Open Streets. Closed Minds.

April 17, 2014

Stop me if you’ve read this here before.

Actually, I had to go back and search through tmorrisseyhe archives to see if I’d written this exact post previously. I’m convinced I have but according to the records, I haven’t. I remain skeptical.

Open Streets, am I right?

As Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s motion to go car-free for 11 kilometres along Bloor Street for four Sundays this summer wobbles its way through committee heading toward city council for approval (or not) next month, you’d think it was a proposal to, I don’t know, abolish Sundays entirely or something. To claim a main thoroughfare permanently for a year round road hockey league. To demand the keys to everybody’s car, only to be returned after one full yoga session.

For some, it’s as if Toronto’s on the vanguard of a social revolution, recklessly and relentlessly pushing the envelope and threatening to overturn the status quo applecart, forcing residents into a dark, uncertain future where any sort of change can only lead to a diminution of our lives as we know them.

Hate to burst your fear bubble, folks, but on the vanguard this city ain’t.

Whether you’re talking open streets or food trucks or plastic bag bans or bike lanes or LRTs or expressway teardowns, openstreetsit’s all been done elsewhere without catastrophe ensuing anywhere. The most recent iteration of the open streets concept goes back to Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá, Columbia. Ciclovía, in the late 1990s, itself another version of the event dating back to 1976. It’s been copied and expanded upon worldwide since.

The notion of a car-free shared space on our roads goes even further back to the early 1960s in Copenhagen and Jan Gehl. A pilot project for a main road in that city, Strøget, to be pedestrianized was fought by local shops and retailers who feared the loss of business brought in by drivers of cars. Try it somewhere else, they demanded.

We all know how it worked out. The street life boomed. Businesses didn’t go bust. Pedestrianization continued apace in Copenhagen.

And here we are, 50 fucking years on, still having the same argument.openstreets1

During the open streets motion debate at the Economic Development Committee, Palaeolithic Public Works and Infrastructure chair (and noted Councillor Wong-Tam obstructionist) Denzil Minnan-Wong tossed around this retread argument: business owner says to me, “You know what is in those cars?…..MONEY! As if no one not travelling around the city by car has any place to keep their wallet. Not to be undone by his own brand of dumb, Councillor Minnan-Wong then had this to say. “NEWSFLASH: Downtown streets belong to everyone–including families that want to drive downtown from the suburbs.”

Yep. Happy, shiny suburban families, out on their Sunday drive, back and forth along Bloor Street. Honk, honk. As a matter of fact, yes, yes I do own the road.

Meanwhile, Jake Tobin Garrett, Policy Co-ordinator for Park People, was pointing out a few facts of his own. openstreets2In a post he wrote that during any given summer, Bloor Street is open to car use for 2232 hours. Councillor Wong-Tam’s motion was asking for 20 hours of those over the course of 4 Sundays. That works out to about 0.0089 percent.

“Basically the anti-OpenStreetsTO argument boils down to,” Mr. Garrett tweeted “cars have a right to unimpeded access while pedestrians & cyclists don’t.” All road users are equal but clearly in the minds of suburban car lovers like Councillor Minnan-Wong, some are more equal than others.

It’s funny. Often times when it comes down to these kinds of divisive debates over planning, mobility and urbanist oriented issues (for lack of me having a better term), the downtown, latte-sipping, cycling elites get called out for seeing themselves as existing at the centre of the universe. stuckinthemud1The reality is, on matters like open streets, most of us recognize we’re light years away from the essential core. We’ve been passed by on both sides, over and under, standing still, arms crossed, way out on the periphery.

Here in Toronto, circa 2014, the centre of the universe is located behind the wheel in the driver’s seat of a car. Everything is viewed and judged through a windshield. It’s a universe that really stopped evolving about 1962 and has held firm, in place since then, demanding that everything else continue to revolve around it, quietly, disturbing nothing.

openly submitted by Cityslikr


Finally Made It. Time To Go.

April 16, 2014

fulldisclosure

In this, the final official installment (plus a few bonus tracks) of our Wards To Watch series, Side A, Kick Da Bums Out, we go full on full disclosure. We are friends with Idil Burale, city councillor candidate for Ward 1 Etobicoke North. We are part of the campaign team, as a matter of fact. We think she represents a new voice and a new perspective City Hall needs right now. Consider this All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s first endorsement in the 2014 municipal campaign.

As this race goes on, we believe it will become glaringly apparent for all the positive reasons why Ward 1 should elect Idil as its local representative but right now, for purposes of this post, let’s give you one negative reason:

Councillor Vincent Crisanti.

The first term councillor owes his City Hall career, such as it is, entirely to the Ford Nation machine. After 3 previous attempts to win the seat, rollingrockMr. Crisanti finally made it over the top as part of the pro-Ford wave that rippled through the city in 2010. You have to give the man credit for perseverance. If at first you don’t succeed and all that.

But watching him in action for the past 3+ years, it’s hard to figure out just why it was he wanted to be a councillor in the first place. Aside from his unflagging loyalty to the mayor and his brother — Councillor Crisanti was one of only five members of council not voting in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers after the crack scandal broke open — there’s very little else to point to in terms of any substantive contribution at City Hall from the rookie Ward 1 councillor.

He was one of the commissioners who voted to boot then TTC CEO Gary Webster from his post after Webster had the temerity to defy the mayor on the LRT versus subway question. Soon after, he was pushed from the commission but not before helping to push through service level cuts and transit fare increases that directly affected commuters in his own ward. A “transit troll” the TTC Riders labelled him, highlighting 3 of his votes against more funding for our transit system. texaschainsawmassacreCouncillor Cristanti was also a big fan of subways, standing strong with the mayor that anything less along Finch Avenue West through his ward would be an indignity, a slap in the face.

Also in line with the mayor, Councillor Crisanti fought against tax and spending increases. While he pulled back some against Mayor Ford’s extreme budget proposals during the 2014 process, Mr. Crisanti remained fairly steadfast in his axe-wielding approval. Water Efficiency Rebate Program? Gone. Urban Affairs Library? Gone. 75 grand from the Tenants Defence Fund? Cut. TCHC houses? Sold. Aboriginal Affairs Committee? Youth Cabinet? Seniors Forum? Cut, cut, cut. Fort York Bridge and Jarvis Street bike lanes? Gone. Neighbourhood Realm Improvement Program, Community Environment Days, the Christmas Bureau and Hardship Fund? Who needs them?

And that was just his first year in office. But you get the drift. In Etobicoke North, it seems, governments shouldn’t be in the business of governing or community building.

Councillor Vincent Crisanti is seen as such a fiscal hawk, one of the key mayor’s men, that the rabid, tax-hating advocacy group, ineffectualthe Toronto Taxpayers Coalition gave him a B+ in the last council report card it handed out in 2012. “Voted for a small reduction in the library operating budget.” “Voted to charge a toke $2 fee to swim in city pools.” “Vote for assortment of cost cutting measures.”

“Councillor Crisanti has been a reliable vote but an ineffective advocate,” the group writes. Ouch. “We need him on the front lines defending taxpayers in the media in order to give him top honours.”

If this is how ideologically aligned interests see him, imagine how many residents in his ward feel. An ineffective advocate and an unreliable vote. At least, Mayor Rob Ford seems happy with Councillor Crisanti’s performance to date, giving him the nod of approval for re-election in episode two of YouTube Ford Nation.

What may be the councillor’s highest profile endeavour during his first term was an attempt to have the priority neighbourhood label removed from one of the communities in his ward, Jamestown. sweptundertherug“By labelling a neighbourhood in negative way, as I believe we are when we are identifying them as a priority neighbourhood, it is not going to help them achieve their goals,” the councillor contended, “whether it is improving their business, whether it’s going out and looking for work.” Sure, Councillor Crisanti admitted, there had been “important investments” in the neighbourhood because of the policy behind the designation but that only lead to an “improvement” in the area.

“Conditions have changed in many Toronto neighbourhoods over the last decade,” Councillor Crisanti stated, “and I believe the continuation of a single list of ranked neighbourhoods is no longer appropriate.”

In the end, Councillor Crisanti got his wish. No longer would there be a ‘priority neighbourhood’ in his ward. There’d be a ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’. And not just one ‘Neighbourhood Improvement Area’ but two.

That’s not to suggest that life got worse in Ward 1 because of this councillor’s performance. patonthehead1Improved metrics in the city’s strong neighbourhood strategy evaluation broadened the scope of neighbourhoods in need of further investment. Still, it’s hard to pinpoint anything Councillor Crisanti did to help communities in Ward 1.

Aside from the TTC service reductions he voted in favour of, the councillor sat on the  Affordable Housing Committee and voted in favour of reducing both affordable housing development and housing loan programs.  The exact kind of investments that are part of the strong neighbourhood strategy. The kind of investments that lead to the improvements Councillor Crisanti noted in his campaign against the priority neighbourhood designation.

Although still a relative newcomer at city council, Councillor Vincent Crisanti very much represents the old guard. The throwback to pre-amalgamation days when the main concern was keeping the streets clear, clean and safe. He in no way reflects the kind of diverse communities Ward 1 now consists of, and the different perspectives they bring to the city, the different values and needs they have.

mensclub

Ward 1 Etobicoke North deserves better. Vincent Crisanti was finally given his opportunity in 2010 to deliver. He’s failed to do so by almost any measure.

interested partily submitted by Cityslikr


Bloodied Cesar (I Just Had To)

April 7, 2014

I will give Councillor Cesar Palacio (Ward 17 Davenport) credit for this much. Talk about having the stones to bad-mouth a major piece of infrastructure that runs right through the heart of your own ward. citybuildingInfrastructure built under your watch.

That takes some nerve, it does. Stepping up and announcing to anyone listening, hey. Look at this mess I helped create. Vote Palacio!

But this is exactly the route the councillor took after signing on to Team Ford in 2010. Aside from maybe the mayor and his brother, and perhaps Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South-Weston), nobody beat the drum about the St. Clair Disaster louder than Councillor Palacio. Never mind that most of the claims being made were untrue. Yes, the construction did not go smoothly. There were overruns in both time and money. Businesses along the strip suffered.

Don’t forget, however, Councillor Palacio was in office during all this. It’s not as if he inherited it. By yapping on about some perceived disaster, he’s basically announcing that he’s unfit for office. Almost like he’s daring voters not to support him.

Imagine being a resident up near St. Clair or a business along the strip, idareyou1and your local representative can’t seem to tell enough people about how bad things are there. I hear there’s a really good restaurant on St. Clair. Wanna go try it? I don’t know. I would but I hear it’s a nightmare up there. Or… or… You live near St. Clair? I hear it’s a real disaster. Who’d you hear that from? The guy you elected to represent you at City Hall.

Your councillor, Ward 17. Cesar Palacio. Advocating and fighting for your interests since 2003.

Councillor Palacio has been the closest thing downtown Toronto has to a bona fide member of Team Ford. He has accepted the role with particular relish, garnering himself a seat on the Executive Committee through his position as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. thumbsup3When Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s (Ward 7 York West) thumb fell out of favour or into disuse (was never sure which it was), Councillor Palacio, perched as he was directly behind the mayor, enthusiastically filled in, flashing his thumb to let folks know which way the mayor wanted them to vote.

Not that I’d imagine anyone followed his instructions. In fact, I’m not even sure the mayor was ever aware of what Councillor Palacio was doing. The gesture probably had more to do with the councillor signalling to everyone that he was behind Mayor Ford both literally and figuratively.

Despite the mayor’s recent woes, Councillor Palacio has remained a steadfast devotee although he did join the enemy’s list when he voted in favour of stripping the mayor of his powers. The councillor has been firm in his support of a Scarborough subway and against LRTs (because that’s what made St. Clair a disaster, don’t you know). He was part of the gang of 5 TTC commissioners who helped engineer the ouster of then CEO Gary Webster after he had the temerity to publicly suggest it best to stick with the LRT plan that was already in place and paid for by the provincial government. Councillor Palacio was, in turn, thumbsuprobfordunceremoniously dumped when then TTC chair Karen Stintz pulled off her own putsch (curiously however the councillor voted in favour of his own termination), booting those known as Ford loyalists from the board.

Ford loyalist.

I think that would be the most apt and probably only term I’d come up with if asked to describe the councillor’s time in office this term. What else can you say about Cesar Palacio? A Ford loyalist.

And like all Ford loyalists whose last name isn’t Ford, what did the councillor get in return for such fidelity and reliability?

Why just last week in these very virtual pages we reported how the councillor, in his capacity as chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee, overseeing the food truck issue, seemed to have been blindsided by the mayor’s motion to eliminate the 50 linear metre from any restaurant rule the councillor was proposing. gotyourback1Councillor Palacio asked the mayor if he realized it was his motion that the mayor was seeking to amend. So obviously there had been no consultation between them. The councillor also wanted to know if the mayor knew just how long it had taken to bang out the sort of compromise he was now seeking to undermine with his off-the-cuff motion.

Mayor Ford appeared indifferent to the councillor’s plaintive tone. That’s just the way he rolls, yo. Loyalty’s a one way street with him, baby.

Still, Councillor Palacio hasn’t come away empty handed with his toadying to the mayor.

Only in a Rob Ford administration could an undistinguished councillor like Cesar Palacio rise to the rank of a standing committee chair, even a lowly regarded one like Municipal Licensing and Standards. But hey. If a Frank Di Giorgio can become budget chief, the sky’s the limit for mediocrity. Chances are Councillor Palacio’s star will never shine as brightly (such as it) as it has for the past 3+ years, although I did spot him at the official launch of John Tory’s mayoral campaign, so his time in the sun may not yet be done.droppedball

The bigger question is, what have Ward 17 residents got in return for their councillor’s brush with power? Used as a political cudgel to fight a transit war across the city in Scarborough. Check. The implementation of the Ford agenda. Check. Fighting to remove a methadone clinic. Check.

Ummm… after that, I’m kind of drawing a blank.

After 10 years in office, you’d think Councillor Palacio and the ward he represents would have a lot more to show for it than that.

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Big Fucking Idiot

April 4, 2014

No, no. This isn’t about that, the term of endearment hurled at Mayor Ford by his crack-buddy, Elena Basso Johnson, and caught for posterity on police wiretap. bfiNo. I was turning the phrase over in my mind while watching the mayor on his feet at city council yesterday during the Great Food Truck Debate of 2014.

Set aside his personal travails. The manner in which he spends his off hours and down time. The affection and loyalty he so clearly engenders, hanging out and just being himself with the drug and gang folks. Pretend for a moment that isn’t what would normally disqualify anyone from continuing to hold public office anywhere in the real democratic world.

Watch Mayor Ford in action (clip via Matt Elliott), ostensibly doing what he was elected to do, what he’s supposedly been doing since 2000 when he first arrived at council. Watch and tell me, within a couple minutes, you don’t sit back in your chair and just think, What a big fucking idiot. Who voted for this guy again?

Look. The mayor’s not even entirely in the wrong on this. I mean, god! Food trucks! Watching this agonizingly prolonged debate, coming at the end of a year and a half process, you’d think we were venturing into uncharted territory here, as if no place else on earth has gone down this road before. It’s like the plastic bag ban or the fight over removing part of an expressway. Careful as she goes, guys! Trailblazing’s tricky!

And given the last big adventure in mobile food slinging, the á La Cart program (spit!), who’s going to disagree with Mayor Ford when he states that he’d “…just like to loosen up the restrictions a bit”? cuttheredtapeIf there’s one thing councillors should’ve learned from that mess of mess providing is that you can be too prescriptive, restrictive, meddlesome and red tape-y.

Fighting all that and the bureaucracy at City Hall is supposed to be his bread and butter. Looking out for the little guy, right? The defender of small businesses and job providers. Scourge of intrusive big government and political man-handling.

Could there be an item before city council more tailor made for Rob Ford to hit out of the park? A bigger and slower softball lobbed tantalizingly into his wheelhouse?

You wouldn’t think so.

Yet, there he was, in typical stumbling and bumbling fashion, unprepared to defend his motion.

foodtruck1If only he’d done even a modicum of homework.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Rob Ford doesn’t do homework. He’s a fly by the seat of his pants, gut feeling, shoot from the hip politician. That’s why the folks love him.

It’s also why he’s a big fucking idiot.

First of all, his motion to delete the proposed stipulation keeping food trucks 50 linear meters from any bricks and mortar restaurant sought to amend an item put forth by his very own Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee chair, Councillor Cesar Palacio. This is a guy loyal to a fault to the mayor, dimming his re-election chances in Ward 17 in the process. As Mayor Ford’s fortunes go, so too will Councillor Palacio’s.

Clearly from the tone of Councillor Palacio’s questions to the mayor, there had been no prior consultation between the two men before the motion was put forth. The councillor asked if the mayor was aware he was amending his item. Mayor Ford shrugged. Councillor Palacio wondered if the mayor knew about the food vending working group that had been hammering out compromises like the linear distance for the past 18 months. cantbebothered
Again, Mayor Ford shrugged.

This followed the same line of reasoning Councillor Raymond Cho pursued when he asked the mayor if he’d attended any of the committee meetings that put the food truck proposals together. The Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee. The Executive Committee (which Mayor Ford is a member of). The mayor shrugged. Attended? Not so much. He assured the councillor, however, that he followed along. He is the mayor of this city after all.

Besides, Mayor Ford met with people about the item. In his busy, busy office. ‘They’ told him what ‘they’ wanted.

Were these people lobbyists, Councillor Paula Fletcher asked. Like it’s up to the mayor to know that! The integrity-challenged mayor then went on to explain the rules to the councillor. “It’s up to them to register,” Mayor Ford said. “It’s not up to me to ask.” goitalone1Apparently, in Mayor Ford’s world, a lot of people get offended when you ask them if they’re lobbyists before you sit down to discuss city business with them.

I told you guys from the beginning, he’s a big fucking idiot.

Besides his lack of collaborative interest or acumen, Mayor Ford also displays a fundamental deficit of attention to details. In moving to delete the 50 linear meter regulation, he just simply proposed a ‘not in front of a restaurant’ rule. Exactly how not in front? A meter on other side? Could you set up shop right around the corner from the restaurant at the side of it, in clear view of the front? How about the parking lot? Could a food truck park in the lot of a restaurant as long as it was at the back?

These kind of details matter. In all likelihood, they were discussed in the working group and various committees that hashed all that out leading up to the council debate. Meetings the mayor may or may not have followed in between appointments with people who may or may not have been lobbyists.howshouldiknow

If he’d spent even an hour checking out how other cities manage the food truck-restaurant dynamic (and it’s not like he has much else to do at this point in his busy, busy schedule), he might’ve come up with more specific ideas instead of his half-baked “This is free enterprise! Let them sell what they want! Let the customer decide” motion that emphasized nothing more than his haphazard, governance in isolation mode that serves no constructive purpose aside from burnishing his lone wolf brand.

Forget his monumental personal failings. This is why he’s unfit to be mayor of this city. This is why he’s a big fucking idiot.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


Blinkered

April 3, 2014

Sitting here, listening to city council debate a $10 million loan to MLSE for improvements to the current BMO soccer pitch, notquitesureI am struck by, I don’t know, how many of our elected officials don’t really understand the role of government.

Now look. I’m as leery as the next guy about the public sector getting all hot and bothered with its private sector partners. Examples abound of the taxpayers, to use the parlance of the day, getting the short end of the stick. Hands up all those who remember the sordid tale of the Skydome?

Yeah, yeah.

It’s a delicate balance, obviously. The relationship is fraught with possible pitfalls and skullduggery. There’s also something of an imbalance. The private sector seeks profits while the public sector has broader goals in mind that aren’t always about the bottom line.

One partner’s intention is constant while the other’s vary depending on the particular circumstance. baddeal1No two situations are the same. So we proceed case by case.

What business does the city have in getting involved with a bike sharing program, some ask. If a company can’t make a go of it on their own, the market decides. End of story.

On the other hand, it only makes sense to open up the agreement that would help Porter Airlines expand the island airport and start flying jets out of it. Why? All the economic benefits that would flow from it. Jobs. Tourists. Business.

What’s a few hundred million dollars in order to facilitate that? It’s an investment in the city, in the future. Isn’t that what government’s all about?

One day later, though, some of those same people found it impossible to contemplate a $10 million loan as part of a $120 million upgrade of a city owned asset that would also include improvements to nearby transit stops and infrastructure, paid for by the private sector. We shouldn’t be in the sports business, mused former budget chief and perpetual wet blanket, Councillor Mike Del Grande. It’s not about getting into the sports business, councillor. dontunderstandIt’s not even about getting into any business. We’re just putting up a loan (with interest) to help improve a city owned ass—

Oh never mind. This is the guy who oversaw a $10+ billion annual budget? Why the hell am I trying to explain this to him?

I was going to continue on about how proper governing and city building shouldn’t be an ideological exercise but obviously this isn’t ideological. I don’t know what you’d call it. Nonsensical, maybe.

How can you argue in favour of expanding a waterfront airport that casts a cloud over future development there, with questionable economic benefits, and costs that will most assuredly amount to the hundreds of millions while calling a $10 million loan that will only increase the value of a city owned asset ‘corporate welfare’? Forget consistency. That’s a direct contradiction.

If you’re playing along at home, that’s thumbs up for Porter Air, no way, MLSE. As for Bixi and a bike sharing program? Is providing a relatively low cost form of public transit throughout the city really something City Hall should be involved with?dontknow

If there’s a unifying theme running through this line of reasoning, it seems to be, Don’t look to government for handouts. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Unless there is and then it’s like, hey, we’re all Keynesians here.

It’s not so much consistency I’m looking for but just some actual evidence that the people we elect to office have even the most basic concept of what it is we elected them to do.

mystifiedly submitted by Cityslikr


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