The city we want and the city we have

Last Thursday – Feb 13, 2020 – the City held another public participation meeting. This time around, I decided to share my thoughts about our city. It was a bit personal and I was feeling a little hesitant but I did anyway. I’m glad I did it. I got so much positive feedback that I decided to share here on my blog.

Five minutes in the public gallery

My name is Luis Patricio. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. This is a great exercise in democracy. My admiration for all Londoners who are here willing to be part of the city building process. Of course, there is also room for improvement. Many of the vulnerable and the most affected by the decisions cannot be here tonight. Who is missing is a question we should always ask ourselves.

I want a city where people can satisfy their material needs, where we preserve our nature and we all have access to it. A city where we have a sense of belonging, we can reach our full potential as human beings where no one is left behind. I want to build a better city for all. No matter gender, Immigrant status, indigenous status, age. I believe we all agree with that, we do have this and many other things in common.

Well, we are not there yet. I’d like to tell my story, speak my truth. I am a newcomer from Brazil. I’ve been here 3 years now, off to a rough start. My dad was diagnosed with cancer one month after I landed in Canada and in five months he passed away. The following year, my wife left me. I didn’t have my own house anymore and couldn’t see my kids everyday.

It felt like hard times for me. I mourned all those losses. In my sadness, I could understand and accept that it is part of life. Death and broken relationships always existed. At that point, I still didn’t have a job. I had a few gigs here and there working in construction, carrying 90 pounds forms, painting fences. My longest period of unemployment was 8 months, always actively looking for jobs. Many applications, a few interviews. However, there were several jobs that I wanted to apply for and had qualifications for. They had this little note at the bottom saying “access to a vehicle required.” 

You see, I don’t own a car since 2004. I couldn’t apply for those jobs. One job posting only said “valid driver’s licence”, for that one I applied and got a job interview. All is going well. During the interview, they found out I didn’t have a car. I could see in their faces right there and then that I wouldn’t get the job. In a way, this was harder for me to accept than my father’s passing. Death is inevitable. The experience of losing my father connected me with my humanity. The job search made me feel hopeless and less worthy.

You might be thinking: “another guy that is looking after himself and doesn’t care about the community”. That is not correct. I already have a job now. And I still don’t own a car. I am telling my story for another reason. I want to put some flesh and blood in some of the “statistics”. Access to jobs (to workplaces) is one of the main barriers to employment in London. There are thousands of jobs that can’t be filled because people can’t get there. And many of them don’t have the supports that I have.

This is not a Luis problem, it is a City of London problem. I have three kids. If they have a ride to school in a car it takes 15min. If I take them to school by bike 25 min, not bad. If we need to take the bus it might take over an hour. Cycling is only 1% of urban trips and buses. How many more need to take kids somewhere. Is there really a fair choice about how to get from point A to B?

The Living Wage report, released recently, included car costs. Owning one car (in some cities two cars) is a requirement for leading a decent life. I want to live in a city where I don’t have to own a car to have a decent life. And many of us can’t make that choice, we have to accept our place as second class citizens. With limited rights to jobs, recreation, health care, education and civic life. 

According to CAA, we spend about $10,000 a year in a car. The day people can choose not to spend 10k in a car, is the day we lift thousands of people out of poverty, just like that. This is good for the economy. People who are barely making ends meet with extra money will buy groceries, eat out in a local restaurant, go to the movies, buy new appliances, do house renovation, invest in their professional development. That money stays here. The money you spend with your car, 80% leaves the economy.

Again, I am here speaking for all the voices that are not usually heard. All the people who don’t have a car, those who have to spend a significant portion of their income to maintain a car and those who can afford a car but would like to make a different choice. If they were provided with a decent one.

This is around 60% of the population according to the result of all research made in dozens of North American cities. Maybe, those are just numbers, 60% of the population and they might not make a difference for many of you. But it certainly does for me and many here on this gallery and in London

If I had time I would tell a human story about physical health, mental health, clean energy, immigrant integration, gender equality, curbing climate change. That is what cycling can do for all of us. I would love to sit down, have a coffee with anyone here and talk more about that.

Tonight, this is all I have to say with my 5 minutes.

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