Thursday, August 25, 2011

Summer Editorial Series: The Conclusion – Has Guelph Changed?

Sometimes wading into the online debate and trying to make common sense of the issues is like yelling at chestnuts for being lazy. If you’re interested in sampling some of the Whitmanesque wit that makes up the Guelph political discourse, one needn’t look any further than the comment section on the latest blog post at 59 Carden St.

The topic du jour was last week’s unveiling of a new logo for Guelph Transit, a mitigating nugget of public relations to help cover for the fact that we won’t actually get our new routes and schedule till the late fall, and won’t step foot in the inter-module transit hub till next spring. Many of the comments were about the wasteful cost of an obviously aesthetic manoeuvre, but never underestimate the anonymity of the internet to allow for the most puerile and base comments to be made in the name of “debate.”

Let’s scroll down, as it were, to a couple of comments in particular. “Waiting for a slow, roundabout ride that almost gets you there, accompanied by the smelly freak show, is for people who can't afford better,” said a regular poster named Grumpy Old Corporal. Adds Doug, of no fixed last name, “If you think that a new logo and slogan will get me out of my car, so I can ride with drooling, mumbling staggering, rude, loud, profane, sloppy and the freak show of Guelph. You're crazy!”

First of all, you know your day’s gone topsy turvy when Grumpy Old Corporal is the voice of reason, and regulars on 59 Carden Street know what I’m talking about. Second of all, would these guys say any of this aloud if not for the anonymity of the internet? I’d bet my bus fare that if Doug or Grumpy ever come into direct contact with the Hills Have Eyes mob from central casting that is apparently the transit using population of Guelph, they’d be too busy trying to not lose control of their bowels.

But this isn’t about the not-so-startling lack of civility on the internet. This piece is about a tonal shift I’ve been sensing in Guelph for some time now. (Hence the above name of the piece.) Now granted, the internet is a terrible place to gauge the temperament of people on average since it typically attracts extremists from both ends, but I’m thinking of something more basic. A gut feeling. This isn’t the city that fought Wal-mart tooth and nail for 10 years. This isn’t the town that revels in, as my friend Oliver from CFRU observes, being the Berkley of Canada. Heck, this isn’t even the place they took Mondex for test drive in back in the 90s.

Remember Mondex? It was to the debit card what HD-DVD was to Blu-Ray. Never mind.

I guess what I’m trying to say, simplistically, is Guelph used to be cooler. Don’t get me wrong, Guelph can still be cool, and is infinitely more cooler than, say, Burlington, but I do feel, what I will call a “Stepford Effect,” creeping into the works. The Stepford Effect, of course referring to Bryan Forbes’ subversive cult classic, where in people start imposing a set of characteristics on a city for what it should be, not what it can be or what it is. A city should have low taxes, lots of shopping, malleable borders, a quiet downtown, and no roustabouts with a cause ready to disrupt.

The assumption now is that Guelph, as it was, is wrong. Being known as the place that held out for so long against Wal-Mart is bad for business. Being known as a place where conscientious objectors occupied green space to try and stymie urban sprawl is bad for business. Despite the fact that our downtown is a centre of arts of culture, you better not put up posters to promote and celebrate that culture because the city will slam you with fees. Then, when its time for a budget crunch, we’ll always make sure to cut transit first, because no one worthy of being pandered to takes public transit. Oh, and by the way, in the one area of the city where we know the highest concentration of low-income people live, we’ll support the closing of the area’s only discount store and replace it with a mid-priced furniture outlet, because there’s one thing our city’s poor needs it’s not paying a cent on a new living room set till 2013.

As with any editorial piece, I don’t mean to say that my way is the right way, but the intent, like with all my editorials this summer, is to try and get people to think and promote dialogue. This is the complete opposite of the intent of the above comments discussed, but it seems like this the only kind of conversation that counts anymore. As we head into a new election cycle, let’s try and reverse that trend together.

And now, on with the news…

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