How A Citizen Can Make Absolutely No Difference in Five Simple Steps

Last year, I approached the chair of the Transportation Advisory Committee about the fact that I think since there is a spot reserved for a cyclist, there should be a spot reserved for an active transit user.

He told me I should contact someone at the city and ask for delegation status regarding their upcoming review of the Terms of Reference. (very helpful!)

I contacted the correct person, and she added me to the list of speakers (okay, I was the only one) on that topic, and was kind enough to make it a timed item so that I wouldn’t have to sit through their discussions of intersections and stuff. (very helpful!)

I attended the meeting on December 3, 2013 and gave a very short verbal presentation to the committee to ask that they recommend a spot on the committee be reserved for an active transit user. There was some discussion, and questions about my background, and then a vote. I believe it was a unanimous decision to recommend that the Terms of Reference include a seat reserved for a transit user.

This report
was received by the Civic Works Committee, to whom the Transportation Advisory Committee reports, on December 9, 2013.

It includes the following: 2014-12-10 15-15-32

Discussion on the matter was as follows:

Chair Harold Usher: “I don’t wanna have a whole lot of discussion on this because I’d like to move it right on to SPPC. Item number one should be refferred to SPPC.”

The committee decided unanimously to forward it to SPPC for it’s meeting on December 16, 2013.


On December 16, 2013, the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee discussed an agenda item labelled “Cycling Advisory Committee” to which several citizens spoke.

The related communication was this one which includes a revised Terms of Reference for the Transportation Advisory Committee that mentions nothing at all about a seat for a transit user.  It does include the following recommended change to the Terms of Reference: 2014-12-10 15-00-42

Note that

a) public transit is not generally considered a form of active transportation, although use of it often inherently includes, say, walking to the bus stop. “Active transit user” does not equal “User of active transportation”.

b) they also suggested making the voting representative from the London Transit Commission a non-voting member while removing the non-voting member of the LTC administration.

These recommendations, made by staff, completely ignore and in fact seem to go completely against the recommendations of the committee with regard to transit user perspectives being heard on the committee.

According to the report, this was all in response to an earlier direction from Council (on October 1, 2013) to explore the feasibility of creating a Cycling Advisory Committee, and as far as I can tell, the Transportation Advisory Committee report directed to be forwarded to the SPPC from the Civic Works Committee never made it there.

The recommendations were approved, including that “the City Clerk BE DIRECTED to report back with revised terms of reference for the Transportation Advisory Committee, which incorporate certain changes arising from the establishment of a Cycling Advisory Committee”

On March 17, 2013, this finally came back to SPPC following budget work. The recommended Terms of Reference for the Transportation Advisory Committee included the following: 2014-12-10 15-12-11 2014-12-10 15-12-33

Note that the number of members-at-large (i.e. regular citizens) was not increased from 3 to 4 citizens as previously recommended. Also, the stipulation that any of those seats be reserved for any kind of transportation user was removed. The change to decrease representation from the LTC, however, did make the final cut.

The proposed Terms of Reference were accepted.

And that’s that.

Where do we all belong?

I never figured out where I fit in. What I learned is that not belonging anywhere isn’t much different from belonging everywhere.

I’m at least as comfortable on a subway full of strangers as I am at a table surrounded by friends. I love where I live now, but I can’t wait to move. My job is fulfilling, but when the time comes, I’ll be happy to find something new. I have dreams but they’re commutable. The path bends, and I go with it. Not because I have to; because I want to.

My sense of un-belonging, of needing to keep moving because I shouldn’t stay here–it never came from the things around me, but from me. And I figured out that I can claim it. I can say it less like a confession and more like a profession:

I don’t belong to any place, and I will go wherever life and I agree to take me.

In Which I Make My Letter Open

Dear #LdnOnt:

I recently submitted the following letter to the Thames Valley District School Board in response to their call for public input on proposed changes to their Attendance Area policy. That’s the one that guides the decisions as to whether children can attend a school other than the one normally designated for them.

While the deadline for public input was today–June 30–if you have an opinion on the topic, it doesn’t hurt to voice it.

I want London to be the best place in Ontario to raise a family, and the Thames Valley District School Board is an important component of that. Let’s get engaged.

The following is my letter of input. Please don’t point out typos: I already sent it, and it would really drive me crazy to know they’re there. Alas, I’m a fallible human parent like most.

Thanks for reading!



To the Directors, Staff, and Trustees of the Thames Valley District School Board:

I was dismayed to learn of the proposed changes to the Thames Valley District School Board’s policies and procedures regarding Attendance Areas for Students. While I understand that students arbitrarily changing schools would make effective planning next to impossible, I feel the spirit of the proposed policy is not conducive to making reasoned decisions in the best interests of the student.

While the policy will be limiting for any students facing residential moves, I fear it will worst affect students already in difficult circumstances, for example, students who need to move due to economic problems, especially those who do so frequently; students who have immigrated to Canada or arrived from outside of London with families unsure of where in London they will eventually settle; and students facing difficult family situations such as domestic violence or illness.

Perhaps such situations might be considered “extreme and extenuating” but I have personal knowledge of families in each of these situations who have requested transfers under the less lenient policy currently in place, and all have been denied.

If this were typical, I would not be writing this letter, but what I have learned is that a policy so inflexible as the one proposed may make TVDSB the least student-and-family-friendly school board in Ontario.

I have included here a collection of passages from each of sixteen Ontario board policies and procedures that best encapsulates the board’s policy on attendance area exemptions. For context, the full policies and/or procedures have also been attached.

You will note that thirteen of these boards have policies that indicate requests will be accommodated unless there is a practical reason (lack of capacity, most often) not to accommodate the request. A further three of these boards have policies that seem to indicate that sufficient capacity in a receiving school is not reason enough, and the case for the student’s transfer must be compelling.

While I have largely excluded Catholic and separate school boards from my research, I did think it important to compare the proposed TVDSB policy with that of the London District Catholic School Board since TVDSB competes directly with that board for students. You’ll note that the LDCSB policy is also much more pro-student than the proposed TVDSB policy.

In no other board among these, does the policy indicate that attendance area exemptions will only be granted in extreme and extenuating circumstances. No other board in Ontario has taken such a hard line stance against meeting the requests of students and their parents—requests that one must assume are made, almost always, in the best interests of the child.

London is often lauded as a great place to raise a family, but policies such as the proposed remind us that unfortunately, that isn’t always the case regardless of economic status, religion, or other life circumstances.

Though I’ve gone to great lengths to demonstrate how the proposed policy will stack up against that of other Ontario boards, my appeal to you is not—at its heart—simply for TVDSB to match regional best practices. It is for TVDSB to be a school board that in both policy and procedure believes accommodating the needs of children should be the default, and that only in extreme and extenuating circumstances should we not create the best possible learning and life experience for students.

In my research I have learned that the following policies and procedures help many Ontario school boards to maintain a fair, pro-student stance on attendance area exemptions:

• Maintaining a list of “open” and “closed” schools: those with and without sufficient capacity to consider accepting transfer students

• Providing transportation only for those students registered at the school within their designated attendance area, so as not to incur additional costs

• Only allowing students to transfer to schools that have sufficient capacity and where the student’s presence there will not result in additional costs, with a acceptances conditional upon final registration numbers for students in the district just before the start of the school year

• Allowing students to remain in the school to which they have transferred until they have completed the highest grade available at the school

• Allowing the younger siblings of students attending their designated school to also attend that school when another school is designated for earlier grades

• Beginning from a place of approval and cooperation and only denying requests when there is a reasonable necessity to do so

I hope you’ll share in my vision of TVDSB contributing to a London that is the best place in Ontario to raise a family, and reconsider the policy currently under review.

I look forward to your response.

With thanks,
Amanda Stratton


View the letter with passages from board policies here
View the full attendance area policies of sixteen Ontario boards here
View the proposed TVDSB policy changes here 

It’s Nice of You to Ask

Observe for a while the way we ask things of people, and I think you’ll quickly notice that strictly speaking, we often don’t. We say “you could” instead of “could you?” and we put “I’d like to” where what really belongs is “may I?” We build easy outs into our invitations (“…but I know you’re very busy”) and preclude real gratitude in our requests (“…but it’s fine with me either way.”)

At our most sincere, many of us state our desires and wait, with near disinterest, for them to be met or not. We manage, with circuitous language, to request things of people without having to truly open ourselves up to someone else’s whim, mercy, or potential rejection. Perhaps it’s a rhetorical power play or emotional defence, and perhaps it’s a well-intentioned attempt to be understanding and undemanding of others.

What we overlook, though, is this: it’s nice to be asked. When you really ask, you’re telling a person that you value their time, attention, or perhaps trust. Whatever you’re asking for is not something you’d just as soon leave as take; you will appreciate it. It says you haven’t taken the person for granted.

So although we may think it’s kinder to convey indifference, the truth is often that it’s not just nice for someone else to be asked; it’s nice of you to ask.

Saving the World

I know some really amazing people. The kind of people who put a vast array of mental, financial, social, and temporal resources into improving the world around them. The kind of people who have those resources at their disposal and know how to use them to, as I always vaguely put it, make things happen. I am lucky, and every day I’m grateful to have somehow stumbled across these people.

But there are days when I feel like the tiniest little fish that accidentally swam into an ocean full of very big fish. Sometimes I can’t imagine what I could ever do that wouldn’t be dwarfed by even their middling accomplishments. In those moments, I begin to wonder why I bother to do anything at all, instead of just leaving it to the more capable people around me.

That’s ridiculous.

Don’t worry about doing the most possible good, or taking on the biggest project you can imagine. There are no all-encompassing projects. Now and then Superman gets to save the whole damn world, but usually, even the superhuman fictionally among us mostly just take care of a fairly narrow set of problems in a relatively small chunk of the planet.

If I work on making the city better for transit riders, and you work on making it better for students, and someone else makes it better for small business owners, and kids, and athletes, and homeless people, and musicians, and research and development companies, and fighter pilots…

Eventually, we start to realize the city is getting to be pretty awesome for everyone. Which is perfect. Because we need everyone.

Being Unemployed IS NOT AWESOME

Unemployment in London is a hot topic these days. And by “hot topic” I mean “pressing problem threatening to force London into a death spiral,” and by “these days,” I mean for about the past two years. Because I’m a young(ish) professional, the issue of unemployment among professionals is particularly interesting to me. Not good interesting. Sucktacular interesting. Here’s why:

When you’re trying to convince everybody that you rock and have the potential to be insanely successful, and they should get you on their team, know what doesn’t sound good?

“Oh, and my life is slowly falling apart around me because I have no money, and I’m kinda depressed, and I’ve never felt this crappy and defeated in my entire life, and yes, it seems like I’m very busy, but I’m not getting paid for any of it, and I kind of want to eviscerate myself with a rusty pitchfork every time someone says how great it is that I’m so active and how awesome I am, because OH FOR GOD’S SAKE, SOMEBODY PAY ME, PLEASE.”

So we don’t say it. We talk about how wonderful it is to be busy (so many lunch meetings because you’re always free for lunch when you don’t have a job!) and how great it is to be talking to people about their ideas and how we could help them (because we’re not busy helping anyone who’s paying us!) and that we couldn’t imagine working a 9-5 anyway (okay, that one’s just actually true. I mean, we can imagine it, especially the dental benefits, but c’mon–it does suck).

The best is when people call themselves consultants but actually haven’t been paid in, um… a while. I’m not a consultant. I’m someone who used to be, and is now severely underemployed in a job that barely pays my bills now, and won’t last much longer, and then, well, I guess I just won’t pay my bills.

And the more I try to work toward getting a better job, or doing things that benefit my community (all that activity everyone thinks is so awesome!), the less time I have for that job anyway. And I’m not the only one in this boat. We are an ocean liner full of people barely treading water, and risking drowning every time we try to get a little closer to where we want to be.*

I probably shouldn’t write this blog post, because now some potential employer is going to find it and think I’m mentally unstable and not particularly wonder why nobody else will hire me, but you know what? I don’t care. If none of us are willing to say, “Hey, it kinda frigging sucks to be us in London right now” then who the hell is going to say it?

And when someone is willing to stand up and say it on our behalf, why on Earth are we disagreeing with them?

Stop giving everyone a reason to say that every young underemployed person in London seems really happy and like they just love it here and would never leave no matter what and actually don’t want any money anyway. Because that’s what all of our elected officials and various representatives hear when we act like we have been. Like everything’s cool.

No. It sucks.

I’d like some people to please try to fix it.

Thank you.


*That’s a terrible metaphor. Why would people in an ocean liner be treading water? That sounds like grounds for a hefty lawsuit if you went on some kind of a luxury cruise and then ended up treading water. Oh, hey, I hope that happens to me.

Bike Lanes Aren’t Really for Cyclists (or if they are, I don’t really care, because I’m not one)

I don’t ride a bike. I don’t have one, so I’d have to steal one, and it’s my understanding that once you’ve stolen a bike you’re required to dump it in the river? I don’t know. That’s what they do in Listowel. Seems bad for beavers.

Because I don’t ride a bike, I don’t really care much about the cyclist perspective because hey, isn’t the idea of democracy supposed to be that every man stands up and speaks for himself and his own interests?*

So, here’s my perspective, as it applies to cyclists being allowed to continue to exist:

1. As a driver**, I don’t want to share the road with bicycles. For one thing, they’re slow. For a more important thing, it scares me because I know that even puny little me could crush a cyclist like a bug under even my compact car. In many instances, sharing the road may be even more scary for cyclists because in that scenario, they’re the bugs. This isn’t a hypothetical, what-if-someone-ever-got-hurt mental experiment. I know many regular cyclists who’ve been injured while properly following traffic laws by people in cars who apparently don’t think traffic laws apply to them. Those drivers probably feel bad. I wish they didn’t have to feel that way. So, cyclists shouldn’t be obliged to share the road with them.

2. As a person who doesn’t like when kids die or are seriously maimed,  I particularly don’t want children on bicycles to have to share the road with cocky motor vehiclists. In fact, I think this is probably the fourth stupidest thing humanity has ever allowed to happen. People have suggested that children under a certain age (14ish) should be allowed to bike on the sidewalk without penalty.

3. As a pedestrian, even though I don’t want cyclists to get killed or seriously maimed by drivers, I also don’t want to share the sidewalk with cyclists. You know how people who ride bikes are always saying that sharing the road with cars is scary? (Yes, you do. See point number one.) The cars are always crowding you out, and moving so much faster than you, and frankly it’s dangerous to mix these two forms of transportation together? Well, pedestrians feel the same way about sharing the sidewalk with cyclists. Especially pedestrians who don’t want to see their kids get run over by bikes (see point number two).

So the only logical solution is to ban bicycles forever!

Wait, that’s not what I was going to say. I guess since cyclists are great for the environment, contribute far less to traffic congestion (especially when in bike lanes) than cars, take up less space for parking, and are generally awesome people living healthy lives, maybe we shouldn’t extinctify them. Even if we are jealous of their tiny carbon footprints. There must be some other solution, but as you can see I’m strongly averse to sharing any part of my life with “those bike people.”

Oh, right: bike lanes.

Bike lanes would be awesome for me as a driver, a parent, and a pedestrian. And if they work out okay for cyclists, too, well… that’s fine, I guess. Frankly, I’d prefer we segregate them anyway.

So maybe we don’t decide to make it official that there won’t be any more bike lanes for ten years, hey, London?

(For those of you just tuning in, possibly from out of town, the city of London, in a bid to meet a certain goal, is considering cutting a great number of plans and services from its plans and services. One of the changes proposed to make a 0.7% increase in the tax levy possible is a reduction in the bike lane program that “will result in no new bike lanes being constructed in the City for the next ten years” (from linked doc). We, the people who don’t actually care about cyclists, think this is a horrible idea.)

*No. It’s really not. Please don’t ever misquote me. Or… just regular quote me, I guess, without adding this note.

**I know what at least none of you is thinking: Amanda, you’re not a driver. That’s true. But I have a driver’s licence and I own a car, so I’m much closer to being a driver than I am to stealing a BMX and throwing it off a bridge into a beaver dam.

Paper or Plastic? Neither, thanks.

Perhaps you’re familiar with my little “i give up” project, in which I cut excess out of my life for a variety of reasons, most of them related to tree-hugging. I introduced it here and gave up my car here. But it doesn’t stop there.

I’ve been very slowly working toward a huge goal: cutting excess packaging out of my life. As I do, I’ll blog about the little life hacks I discover that let me cut out the excess, so that if you’re so inclined, hopefully you can do it, too. Continue reading Paper or Plastic? Neither, thanks.

Community Composting: it’s not crazy

A while ago, amidst much hubbub regarding London’s green bin program, I thought to myself, “Why don’t we just do this ourselves? Why not have neighbourhood-focused, community-driven compost programs? Is that crazy?”

It turns out it’s not crazy. A little research revealed I’m not even close to being the first one to think of it. (Isn’t that always the way?) Hopefully, that means I’m also not the only person in my neighbourhood who would want to participate in one. Continue reading Community Composting: it’s not crazy

just an average kind of extraordinary