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Thursday 18 Jul 2024

An Ideal Community
David Simmonds

Did you hear about the new development they’re planning for Toronto? Waterfront Toronto, a joint venture of three levels of government, awarded a contract to Sidewalk Labs, to start developing twelve acres of land along east downtown waterfront, of Toronto. Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, owns the company.

Neighbourhood of the future.

The aim of the experiment is to try out new ideas in urban living and build a prototype neighbourhood of the future. Expected are features such as self-driving taxis and buses, light rail links, modular homes, removal of waste by robots and weather mitigation. Sidewalk Labs is going to spend $50 million on an initial yearlong consultation process before submitting a detailed blueprint to Waterfront Toronto. It all sounds very Jetsons.

That weather mitigation bit could prove a challenge. Mitigation, of course, is a loaded word that can cover anything from duct taping holes in screen doors to putting a dome over everything. Even if Sidewalk Labs were to come up with an app that claimed it could stop the water from flooding, the winds from swirling, the ice from freezing and the sun from baking, I would lay my money on the weather.

Overall, though, it sounds like a fun project. I’m a little bit envious of Toronto. Why should I be? Wellington, Ontario, where I live, is just as ripe for fresh development ideas. We already have one proposal sitting on the table for modular housing, that is, the proposal by Wharf Lane Developments and Wellington United Church to redevelop the old Dukedome site for affordable housing, made in response call, by the County, for submissions. I sure hope the proposal does not move from the table to the shelf.

Wellington could go a step further. It could dream up more proposals for a neighbourhood of the future. As a song has to have to have a hook to keep the listener humming the tune, so, too, does a development.

For example, the County has a reputation as a foodie and drinkie hotspot. Why not build a neighbourhood around a fresh food market that would specialize in niche food lifestyles. Monday could be vegan day, say; Tuesday could be gluten free day, Wednesday organic day, Thursday non-GMO day, Friday superfoods day, Saturday beer and wine day and Sunday all the kale you want at one low price day. Well, it’s just an idea; we could always throw in free dial-up internet.

What an ideal community needs.

The real question the Sidewalk Labs people will want to answer is not just how to get a development going, but how to build a successful community from it. I have a few suggestions to make on that score. Essential stores and services must be within walking distance of each other; for example, a bank, a drugstore, a pharmacy, a grocery store, a hardware store, a bakery or two, a hair salon, a coffee shop or five as well as several dairy bars and restaurants all in close proximity.  

You would want a community filled with willing volunteers that knew the importance of preservation of their town core; an activist newspaper and a good public library, for example. You would want to know your neighbours and make eye contact and say good day to people when you crossed paths in the village. You would want know that if you drove your car into a snowbank, the first passer-by would stop to help.

Of course, it would also be nice if you had housing that people could afford to live in; housing that people actually lived in year round. A better transportation service is also a good idea as is a few more stores and a garbage disposal system that didn’t charge you for the gift of your garbage. What the heck, no place is perfect.

If that sounds a little familiar, there’s a good reason. I’m describing Wellington, now. For better or worse, it’s a community. No matter how many high tech features it may sport, the Sidewalk Labs project may or may not become a community. At the least, with all the burdens of urban working life, and with people retreating more and more into their smartphones and digital interactions, what a community consists of is going to mean something different than we have come to know.

Wellington is all this and more, now.

We have a community, here in Wellington. We should never undervalue it. Therefore, as much as I like the prospect of having my weather mitigated and my garbage moved by a robot, I’m going with the community I have, now.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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