Syrian refugees eager to face problems plaguing local residents

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Vetted by the United Nations and screened by Canadian Immigration authorities, refugees of the long conflict in Syria are finally being given the opportunity to look forward at the glorious prospect of first-world problems they will face in their new lives in Kingston.

“We have been given information about our host cities,” remarked a mother of three bound for air transport. “and from what I’m reading, I can’t wait to embrace all the petty and menial arguments that seem to make life unbearable for those living there. It’s going to be wonderful!”

When pressed, she elaborated one some of her favourite items.

“I understand that retail vacancy is a problem, with empty store-fronts and vacated property. But at home, often this was because the family had fled for safety. Perhaps a racketeering ring was demanding safety payment, or the risk of bombing was too great, but here in Kingston it seems people just leave if the rent is too high.”

Her son, nearly 15, remarked on some geography he’d learned.

“I understand your city is only accessible from the east via two small bridges,” he explained. “When I learned this I assumed it was for some kind of strategic advantage in case of invasion. However, I now know that this is just because the discussions about further bridges have been ongoing for nearly 50 years. how remarkable!”

While the fatigue of travel has hardened their spirits, they also expressed sympathy that some problems were truly universal.

“I understand you also face the chaos and violence of student uprising,” the woman offered. “We have known this trouble for many years, since to so-called ‘Arab spring’ and I can only hope, as I do for our own students, that yours will find the justice and freedom they are fighting for.”

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Local real estate agent shocked to discover they are polling third in MPP elections.

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As election road signs sprout like late-blooming perennials, one local agent has seen their ‘For Sale’ signs generating an unusual response in the local electorate.

“I guess any press is good press,” laughed the agent. “But I’ll be damned if I’d know what to do if they elected me.”

Indeed, the most recent poll of local voters had the agent running a strong third behind the two frontrunners whose parties are locked in a province-wide battle. This number is even more shocking given that, in every case, his name would have to have been essentially “written in” as a response.

When questioned about their choice, most respondents seemed to think that the signs featuring his face and picture were done at a much higher quality than traditionally cheap and disposable signs, and their placement throughout the city was much more organic than the “spamlike” ways of the current contenders.

“It just seems confident, understated, and refined,” explained a resident who had been polled. “Just the kinds of things you’d want to see in leadership. The last thing I want is someone who’s all ‘me me me, look at me!’ and throwing all their money away on landfill. This guy has nice wooden poles, holding up colour printed signs. They are a feature in the landscape, not an eyesore.”

Other candidates were quick to dismiss his candidacy, saying that it was nothing more than a novelty. However, some of the smaller parties have admitted to reaching out for advice on how to generate such grass-roots interest.

Furniture resellers scramble as local couch values plummet

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As the traditionally hectic season of student exodus reaches peak traffic, furniture values throughout the city are plummeting at a record rate.

“Even though we expect it at this time of year, the pace of devaluation today is staggering,” explained a local furniture day-trader. “By the time we opened, the weekend Kijiji numbers had already forced full couch prices down into the low hundreds. What’s worse is that there seems to be a huge amount of panic in the market, which will make things volatile.”

Indeed, the late arrival of spring this year meant that many couches which may have transitioned into being lawn couches, and subsequently landfill, have instead stayed inside, keeping their value and ripening for the moving season. However this widespread availability has caused an overall drop in the market value per piece.

“It’s like, supply and demand, brah.” explained a first-year economics student who paused his front-lawn beer pong game when asked for comment. “there’s like, everyone has all these couches they need to sell, but like since everyone is… uhh… selling already, then it’s like whoever is the lowest is gonna sell first right?”

Indeed this race to the bottom has seen some owners resorting to junking their investments, and listing the couches for the cost of transportation, or free if picked up. Even traditional last resorts of disposal including the salvation army, where one can at least recoup some good will, are turning these toxic assets away.

“Everyone’s trying to bail out in the middle of the meltdown,” explains the trader. “Those of us playing the long game have seen this before, so we’re out scouring the ads, looking for under-valued stuff that we can pick up and hold onto for a while. Come fall, a lot of this stuff will appreciate considerably, but you’ve got to be able to ride it for a while.”

It remains to be seen if playing the furniture market can be sustainable long-term, but the emergence of these kinds of industries in the city make it seem that, for now, they can become a sound investment.

Feral students threaten local delivery drivers

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As warmer weather and the dwindling of student assistance funds combine in the newly minted “student district”, some delivery drivers have admitted they are having to be more and more cautious of students turning feral as exams approach.

“It’s crazy!” Explained a pizza man, his shirt and hat rumpled and panting with every breath. “By the time you get to the street, all you can feel are the eyes. They’re coming out of every window, and they’re staring straight into your car. It’s a risk every single time I open that door, and I’m just lucky I haven’t been attacked yet. I know others haven’t been so lucky.”

Indeed, while there are no confirmed reports, the rumours are well known throughout the tightly-knit fabric of food delivery specialists. Many of them indicate that they know someone who knows someone who was swarmed for their food, and others don’t even feel comfortable carrying an insulated bag through the streets.

One behavioural psychologist based at the university provided some insight into this change in the demeanour and attitudes of the resident species.

“They are, above all, pack driven.” He explained. “By this time in the year, they have well defined and stratified social groupings which they have been operating in throughout the winter. Some of these may have already been in tension due to competition between males for female attentions.”

“Now you start to heat things up. With scarcity in their financial supply, increased outdoor activity, exams, and a traditionally active breeding season leading into their seasonal migrations, they can start to be a bit testy.”

Some Thai-food restaurants, traditionally hard-line delivery advocates, have taken a firm stance against the dangers to their drivers. Refusing to deliver to the door, and instead choosing open, well-lit corners where they can pull up and deliver quickly with a minimized risk of injury. Others have taken the opposite approach, seeking to blend in by hiring younger and younger drivers with older model used vehicles containing sound systems that make up the majority of their value. These have seen moderate success, although the turnover rate is high as they are often drawn to the natural patterns of the students after repeated exposure.

While there is no real answer, the fast-food industry is torn over their ideal outcome. They know that business will plummet after migration, so they are burdened with the fact that they need to make the most of the situation while it’s available. “Maybe we’ll start providing danger pay,” suggested a manager. “God knows these heroes deserve it.”

Politician regrets seeking input on school closures

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After a surprise announcement this week that two local schools would be closing despite vocal opposition from local interest groups, one politician involved in the process believes the process could have handled better.

“We really dropped the ball on this one,” he admitted. “We were going to close the school no matter what anyone said. I think in hindsight opening it up for discussion was a mistake, and a bit of a dick move.”

Discussion around the closures has been heated, with many locals arguing strongly in defence of the schools and their communities. It appeared that the community was sending a clear message that they wanted to avoid closures, but that message was unknowingly being sent to deaf ears.

“What a waste of time,” lamented a community organizer. “We spent a lot of social energy here, collecting signatures, printing signs, organizing support, and in the end they weren’t even going to listen no matter what we did.”

When asked about how it should have been handled, the response came quickly. “Looking back now, I would have preferred it was quick and sharp, like pulling off a band-aid. Why stretch things out for so long when all you’re doing is building people up for more misery?”

Others were less mournful, having realized long ago that there was little hope that a closure could be avoided. They admitted that they had continued through the process as a “good exercise” in community organization, which can be drawn upon as valuable experience when an issue comes up which might actually be subject to discussion or persuasion.

Caught in the middle of it all, students were elated to hear that their school would be closing. The dream scenario of school being out “forever” spread through social media quickly. Once they were informed that they would continue to attend school, but in a different location, many resumed their traditional teen apathy and others rolled their eyes and were heard to remark “whatever…” before implanting earbuds and walking away.

The lasting effect of this closure would appear to be a deep mistrust of government bureaucracy and a disdain for decisions made by those with no real stake in the outcome, but other smaller issues may be proven by history to be the bigger burden. Things like the removal of the last blockade to relentless northward expansion of Queen’s University, or the potential use of the Memorial Centre grounds for a new larger school obstructing the future site of an XXLVEC, could be stumbling blocks in a future which will trace its woes to decisions made today.

While not quite the heart of a city, high schools are no doubt organic, on the level of a lung or kidney. The reorganization and redistribution of students, and the relocation of their school will create numerous changes and adjustments felt throughout the civic body on levels which are only just being considered. Being awake during the surgery will be trying, but the demeanour of the surgeon has come up lacking.

“It’s like they’re opening up our ribcage, and asking what we should keep,” fumed a local parent. “and when we say keep everything and make them healthy, they ignore us and cut it out instead.”

West-end residents decry lack of community from behind backyard privacy fences

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Speaking anonymously from behind his 6-foot tall cedar fence, a west end resident has raised a number of complaints about the lack of community and neighbourhood charm in his west-end suburb.

“It’s like people pretend they don’t even see each other,” said the man, invisible in his backyard. “It took me almost three months to meet the guy on the other side of me, and that was only because FedEX delivered a package there by mistake.”

Many other residents share these opinions, lamenting the lack of friendliness and the absence of rallying points to generate camaraderie in their areas. Reasons for this barren community landscape include the large property plots and long driveways which make maintenance a chore, as well as a lack of walkable destinations at which locals can meet and mingle.

“Going home, I just drive by house after house. There’s no local shops, or a dance studio or anything, and even if there was, the houses take up so much space only a few people would walk to it. How are we supposed to get to know anyone when our communities are designed as a drive-thru and not a restaurant?”

Some initial steps are being taken by local council representatives, submitting a bill for taller fences that they hope will weave some community cloth.

“The goal,” outlined a supporter, “is to get everyone to have to re-do all their fencing. You’d have to talk to all your neighbours, organize the costs and the scheduling, agree on designs. It’s a pretty major undertaking that would bring people together and start to generate those roots where people get to know each other.”

However, others think that more drastic measures need to be taken.

“Yeah, the fence thing is a good idea,” admits the anonymous voice behind the cedar, “but I think it’s only a band-aid solution. What we really need to do is make this place busier. Maybe make the streets narrower and straighter so that walking is easier. Add a few office buildings and some retail and push the density up. Then people will be walking around, enjoying a lunch and maybe buying some gifts. We could have a pub in the middle for people to go after work. Doesn’t that sound like a lot more fun than what we’ve got now? Why don’t they make communities like that any more?”

Local panhandlers outraged at retail vacancy.

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In a downtown retail stretch that used to boast many viable pan handling locations, the empty store fronts and vacant display windows now present are an ongoing concern to those who make their livelihood on the kindness of customers.

“Used to be, there was places all up n’ down here where we could set up and make some coin,” remembers a local man. “Nowadays, there’s three or four of us all fighting to try to get in front of the same spots because that’s the only place which sees any customers.”

Indeed, the concentration of those seeking spare change has been accelerated by the removal of many downtown retail spaces, and the resulting reduction in patronage. Normally the winter months are particularly lean, with tourism dollars drying up until the warmth of spring, however this year has been particularly bad with the combination of poor weather and store closings meaning that a record low pedestrian traffic was observed throughout downtown sidewalks.

Some of those asking for handouts have taken a more long term approach, by establishing themselves in empty entranceways of previously occupied businesses. These home bases provide some consistency to the downtown working crowd, but are not nearly as successful as an open business would normally be.

“How are we supposed to get someone to stop and pass off some change when people are only passing by on the way to somewhere that’s open?” Remarked a young woman. “People just put their blinders on, and walk on to where they’re going. There’s nothing in the windows to make them slow down and look these days, and that used to give us an easy way to get their attention.”

Others have begun forming partnerships to cover a wider area and pool their earnings. It is hoped through this method that they may be able to generate enough to start a small business in one of the vacancies, providing a much needed influx of shoppers.

“It’s about being self sustaining,” remarked the organizer. “Eventually we start generating enough that we can get a retail space and maybe start selling something. People come in and we make some money on their change. The business model is there, we are just hoping that we can organize well enough to get it started.”

When asked what kind of business, they were dismissive.

“Doesn’t really matter, it’s not like it will make money,” they explained. “Rents are so high, at this point the business is going in as a loss-leader for the other half of the partnership. We are being realistic here, because we know there’s no way to make a profit no matter what kind of place we open.”