Putting lipstick on a pig

lipstick pig 2By John Sigurjonsson

In a rating of best places to live in Canada, Chatham-Kent is rated 182 out of 201 in a comparison with cities of various sizes. In a ranking of medium-sized cities our size we are 45th out of 46, second-worst only to Cape-Breton where the unemployment rate is 16.5%.

Fortunately the ratings didn’t take into account tree cover (we’re the worst in Ontario), air-quality (among the worst in Canada), chronic health conditions (among the worst in Canada), waterfront development (ugly Chatham downtown waterfront, weed-clogged Rondeau Bay, silted Mitchell’s Bay, pollution-closed beaches), municipal water quality (yellow water days each August), vibrancy of our downtowns (Chatham’s is a basket case). So maybe we got off lucky.

So what are our options?

  1. Leave. Go to a higher-ranked community. But no, CK has already lost too much population. That’s one of the things that got us the low ranking. We don’t want to start a death spiral.
  2. Ignore the flaws and sell like hell. There’s been  a lot of that lately – municipal “branding”, attractive but bogus municipal video (example: features smiling cyclists implying this is a cycling-friendly community. It isn’t.), Chamber of Commerce leader committing to the sell, Mayor’s Asian trips. Selling is needed, but without development of the quality of the product it’s known in advertising and PR circles as “putting lipstick on a pig”. If the quality of the product doesn’t match the window-dressing, the sales will backfire.
  3. Shift the focus to building a quality product. Keep selling, but as quickly as possible fill in the weak spots. We know what they are – just take off the blinkers.

The shift in focus will cost money in the short-term. If a candidate in the next election tells you that his/her first priority is keeping taxes low, cover your ears and run away fast. The strategy of cutting investment in our communities to achieve lower taxes has got us to 182nd place. If it continues, our “race to the bottom” will be successful. Want to try for 201st place?

The age-friendly Chatham-Kent program announced recently is an example of what’s needed, but with three typical Chatham-Kent flaws:

  1. the program was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) ten years ago. Where have we been for the past decade?
  2. The front end work (survey and focus groups) will take until sometime next year. Please don’t wait until then to start productive work. After ten years the WHO will have a clear idea on what makes an age-friendly community. We  don’t have to reinvent that wheel.
  3. The program is being devised and run by a committee. Municipal Council doesn’t act on advice from committees. It ignores the input from the Community Strategic Planning Committee, it stymied the Active Communities Steering Committee until it resigned, and reports from the other committees are politely “received for information” with no concrete follow-up. Best wishes to the committee in your important work.