Celebrity Mayor

April 14, 2014

Is it possible Rob Ford has always been a celebrity candidate? Even back in 2010 when he was a little known councillor from Etobicoke deciding to take a run at the mayor’s office, celebritybobblehead2it was all about his personality, that everyman in an ill-fitting suit, looking out for the little guy. He wasn’t a politician. He was a brand.

Everywhere he goes, Rob Ford is treated like a rock star, at least according to his councillor-brother-campaign manager, Doug. Wherever he goes everybody wants to get their picture taken with the mayor. Look, guys! It’s me and the mayor! The mayor who’s been on a late night talk show! The mayor who’s admitted to smoking crack!

It’s not necessarily a recent phenomenon, in the wake of his increased notoriety over the last 18 months or so. People always seemed to want to get their pictures taken with him. At the first Ford Fest after he was elected mayor, there was a steady stream of attendees waiting to pose with Mayor Ford. He has always been a larger-than-life figure. His politics ride shotgun with his persona.

So the direction his re-election campaign is taking cannot come as much of surprise to those who’ve been following along for the last 4 years. It is a full on embrace of his celebrity status. Anyone – and they mean anyone – abelincolnbobbleheadswith any sort of name recognition, good or bad, is welcomed aboard Team Ford. Ben Johnson. That guy from the Trailer Park Boys. No, not that one. Not that guy either. The one in that episode where—Does it matter? The Trailer Park Boys!

And as with any sort of celebrity campaign, whether electoral or some product promotional tour, you can never forgot the merchandise. Some swag. With Rob Ford, it’s all about the bobbleheads. Sports stars. Dead presidents. Anybody who’s anybody (or anybody who was anybody) gets their own bobbleheads.

There’s an interesting article in today’s Toronto Star about the tactical approach of these bobbleheads in helping not only with donations but in compiling voters and volunteers lists. Buy one, give us your data in return. “Rob Ford and his brother…are either the smartest people in the room or the dumbest and I don’t know,” says Ralph Lean, celebritybobbleheada long time political bagmen who knows a thing or two about raising money.

I do know that the Fords are smart in using the mayor’s celebrity as the focus for eliciting donations and names for the campaign. Smart, or it’s just the result of a basic process of elimination. It’d be hard to run on his record of accomplishments (spotty) or his time in office (horrific, if you’re not a big fan of your mayor smoking crack in drunken stupors, etc., etc.) So, it’s full on celebrity mayor. Do you like a mayor who puts Toronto on the map of late night American talk shows and international news wires? Re-elect Mayor Rob Ford in 2014!

It’s little wonder then that the latest installment of Ford Nation on YouTube is dedicated solely to bobbleheads and Jimmy Kimmel. Looks, folks. Your celebrity mayor hobknobs with actual, real life celebrities. No talk of policy issues the city the mayor wants to continue to lead faces. Who’s got time to discuss transit? It’s Jimmy Kimmel, folks! A celebrity. Endorsing the mayor. Sort of. He said he might come to town in November for a “fun-raiser” and to celebrate brother Doug’s birthday.

Jimmy Kimmel, folks!

The question now is, have the Fords so degraded public discourse in this city that there’s a big enough audience – and that’s how they view their base of support, as an audience of taxpayers not engaged citizens – to secure them a second term in office? Will boasting that the likes of Jimmy Kimmel had never even heard of Toronto before Rob Ford became mayor activate another winning Ford Nation who see something ‘world class’ about that? It’s a risky road to take, even in the celebrity obsessed times we live in, but the reality is, Team Ford has no other alternative.

star struckly submitted by Cityslikr


On Self-Justification

April 11, 2014

Earlier this week, as part of our Municipal Election 2014 Wards To Watch series, we wrote a few words about Ward 17 Davenport councillor, defenseCesar Palacio. While certainly not flattering, it could’ve been so much worse, in our judgement, since we were writing about, well, Cesar Palacio. Still, we received a couple forceful replies in the councillor’s defence (here and here), both calling us out for being fact unfriendly, and suggesting we try to employ a little something called ‘research’.

One (which may or may not have come from a former employee of Councillor Palacio’s; we’re still waiting for a response to our enquiry about that) asked a very direct question: This is journalism?

Is this journalism.

Of course it isn’t. As least as I understand the term which itself is kind of interesting because I think we all have a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes journalism. journalism1Like pornography, we might not be able to define ‘journalism’ but most of us recognize it when we see it.

[Stops. Eyes narrow at the suitability of the above analogy. Continues on.]

What this is, what I’ve always imagined it to be, may go back further than our notion of journalism, perhaps to the very roots of modern journalism, if my grasp of the history can be trusted.

A personal story.

Back in 2009, while deep into my epic poetry phase, I was reading a biography of John Milton. Best known as the author of Paradise Lost, during his lifetime he would’ve been seen more as a political prose writer, a staunch defender of republicanism, divorce and a separation between church and state. Such views almost cost him his life when Charles II returned to the monarchy and was looking to exact some payback on those seen as responsible and sympathetic to the execution of his father 11 years earlier.

See Milton’s The Tenure of Magistrates and Kings.

At this time, I was getting much of my political news, especially U.S. political news, thehangingvia the interwebz. Not just from big name online publications like Salon and such but through these things the kids were calling blogs. Hullabaloo and Sadly, No! were a couple of my favourites. (HTML Mencken remains one of my favourite pseudonyms, a tradition, for all you anonymous haters out there, that goes back centuries, even before the advent of all this computer gadgetry.)

2009, the summer of it in fact, was also when you might remember Toronto enduring the indignities and tumult of a municipal outside workers’ strike. Some things struck me at the time. Firstly, we as a society had become incredibly soft, easily outraged at being in any way slightly inconvenienced. How dare they put upon us so! Garbage in our parks! The stench! Won’t someone think of the children!

Secondly, at the strike’s conclusion, we were immediately told that the administration had caved to the unions, given them the keys to the vault, blah, blah, blah. The fact that this wasn’t quite true seemed to have no bearing on the volume and frequency with which it was broadcast. It’s a sound bite still reverberating today, 5 years on, giving an undeserved fiscal bump of credibility to many who hardly deserve it.garbagestrike

Thirdly, it became clear to me that then mayor David Miller was being ridden out of town on the rails in a disturbingly orchestrated fashion. I was, and remain a fan of David Miller, and still believe it to be a travesty how his record and legacy has been wilfully and deliberately distorted, much to the detriment of this city. Does that mean I think he and his administration were perfect? I won’t even dignify that possible straw man of a question with a response.

In the wake of Miller’s political demise, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke was born.

Now, why am I telling you this, spooling out our origin story, as the kids like to say about their fancy colouring book superheroes? Journalism. We ain’t that. Especially not the narrowly defined and hopelessly misguided version of it media critics like to trot out. Objectivity. He said but then he said. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

We’re not even the truly good and noble form of journalism that Toronto has a lot of in its newspapers, radio, online. What you’re reading is a political tract. All subjectivity and polemic, based, we hope and endeavour, on the facts we’ve gathered along the way, the observations we make. The opinions we have about how this city is being governed, and the better ways to go about doing that.

This isn’t anything new or the result of modern technology. discourseHell, if you think that somehow sites like these, all internetsy and free from editorial oversight, have somehow degraded the public discourse, you haven’t been following along for the last, I don’t know, 500 years. Politics has rarely been courteous or decorous or, ultimately, objective. Expressed political opinion even less so.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke welcome criticism and disagreement. Encourage it, even. Just don’t pretend or expect us to be something we’re not. Something that, in fact, might not exist or never, ever existed in the first place.

mea culply submitted by Cityslikr


You Don’t Have To Be Crazy To Live Here But…

April 10, 2014

Ever since our inception, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have found ourselves in a regular state of civic suspension of disbelief. crazysquirrelI know this isn’t actually happening but… but it seems so real. I know it’s just some crazy made-up shit but… but it’s so compelling, so engrossing to follow along with, you know?

Not coincidentally, our appearance came about during the rise of Rob Ford from that goofy, malevolent but largely impotent politician every local government has to contend with to becoming mayor of the largest city in the country. Of course things were going to get nutty. Toronto had elected Rob Ford as its mayor.

Nearly four years on, it has proven to be more than some prolonged nightmare of Dali/Buñuel, eye-slicing proportions. Not even a deranged Truman Show explanation suffices where we’re just the game pieces for a God-like producer with an eye only on the TV ratings. Our story’s taken on biblical dimensions, frankly. The political book of Job. Pushed beyond any sort of reasonable limits, we cry out in anguish. Why, Lord? jobWhy are you doing this? Who can deliver us from your hands? And from the whirlwind comes the response. I don’t have to explain myself to you.

If you’re reading this, I don’t have to recount the whole sad, sordid tale, the multitude of ways we’ve traveled down through the rabbit hole. Municipal governance gone wild! You’d think what with everything that’s gone on, we’d be one and done, talking about what comes next. But no. Our disgraced, discredited mayor cannot be discounted from possibly securing himself another term in office.

Which naturally, as this kind of thing must, can only lead to further fantasy sequences, more outbursts of the bizarre. If his first kick at the can embraced the improbable, the second go-round will be all about the unimaginable. You think that was weird, folks? You ain’t seen nothing yet.

unchienandalouBringing us to two days this week that best encapsulate the thick sticky freakiness we find ourselves in.

The mayor holds a press conference to announce that Ben Johnson and an actor from the TV series/movie franchise The Trailer Park Boys are joining the campaign team in some capacity. What capacity? Nobody’s quite sure. It will all become clear in due time. Or it won’t since forethought and strategic planning are not really what these guys are about. They’re more instinctual than that.

When you think Ben Johnson, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Right. Drugs. Steroids. Gold medal and record setting stripping steroids.

Seems an odd choice then, doesn’t it, for a mayor dogged by stories of personal drug use and outrageous drug-induced behaviour. We’re all mavericks and outlaws here, folks. The all-star Team Nobody’s Perfect. Are you?

But wait, it gets better. It always gets better with these guys. A bottomless pit of ¿¡WTF?!

The Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale reported today that the Trailer Park Boy the mayor introduced yesterday, Sam Tarasco, hosts an internet pot smoking show called High Fuckers. That’s right. High Fuckers. druglifeYou pay $4.20 a month to watch guys get high and shoot the shit. High Fuckers.

So instead of trying to distance itself from the heavy cloud of drugs and the drug life, Team Ford seems to be embracing it. Yeah, we do drugs. Yeah, we know people who do drugs. We’re not perfect. Are you?

Counterintuitive? That doesn’t even begin to describe it. Like much of the way they operate, there just isn’t an English word to do it justice. It’s post-verbal.

While all this… whatever you want to call it… was happening, there was also much excitement over the new edition of Mayor Ford bobbleheads. $100 a pop and bearing almost no resemblance to the man himself, we’re told proceeds would be going into the mayor’s campaign war chest. Hmmm, we wondered. Would those purchasing a bobblehead be eligible for the 75% candidate donation rebate the city offers? If so, they’d be a steal at just $25. You could easily make a healthy return on that with an eBay sale.

Talk about your retail politician. Everybody makes a buck when Rob Ford is out on the campaign trail. bobbleheadWin-win-win-win-win!

In case you thought there was no bread with this circus, the mayor took time out of his celebrity tour to announce some serious policy yesterday. Or I should say, to re-announce some serious policy, telling the media that, if re-elected, he will start to phase out streetcar service in Toronto. Just like he promised back in 2010 and immediately didn’t pursue upon taking office. Promises made, promises forgotten.

But this time, he means it, man.

“I know one thing. I won’t get on a streetcar,” the mayor told the press. “If I have an option to drive or take a streetcar, I’m going to get in my car.”

Forget the sheer lunacy of the idea. Buses could never make up the capacity without causing even more congestion that the mayor is supposedly fighting with his no-streetcar idea. And the subways he keeps touting will never be built. Not in his lifetime. Not in his children’s lifetime.

Like the sad spectacle of fluffing a campaign team with D-list celebrities, the streetcar announcement was an empty gesture, intended only to inflame the urban-suburban divide on which the mayor exists. mayordrivingA petulant outburst from a confirmed non-transit user who views the world entirely through his car windows. It doesn’t make any sense because it doesn’t have to. It’s meant solely to excite those unable or unwilling to see through it. Governance based on Dada rules.

The only internal logic to it, probably not even grasped entirely by the mayor or his campaign manager-brother, came through in tweet sent out by the CBC’s Jamie Strashin in the wake of the mayor’s out-with-streetcars declaration. “When someone says, ‘oh I’m going to resolve the issue of gridlock’,” the mayor said. “You’re not going to resolve the problem with gridlock.”

Solve this problem? Are you kidding me? You can’t solve this problem. Just keep on gridlocking. Keep on keeping on.

So deeply held are his anti-government views, so engrained in his sensibilities, Mayor Ford can’t even begin to imagine actually any way anyone could solve a problem like gridlock. Government’s the problem, remember? Never the solution. So, of course he doesn’t take his role as mayor at all seriously. Why would he? It wouldn’t make things better. mayorfordbenderIn fact, it would make things worse.

Government’s a joke, and an expensive joke at that. Acting responsible in his role as mayor, coming up with ideas to help run the city and surrounding himself with people who have even a trace of good will toward public service, would mean Rob Ford might have to take the job seriously. We know he doesn’t. He proves it almost every day when he seems to take delight only in pissing on the carpets.

The joke is on us if we think for even a second that he’s ever going to change.

insanely submitted by Cityslikr


The Conservative Public Transit Blues

April 9, 2014

What is it with conservative politicians and their loathing and disregard of public transit?robfordstreetcars

Granted, I’m going out at the far end of the political spectrum and south of the border, referring to the comically diabolical but somehow frighteningly real Koch Brothers – equal parts Montgomery Burns and Lionel Barrymore’s Henry F. Potter – and a bunch of southern Republican lawmakers. Together they set out to push back a Nashville plan, where only 2% of daily commutes are made by public transit, for a Bus Rapid Transit route.

The Tennesse state senate passed a bill with an amendment that read:

This amendment prohibits metropolitan governments and any transit authorities created by a metropolitan government from constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project to do so is approved by the legislative body of the metropolitan government and by the commissioner of transportation. This amendment also prohibits such entities from loading or discharging passengers at any point within the boundary lines of a state highway or state highway right-of-way not adjacent to the right-hand, lateral curb line, or in the absence of curb lines, the right-hand, lateral boundary line or edge of the roadway.

None of your fancy dedicated bus lanes in these parts, you stinkin’ communists.

Now we get the Koch Brothers’ angle. Oil industrialist types, private vehicle use fuels their empire. overturnbusPoliticians taking donations from them or their arms length groups like Americans for Prosperity, or simply those relying on them for information, such as it is, will do their legislative bidding.

That’s pretty straight forward.

But the otherwise conflicted conservative attitude toward public transit couldn’t be on better display than in this interview with William Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. From a fiscal, free-market standpoint, the upside to public transit is clear. Mr. Lind also notes that the more people you get onto public transit, the less cars there are on the roads and, thus, less congestion.

On the other hand, buses and… race. Seems the whiter shades of the middle class don’t care to darken the doors of a bus because… well you know where this goes.poorbus

Race and class are never too far from a transit debate. In the battle over the Nashville BRT, some folks were concerned about transit bringing the ‘riff raff’ into their neighbourhoods. An invasion of ‘burger flippers’ needed to be guarded against.

In Los Angeles, the wealthy enclave of Beverly Hills has fought off a subway expansion and peak hour bus rapid transit only lanes along Wiltshire Boulevard. Swimming pools, movie stars. But we certainly don’t want the help messing with the ambience of the place, getting here more quickly and easily. There is a dark whole of nothingness on the city’s transit map in much of the north-west side of LA where the rest of Los Angeles’ subway, lametromaplight rail and bus expansion fears to go.

Up here, I think, such issues are not so overt, the question of race not so fraught with history. Still, there’s something about the push for subways as ‘1st-class transit’. The whole Scarborough subway fight was underpinned by a certain social status anxiety. If downtown gets a subway, why not Scarborough. Vaughan is getting subway? Why not Scarborough?

Anything less, even those sleek, reliable, iPads of transit, LRTs would not be good enough. (Even a bona fide, bike riding lefty can get all caught up in transit envy.) It would be an indignity, a slight, a civic slap in the face. What, Scarborough isn’t good enough for a subway?

Of course, a certain conservative faction at city council grabbed hold of the fight for not only political reasons but, ultimately, as a way to kick building public transit even further down the road. Promise subways, subways, subways everywhere and, the reality is, you won’t have to build them anywhere, at least not in the foreseeable future. A subway on Sheppard. A subway on Finch. A subway in every backyard. The more ridiculous the claim, the better because the less likely it will ever be built.fingerscrossed

Back in 2010, how many subways did the mayor promise to have built by now, 2014? And how many have been built? Rinse, and repeat.

The conservative leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park has taken a similar tack, promising subways to everywhere throughout the GTA, LRTs to none. When’s that going to happen? When the provincial deficit is eliminated. Uh huh. And how’s he propose to pay for them? Finding efficiencies and waste.

So yeah. Don’t be counting on subways any time soon.

Suckers!

It’s hard these days to reconcile conservative politics with sound public policy especially when it comes to public transit. Maybe that’s because their base has dwindled to regions where public transit remains negligible, sweetridein rural and suburban areas. But I think the harder truth is the conservative movement has been hijacked by those who simply believe there is no such thing as the greater good. We’re all just self-interested individuals making our way alone in the world.

There are no free rides, just sweet rides. If you want to get anywhere, you don’t do it, sitting at the back of bus.

fed uply 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


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


In Your Own Backyard

April 5, 2014

Is anybody else at all weirded out about the fact Toronto’s incumbent mayor is holding his first big re-election fundraiser beyond this city’s limits? suspicious2Or that, back in 2010, more than one-third of his campaign donations came from non-Toronto residents? I don’t know. Maybe it’s standard operating procedure.

In some ways, it makes sense.

As goes Toronto, so goes the region, I’ve heard it said. There’s a wider vested interest in how the city fares, out past the 416 and into 905. Lots of people who don’t call it home have a business, do business, go about their business here in Toronto. It’s only fair that they’re allowed some kind of say as to whom we elect to run things.

I guess.

Maybe I wouldn’t find it so disturbing if this support wasn’t lavished upon such an anti-urban candidate. It comes across as if he’s doing the bidding of the largely suburban area that encircles the city. Reflecting the pre-amalgamated Toronto mindset of many living in both the GTA’s inner and outer suburbs, the Toronto mayor has more in common with the municipalities of Halton, Peel, York and Durham than he does with the one he was elected to represent. surroundedHe’s one of them. An enemy in our midst.

That comes across sounding a little paranoid, doesn’t it. I’ve fallen into that us-versus-them mentality. It could just as well be a case of, I don’t know, going with a winner although, at this point of time, it’s hard to figure out who would shell out $300 a plate in support of Mayor Ford. How is more of the same for another 4 years going to help anyone, anywhere around these parts?

So, I guess it simply comes down to political stripe. A conservative is a conservative is a conservative, good or bad, crack smoking, known to police or not. Their guy is better than the other guy, regardless.

Ultimately I think the thing that bugs me most about this is that it seems anyone residing outside of Toronto can donate to a candidate here and receive the city issued rebate that comes with it. rebateSomething just doesn’t sit right about that. I’m not sure why any city would want to encourage candidate donations from outside its boundaries. You’re just giving money away that, in all likelihood, will be spent outside of the local economy.

My inclination would be to restrict campaign donations to only eligible voters. It just seems clear and easy. But that’s probably too restrictive or exclusive. So how about only residents and those owning a business in the city qualify to donate to municipal candidates? That doesn’t seem unreasonable.

But maybe if you really think it’s important and democratic to be able to donate to the candidate of your choice no matter where they are, donate away. Just don’t expect to be reimbursed or subsidized for it. I already suspect your motives. I certainly don’t want to enable them.

suspicous1

suspiciously submitted by Cityslikr


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