Problems Of The Cities

August 18, 2014

(I was reading Intractable Democracy, a book commemorating “Fifty Years of Community-Based Planning” from the Pratt Center for Community Development when I came across a speech, titled “Problems of the Cities”, from Bobby Kennedy. He delivered it to a Senate subcommittee in August 1966 at a time when many U.S. cities where literally burning from the anger generated by racism, poverty and inequality.

Aside from the obvious parallels to what’s happening currently in Ferguson, Missouri, I thought it worth reprinting an excerpt from the speech for the observations Kennedy made about the nature of cities in general. The root problems that still bedevil us today, nearly 50 years on, stemming from a misguided and almost exclusively top-down built form. The specific outcomes may differ somewhat between, say, Toronto and most U.S. cities, but the results are largely the same. A devalued and deracinated sense of community.)

intractabledemocracy

*  *  *

.. To say that the city is a central problem of American life is simply to know that increasingly the cities are American Life.

.. Within a very few years, 80% of all Americans will live in cities — the great majority of them In concentrations like those which stretch from Boston to Washington, and outward from Chicago and Los Angeles and San Francisco and St. Louis. The cities are the nerve system of economic life for the entire nation, and for much of the world.

Everywhere men and women crowd into cities in search of employment, a decent living, the company of their fellows, and the excitement and stimulation of urban Iife. Yet each of our cities is now also the seat of nearly all the problems of American life: poverty and race hatred, Interrupted education and stunted lives, and the other ills of the new urban nation – congestion and filth, danger and purposelessness, which afflict all but the very rich and the very lucky.

To speak of the urban condition, therefore, is to speak of the condition of American life.

To improve the cities means to improve the life of the American people…

Urban Goals

What should we expect from our cities? A great historian of urban life, Lewis Mumford, has written: “What makes the city in fact one is the common interest in justice and the common aim, that of pursuing the good life.” He drew in turn upon Aristotle, who wrote that the city “should be such as may enable the Inhabitants to live at once temperately and liberally in the enjoyment of leisure.” If we add the objective of rewarding and satisfying work, we have a goal worthy of the effort and work of this entire generation of Americans.

Therefore the city is not just housing and stores. It is not just education and employment, parks and theaters, banks and shops. It is a place where men should be able to live in dignity and security and harmony, where the great achievements of modern civilization and the ageless pleasures afforded by natural beauty should be available to all.

If this is what we want — and this is what we must want if men are to be free for that “pursuit of happiness” which was the earliest promise of the American nation — we will need more than poverty programs, housing programs, and employment programs, although we will need all of these. We will need an outpouring of imagination, ingenuity, discipline, and hard work unmatched since the first adventurers set out to conquer the wilderness. For the problem is the largest we have ever known. And we confront an urban wilderness more formidable and resistant and in some ways more frightening than the wilderness faced by the pilgrims or the pioneers.

Understanding The Problem

The beginning of action is to understand the problem. We know riots are a problem. We know that poverty is a problem. But underneath these problems and all the others are a series of converging forces which rip at the fabric of life in the American city.

By city we mean not just downtown, or the central city, but the whole vast sprawling organism, covering dozens of communities and crossing state lines. It is not a political unit, but a living social and economic body, extending into suburbs and beyond into tens of thousands of outlying acres, to be covered all too soon with homes and shops and factories.

One great problem is sheer growth which crowds people into slums, thrusts suburbs out over the countryside, burdens to the breaking point all our old ways of thought and action — our systems of transport and water supply and education, and our means of raising money to these vital services.

A second is destruction of the physical environment, stripping people of contact with sun and fresh air, clean rivers, grass, and trees — condemning them to a life among stone and concrete, neon lights and an endless flow of automobiles. This happens not only in the central city, but in the very suburbs where people once fled to find nature. “There is no police so effectlve,” said Emerson, “as a good hill and a wide pasture where the boys can dispose of their superfluous strength and spirits.” We cannot restore the pastures but we must provide a chance to enjoy nature, a chance for recreation, for pleasure and for some restoration of that essential dimension of human existence which flows only from man’s contact with the natural world around him.

A third is the increasing difficulty of transportation, adding concealed, unpaid hours to the workweek; removing men from the social and cultural amenities that are the heart of the city; sending destructive swarms of automobiles across the city, leaving behind them a band of concrete and a poisoned atmosphere. And sometimes — as in Watts — our surrender to the automobile has so crippled public transport that thousands literally cannot afford to go to work elsewhere in the city.

A fourth destructive force is the concentrated poverty and racial tension of the urban ghetto, a problem so vast that the barest recital of its symptoms is profoundly shocking. Segregation is becoming the governing rule. Washington is only the most prominent example of a city which has become overwhelmingly Negro as whites move to the suburbs; many other cities are moving along the same road. For example, Chicago, which, if present trends continue, will be over 50 percent Negro by 1975. The ghettoes of Harlem and Southside and Watts are cities in themselves, areas of as many as 350,000 people.

Fifth is both cause and consequence of all the rest. It is the destruction of the sense, and often the fact, of community, of human dialogue, the thousand invisible strands of common experience and purpose, affection and respect which tie men to their fellows. It is expressed in such words as community, neighbourhood, civic pride, friendship. It provides the life sustaining force of human warmth, of security among others, and a sense of one’s own human significance in the accepted association and companionship of others.

The Values of Community

We all share things as fellow citizens, fellow members of the American nation. As important as that sharing is, nations or great cities are too huge to provide the values of community. Community demands a place where people can see and know each other, where children can play and adults work together and join in the pleasures and responsibilities of the pace where they live. The whole history of the human race, until today, has been the history of community. Yet this is disappearing, and disappearing at a time when its sustaining strength is badly needed. For other values which once gave strength for the daily battle of life are also being eroded. The widening gap between the experience of the generations in a rapidly changing world has weakened the ties of family; children grow up in a world of experience and culture their parents never knew. The world beyond the neighborhood has become more impersonal and abstract. Industry and great cities, conflicts between nations and the conquests of science move relentlessly forward, seemingly beyond the reach of individual control or even understanding. It is in this very period that the cities, in their tumbling spread, are obliterating neighborhoods and precincts. Housing units go up, but there is no place for people to walk, for women and their children to meet, for common activities. The place of work is far away through blackened tunnels or over impersonal highways. The doctor and lawyer and government official is often somewhere else and hardly known. In far too many places — in pleasant suburbs as well as city streets — the home is a place to sleep and eat and watch television; but the community is not where we live. We live in many places and so we live nowhere.

Long ago de Tocqueville foresaw the fate of people without community: “Each of them living apart is a stranger to the fate of all the rest his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind; as for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he sees them not; he touches them but he feels them not. He may be said at any rate to have lost his country.” To the extent this is happening it is the gravest ill of all. For loneliness breeds futility and desperation — and thus it cripples the life of each man and menaces the life of all his fellows.

RFKly submitted by Cityslikr


Blessed Be The Bicyclists

August 15, 2014

I know you think this post is about me, don’t you, don’t you..

carlysimon

But it’s not. At least, not directly. My relationship to biking is in another place. A certain fatalism where I am now convinced I will end my days, knocked from my bike and crushed under the wheels of a passing streetcar. A bloodied, broken pulpy mess of irony. And I’m almost certain I’m using the term correctly. I love bikes. I love streetcars. Yet both conspired to kill me.

This scenario isn’t as morose as it might seem to some if you compare it to how I previously thought I was going to die, aneurysming out while doing my business on the toilet. There’s no glory in that, no becoming a martyr to a greater cause. bikeintraffice1Only… only… me and Elvis.

No, this one’s about the two cyclists I encountered a couple days ago, waiting to turn right onto Queen Street at the t-junction of McCaul Street. I pulled up in a row behind them. Queen Street was jammed full of slow moving cars. Clearly there must be some serious stoppage beyond my view. So I waited too.

Until I saw a guy on a bike blow past us going westbound without so much as slowing down.

So I slipped slowly around the two in front of me for a closer look. To my eyes, my already dead biking eyes, there was a clear path for cycling ahead. Between a long row of parked cars on the right and a line of gridlocked ones with increasingly jittery and impatient drivers behind the wheel to my left. Par for the course, I thought as I headed into the traffic, leaving the other two cyclists to figure out the path they’d eventually decide to take.bikeintraffic

As I made my way through the traffic, it occurred to me that these two noble spirits were probably just intimidated or scared. Who, in the right mind, wouldn’t be? This kind of cycling was something of a death defying stunt where one mistake, one moment of distraction or simple misjudgement could you send you off your bike, flying into the path of an oncoming car. Granted, at this particular moment, the end result of that would be some cuts and bruises. Nothing was moving fast enough to inflict a fatal injury.

Still, here were these two cyclists, arriving in a spot where pressing on seemed like they might be taking their lives into their hands (but our hearts would bleed for them). The only other alternative would be to turn around, retrace their route, searching for a safer passage. That isn’t a viable mode of urban transit. It’s 16th-century style exploration.

Build it (and maintain it throughout the year) and they will come.

If people aren’t convinced that there’s a safe, easy way to get around the city by bike, they simply won’t try. For them, biking will remain a recreational pursuit, left for the times they can get off-road. bikeintraffic2The number of cyclists doesn’t justify the money we put into biking infrastructure! No. No, the biking infrastructure doesn’t justify the number of cyclists. Frankly, Toronto has more people getting around the city on bike than it’s earned. Supply is lagging behind demand.

In most places governed by reasoned arguments and rationality, this argument’s over. Biking can be a strong pillar of a functioning transportation system. It’s a low cost way to get people out of their cars and off public transit, providing relief to both modes of transit.

But in order for that to happen, a city must invest in building a real bike network. A connected system of bike lanes that offer the opportunity to get around quickly and safely. Really induce demand, in traffic planning parlance, to accommodate the numbers that will inevitably appear to happily take up the space offered.

Build it (and maintain it throughout the year) and they will come.

Until such time here in Toronto, I salute you, you intrepid two-wheeled sojourners who’ve yet come to terms with your inevitable cycling deaths but still venture out there, creating a culture of cycling for others to follow. jacquescartierYou are trailblazers and map makers, my friends. History will look upon you approvingly.

I would be remiss not to throw out props to that driver in some sort of white SUV who, further west along Queen Street, where the construction began, gave me ample room in front of him to take the left lane for a few blocks as the street narrowed. He understood. I waved in appreciation as he eventually drove past me. We’re all in this together, equally.

applaudingly submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch X

August 14, 2014

We were sitting chatting in a local coffee shop – which I’d been taken to via my own personal Jane’s walk through the neighbourhood – ward30when a fellow customer stopped by the table to tell city council candidate Jane Farrow (Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth) that he was a big supporter. This lead to an enthusiastic conversation about a nearby street he worked on and lived not far from that had been adopted by residents who built flower gardens and dog drinking bowls with construction detritus from an adjoining development site, a path cutting down the side of the road where there was no sidewalk. Both candidate and voter were genuinely excited about it.

It was an exchange that encapsulated what Farrow’s campaign was all about. So much so that, suspicious me immediately suspected a plant, a set-up. Too, too perfect.

The thing is, this is the exact kind of encounter that’s bound to happen given the campaign she’s running and the public person Jane Farrow is.ward30c

If you don’t know who Jane Farrow is, well, first, shame on you. Second, here’s a brief summary of her career that won’t do it nearly enough justice. Broadcast journalist, founding Executive Director of Jane’s Walk, an original member of Active 18. She served as Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s (Ward 32 Beaches-East York) Executive Assistant during the tumultuous first couple years of the Ford Administration including the $19 million pushback on the 2012 city budget that emerged as the first crack in the mayor’s control of city council.

Jane Farrow has been a major urban thinker, activist and community builder in Toronto for some time now.

I’ve been chatting with city council candidates for a couple months and I just have to say that Farrow is as fully formed a candidate as I’ve met during that time. Tward30ahat’s certainly not a slag or thumbs down on the others. Everyone I’ve met so far seems to be running for the best of reasons, to help their neighbourhoods and communities, to improve the tone at City Hall, to build a better city. Farrow is all about that but knows exactly what her approach is going to be.

It’s as simple as it is appealing.

Bringing about a sense of proactive engagement and planning. “Convening a conversation,” she says. Getting people into the room in order to express their very strong impulses for better neighbourhoods and deliver fresh perspectives. Allowing them to ask for the things they want to make the improvements, point out the possibilities available to them.

Farrow sees the lack of community and resident associations in her ward as evidence of a more top-down approach to governance, where the community is consulted only after the big decisions have been made and set in motion. This has resulted in too many missed opportunities (her campaign chant) in building more liveable and equitable neighbourhoods. The Leslie Street makeover is a prime example of this exclusionary style where car parking once more trumped bike lanes. ward30bMaybe that’s what people in the neighbourhood wanted but no one thought to ask them beforehand.

“The whole city is agitated,” Farrow said. While that manifests itself in the tumultuous politics revolving around the Ford spectacle of horrors, its source is much more profound. Toronto and the GTA are experiencing the pain of growth, both in terms of development and population. We haven’t adapted to that reality and now everything is just moving slower, everything is that much more of a slog. People are edgy, angry and looking for an easy target to blame.

What’s going to better serve us in coming up with solutions, Farrow contends, is putting ‘ideas over ideology’. Building a better city shouldn’t be a left-right struggle. Good, positive, forward-thinking ideas don’t come with political stripes. divisionIdeas spring from people, neighbourhoods and communities. The more of them that are brought into the process, the more ideas we have to choose from, the better chances we have of coming up with good answers to the problems currently facing us.

Yeah. I could go on and on, heaping praise on Jane Farrow’s candidacy. Suffice it to say, it’s so meaty and heady that I’m thinking of packing up and moving to Ward 30 just in order to vote for her.

But here’s the thing, here’s the hitch.

When she registered to run back in late May, there was great hue and cry from the left side of the political spectrum. Not Ward 30! That’s Councillor Paula Fletcher! You can’t run against Paula Fletcher! She’s… She’s one of us!

Of course, it was a little more tactical than that. Councillor Fletcher had narrowly been re-elected in 2010 by something of a cipher candidate, TV host, Liz West, who was back for another run at it this time around. ptahasdisbandedAny serious challenge from the left would split the vote and allow West to snatch victory. This was no time to make “progressive” voters decide between two progressive candidates.

It’s this type of binary thinking that has caused such a political mess of things at City Hall. You’re either with us or you’re against us. There’s no middle ground, only stark, black and white choices to be made. Right versus left supplants right versus wrong. Decisions made according to allegiances not best practices or better ideas. The last 4 years has revealed a progressive bloc with, in Farrow’s words, “shared values not shared actions.”

She sees this election in the hopeful light of people taking back Toronto. Not just from the usual suspects like the Fords but, more importantly, from outdated and unhelpful modes of governance that keep the decision-making process largely in the hands of the elected not the electors. That’s not a partisan issue.jfbridge

I don’t want to call the Ward 30 race a bellwether for the city but, man, it’s something close to that. Toronto’s future will look a whole lot rosier if voters in that ward send Jane Farrow over the bridge to City Hall. They won’t just be sending their champion there but a champion for the entire city.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Challengers To Watch IX

August 7, 2014

Tucked away at bottom in the very southwest corner of Toronto, Ward 6 may officially be part of Etobicoke but it feels quite a bit like much of the city’s downtown core. ward6There are serious development pressures especially along the waterfront that make up its southern border. Public transit has not kept up with the area’s population growth. Congestion is part of the daily commute. Employment lands in this once industrial part of the city are being squeezed by the lure of big bucks from residential expansion. Likewise, affordable housing is under threat from the enticement of upscale condos moving in a westward wave from downtown. The expansion of the island airport and the use of jets there is a highly contentious issue.

While city council candidate Russ Ford (no relation) hears about these issues when he’s out knocking on doors, what he’s getting more than an earful of, however, is the M.I.A. status of the ward’s incumbent, Councillor Mark Grimes.whereswaldo2

This is a recurring theme that’s playing out with many of the candidates we’ve been talking to, especially in the more suburban areas of the city. Out of touch, out of contact city councillors not in the habit of engaging with residents on the issues that directly affect them. This lack of visibility, Ford (no relation) tells me, leads to a lack of trust. It’s a feedback loop that plays into the anti-City Hall sentiment that’s the cornerstone of Mayor Ford’s populism.

Russ Ford (no relation) is seeking to change all that. He is a fixture on the Etobicoke-Lakeshore scene, engaged with the communities and neighbourhoods on the ground for 30 years now. For the past 14 years, he has been the Executive Director of LAMP, a local community health centre that promotes preventive measures to maintaining good health through access to secure housing and nutritious, healthy food, improved literacy. texaschainsawmassacreBefore that, Ford (no relation) was the founding Executive Director of another south Etobicoke health centre, Stonegate.

Of course, such involvement at the street level brought Ford (no relation) into direct conflict with the Ford (the other, non-related one) administration during the 2012 budget process that threatened many of the community programs and services Ford (no relation) represented. A budget, like so much of the administration’s agenda, avidly supported by Councillor Grimes who even voted against the $15 million pushback that saved some of these programs and services from the chopping block.

Penny pinching over any sort of vision, Russ Ford (no relation) tells me. Just negligent cutting to meet some arbitrary budget number, consequences to those affected be damned. My heart bleeds for them but at the end of the day…

It is crass politics at its worst. Since many of the people hurt by such an austerity approach, many of whom Russ Ford lockstep(no relation) has spent his career working with and advocating for, don’t tend to vote, there is little consequence for a politician not looking out for their interests. Russ Ford (no relation) believes he can help change that equation, make Councillor Grimes have to answer for his almost unwavering support for the mayor’s agenda.

The real threat to the incumbent’s decade+ plus reign in Ward 6, however, is what Ford (no relation) refers to as a group politicized by bad development. Specifically what comes to mind is the Mimico 20/20 plan along the waterfront. This energized a very vocal group — some driven by, undoubtedly, more than a little nimbyism — but for many, there was inadequate community consultation, a feeling that the project was a done deal and presented to them as is. mineminemineTake it or… well, just take it.

Ford (no relation) takes comfort in the fact that, in the end, no residents of any affordable housing would be displaced by the development. Still, there is a sense that the best interests of residents took a back seat to those of the developers and even now, some of the community benefits of the project through Section 37 funds are not being handled in any sort of democratic fashion. Ford (no relation) wants to change the dynamic of that relationship, bring about a sense of inclusion and participation.

He’s got a bit of a mountain to climb. grassrootsDespite the sense of antipathy toward Councillor Grimes Ford (no relation) is hearing from many residents, the councillor was elected with a healthy majority of the popular vote in 2010, building on each successive election since he first won in 2003. If he decides to run (and that’s not an absolute certainty as he has not registered as of this writing), Mark Grimes will be a formidable entrenched incumbent to oust.

But Russ Ford (no relation) has a few things going in his favour. He has a very strong team in place and growing resources to help overcome the name recognition factor which always plays as an incumbent’s strength. He has an established, long term presence in Ward 6, active in the community there, carrying a certain degree of name recognition in his own right. Ford (no relation) also brings a certain enthusiasm to the prospect of becoming city councillor. An enthusiasm seldom on display from the current incumbent.

Perhaps most importantly, Russ Ford (he’s in no way related to the mayor, OK?) is running for city council in order to spark a wider citizen engagement in Ward 6 with City Hall. turnthepageHe wants to bring residents with him not have them send him alone to represent their interests. There’s too much that needs addressing, too many significant changes in the offing for just one person to contend with on their own. This is going to take a group effort.

Russ Ford (unlike his in no way related namesake) has a long history of working well with others. It will be a fresh and much needed dynamic he’ll bring to City Hall. If we’re hoping to see a change for the better come October 27th, let’s hope Russ Ford will be the only Ford on the scene, a new and improved and better Ford.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Tory Brand

August 5, 2014

John Tory is a terrible candidate for mayor. Just awful. rottenthingtosayIf he goes on to win in October, and governs like he’s campaigning, he’ll be a terrible mayor.

Here’s how he responded last week to fellow mayoral candidate Ari Goldkind’s proposal to reinstate the Vehcle Registration Tax:

I’m trying to make the city more affordable and I hear every day from people about the taxation overall that they face and I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation. I think I’m not going to be doing anybody a favour in terms of the struggle the taxpayers are facing if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.

Throw in a couple folks’s there and exclaim some Respect for Taxpayers, and it might as well be Rob Ford talking.

These are not the words of John Tory CivicAction city-builder. fordnationIt is a.m. radio talk show host John Tory speaking, getting all faux-populist, anti-tax, Rob Ford like. `… I plan to keep property taxes at or below the rate of inflation…not doing anybody a favour…if I were to bring back or bring in any tax like that.’

Taxation as a burden. The city does not have a revenue problem. Investment in services and programs will in no way help struggling taxpayers.

What exactly is John Tory putting on the table for anyone to rally around and champion?

Oh. He doesn’t smoke crack and he’ll attend pride events. questionmarkSlow clap. Bravo.

Not that he was alone among the mayoral frontrunners in rejecting the idea of re-introducing the VRT out of hand. “…under no circumstances,” declared Karen Stintz. A VRT is not part of David Soknacki’s budget plan. Rob Ford? See John Tory’s response.

Most disappointingly (at least from my personal political standpoint) is Olivia Chow, once more skittish about casting any shadow from the left. ‘…councillors have already made a decision on the car tax and she wouldn’t bring it back.’ So while Ms. Chow seems perfectly comfortable revisiting the Scarborough subway decision city council has already made, it’s hands off the VRT.

It might’ve been nice to see the Chow campaign use this opportunity to show she isn’t as reflexively anti-tax as the next candidate to her right. In theory, at least, all the main contenders are to Olivia Chow’s right. scaredofhisownshadow“While the VRT may have been poorly implemented,” the Chow camp could’ve said, “and unfairly targeted car drivers for an annual infusion into the city’s general revenue, I think we cannot ideologically reject the city’s need for additional revenue as almost all of my opponents seem to be doing.”

But that’s a conversation the Chow campaign seems hell bent on avoiding, lest it open itself up to a tax-and-spend, NDP candidate attack from the right and, once more, falling into the trap left-of-centre candidates regular fall into of allowing themselves to be defined by their opponents. It concedes ground without putting up a fight. Yeah, you’re right. Taxes are a burden, never giving back anything in return.johntorycricket1

It puts no daylight between Olivia Chow and John Tory, allowing him to undeservedly claim territory he has no right to claim. I can be disappointed in the Chow campaign so far, but that in no way confers on John Tory the status of viable, progressive alternative. He’s done little to distinguish himself from his political past; the distant, as an unofficial advisor in the Mel Lastman administration in the early days of amalgamation, to the very recent past, with his full-throated and open wallet support of Team Ford.

The problems Toronto faces very much have John Tory’s fingerprints all over them. He’s offered no real solutions in addressing them, only more of the same tired rhetoric. johntorycricketLow taxes, finding efficiencies and almost every other chapter from the Rob Ford campaign handbook, slightly warmed-over and spit-polished to give it a fresh sheen of respectability and thoughtfulness.

John Tory seems to think the message is fine. The only problem’s been the messenger. He’ll get lots of support, campaigning that way. Just let’s not pretend he represents anything other than that. Don’t allow him to get away professing he’s something or someone he’s not.

unimpressedly submitted by Cityslikr


What’s In A Name?

August 4, 2014

How cool is the city of Hamilton?

On this, the 3rd long “summertime” weekend, the seeming throw in, the after-thought, the wouldn’t-it-be-nice-to-have-one-in-August-too, georgehamiltonthe holiday Monday with such little historical basis that most of us just refer to it as that ‘civic holiday’, Ontario’s Steeltown, Ti-Cat city, ol’ yeller-and-black, rather tongue-in-cheekily called today ‘George Hamilton Day’.

Seriously. Just how cool is that?

Perpetually tanned, all glistening white teeth, who better symbolizes the easy breezy, care-free days of summer than George Hamilton? Of Love At First Bite and… I’m not sure what else fame, George Hamilton was the frothy lightness to his era’s gritty realism. For those uncomfortable with the unrelenting bleakness of, say, Warren Beatty, there was always George Hamilton to sooth your jangled, too much disco nerves.

What I also love about Hamilton’s George Hamilton Day is the self-effacing nature of it. This is a city that accepts the fact that, even in the best of lights, it is a B-list place. Maybe. It rarely ends up on many Top Of lists. funIn the grand scheme of things, Hamilton might earn a guest spot on The Love Boat or McMillan and Wife but an actual shot at Oscar glory was never really in the cards for Hamilton.

We should all endeavour to be so humble and realistic about our place in the world. So stop being stodgy, Toronto, and come on down from your high horse. Simcoe Day? Really? That’s so 18th-century. Lower your sights. Turn those numbers around. Rather than the 1790s, think 1970s.

Now, Hamilton does have a little bit of an advantage in that its name has more familiarity with fame. George Hamilton isn’t the only famous Hamilton. (I think the city should’ve amped up the 70s cheese factor one step further and called this first Monday in August George Hamilton Joe Frank and Reynolds Day.)

What’s a place named Toronto supposed to do?

No. Too easy.

I guess we could revert back to a previous name, York, and run with that. Dick York Day! The best Bewitched Darrin ever. But that might seem like we’re just lamely copying Hamilton. Besides, there’s nothing particularly summer sunshine-y about Dick York.dickyork

It’s the spirit of reclaiming summer that Hamilton’s done with George Hamilton Day we need to embrace in renaming today. Tap into our inner Sammy Hagar. We can’t drive 55. The days are getting shorter, the nights just a little chillier. The fun’s not over but the end is in sight.

Screw the sunscreen and carpe diem.

Toronto, let’s take back this holiday from the clutches of fussy historicism and brand it in the summertime fun that it actually is. Make it all peaches and corn on the cob, less crowded bars and restaurants as everybody who’s anybody has fled town to cottages, campgrounds or Rome. It’s the beginning of nobody’s favourite month but hardly anyone’s least favourite.

If this is truly a civic holiday, let’s put some civic pride into it. Simcoe Day, Toronto? Surely we can do better than that.

chidingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Source Of The Problem

August 1, 2014

So, I’m catching up on my magazine subscriptions and I come across this interesting article, toomanymagazinesCanada’s Infrastructure Gap: Funds missing to repair our deteriorating public utilities, in the June 2013 issue of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Monitor. That’s right. June 2013. I’m a little behind. Stop me if you’ve read all this before.

Not to come across the fatalist here but it’s hard to read this report and see how all the plans and platforms we’re hearing during this campaign from mayoral and city council candidates for making Toronto a better place to live are going to make a lick of difference.

You see, there’s one reason, and one reason only this city, along with every other city in the country, is facing the kind of fiscal crunch they’re facing in terms of increased congestion, affordable housing, crumbling, aging and crumbling infrastructure: the near absence of the federal government. crumblinginfrastructure3Ottawa’s where the money is and they’re not rushing to hand much of it over.

And it’s not just a Harper government thing either. For decades now, Ottawa has backed away from its traditional commitments to contributing to municipal capital projects. Liberal red or Tory blue, both have stepped away from the funding table, offering up little more than what is politically beneficial to them.

Here’s the situation, summed up in one paragraph:

In 1955, the federal government accounted for 34% of capital investment. By 2003, it had declined to 13%, the provincial share remained constant at 39%, and the municipal share increased from 27% to 48%.

Even with the bump up of federal infrastructure spending in the face of the 2008 economic crisis, it remains below the necessary level, as a percentage of the GDP, to even help maintain a state of good repair. crumblinginfrastructureThat shortfall has almost exclusively fallen onto the shoulders of cities to deal with as the provinces haven’t really picked up any of the slack left by federal neglect.

While the majority of our tax dollars are bundled up and sent to Ottawa and (in the case of Ontario) Queen’s Park, the level of government with the least ability to generate the revenue now has the most responsibility to pay for the needed infrastructure. Bit by bit, things get put off, ignored, upgrades and expansion are delayed until the work has to be done or even more drastic measures taken. Sell off public housing stock to help pay for upkeep on the rest anyone?

For many people, they make little distinction between the jurisdictional powers of our 3 levels of government. crumblinginfrastructure1For them, they pay all these taxes and watch as things get worse around them. The roads suck. The city’s a little grubbier, more garbage on the streets. Their basement’s flood when it rains. Where’s all our money going? they demand.

And the ground is made fertile for the likes of Rob Ford and his merry band of anti-government tax-haters.

The city doesn’t have a revenue problem. The city has a spending problem.

Truthfully, there’s every reason to think Rob Ford doesn’t make the distinction between levels of government, and who taxes what and where that money goes. He has proven himself to be grossly uninformed about the job he’s been elected to do for nearly 14 years now. crumblinginfrastructure2Don’t rule out the possibility that when he asks the province and Ottawa for more money to fund things like his Scarborough subway pet project, he still adamantly believes the city doesn’t have a revenue problem.

Those damn councillors’ office budgets! $12 000 for umbrellas?!

Unfortunately, cutting all those nice-to-haves won’t build all the need-to-haves to put this city back together again.

We end up fighting amongst ourselves over dollars made scarce by successive absent federal governments. We can’t afford that. And people die, homeless on the street. That’s the federal government’s job. crowdedbusAnd parents are forced to put their kids in unlicensed day-care centres. We need to find efficiencies. And people are crammed tightly together on buses and streetcars.

The fact is, even with the modest types of revenue tools Toronto was given back in 2006 — the ones many of us still rail against — the city alone cannot plug the holes that need plugging, never mind build and expand the things we need to build and expand. Even the province can’t play the white knight and slay the infrastructure deficit dragon we face although, they could be a whole lot more helpful. The federal government needs to re-assume the level of investment in cities it did 50 years or so ago. crisiswhatcrisisProbably even more so, given the level of neglect it’s allowed to happen.

Easier said than done, obviously.

Municipalities remain at the mercy of the provincial governments. Ottawa is in another stratosphere entirely. Where’s the leverage cities have to start making demands of the federal government?

But a good first step might be to recognize our commonalities rather than emphasize our differences. The problems all cities have right now in coming up with the funding to build better, stronger communities and neighbourhoods, to bring our infrastructure from somewhere back in the mid-20th century, notmyproblemstems from one source and one source only. The negligent disregard with which we are treated by our federal elected representatives.

It’s time we started to use our numbers to make our demands better heard in Ottawa. The fact of the matter is, as goes Toronto (or Montreal or Winnipeg or Calgary or Vancouver), so goes Vancouver (or Calgary or Winnipeg or Montreal or Toronto). As go our cities, so goes the country.

unitedly submitted by Cityslikr


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 254 other followers