Borrowing and Burrowing

September 30, 2015


(All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s L.A. correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, chimes in with some thoughts from a city that is bidding on the 2024 Olympic games.)


I have to admit, when I heard about the possibility that the Olympic games might be coming to Los Angeles in 2024, my first thought was that this could be the perfect excuse to accelerate construction of the Metro Purple Line to UCLA. latransit2030Back in 1984, the campus was one of the principal venues for the games, and given that L.A. is much more congested today than it was then, completing the subway to the campus might be not just the best, but the only, way to carry off the behemoth undertaking.

As you may know, the Purple Line, which includes a proposed stop at UCLA, was supposed to be the Subway to the Sea. But then methane gas caused a shopping center along the planned route to blow up, and as a result, the line sat in limbo for 22 years. Meanwhile, the Expo Line, the light rail to the Westside, made steady progress in the same direction, but along a more southerly route. It should begin service to Santa Monica by early next year, providing the dreamed-for access to the sea.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of Westwood, where the campus of UCLA sits, increasingly choked off from the city, and where the Purple Line is not scheduled to arrive until 2036. Using the Olympics to accelerate this project makes a lot of sense. fixieAfter all, borrowing is still cheap, and burrowing would come at a discount as well, the theory being that it is cheaper to leave the tunnel boring machine in the ground and just keep going. Also, while we’re at it, we might as well accelerate the airport connector. And lest I forget, if we could connect by High Speed Rail to San Francisco, just think of all the new counter-cultural Olympics events we could stage, such as the Fixie Downhill Slalom and the OlympiCon Naked Bar Crawl!

This, in any case, was my first fevered reaction to the news that we might get to host the Olympics again. But the next day, my fever broke. Capital infrastructure was all well and good, sexy even, with your high profile public transit projects and grand palaces to world class athleticism. blackpowerBut what about our human infrastructure? What about our homeless? What about our schools, and environmental justice? Are these not infrastructure issues even more worthy of acceleration for the Olympics?

In 1968, the Olympics were held in Mexico City, and the thing I remember most was watching Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise the Black Power salute during the awards ceremony. I thought it was awesome. In my blended North-South family (mother from Alabama, father from Brooklyn), the Civil Rights Movement was often the subject of ugly, impassioned argument. But that day in 1968, those brave men who held their fists aloft as our National Anthem played introduced an unfamiliar phenomenon into our home: silence. Neither of my parents spoke. And me? To paraphrase Michelle Obama, it was the first time I had ever been proud of my country. Plus we took the gold and the bronze!

Today I am thinking of that event not only because it is my first memory of the Olympics, but because Los Angeles is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots. watts1965Those riots, which occurred in 1965, must have been fresh in the minds of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Now, as we prepare to make our newest bid for the games, we should use those riots, and the conditions that caused them, as a yardstick against which to measure the progress Los Angeles has, and has not, made. LA has its own history and its own legacy of racism, a legacy which is impossible to separate from the harmful decisions the city has made throughout the years regarding infrastructure. And we need to do it fast, as the Olympic committee will make its decision in 2017.

Olympic-sizely submitted by Ned Teitelbaum

The Defeat Device

September 29, 2015

The basis of the appeal of the private automobile has always been a kind of mystically perceived total freedom. In practice, it is the freedom to go wherever one wants to go (wherever the roads go, which opens up another socioeconomic can of worms), whenever one desires to go (whenever the car is ready, when one has paid the price in preparation and maintenance, in taxation and legal qualification, whenever one has the wherewithal simply to feed the machine), at whatever rate one desires to go (assuming the traffic will allow, that congestion eases – and at rates up to but not beyond the arbitrary standards established to protect one from the dangers of excessive use of his own freedom).

Never mind the cavils, however; mobility, or the illusion thereof, has indeed been the prime attraction, the dream for which we have so cheerfully paid all those other costs. The tragedy is that if mobility alone had been the single goal in the development of the modern private automobile, we could have achieved a better measure of it for a fraction of a percentage point of the cost we have paid.

— John Jerome, The Death of the Automobile, 1972

It should be unsettling to all of us that we have built our lives around, designed the places we live and work to, hinged an unhealthy segment of our economy on this “mystically perceived total freedom” of the private automobile. deathoftheautomobileSo engrained is this perception of the individual life enhancing power of the car that we cannot imagine a future without one, a future, like the past two generations, of unimodal transportation policy revolving entirely around our use of private vehicles. Anything else is inconceivable.

Our mayor will be pursuing an item at city council this week that will, if successful, drain $350 million from the capital budget in order to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway, shrinking the timeline from 20 to 8 years. So important to our local economy that people not be hampered in getting around the city in their cars, Mayor Tory believes this to be a wise and prudent expense of public dollars. Just like spending hundreds of millions more money to keep a small eastern section of the same expressway elevated makes sense to him.

The primacy of the automobile is simply self-evident. As it was so it shall ever be. carad5Stopping such madness only serves to reveal it was madness from the very beginning.

While you can certainly accuse the mayor of lacking much imagination and even less foresight, you can’t necessarily fault him. The car mythology has been deeply engrained in us, sold to us unrelentingly, in 30 second spots during the Super Bowl, filling up magazine pages, providing regular content in pop culture. Little Deuce Coup to the Fast and Furious. Baby, you can drive my car and we’ll have fun, fun, `til your daddy takes the T-bird away. (That makes no sense but nothing about car adulation does).

We have been bamboozled by marketing and PR. In this way, the automotive industry has much in common with Big Tobacco. Actually, in another important way as well. Mass deception and perfidy resulting in a steady march of hundreds of thousands to the graveyard.

Truth in advertising.

We laugh now at the outrageous claims of pretend doctors pitching their favourite brand of cigarettes. Cool menthol. Lucky Strike. It’s Toasted! Low tar and nicotine. I’d Rather Fight Than Switch. carad4Come To Where The Flavour Is, you Marlboro Man Men, a succession of pitchmen dying of lung cancer.

But how much more realistic is your everyday car commercial? Mostly, drivers and their freedom-loving passengers, tearing it up along the open road, nary another car in sight, even in the most populous of cities. Ads highlighting the new features that a company has developed to keep your family safe deny the obvious. Your family would be much safer not travelling around the city in a car.

One of the most cynical spots on TV right now is one featuring the band X Ambassadors, touring America in a Jeep, writing lyrics, listening to music on the radio, taking in the sights. And where do they wind up for a gig? At a venue that says ‘Portland’ on its marquee. Portland, Oregon. Perhaps the leading North American city committed to reducing its dependence of private automobiles.

Renegades, my ass, you TV jinglemakers. Fuck you, X Ambassadors. Fuck you, Jeep. Fuck you, car industry.

A little over-the-top? An unfair comparison, cars and cigarettes? One is a delivery system for an addictive, toxic virulence which was well-known but hidden and denied by corporations and the other…

Volkswagen: The scandal explained. ‘Diesel dupe’. ‘Defeat device’. carad2A mammoth multinational company consciously working to defy regulations in order to sell their product which dumps untold amounts of dangerous, deadly shit into the atmosphere. Yeah, that’s the other.

It’s not like this is some singular event by an outlier. Car companies have been slipping and dodging government environmental regulations for, well, probably since the advent of environmental regulations. “Manufacturers have long been accused of using specially prepared cars to produce the best possible [miles-per-gallon performance] figures.”

The entire Age of the Automobile has been predicated on lies and slick, misleading advertising. Like all advertising, it’s based on a perceived lifestyle with the promise of easy, economical and efficient mobility at its core. Like all advertising, it’s not entirely true. Not even close.

This is not news, particularly. There’s nothing revelatory in that statement. Car dependence is killing us, and disfiguring our cities and communities in the process. But we’re too far in, it seems, to do much about it. carad1We just continue to dig the hole deeper, tossing more money after bad, hoping to find a solution somewhere in that deep, dark pit.

The denial sits heavily. We can’t possibly have been this stupid to have bought so whole-heartedly into such a fantasy, spun by corporate entities. Can we? No. Let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing.

More than 40 years on, we refuse to accept the reality of what we’ve done.

Technology isn’t evil, but the uses of technology often are. The car is a bad machine – and the solution is not to build a better bad machine, but rather not to build bad machines. Yet this huge, wealthy nation is trapped with what is virtually a single transportation system, and to suggest simply abandoning that system is to suggest paralyzing the nation. We have become addicted to automobiles; they have become literally a necessity to sustaining life.

autohatingly submitted by Cityslikr

Standing Strong For The Status Quo

September 28, 2015

There are days when my rational and sane side win out, when my contempt and general misanthropy wane, taking a back seat and making me, I think, a moderately agreeable person. It rarely occurs without a battle. sunnydispositiononarainydayI don’t enjoy taking the dim view but whoever said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile couldn’t have been fully on top of either human psychology or physiology.

Reasonable me wants to believe Mayor John Tory is more concerned, is more of an advocate for addressing Toronto’s affordable housing crisis (as part of a broader anti-poverty strategy) than was his predecessor, Rob Ford. That should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, no sooner had Ford assumed the mayor’s office than he started making noise about selling off Toronto Community Housing stock and letting the private sector deal with the mess. There were few social programs he didn’t deem to be akin to thug hugging.

Mayor Tory, on the other hand, has handpicked Councillor Pam McConnell to devise a poverty reduction strategy. Earlier this year he appointed Senator Art Eggleton to oversee the functioning of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and recommend ways to make it work better. Councillor Ana Bailão continues to focus on ways to deal with the Mount Everest backlog of TCHC state of good repairs. lookbusy1Just last week, the mayor pressed the ReSet button on an initiative to streamline the manner TCHC goes about fixing its housing stock.

So yeah, sane and rational me prevails, seeing Mayor Tory as a step in the right direction on the poverty and affordable housing fronts after the Ford years. Check that It Could Be Worse box.

But here comes disagreeable me to demand that it’d be really great to see the mayor speak and act as passionately and as often about poverty and affordable housing as he does on road repairs and car congestion. He’s pushing a $350 million agenda item at city council meeting this week to expedite work on the Gardiner expressway, reducing the construction timeline down 8 years, from 20 to 12. Just today, the mayor was defending an extra $3.4 million spent on a section of the Gardiner to shorten the repair completion date a few months.

Watch Mayor Tory vigorously champion the $350 million Gardiner rehabilitation expenditure at last week’s Executive Committee meeting on economic grounds (right near the end of the clip).

There is no mountain the mayor does not seem willing to move, no amount of money he will not spend to free drivers of congested traffic. Poverty and affordable housing? He’ll appoint people to make reports. He’ll tweak procurement practices. He’ll press senior levels of government to do their part.

That’s a whole lot better than showing up at buildings and handing out $20 bills but it’s hardly enough. It’s all well and good. It’s not Gardiner expressway rehabilitation level good, though.

This is where the sunny disposition, sane and rational me loses the upper hand on this discussion. No amount of reports or fiddling with the system is going to seriously address the problems at TCHC. Neither will they do much in dealing with poverty in Toronto, and the rise of David Hulchanski’s 3 cities within this city. Tblahblahblahhese are long simmering problems abandoned in any serious way by all 3 levels of governments for the better part of a generation now.

And Mayor Tory’s go-to move on the files? Not dissimilar from Rob Ford’s when he was mayor. Ask/cajole/plead with/shame the provincial and federal governments to pitch in and do their part. Try, and try again. Only this time, it’ll be different because… because… because… ?

Is this the face of a provincial government that looks as if it’s willing to open up its coffers to a municipal ask/demand from Toronto?

The Ontario government is trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of the City of Toronto by appealing the property-tax assessments on several provincial properties – including the Legislature Building at Queen’s Park and the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance.

During the Executive Committee debate over the Gardiner expressway rehabilitation item, it was pointed out that in order to access federal government infrastructure money the project had to use a P3 process. Sure, you can have some money. But always with strings attached. Always.

Mayor Tory hopes to tap into some of that federal infrastructure cash to help with the $2.6 billion repair backlog at TCHC. Another wish that comes, presumably, with strings attached. If we’re lucky.

This is where I can fight off the contempt and discontent no longer. Our mayor seems unprepared, unwilling or unable to challenge this status quo. He talks and talks and talks around it, expresses occasional dissatisfaction with it but in the end, he bows down before it. fingerscrossedWith an eye on the polls, acting on those things which churn with possible voter anger and ballot retribution, he prioritizes his agenda accordingly. Thus, we find ourselves flush with $350 million to speed up repairs on the Gardiner but improvements to living conditions at the TCHC remain dependent on successful asks from senior levels of government.

The poors and their poverty aren’t traditionally big vote getters. That’s simply the undeniable status quo. Mayor Tory isn’t big on challenging the status quo.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr

A Leap Of Faith In Ourselves

September 26, 2015

If you want to see the hollow, corrupted shell that modern conservatism has become, check out its reaction to the leap manifesto.hysterical (The what? I know, I know. So like, 10 days ago.) “Naomi Klein’s Great Leap Backward,” wailed the Financial Post’s Peter Foster, “…issued on Tuesday by an asylum full of celebrity victims of Harper Derangement Syndrome…is certainly a thought-provoking platform. The main thoughts it provokes are: Does achieving celebrity cause a sharp drop in IQ and increase in hypocrisy, or does all-consuming artistic ego and/or power-hungry socialist inclination prevent all logical thought?”

Celebrities and eggheads. What do they know about the real world, am I right? Marxists and Maoists, the lot them, trumpeting long-refuted Keynesian economics, strangled as it was by the Invisible Hand of the free market. The FREE market.

Only moderately less hysterical, the Globe and Mail editorial board similarly dismissed the presence of ‘movie stars and pop musicians’ (and public-service unions — *spit*) signing on to this “…revolutionary (but not in the good sense of the word) critique of capitalism.” angrypartisanWhat might be a good sense of the word ‘revolutionary’? The G&M doesn’t really take the time to explain such details, too busy ripping apart the document’s contents for that.

In doing so, the Globe showed itself as willing as the Financial Post not to engage candidly with the leap manifesto. Misrepresentation was more to their liking. Not coincidentally both publications claimed that the manifesto called for an end to all trade deals with a big ripping noise. Problem is, they both cut and copied the first part of that particular sentence.

“We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. [Bolding mine.]

That’s a huge gulf of difference between what is written and what these newspapers claimed was on the page.

At least these papers made the pretense of having a serious (but not in the good sense of the word) discussion. Over on social media, all critique and flack began and ended on the word ‘manifesto’. In a nutshell: You know who else wrote a manifesto? Karl Marx. joemccarthyIt was called The Communist Manifesto. Therefore, all manifestos are communist. You support this manifesto? You’re a communist. You know who supports this manifesto? The NDP. They’re communists. Their leader, Tom Mulcair, is a communist. A Tommunist. Get it? Tom-Comm, Tommunist. Tommunist Manifesto. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto

A ‘50s-era line of attack smear intending, I guess, to provide cover for those still in desperate need for a reason to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election. Well, Harper’s not perfect but at least he’s not a communist. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto.

Mock and ridicule. The current state of our conservative politics, folks.

*  *  *

(The three dots to denote a change of what will hopefully turn out to be a related narrative direction that I couldn’t masterfully do using just words. I’m fessing up to that up front.)

Along with the leap manifesto, I also spent some time reading Joshua Zeitz’s August Atlantic article, Born to Run and the Decline of the American Dream, commemorating (if that’s the right word) the 40th anniversary of the album’s release. “I don’t think the American Dream was that everyone was going to make it or that everyone was going to make a billion dollars,” Springsteen said in a later interview. borntorun“But it was that everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That, in two sentences, summed up the rationale of the western post-war consensus. A mixed-use economy with the government playing an integral in both smoothing out the regular kinks the market suffered, as well as ensuring a level playing field in providing equal access to opportunity. Not, as Springsteen pointed out, equal access to a billion dollars but at `the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.’

Born To Run became something of an anthem to the breakdown of that consensus occurring in the mid-70s. Conventional economic thought had not seen the economic shocks that rattled the boom time belief in never-ending growth and prosperity coming, and it wasn’t quick enough to offer up possible solutions to the malaise which set in. In its place, up popped a seductively simple alternative. Free up the markets from the death grip of government intervention. borntorun1Unleash the wealth creators and let the good times roll. Money will trickle down to everyone. A rising tide will raise all boats.

Remove the human element from the free market, the FREE market, and let it run perfectly, like Newton’s well-oiled cosmic clock, keeping exact time according to the immutable laws of the universe. Keynes was dead. Long live the Chicago school!

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” H.L. Mencken wrote decades earlier, predicting, I’m sure, economic theorists.

The upheaval wasn’t simply economic. The social consensus also fractured. In this everybody for themselves environment promoted by the new economic model we were told would solve our problems, oppositional forces turned on each other. Union leaders were now seen as fat cats and leeches. Racial divisions hardened. And what were the damn girls screeching about now?

As Zeitz points out in his article, the protest politics of the 60s didn’t disappear in the 70s. They changed. Gone were the hippies marching against an unjust war, in favour of peace and love. 1970sIn their place, the taxpayers’ revolt and the moral majority. The counter-revolution, reactionism.

Like many Canadians of my demographic, I was buffered from the tumult, by and large. I had discovered Bruce Springsteen post-Born To Run with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He spoke to the mild youthful rebellion I was experiencing. Springsteen and the punks. But I was far from one of the working class figures he depicted in his songs.

My parents certainly were but they had seized the opportunity offered up by the post-war consensus Springsteen spoke of, to live a life of decency and self-respect, and ensure I never had to toil as hard as they did. The irony is, the only time I spent on the factory floor was in a summer job between 1st and 2nd year of university, in a union shop, making a shitload of money. A shitload of money.

But that was during the early-80s, and things were different back then. Me and my generation (probably grammatically incorrect but sounds appropriately gritty) kicked away the ladder behind us as we climbed into the comfortable positions our parents created for us. Sorry, kids. Didn’t you hear? The rules have all changed.

*  *  *

(Act 3, or the Final Act, a variation on the Hegelian thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Fingers crossed!)

Just as the post-war consensus era ran its course, collapsing after 30, 35 years, its successor, what do we call it, The Great Unravelling, is walking wounded on its last legs. breadlineHidebound ideological adherents refuse to admit it but it all came crashing down in 2008, and now limps toward its demise, unable to staunch the bleeding.

We call it the Great Recession because, apparently, it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression which, along with World War II, was an important element in the subsequent creation of the post-war consensus. We’ve been through some tough times recently, sure. But not that tough, not Dust Bowl, bread line tough. Everybody’s got a cell phone and hi-def TV. How hard can it be?

2008 was just blip, a bad downturn, a correction, if you will. Nothing that 7 years of sluggish growth wide spread economic insecurity won’t help fix. Pay no attention to any dark clouds that pop up on the horizon, it’ll be blue skies and smooth sailing ahead if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, adamsmithkeeping taxes low, governments small and our ears to the ground for any sort of threat to our way of doing business life.

Friend of this site, former city councillor and proud Progressive Conservative, John Parker, in reaction to the news that the pay of the average U.S. CEO in 2014 was almost 400 times that of the average employee, “multiples of what it was a few decades ago,” Mr. Parker tweeted, asked how many had read Adam Smith’s book, Wealth of Nations. Smith was an 18th-century philosopher, hero of the neo-conservative/liberal set, who penned the idea of the Invisible Hand, the magic of the free market, the FREE market, summoned by our rational pursuit of self-interest.

“And hands up everyone who knows that Adam Smith also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Parker continued. “The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith, redux: An economic system must have a moral foundation in order to be sustainable.”

Markets don’t have morals. They just determine winners and losers. jacobmarleyPeople are moral (or should be). Government should reflect people, moral people, not markets.

While it would be simplistic to chalk up the cause of the crash of 2008 to just one thing, I do not think it outrageous to believe that the key to understanding such a massive economic failure (and its ongoing lingering malaise – there’s that word again) is that the system had absolutely no moral foundation. It wasn’t sustainable, a spectacular flameout was inevitable because it lacked morality, fairness or any sense of responsibility beyond me, mine and my own.

I would postulate that it is this lack of morality the leap manifesto seeks to address.

Or sought to address, I guess it’s fair to conclude. Ten days is a long time, especially in a 70+ day campaign. The leap manifesto seems to have become something of a relic, a tic. Big news for a day or two, then vapour. Almost as if it didn’t happen. A new shoe tried on but ill-fitting. It didn’t stick to the NDP like conservatives hoped it would. It didn’t stick to the NDP because the NDP wanted nothing to do with it.

Clearly, an election campaign is no time to talk about root causes, big ideas or actual change from a rotten status quo. Carry on, gentlemen. jmkeynesIt’s business as usual.

Now we’re on to niqabs and the conservative rallying cry of Can Governments Really Do Anything About The Economy? Really?

A couple weeks back, Doug Saunders, certainly no avid proponent of government interventionism and writing for the same Globe and Mail newspaper that had haughtily dismissed the leap manifesto, suggested that maybe, just maybe, the government does have role to play in economic affairs.

Many economists came to realize not only that government intervention bailed many countries out of the post-2008 recession and restored growth and employment, but that the crisis itself may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy – the sort of direct investment and partnership that had existed in earlier decades.

“The crisis itself” — a crisis of 21st-century capitalism – “may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy.” Active government support “that had existed in earlier decades.”

How’s that for your great leap backward? To a time when government didn’t simply get out of the way and let the magic of the mythical invisible hand do its thing. freemarketTo a time when it was expected that a government would do all it could to ensure that, how did Bruce Springsteen put it? “…everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That doesn’t seem overly ambitious or too unachievably utopian. It just doesn’t square with the self-made man image of the economic right where worth is measured solely by wealth regardless of the manner in which it was amassed. If you haven’t made it, bucko, look no further than the mirror. The blame lies squarely there, nowhere else.

It’s everybody for themselves and everything else will fall into place.

Except it doesn’t. It never has, and the façade of that political and economic belief system shattered in 2008. Having spent the past 7 years trying to piece it back together, to tweak and tinker it as if only minor adjustments were all that was needed, we’re simply denying the reality our current situation. Only a transformation, another great transformation, if you will, is in order.headinthesand

That’s what the leap manifesto is all about.

That it’s already yesterday’s news suggests we’re not ready to make any sort of transformative leap. We agonize over almost rounding error deficits and accept the faulty premise that only balanced budgets will cure the economic ills that ail us. We’ll elect our next federal government based on minor differences, all revolving around a discredited economic model and an abused sense of governance. And then we’ll wonder why nothing much has changed.

ever hopefully submitted by Cityslikr

Are You Experienced?

September 24, 2015

Ron Moeser has been a Toronto and pre-amalgamated Scarborough city councillor for 24 of the past almost 27 years. A seasoned veteran, you might call him. sageA wise sage possessing deep, institutional knowledge. An old pro.

Or, watching his performance Tuesday as a member of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, you could also conclude he’s just a crank.

The extent of his questions and concerns amounted to little more than slight variations on ‘What are we agreeing to here?’ and ‘How much is this going to cost us?’ He seemed overwhelmed, complaining to the committee chair, Councillor Jaye Robinson, about having too much to do in too little time. There were moments when fellow committee members expressed a degree of impatience with Councillor Moeser’s, I can only describe it as, a certain obtuse stick-in-the-mudness.

Is this just the product of being too long in office, unable or uninterested any longer to grapple with the complexities of governing what is a sprawling, complex, 21st-century metropolitan city? Is Councillor Moeser simply burnt out, past his best before date, the poster child for term limits? Or… or… was Ron Moeser always a terrible city councillor?

It’s difficult to believe that such a radical transformation, from Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington to Grandpa Simpson, is the explanation. mrsmithI’ve watched Councillor Moeser for 5 years now (some of which, to be fair, early last term, he was ill) and never witnessed any spark of policy proficiency or a city building initiative he picked up and ran with. An absent presence, I’d offer, a bump on the municipal log.

Lord knows, he’s hardly alone in the bad councillor category. His utter lack of contribution in any sort of sense probably disqualifies him as the worst city councillor currently occupying space at City Hall. Certainly not while the names Ford, Mammoliti, Karygiannis are tossed around. Councillor Moeser is benignly counter-productive rather than actively so.

But there’s something about the likes of that terrible trio that’s understandable in a perverse way. They’ve each found their calling in the low-expectation perception arena of municipal politics. Political bush leagues and backwaters, even here in the country’s largest city. The clown show, replete with clown princes’ like Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti and Jim Karygiannis. Look at us! Look at us!!

Ron Moeser can’t even claim that status, though. He’s just a non-entity asking questions that have already been asked and answered, demanding to know little more than what we’re agreeing to and how much it’s going to cost us. manyellsatcloudsThis is too much work. We need to slow down and catch our breath. We need to do less and take more time doing it.

What does this say about voters in Ward 44 Scarborough East who’ve sent Moeser to City Hall in 5 of the 6 post-amalgamated elections, albeit usually with very slim margins? Is incumbency so heavy a stone to set aside at the municipal level that the deadest of dead weights becomes impossible to move? Avoid contentious issues, keep taxes low, basements from flooding, the garbage picked up, and you’ll do alright. Maintain as low a profile as possible for an elected official and maybe, just maybe, residents will continue voting for you because… they can’t think of any reason why not.

A non-angry electorate is not a change-y electorate. Familiarity doesn’t necessarily breed contempt, or content. Just a whole lot of m’eh. Things could be worse, I guess. Put the X next to the recognizable name.

Does that sound mean or patronizing? Probably. But I’m at a loss to explain how it is Ron Moeser remains a city councillor. Maybe he’s dynamite at the constituency level. Maybe. That’s a little hard to believe, difficult to bridge the gap between that possibility and his abysmal performance in the legislative aspect of his job.toomuch

What’s even harder to understand at this point is why Ron Moeser sits on what may be the second most important standing committee at City Hall after the Budget Committee. Public Works and Infrastructure is largely responsible for the physical operations of the city, the roads, sewers, waste collection. The nuts-and-bolts of city life, pretty much. It oversees billions of dollars in capital spending.

Just this past week, among the nearly 25 items the committee considered, were a couple doozies. Yet more options on the Gardiner expressway east. Contracting out waste collection on the east side of the city. The interim poverty reduction plan.

And Ron Moeser sits as 1 of 6 votes on the committee, struggling to stay on top of the work, the reports, the decisions. What are we agreeing to and how much is it going to cost is the extent of his contribution to the discussions and debates. We have to get through all of this? By 6 o’clock?!

You have to wonder as to the motivation of the administration that elevated him to such a key position. In the waning days of the Ford era, Moeser occupied a seat at the table of the Budget Committee under the then chief stickinthemud(and another mystifyingly out of his depth long serving councillor, Frank Di Giorgio). But by then, the Fords had burned through all their options, their allies scattered and in hiding.

Mayor Tory tapped Ron Moeser right from the outset of his time in office, with plenty of other, better choices at his disposal if his main concern was having the best and the brightest in the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee room. He went in another direction, however. A direction that suggests the mayor, just like the last mayor, is more about politics than he is good governance.

dimly submitted by Cityslikr

Dear Councillor Crawford

September 23, 2015

All Fired Up in the Big Smoke
The Internets
September 23, 2015


Councillor Gary Crawford
City Councillor, Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest
City of Toronto
100 Queen Street West, Suite A11
Toronto, Ontario   M5H 2N2


Dear Councillor Crawford:

As an avid city council watcher, I couldn’t help but notice your appearance at yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I barely noticed your appearance, coming as it did just after the lunch break when you attempted to get some quick item passed by the committee. Turns out it wasn’t that quick and got shuffled off to the next meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in a flurry of what seemed to me at the time to be much baseless and niggling procedural wrangling.

Frankly, I’d forgotten the entire incident until a few hours later when the Torontoist posted this piece, Scarborough Sidewalk Skirmishes March On. It fleshes out your item PW 7.15, Midland Avenue Sidewalk Construction in more interesting detail. Allow me to quote the staff summary of the item as I’m sure it’s just one of many you have to deal with during the course of a day in the life of a busy city councilor.

In late July, my office was contacted by a number of residents on Midland Avenue who were disheartened to learn that, in accordance with City policy, a sidewalk would be constructed on their street in conjunction with area watermain replacements. In this case, while the watermain replacement stretches as far north as Kingston Road, the construction of sidewalks is limited to the west side of Midland Avenue from Fishleigh Drive to Romana Drive.

I have received a petition demonstrating that all thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue from Fishleigh Drive to Romana Drive are opposed to the installation of sidewalks in the currently planned location.

“A number of residents…were disheartened to learn that…a sidewalk would be constructed on their street.” What? “I have received a petition demonstrating that all thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue…are opposed to the installation of sidewalks in the currently planned location.” Surely, this must be some sort of joke. Opposed to a sidewalk?

In the letter, you go on to state that the source of this complaint is that the city’s sidewalk construction policy is not being applied fairly. If I understand your thinking correctly, other parts of the area in question are not getting sidewalks, so in the fairness, residents of these “thirteen homes on the west side of Midland Avenue” believe they too should not receive such fancy civic amenities as a sidewalk either. Perhaps, I am not properly reading between the lines.

Interestingly, in her Torontoist article, Sarah Niedoba points out a previous Scarborough sidewalk kerfuffle not far from this one. In that, Ms. Niedoba writes the opposition to sidewalk construction wasn’t so much a question of fairness as it was about the negative impact a sidewalk would have on the “rural” feel of the area. Rural? Scarborough? I had to check my calendar. Yes. Indeed, it was 2015 not 1815.

I don’t know how much of the ensuing social media chatter you followed but one point made which I think bears repeating, especially if you missed it. “So we’re building subways to a place too rural for sidewalks,” Mr. Alex Colangelo asked. We want our mod-cons to whisk us back and forth from our country homes.

In other words, Councillor Crawford, you cannot demand Manhattan while wearing a John Denver vest.

In other other words (and I believe this requires an ALL CAPS emphasis), YOU CANNOT ADVOCATE FOR A SUBWAY IN SCARBOROUGH AND STAND OPPOSED TO BUILDING SIDEWALKS THERE. I mean, obviously, you can and you are but that would be pandering at its worst. It is a refusal to accept the realities of living in a big, big city in the 21st-century at the same time demanding all the advantages of doing so.

Records indicate that you won re-election in Ward 36 last year by more than 4000 votes. Surely you don’t feel so insecure in your position that you’re compelled to rush to the defense of 13 misguided residents. Is anti-sidewalk sentiment so strong in Scarborough Southwest that it could make any electoral difference to you in the future?

Even if it did, this is a question of leadership, Councillor Crawford. Leadership means not putting your own self-interest, or that of a precious few, ahead of the best interests of the city. Leadership means championing good public policy not kneejerk, reactionary nimbyism.

All the best.


Yours civic-mindedly,



A Gardiner Ode

September 22, 2015

OK, not technically an ode, not even an Irregular one. No stanzas, no rhyme scheme. gardinerfortyorkJust a tribute, if you will.

Standing, listening to music this past weekend at the Toronto Urban Roots Festival, down on the grounds of ol’ Fort York, I was struck regularly by the terrible beauty that is the Gardiner Expressway. The elevated portion of the monstrosity snaking its way through the downtown core, separating the fort from its barracks and the lakefront; modernity, once shadowing out the past, itself now under siege by the present and future as towers rise up on either side of it.

Even more so than this 18th-century fort, it’s the Gardiner Expressway that now looks and feels out of place, out of touch, a relic from a bygone era. An obstinate obstacle to progress, demanding we acknowledge its one-time greatness and how it represented glorious future-thinking and city-building. gardinerfortyork1A money-suck monument to the past.

During this never-ending debate over what to do with this eastern most portion of the expressway – Repair, Rebuild or Tear Down, in short – I’ve sided, rather forcefully, with the latter. Bring the fucker down, I say. But on this day, from this vantage point I’m looking up at it, I reconsider.

Maybe not, I think.

Let’s leave it up, as a symbol to prior civic mistakes. Well-meaning but ultimately misguided public policy pursuits that reverberate, decades on, with unfortunate unintended consequences. An artefact in an outdoor museum to grand plans of yesteryear gone wildly and madly astray.

Eventually, vehicular usage on the expressway will dwindle, a smattering of what it once was as people figure there are better ways to move around the city. Maybe we will then turn it into some kind of public space, some sort of reclamation project. cadillacranchA graveyard for the automobile age upon which we will all ascend to dance upon.

Or maybe, once we come to our senses about the albatross that is the Gardiner expressway, we will plan a grand send off for it, a command performance of the Pixies, say, blasting their planet of sound from the grounds of the ol’ Fort York, LOUDquietLOUD, bringing the entire hideous structure tumbling down. And we will all cheer, not ruefully or spitefully but humbly, acknowledging folly isn’t always avoidable, refusing to accept it as such is.

odeladywholy submitted by Cityslikr


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