Mayor for the next four years.  The election includes that opportunity to choose the City Council and School Board Trustees at the same time.  Are you going to exercise your right to vote? Are you going to contribute to the state of our city?  Statistics show that very few of us have actually cast our votes in the past electoral races.  Why is that?  Most people jump at the opportunity to complain when there is something they don’t like, and I bet they are  the same people who don’t make it out to the polls.  Is this because we are not informed, we feel our lone vote won’t make a difference or because we don’t know whom of the candidates to choose?  I am unsure of the answer so I decided to do some research to make it a little easier.

Firstly I learned that Elections London is making it easier than ever for Londoners to have their say.  Check out the election website for voting information which provides a number of advance voting dates and other voting mediums including accessible voting for people with disabilities. One really can’t say they didn’t get a chance to vote this time around.

Secondly, I found there to be a large number of mayoral candidates (14 in total) running this year which I thought might be overwhelming for voters, but my ‘sources’ tell me that the two front-runners for mayor are Anne Marie DeCicco-Best (London’s current mayor) and mayoral candidate Joe Fontana.  So that narrows it down a bit, not that you have to choose from the two front-runners but this helps to know which campaign platforms are generating the most interest.  So how do you gather information on these two candidates?  A good place to start is their respective campaign sites: Vote DeCicco-Best and Joe Fontana for Mayor.  These sites provide a good summary of the candidate’s campaign platforms, but what about the more specific questions you have as they pertain to you and your family?  Joe Fontana encourages Londoners to stop by his campaign office at 100 Wellington Road.  Mayor DeCicco-Best is interacting with Londoners on Twitter and Facebook answering their questions and responding to comments (both candidates can be found on Twitter: @LondonsMayor and @FontanaforMayor), and both candidates are out on the streets campaigning which started-up on September 7th.  Information in regards to their public appearances can be found on their campaign sites so you will know when and where to find them if you want to.

Thirdly and lastly, I have done some of the research for you.  I had an opportunity to sit down with both candidates to ask them a number of questions concerning their 2010 campaigns as they relate to City Mom and its readers.  I have gathered a lot of good information that I think we will all find very useful in helping us make our decision.  There’s a lot of text to present so I will break it down into two separate posts that will come consecutively over the next two weeks.  Please stay tuned for London Votes Part II coming early next week.  Until then I welcome your thoughts and comments on the upcoming election.  Are you planning to vote?  What are your concerns or issues?  Will you vote on Election Day or take advantage of one of the advance voting days?  If you’re not from London, do you have an upcoming election in your city? Did you take part in the last election your city held?

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