We Got A Lot Of Problems But Detroit’s Are None Of Them

September 1, 2014

So we took in a game at Comerica Park last week, and I can safely say this without fear of any serious rebuttal. Detroit has a far better baseball stadium than Toronto does. Comerica 1It’s the kind of park where you don’t even need a good team playing at it to want to go see every game. Just sit there, admiring your surroundings, soaking up baseball.

As for the rest of Detroit?

Well, we’ve all heard the stories. A city in decline. A city in distress. A city in a death spiral. “Detroit bankruptcy judge angrily tosses hold-out creditor’s charges,” screams one latest headline.

One thing did surprise me during our brief stay. The amount of work and restoration being done, at least in the downtown core. Sure, there were a number of eerily abandoned buildings, some old beauties from a more prosperous time. But it didn’t feel like any sort of impending collapse, certainly not in the small areas we made it to.

They were even digging up Woodward Avenue, the All-American Road, Automotive Heritage Trail, detroitpicrunning through the middle of downtown, to lay down the track for an LRT. How’s that for some symbolism, eh? In the Motor City, cars give way to trains.

Hopefully, it’s a sign that Detroit isn’t dying, it’s just changing, adapting. The city that was built by cars, built for cars, was nearly killed by cars. Wounded, but not mortally so.

Of course, cars are hardly the sole factor in the city’s woes, just like cars weren’t the only factor in the city’s rise. Detroit was an established transportation and manufacturing hub before Henry Ford set up shop there. But arguably, Detroit’s golden age mirrored the rise of the automobile.detroitpic1

I am hardly equipped to talk about the factors which coalesced to reverse the city’s fortunes over the past half-century or so, only it was a combination ultimately unique to Detroit. There were certainly overlaps with other rust belt cities situated in and around the Great Lakes but few places have suffered exactly the way Detroit has. No one set rules for revitalization or rejuvenation can apply to two separate places.

So I view dimly any politician evoking the civic dissolution spectre of Detroit when they invariably are trying to roll back public sector spending or the wages and benefits of city workers. We have to reduce our reliance on debt or else, Detroit. We must contract out public services or else, Detroit. Stand up to lazy union fat cats or else, Detroit.

Toronto can learn valuable lessons from Detroit but probably not the ones Detroit fear-mongerers try to push on us.detroitpopulation

Race and class.

While we here in Canada proudly imagine ourselves, I don’t know, post-racial or, at least, not paralyzed by racial tensions and class war, we really need to check the reality of that stance. No, we have not experienced the kind of open fissure the United States has, manifest in what we’re witnessing in Ferguson, Missouri at the moment. A major cause of Detroit’s current troubles is the white flight that picked up steam during the 1960s riots, drawing stark lines, racially and economically.

Toronto is far from immune from those dynamics. It’s true, the city was never hollowed out like we see in many major American cities. detroitriotsHowever, almost the reverse has occurred here. Our core is vibrant, gentrified, well-serviced and expensive. Our older suburbs, however, in the former municipalities like Scarborough, York, Etobicoke, have not kept pace. Here is where you’ll find the not so hidden face of Toronto’s racial and economic divide. New Canadians, many visible minorities, put down roots in these places where it’s less expensive and, unsurprisingly, less served with things like reliable public transit and public amenities such as libraries and community centres.

Our inequality starts here. If there’s one lesson we should learn from Detroit, it’s that no city can truly prosper or achieve its full potential when it’s hobbled by inequality. detroitarmCities with no-go zones bred from discrimination and poverty aren’t really cities. They’re fiefdoms. Little parochial outposts of self-interest.

Auto dependence is not sustainable.

While the city of Detroit’s population has shrunk dramatically, down over 50% since 1970, the region itself has remained relatively stable at around the 5 million mark. It is, essentially, a small downtown core surrounded by sprawl. Such reliance on private vehicle use has scarred significant portions of the core streetscapes with freeways, both elevated and at grade, carving up the urban space. Surface parking lots, many of them sitting largely empty even mid-afternoon on a Tuesday, take up big tracts of the downtown area, oftentimes, located right beside elegantly designed parking garages.detroitparkinglot

You don’t get a sense of much street life besides on game nights. Detroit has been dubbed Hockeytown (among other things) and its hockey arena is mostly car accessible. The stunted People Mover monorail that stops across the street isn’t much of a feeder system. It’s hard to imagine many people lingering around the area either before or after games.

Detroit cannot rebuild being what it once was, the Motor City.

Detroit also cannot rebuild if it’s sacrificed in the endgame of neoliberal politics intent on diminishing what remains of the public good. detroitinstituteofartsFor every corrupt politician making out like a bandit at the trough (and Detroit has had its share of those), there’s their counterpart determined to make the city a private playground for those who can afford it. Sell off public utilities. Pick off public sector pensions. De-unionize and privatize it all. Public transit? We don’t need no stinkin’ public transit.

Marvelling at the collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, I was informed by a staff member that it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, referencing the estimated $1 billion value of the art works now being circled by vultures looking to pick the bones clean.

Beware the politicians who fail to see the good in the public good. They will starve it and then auction off what’s left to the highest bidder.Comerica 2

They will, these types of politicians, use Detroit as an example of why residents should lower their expectations of what a city can offer them, the opportunities available. We can’t afford that. Look at Detroit. We can’t raise taxes. People will leave. Look at Detroit. Take on debt to invest in the city? Look at Detroit.

Toronto has its problems, there’s no denying that. Few of them, however, bear much similarity to those facing Detroit. Learn from the ones that do and ignore anyone touting the ones that don’t.

non-nugently submitted by Cityslikr


Capital Report III

May 29, 2014

washingtondc

Clearly Pierre L’Enfant set about designing the layout of this nation’s capital in the late 18th-century with cyclists in mind. Take it from someone who has made his way around Washington by all sorts of modes, biking in D.C. is the way to go.

When the city introduced its bike share program back in the fall of 2010, it did so with a certain degree of gusto. It now has more than 300 stations and 2500+ bikes in use. Compare that with Toronto’s BIXI or whatever it’s called now and its 80 stations and a 1000 bikes. While a far cry for the Velib in Paris (1230 stations, 14,000+ bikes), finding a place to grab and drop off a ride is relatively easy. Even during a busy Memorial Day long weekend, we found ourselves bikeless only on a couple of occasions and not for very long.

capitalbikeshare

And, oh the places I have seen by bike this week! Neighbourhoods and off the beaten track sites that might have otherwise remained unseen. Would I have hopped onto the Metro to go see the grave of John Philip Sousa buried in the Congressional Cemetery? No. But by bike? Why not. Who knows the places we might discover along the way? The ‘Historic Capital Hill’ neighbourhood, in fact.

The city is still catching up in terms of bike lanes. There are a fair amount but you get no sense of a network yet. Yet. The big difference between riding here and in Toronto is the politeness of the drivers. Maybe it’s all that southern hospitality but drivers don’t really seem to mind sharing the road with cyclists.

Washington on foot is an undertaking. Pleasant to walk but there are significant distances between monuments and museums. Travelling by Metro is fast but you can miss some of the more quiet asides.

jpsousa

Biking in D.C. is the way to go. You might almost call it, capital! (But you wouldn’t because that’s British and people are still touchy about having their White House burned down.)

pip-piply submitted Cityslikr


Capital Report II

May 27, 2014

washingtondc

Aspirational.

It’s difficult comparing the actual centre of the universe to the in its mind only version (although I have yet to meet that mythical being who really locates Toronto at that point in their cosmology). Washington embraces its capital-ness with gusto. This is what we’re about, folks. This is US.

Yes. The hypocrisy at its core is not lost on me. Thomas “All Men Are Created Equal” Jefferson was a slave owner. The grinding poverty existing mere blocks from the White House. Miles and miles of museums dedicated to science and knowledge in a country filled by climate change skeptics and creationists.

Still.

Aspiration.

Washington flaunts its ideals even if it doesn’t always live by them.

mlkmonument

While I’ll leave it to Americans to wrassle with the implications of that, I still love visiting the city those ideals built. There’s always the possibility some of them may rub off.

hopefully submitted  by Cityslikr


Capital Report I

May 25, 2014

washingtondc

Ha Ha.

I bet no one’s ever called anything they’ve written about Washington ‘Capital Report ‘ before. There’s just something about this place that fills the head with creative thoughts.

Anyhoo…

Connect the airport to the city with easy, accessible public transit.

Getting into DC from National by subway is a breeze. It basically took us as long to walk from the gate to the metro as it did to take the six stops across the Potomac. Driving couldn’t have been faster.

I know National is closer to the heart of things here in Washington than Pearson is to downtown Toronto. Certainly Dulles Airport isn’t as transit friendly. But no major city should be without a rail link to its airport.

YellowLineDC

Toronto is finally getting there with the Union to Pearson line next year. (Fingers crossed!) I’ll leave the matter of electrification for another discussion. But if we were really being bold in Toronto, we’d be working on connecting to Pearson with the Eglinton crosstown and the Finch LRT. So everyone could make their way directly to the airport by public transit along north, south and central corridors.

beltwayly submitted by Cityslikr

 


Be D.Ceeing You Later

May 24, 2014

Off to the U.S. capital for a week.

washingtondc

Ahhhh, Washington.

Along with Chicago, it is my favourite American city. That’s no slight against New York or San Francisco or New Orleans. Fine destinations, all of them. But I rarely turn down an opportunity to travel to Washington.

Why is that, I’ve been asked. What’s so great about Washington? Well, because it’s only an hour or so from Camden Yards, my favourite baseball park.

Actually, it’s a fair question and one I’m going to try track down the answers for while I’m down there. Ideally, I’ll be delivering up short bursts of D.C. enthusiasm throughout the week. Fingers crossed. There’s always the possibility I could find myself otherwise engaged passing the time at the FDR Memorial, having a drink on the roof of the Kennedy Centre, hanging out with the orangutans at the Zoo, eating crab cakes somewhere in Georgetown…

camdenyards

stars and stripely submitted by Cityslikr


Roads To Nowhere

May 23, 2014

Although never far from the surface, if you ever want to scratch open the drivers’ sense of entitlement, entitledask one How’s it going? during their favourite time of the year, construction season.

2014 is turning out to be doozy.

“This is not how you run a city,” mayoral candidate and noted transportation expert John Tory pronounced in the wake of the news there’d be concurrent construction on both the Gardiner Expressway and Lake Shore Boulevard. “Torontonians shouldn’t be forced to arrive late for work because of the lack of thought or planning by city officials. Sadly, the situation on our major roads is now once again a world-class mess.”

Ahh, there it is. Always with the world-class, one way or another. And by Torontonians, Mr. Tory means car-driving Torontonians of course.outrageous

“When we should have been planning ahead and making calculated decisions to address congestion, this administration has provided poor judgment by compounding gridlock on our roads,” another mayoral candidate and one with some actual municipal governance under her belt, Councillor Karen Stintz said. “We have a responsibility to ensure residents have options to move in and out of the city. Today, we have created roadblocks.”

They do, Councillor Stintz. It’s called getting out of their cars and using public transit.

Even noted cyclist and alleged car hater, Olivia Chow (also running for mayor) got in on the indignant act. “My traffic plan says you can’t shut a street (Lake Shore) if used to avoid one (Gardiner) under construction,” Ms. Chow stated on the Twitter.

With everyone jumping on the city staff kicking bandwagon over this, obviously somebody screwed up, somebody fell asleep at the switch. The mistake is so glaring, there’s no way anyone who was paying any attention would’ve allowed it to happen. This requires a strongly worded admonishment.

“Believe it or not, I have confirmed that the office running the smaller Lakeshore job did not communicate with the office running the bigger Gardiner job, overreactionwhich is simply unreal,” John Tory said in his e-mail blast blast. “As mayor I will ensure this will never be repeated.”

Simply unreal.

Or “completely untrue”, depending on whom you ask.

“I’m at the table for both of these,” said General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley. “However, the reality is we needed to get the Gardiner work going, and we needed to get the Lake Shore work done. Folks want the infrastructure to be upgraded and put in good condition. Unfortunately these are both in the same location.”

Folks want their infrastructure upgraded, and want it upgraded at their convenience.

Mr. Buckley went on to say that, “The two specific teams carrying out the Gardiner and Lake Shore work were fully aware of what was going on and meeting regularly.”

Between the long harsh winter just past and the upcoming PanAm Games next summer, the city is obviously facing something of a construction crunch. Given there’s going to be work on the Gardiner well into the next decade, chances are, more overlaps in our future. roadconstructionThat just comes with aging infrastructure over-burdened by usage.

Only in car commercials are our roads ever open and maintenance free.

“This drives people crazy,” said Public Works and Infrastructure Chair and automobile nut, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, “it drives me crazy and hopefully an important lesson has been learned and will be applied.”

And what lesson would that be, councillor?

“Some disruption with the daytime Lake Shore work,” suggests Mr. Buckley who is being paid to manage road work. Much of the work is being done overnight. No lanes would be closed going in the direction of rush hour traffic. The city, he said, is keeping an eye on the situation. outofmywaySo far, during the day, delays on Lake Shore were “about a minute long.”

“This is probably the worst of it, we’re not seeing significant delays,” Mr. Buckley claims.

Insignificant delays and maximum outrage.

Stirring up driver resentment is a potent political tactic. Just ask Rob Ford. War. On. The. Car.

It feeds into that ingrained sense of privilege that once you’re behind the wheel of your automobile, nothing and no one should obstruct your ease of movement between point A and point B. I pay my taxes, dammit! I shouldn’t be inconvenienced.

The thing is, hundreds of thousands of other drivers believe the exact same thing at the exact same time of day, every day. As that old saying goes, you’re not stuck in traffic, you are traffic.

The only way we’re going to actually address the soul-sucking, business-hampering congestion that is plaguing us now is to confront the entitlement of the car driver head-on. We cannot road build our way out of this. punchyourselfThe private automobile is the least efficient and least cost-effective way to move people and goods around this region. Leadership means acknowledging that and offering up real alternatives.

What we’re getting right now is craven opportunism and political posturing. A supreme silly season during peak construction season.

under constructionally submitted by Cityslikr


We And Our Cars

April 6, 2014

Earlier last week, I was in the car, on my way to the airport. For those of you familiar with the route, you’ll recognize the drill. carsgarynumanWestbound on Lakeshore, heading for the Gardiner, stop at a red light. It’s four lanes, I believe. On the left, two continue along Lakeshore Boulevard, on the right one exits north to Jameson Ave. The one lane with all the cars takes you onto the Gardiner Expressway.

Now, I’m not saying the layout is badly designed. It was just intended to carry a lot fewer vehicles than use it currently. Inevitably, at almost any time of day, it seems that interchange is a mess. Traffic snarled, taking forever to get from Lakeshore onto the Gardiner.

Of course, such a frustrating scenario can’t help but lead to some conflict. Drivers frequently shoot up the less occupied lanes on the outside and push, sneak or dart their way into the on-ramp lineup ahead of the more patient ones. Which is what happened to us while we sat there, dutifully waiting our turn.

A car slowed down right beside us and just eased its way right in front of ours. No indicator. No wave of thanks from the driver as we let them in. gardinerlakeshorejamesonNo acknowledgement we were even there, in fact. Just eyes front, carrying on as if no big thing. That’s how we do.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so thin-skinned but it just seems to me that very few of us would behave that way outside of our vehicles. How many times are you waiting in line for, I don’t know, a coffee or at the post office (if it were 1996) and somebody just casually steps in front of you? Shoulders in without so much as a please or thank you and continues going about their day. This line starts wherever I put myself.

Our cars have made monsters of us. Entitled, self-absorbed sociopaths believing only our time to be worth anything. Aggressive assholes. Pushy pricks.

Allow me some hyperbole (more so than usual) for a moment here. If you want to point a finger at what ails us these days, the root of all our unhealthy lifestyle choices, the lack of civic and political engagement, there’s no better place than at our auto dependence. pushy“We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or we can have a city that is very friendly to people,” Enrique Peñalosa said. “We cannot have both.”

By prioritizing vehicular over human traffic, we’ve diminished our capacity to act in even the most basic of respectful ways. As we spend more and more time behind the wheel, we become more and more like drivers and less and less like people. Can I just get that at a drive-thru?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, I hear you saying. Extreme much? (I warned you about the hyperbole, didn’t I?) It wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops before the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre wasn’t carried out by a bunch of minivan driving savages. Small town America could not be considered a model of tolerance and acceptance back in the days when trolleys and the horse and buggy reigned. Hell, even the rise of the Nazis occurred pre-suburbia sprawl.

Sure, but tell me those 30s vintage Maybach Pullmans didn’t foreshadow the evils and horrors to come.maybachpullman

Hmmm. I’m not sure but I think I may just’ve Godwinned myself.

Look. I guess what I’m trying to get at is not only do we scar our streetscapes and hamper our ability to move the most people the most efficiently when we buy into the car commercial pitch that the automobile is the key to our freedom, we promote an unhealthy and anti-social lifestyle. With a [insert favourite brand here], you can get anywhere, anytime, whenever you want. Just like that. There’s no one else on the road. Zoom, zoom.

Where I ended up when I was making my way to the airport last week was Orlando, Florida. From the airport there you can drive two hours west through the state to St. Petersburg to Tropicana Field, home of baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, without leaving a freeway. You practically pull off into the parking lot of the stadium, a stadium surrounded by an asphalt moat.

Beware any sporting arena that boasts kick-ass tailgate parties. It usually means the primary way of getting there is to drive. tailgatepartyTropicana sits pretty much in downtown St. Petersburg but the area around it is fairly lifeless. We had time enough to park our car at the hotel and walk the 20 minutes to the stadium which would be great except for the fact it was an uninteresting walk along what seemed to be mostly retail although trying to grab a drink proved to be oddly difficult. Isn’t America the land of the big gulp?

To be fair, there are strips of the city that make for a pleasant stroll. Boutique shops and a couple restaurant rows. I get that St. Petersburg isn’t a mega-metropolis. But the space between the more pedestrian friendly areas are pockmarked by parking lots, a lot of parking lots, both open and covered structures. metrospeedwaysThe main streets are wide but built mainly for vehicles with plenty of, you guessed it, places for parking.

Bike lanes pop up here and there, some even fully protected, but I couldn’t get a grasp of any sort of network.
I might not have been seeing the place at its best since some of the area closer to the waterfront was still cordoned off for the — wait for it – Indy car race that had roared through town the previous weekend. Hey! We’ve got all this road space. We should definitely figure out ways to put more cars on it.

On the trolley trip we took around town, the driver/tour guide told us that the St. Petersburg area was known as God’s waiting room, in reference to all the retirees living there. It didn’t strike me as a place built for old people. The broad streets didn’t make for leisurely crossing. Not sure I came across a grocery store during my travels. carcommercial1There was that one mall I didn’t go into, so it was quite possible I missed a few of the amenities.

Come to St. Petes. The weather’s great. Don’t forget your car.

After the game and dinner and drinks, on the way back to the hotel, we came across a movie theatre. It was late-ish, for a Monday night, but we checked to see what was playing. Happily, we found a movie we wanted to see and our timing was perfect.

It’s those kind of pleasant accidents that occur when you’re not travelling at 25 miles an hour. They don’t happen in a place designed for cars, where speed and distance are what matters. I mean, you’re retired already. What’s the rush?

On the way back to Orlando, the clip was a little more leisurely, relatively speaking since we were still driving. I started to notice the massive amount of new road construction going on. Just what the area needed.cardestruction

This in a place where you have to pay exorbitant prices to get into a theme park in order to experience any sort of public transit aside from buses. Just more roads for more cars because, well, just because. That’s the way it’s always been. Since the 1950s.

There would be no turning back now. Cars were Florida’s future. Cars have always been Florida’s future. Everything else, merely a destination, a place to get to. See the Sunshine State from behind the wheel of a car just the way God intended.

unfriendlily submitted by Cityslikr


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