Comment 37646

By Yup (anonymous) | Posted February 01, 2010 at 15:03:08

Thanks Maheesh. Since my last post I've read much of Metropolitan Hamilton including watching the TED videos, and will read more about Learning Cities. I would like to repeat, however, what I've said here and elsewhere. The frustration of dealing with public institutions, or any large institution for that matter, to effect the ideas I see raised on this list and elsewhere, is all too evident. The problem is two-fold.

Fold #1 is that successfully institutionalizing the solution to a problem inevitably leads to additional problems, or the awareness of additional problems that cannot be solved by the "more of the same" mentality that is inherent in institutionalization. I give as an example the institutionalization of the automobile in the North American lifestyles, economics and politics. By increasing mobility the automobile proved a huge stimulus to economic activity. But now we have problems of pollution, energy supply and, most critically, congestion as a result of the scale of that successful stimulus. Cheaper, non-polluting energy sources may eventually solve some of these issues, but as we're learning at present, the cost to widen the QEW from Hamilton to Toronto increases exponentially each time it is done, without reducing travel times. Use quickly fills capacity, surrounding properties become more expensive and construction itself becomes a cause of delay.

Fold #2 is the system of leadership cultivated in major institutions. Decision makers, whether in business or politics, do not choose their careers in order to be told what to do. They are leaders. Leaders do the telling, not the listening. Competing over who does the telling and who does the listening is what we call politics. Political action quickly becomes a diversion from the task at hand. I suspect this may be the fundamental frustration Maheesh discovered with the IV BIA. Elsewhere, it has taken longer, and probably more man-hours, to get the city to purchase and find a way to renovate the Lister Block than to do the renovation itself. But we did see a fairly long list of community and political leaders come and go during the process. I'm wondering if Bill Strickland, whose TED slide presentation I accessed through Mentropolitan Hamilton, had decided to lobby his municipal government to raise the community educational arts centre he built in Pittsburg, would it be built today. Fortunately he just went out on the street with a cardboard box to raise funds, later producing a slide show to illustrate and build on each stage of success.

I know whatever success has been achieved on James St. N. is not the result of political action. It was the result of a few artists opening galleries in the cheapest space possible, and uniting with openings once a month to stretch promotional resources. The politicians came later, after the initial success, and they haven't contributed all that much since. I think it is indicative that Raise The Hammer and Metropolitan Hamilton and other weblog sites are examples of more successful civic action than the city's own My Hamilton web site, which is much larger.

But there does seem to be some impediment to the expansion of direct constructive (as opposed to organized complaining about by-law enforcement, for instance) citizen civic action. Maheesh might suggest it is a lack of information or a current, non-institutionalized educational system. If so, what is the local impediment to that? Or is there none, and I'm just not seeing what's happening on this front locally?

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