Defining "Squelchers"

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 15, 2008

From Richard Florida's Who's Your City? (Random House Canada 2008), p. 181:

Jane Jacobs once told me that communities everywhere are filled with creative vigor, but that some of them are run by squelchers.

Squelchers are control freaks who think they know what's best for the city or region, even as their leadership (or lack thereof) causes a hemorrhage of bright, talented, and creative people.

Squelchers, she said, are the kind of leaders that use the word "no" a lot. They constantly put roadblocks in the way of community energy and initiatives.

I've seen firsthand how these squelchers drain the life and energy from their communities. They respond to new ideas with phrases like "That's not how we do things here"; "That will never fly"; or "Why don't you move someplace you'll be happy?"

I often wonder what our nation would look like if all the squelchers in our communities were to be suddenly - and magically - exposed and immobilized. Would there be anyone left at the tops of many local governments? Perhaps then we could finally unleash the positive energy that real civic engagement both inspires and needs. [paragraph breaks added]

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2008 at 07:29:57

Let's not NAME any squelchers That'd be such a waste We'll focus on helters & skelters we'd much rather copy and paste

Wits and pieces from: Fairness, Idealism and Other Atrocities by P.J. O'Rourke


  1. Go out and make a bunch of money! Here we are living in the world's most prosperous country, surrounded by all the comforts, conveniences and security that money can provide. Yet no American political, intellectual or cultural leader ever says to young people, "Go out and make a bunch of money." Instead, they tell you that money can't buy happiness. Maybe, but money can rent it

  2. Don't be an idealist! Idealists are also bullies. The idealist says, "I care more about the redwood trees than you do. I care so much I can't eat. I can't sleep. It broke up my marriage. And because I care more than you do, I'm a better person. And because I'm the better person, I have the right to boss you around."

  3. Get politically uninvolved! All politics stink. Even democracy stinks. Imagine if our clothes were selected by the majority of shoppers, which would be teenage girls. I'd be standing here with my bellybutton exposed. Imagine deciding the dinner menu by family secret ballot. I've got three kids and three dogs in my family. We'd be eating Froot Loops and rotten meat.

  4. Forget about fairness! Life sends the message, "I'd better not be poor. I'd better get rich. I'd better make more money than other people." Meanwhile, politics sends us the message, "Some people make more money than others. Some are rich while others are poor. We'd better close that 'income disparity gap.' It's not fair!"

  5. Be a religious extremist! So, avoid politics if you can. But if you absolutely cannot resist, read the Bible for political advice — even if you're a Buddhist, atheist or whatever. Don't get me wrong, I am not one of those people who believes that God is involved in politics. On the contrary. Observe politics in this country. Observe politics around the world. Observe politics through history. Does it look like God's involved?

  6. Don't listen to your elders! After all, if the old person standing up here actually knew anything worth telling, he'd be charging you for it.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 16, 2008 at 12:34:31

Sad. P.J. O'Rourke used to be one of the last intelligent, and funny, conservatives. I suppose he was trying to be funny here as well, but he comes across like a College Republican writing in the school newspaper of a middling college. He sure has fallen a long way from the Algonquin.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2008 at 13:10:48

In O'Rourke's defence, the past decade or so hasn't been kind to American conservatives. After taking control of both houses of Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court, they have driven the country into crisis and catastrophe.

They've pushed the terror button so much that it no longer provokes a strong reaction in the public (other than their hard core constituency of rank partisans and authoritarian personality types).

I think they really jumped the shark with the Hurricane Katrina fustercluck. From "Heckuva job" Brownie the Bush-appointed horse pageant manager on down, no one came out of that looking good.

The Iraq war, of course, is an ongoing disaster that has killed over 4,000 American soldiers (plus tens of thousands of scarred and disfigured casualties) and around a million Iraqis. Every time they try to link it to the "War on Terror" it gets harder for Americans to swallow, especially amid the steady outpouring of evidence that the US continues to support terrorists, torture prisoners as standard policy, spy illegally on Americans, and so on.

The predictable results of Bush's "energy policy that encourages consumption" is evident in gas prices that are creeping toward $4 a gallon even as the US slides deeper into a recession caused almost entirely by deregulation of the sort that caused the S&L Scandal during the 1980s.

I also think it's instructive that more than half of Americans think they're being lied to about the story behind 9/11, which was the centrepiece of the Bush presidency and the motivation for most of their policy agenda. Regardless of what actually happened, as the patriotic edifice around 9/11 crumbles, so goes the underpinnings of public support for the government's actions after that event.

All in all, despite the generally terrible quality of American mainstream news reporting, public approval of Bush's presidency is stuck at an all time low - around 27 percent. It's probably safe to assume that Bush's remaining supporters mainly consist of people who think the universe was created a few thousand years ago and that the sun revolves around the earth.

Finally, demonstrating its total incapacity to identify and reform its own epic failures, the Republican Party has chosen John McCain, the nominee who promises explicitly and repeatedly to carry on the Bush agenda, as their candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

Some conservatives have reacted to this by falling on variations of the No True Scotsman fallacy: the Republicans aren't really conservative, so their administration isn't a repudiation of conservative political principles.

It's nonsense, of course. The Republican legacy is precisely what happens when a group of people who believe that government can't do anything right and the only interests worth defending are business interests get into power: an authoritarian cabal of cronyists and kleptocrats who undermine the rule of law and grind away the foundation of the economy by fattening their sponsors and friends at public expense.

O'Rourke probably feels quite bitter these days.

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By adam (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2008 at 00:06:11

LRT is not only good for "tree-hugging hippies" but also good for "self-serving captalists". In other cities that install LRT, businesses begin popping up around LRT lines and business owners become more profitable. The auto industry has the most to lose if it is employed on a grand scale. I think our goal should be to focus on getting a small segment of light rail to start. Baby steps, then add to it as we go.

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2008 at 08:32:15

This is not a jest.

All the people in this city regardless of their station in life need something to hope for, especially our youth:


But that is not enough. The province is providing $878,000 to keep 190 kids off the streets over summer vacation, doing something meaningful and productive. There are many more young people out there who would benefit from this program. I know, my daughter qualified last year. Her summer position at one hour photo in Jackson Square at minimum wage, has led to her traveling to Toronto this summer for a professional photo shoot of a dance recital for a cool $300. She has also landed through the program a part-time position at another local camera store, which will help carry her through university when she begins in the fall.

Adam brought up LRT again, which at $25,000,000 per kilometer equals 5410 young people working in a summer program just by shaving one kilometer off the A-line. That makes more sense to me and possibly a lot less graffiti.

This year the United Way of Burlington and Hamilton will be spearheading "Week of Impact" June 2-6:

http://thespec.com/News/Business/article/370667 http://www.uwaybh.ca/web_pages/news_even...

This is an excellent initiative and an fine example of forward thinking. It is a great way for some disadvantaged members of our community to get some badly needed assistance removing graffiti from their homes and businesses, among other things. Imagine what it would be like if the United Way had more volunteers than they could handle. We could paint the whole town red.

I'm still wondering about the who's who of squelchers though. I know that there is a squelch control on radio communications devices that is used primarily to tune-out the background noise or STATIC and I'm not experiencing that here. I know the city would love to latch on to the millions offered for rapid transit and there is a lot of hype over the "spin-off" economic "trickle-down" into the little people's pockets (sorry g). But what is missing are the serious commitments to this effect (sorry Harry).

If LRT were to become a R E A L I T Y What is really in it for me (and the other little ones g) Who, like my daughter, can now take the BRT to MAC already?

Why should I (and flocks in which I fly) get all excited While the main roads get ripped up and the businesses blighted When the bikes are kicked off and riders fares become slighted?

Never mind, I already know from what I've seen The streets will be quieter and the air will be clean The walks and the medians all flowered and green

What reasons will I have to speed into the core On billionaires trams to shop in a dollar store? This whole discussion is really becoming a snore...

Ire regards less of that, need I say more?

[little people ~ regular folk]

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By highwater (registered) | Posted May 17, 2008 at 11:12:39

I hear you Ryan. Conservative politicians bear the lion's share of the responsibility for the cheapening of the conservative 'brand', but we can't let conservative thinkers off the hook either. I wasn't being snarky when I said "sad". I really do miss the intelligent conservative commentators of yore. Gone are the William F. Buckleys, and O'Rourke is all but gone as well. In their place we have what, Dinesh D'Souza, Mark Steyn, Jonah Goldberg? Yeesh. I hope O'Rourke is directing some of his bitterness toward them as well, and not just the rubes who implemented conservative policy. (Someone called them the 'Mayberry Machiavellis', I can't think of a more apt description.)

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:28:54

It's worth noting that although there are definite issues with "squelchers", there are a lot of times when saying "no" is in the best interests of a city.

Need I remind you that Jane Jacobs herself has been active in anti-expressway demonstrations, and has written at length about the value of preserving old buildings.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 12:52:10

I think the issue is people who say "no" to good ideas that are based on factual research and are already proven to really work well in other cities. People who are afraid of change, who get rich off the status quo, people who say things like "If you don't like it why don't you leave?"

It's squelchers who insult activists and urbanists and people who care enough to go to meetings and ask questions and try to make our government accountable. It was squelchers who insulted Joanna chappman for daring to ask whether Larry Diianni broke municipal election law.

Sometimes squelchers squelch efforts to stop bad ideas too. It was squelchers who said there was no way to restore the Lister Building without demolishing and rebuilding it.

Squelchers are people who don't want YOU to get involved in their backroom decisions on how to run the city, they just want you to mind your own business and stop asking inconvenient questions.

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By councilwatch (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2008 at 18:57:01

WRCU2 asks us not to name any squelchers, saying that would be such a waste. Fair enough!
So I sat down at my desk and attempted to name the "non-squelchers'. I gave up after half an hour, the page is still blank. HELP!

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