Thursday, April 26, 2012

Looking at our home town with rose coloured glasses, or in some cases, beer goggles?

First, I want to express how much I love living in Peterborough. It is a beautiful little city in the midst of a beautiful area. The cost of living is reasonable. Toronto is just over an hours drive but also just far enough away that we have our own distinct culture and our own respectable little arts and music scene. I happen to have a decent job, great friends and a lot of opportunity to get involved with my community.
In addition there are some wonderful restaurants and many independent businesses still striving in our downtown core. This is a great deal more then I can say for many of the other North American cities of similar size that I have visited in the last decade.
It’s true we’ve got a lot to be proud of. But... And, I may not be too popular for saying this, there’s a whole lot going on that isn’t so rosy and the lack of attention it gets concerns me about the future of the community.

To sum it up, there are a couple big things that really worry me about the quality of my own future here;

First, Peterborough’s unemployment rate has been hovering not far from last place among similar size urban centers in Canada. Of the job pool that we do have there are very few options for those of us in a professional field. Of course this is a trend across Ontario which has traditionally relied on the manufacturing jobs that are fleeing overseas for cheaper labour to meet he demands of a consumer culture. This is well known. But what action is being taken to find a replacement for that industry here?
A favorite topic of the Twitterverse is the rise of the creative class. Richard Florida’s beautiful utopia, a future where young smart people get paid for being creative and thinking. Knowledge based industry, is supposedly North America’s last great hope to remain relevant in business, but where is it? I see our politicians handing out grants to entice manufacturers to add or keep a handful of jobs or bringing in call centers to create minimum wage phone jockey positions. What isn’t visible to me is anyone really developing plans to attract new forms of sustainable long term industries in our region.
Young educated people that support the independent businesses mentioned above are finding that they have no choice but to leave Peterborough for city centers like Toronto and Montreal because the professional and/or creative jobs they are after just don’t exist here.

Second, there is no denying that drugs and petty crime have become rampant. I’ve owned a house near downtown Peterborough for 12 years; in the last few I have witnessed a noticeable decline in mine and nearby neighborhoods. I’ve had my vehicle broken in to multiple times now, merely to steal the change out of my ash tray but causing a great deal of damage in the process. The building my studio is in has also been broken in to and vandalized. Break-ins, robberies and even home invasions have seemed to become more and more common. Perhaps this is partly a symptom of our high unemployment. Perhaps it also has much to do with an overabundance of places for addicts to get free methadone but very few options for real treatment to kick their addictions and become functioning members of society. Bumping up police budgets is a band aid. We need to correct the root cause by getting people help and getting them jobs.

The point I really want to ensure I make is, that there is great stuff that is going here and that has happened because groups of dedicated citizens love this place and take it upon themselves to improve their own quality of life as well as those around them. The cities management and area politicians boast of the achievements of our community as if their own and love to play off and encourage this local pride, subsequently avoiding some real issues that they need to deal with. In the long run if these negative trends continue all the stuff we think is great will just not be sustainable. Young educated people, artists and professionals are going to leave to seek opportunity elsewhere and with them go the support structure for independent business, the arts and music scene, what I believe to be key factors in this Peterborough culture we all cherish so much.
I think it is great that so many bloggers, tweeters, writers feel the need to brag about how awesome our community is, because they are right. However, I would just feel more encouraged if there were a few more shit disturbers out there that were willing to take off the rose coloured glasses for a moment and challenge the city and its subsequent organizations to make some much needed improvements before we have nothing left to brag about.

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