Friday, August 11, 2017

PETERBOROUGH’S USUAL SUSPECTS?

Why we need to break out from the Hunter Street Bubble


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Sitting on the patio at the Only on Hunter Street on a warm summer evening, cold drink in hand, indie tunes wafting across Jackson Creek from the Garnet, and a gallery of friendly faces in the crowd, you may be forgiven for concluding that Peterborough is the best small city in Ontario: all around you, you see people having an awesome time; they look stylish, interesting, and in love with life. An intriguing mist of evanescent pheromones hangs in air, like subtle perfume. Beware! You are falling prey to the seductions of the Hunter Street Bubble.
When you are in the Bubble, especially at the Only, all of Peterborough is cool and hip.
The craft beer you are quaffing is a gateway drug for this delusion. Hunter Street is the home turf of the alleged Usual Suspects. This alluring hipster paradise is particularly dangerous to aspiring election candidates; Peterborough is far more than the Hunter Street Bubble. I learned this the hard way when I ran for council in 2014.
If you watch City Council meetings, you have heard the Usual Suspects making presentations; these are the advocates for an array of good causes: progressive urban planning, better cycling infrastructure, and more action on poverty, to name a few. Some City Hall politicians believe that there are only about 50 activists in town who stand in the way of getting things done. An accurate view or a manipulative dismissal?
Now it is time to pay your tab, sober up, and head to the suburbs.
You will soon find other bubbles of which you are not a member. That’s fine, because you may not like them. What you may not know is how much they don’t like you. Fans of the Hunter Street Bubble tend to live downtown, be anarchists or at least left-of-centre, and be suspicious of unrestrained economic growth.
But the Usual Suspects aren’t a coordinated resistance to all the growth projects being planned by the business community and their allies at City Hall. There is only convenient stereotyping that some use to polarize debates and obfuscate issues. All sides play this game.
Resistance to mainstream policies has deep, partisan roots in Peterborough’s downtown political culture: the Save PDI campaign, the battle to stop the Parkway, the No Casino debate, the fight to save PCVS, the three Monsef campaigns, and the most recent provincial, federal, and particularly municipal elections. Advocates of growth see these resisters as idealistic fools, as tree-huggers with no understanding of how the real world works, and as professional citizens big on criticism but short on positive solutions.
In fact, many of the Usual Suspects who speak up at City Hall own homes, have careers, and hold investment portfolios. They favour smart growth, not growth to the exclusion of everything else. But they have short fuses for backroom deals that benefit those in high places. They are quick to accuse councillors of perceived conflicts of interest before researching all the facts.
The Usual Suspects are maligned, and not always unfairly, as being unduly partisan.
Some local media reporters pounce on this adversarial tendency. Other journalists take a more nuanced approach; they point out the inconsistencies on all sides over controversial issues while at the same time being careful not to annoy City Hall. The advocates of growth are correct in pointing out that the Hunter Street Bubble activists can be horrifically elitist. How often do the hipsters on the patio at the Only have conversations with the homeless on George Street before advocating on their behalf?
So are the Usual Suspects just a metaphor, an identity for a group that doesn’t exist? Whether you consider yourself an activist or not, all you can really control is how your thinking shapes your actions. Those activists inside the Hunter Street Bubble do not do themselves any favours with their stereotyping of the politicians and business leaders they dislike. And they can be intensely exclusionary. How often do known Conservatives drop by the Only? Hardly ever. Why? Ask them.
The 2014 Municipal Election taught us that elections are more about personality and neighbourhood credibility than they are about policies. Sure, policy statements matter. As a candidate, I developed policy statements that were part of my campaign in Northcrest. One of these policies was No Parkway. A mistake? Policies, at least at the municipal level, pale in importance when compared to personal profile, community service, and the strength of community relationships. Relationships, particularly relationships based on trust built up over years of community service, matter far more than policies. Northcrest, as it turned out, wanted the Parkway. I was a downtowner running in the ‘burbs. An unknown. An outsider. I lost.
How well do the Usual Suspects manage their relationships with other groups, like the business community?
Not very well. As citizens, we can choose to perpetuate this animosity, or not. Sure, let’s all work hard to elect a better City Council next year. But can we do this while turning down our contempt for the other side? This year’s Official Plan Review will be another opportunity to reach out to those we don’t agree with and together paint a compelling picture of an aspirational Peterborough of the future. These arch enemies in politics may be our customers, our employers, our students, our neighbours, and members of our families. Together we have to make this community work.
Bill Templeman is a facilitator, career counselor and staff development consultant; he also delivers seminars on teamwork. Bill has lived in town since 2000. In 2014 he ran for City Council in Northcrest.

Drumlins, delusions and Good Samaritans: Cycling 100 km in Peterborough County



Never underestimate the power of the ego to inflict suffering, exhaustion and athletic humiliation upon its host. Last Sunday, I did the Shimano Route 2 bike ride, the 100 km. My first-century ride of the season. Today, I am still stiff, lethargic and oozing in profound reverence of my own stupidity. This ride goes north through Lakefield to Stoney Lake, east to Crowes Landing, south on Road 40, then west on Webster Road, then back to Peterborough. On a map, the route looks like a compressed square with a few short sides and one long side, the slog back home.

I thought I was ready. I had done a dozen 30 km rides. I had replaced the drive train on my elderly touring bike and had put on new tires. Like me, my bike's best days are now past, but I can still keep up with slow group rides. As a lifelong weekend warrior, I usually muddle through.

The countryside east of here is a drumlin plain; retreating glaciers left long hummocks of gravel. Cycling on a north-south axis through a drumlin plain, you ride a series of long gentle inclines, long summit plateaus then gradual declines on which you can fly downhill in top gear, feeling much fitter than you really are. When you cross a drumlin plain on an east-west axis, there are many more steep inclines and declines, albeit shorter. This was the long side of my route back home. Here is where I committed the Ultimate Cycling Sin: I walked up a few of these hills, only to fly down the other side and have to trudge up the next one. But I was alone. No saw this shameful cowardice.

My map told me there were many "towns" along my route. But I assumed that the towns on the map, places like Galesburg, Gilchrist Bay, Clarina, Centre Dummer, Cottesloe and Guerin had at least a corner store. No. Many were just a few houses. It was odd to be biking through un"‹-populated mixed bush or farmland and not see any public land. The frequent NO TRESPASSING/PRIVATE LAND signs meant I had two options: stop on the shoulder to rest, or keep cycling.

At the 70 kilometer point, my bike began to feel like a torturer's rack. My neck was stiff, my hands ached, my tail bones stung, and my thighs burned."‹And I had run out of water. "‹Had I had taken on a ride I wasn't ready for?

I thought about stopping at a farmhouse for water, but I kept thinking that the next town would surely have a store. Wrong. Eventually, I stopped in the shade to lie down. A Good Samaritan stopped her car and asked if I was all right. After all, there I was, sprawled out at the side of the road like a flaccid jellyfish beached at high tide, helmet off, my bike flat on the ground. I said I was fine; then confessed that I was out of water but that I was close to Peterborough. She said I was still half an hour away; then she mercifully thrust a bottle of water on me. I thanked her profusely but did not think to pay her. She drove off. Only later did I think of taking a picture to somehow thank her.

Memo to self: Next year, before trying another 100-km ride, do a dozen or so 30 km rides, then do a few 50s, then a few 60s, then an 80-km ride or two. Or rest on my laurels, the last refuge of aging weekend warriors everywhere.

Bill Templeman is a local writer, and consultant; he is still in denial about the passage of time upon his fading athletic prowess.