Eight years is a lifetime when it comes to political scandals these days, but I’m old enough to remember in 2013 when the City of Guelph spent $24,500 to be featured on Profiles with Terry Bradshaw. It was basically an infomercial that sold Guelph’s awesomeness to people with insomnia and were watching basic cable at 3:15 in the morning.
By comparison, buying a 16-page insert in the Globe and Mail for $11,450 is a steal at twice the price.
In one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it stories, Guelph Today’s Richard Vivian reported that 200,000 copies of an insert called Perspective Guelph, crafted for the city by a marketing company, was included in the June 25 edition of the Globe that was distributed around the GTA.
Now this is not a lecture to say that the city isn’t allowed to promote itself. This is a question about who the city is promoting itself to, and why.
According to Vivian’s reporting, the intent of the Perspective Guelph brochure is to attract new residents and businesses to Guelph. That’s fine. We all know that we have to add about 25,000 more people to the roll in the next 10 years, and there will need to be 92,000 total jobs ready for those new people, as well as the ones already here.
But it’s the ones already here that I’m truly concerned about because who is the Perspective Guelph insert really meant to attract?
The answer is people who still read the paper edition of the Globe and Mail, likely people who still subscribe to the Globe and Mail. Presumably, these are also the same people who enjoy enough leisure time to be able to sit down and actually read a physical copy of a newspaper, so likely not working-class people with families.
The insert was in papers in the GTA, a target rich audience already looking to escape the sprawl of Toronto and Peel. They are people with money to burn, able to buy property and able to get more bang for their buck in Guelph and thus artificially driving up housing prices by bidding a couple of hundred thousand dollars over asking.
In essence, the City of Guelph buying a brochure in one of Canada’s highest end newspapers is not an invitation to people that want to make Guelph home. It’s an invitation to people that want Guelph to make them money.
It’s not a new issue. For a long time, there’s been a push/pull among the two ends of the socioeconomic strata here in Guelph, the ones that embody the royalty of the Royal City, and the ones struggling on the fringes. These aren’t the people concerned about council composition, parkland, dog parks, or driveway widths, they’re concerned about finding a place to live that doesn’t require three jobs to afford.
Guilty consciences are assuaged with statistics about how Guelph is Canada’s most caring community, about how many people per capita dedicate their time to volunteer initiatives, and how much money is raised for worthy causes from community kitchens to public health facilities. These are undoubtedly good things, but they don’t attack systemic inequalities. They’re Band Aids.
On the flip side, we have people and business owners downtown issuing the same old dismissive attitude about the ones who are struggling with addiction, mental illness and homelessness. It’s hard to enjoy your expensive meal on a patio when nearby is a reminder of all the people that society continually, and casually, leaves behind.
In fact, the Downtown Dining District is the ultimate expression of those two economic forces. The idea to close downtown streets for months at a time to promote a tourist-friendly car-free experience comes at the expense of massive transit disruption, which is the way that many working-class people get to and from work and other places.
We have flaws in our transit system, we have no direct control over our social housing supply, housing prices are running away from the ability of most people to pay, and we can’t any of us agree about the need to densify outside of one small portion of town. I guess an apartment tower in the wrong place might ruin those picturesque vistas that look so good in paid advertising.
It’s a kind of affluenza, the condition where someone recklessly desires to be more successful or can’t understand their own actions because they’re isolated by social status or wealth. Guelph is obsessed with selling a platonic version of itself where everything here is perfect, and the effort is meant to attract people that will exacerbate the imperfections that no one here wants to talk about.
Again, the city is free to promote itself, but we need to ask ourselves who is the audience we’re trying to reach? Is it to people that want to add to the social fabric and quality of life in Guelph, or is to people looking for cheaper land and the assumption that their self-selecting into an upper middle-class haven?
Better yet, perhaps the City of Guelph should direct the sales pitch to the people already here. We’re starting to feel unwanted.