Once Upon A Time There Was A Transit Plan…

August 12, 2015

Transit planning in Toronto is becoming more and more like one of the fables of yore. Tales told to teach children a valuable moral lesson. grimmFailure to absorb said counsel would result in rather… a-hem, a-hem… grim doings like throwing an old blind woman into an oven or cutting off your toe to fit into a shoe. Not so much happy-endings as, can you fucking believe what just happened?!

Read yesterday’s Toronto Star article from Royson James, Politicians ignore disaster coming down the track, and decipher the moral of the story, if you dare. Massaged ridership numbers. Deliberately downplayed costs. Overt political meddling in the planning process. What glimmer of enlightenment do you glean, standing as we do right now in the dark, foreboding forest?

Here, Little Red Riding Hood. Take this basket of goodies to your ailing grandmother. grimm1Take the shortcut to grannie’s house through that wolf-infested thicket of woods.

What could possibly go wrong?

Which is exactly where we’re sitting, waiting for staff reports to come back this fall on the feasibility of Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan as well as the alignment of choice for the Scarborough subway. Here, Toronto. Take this basket of goodies to your transit ailing system. Please ignore the wolves at your door.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now, it’s easy to cast the villain in this tale. Emerging from under the bridge, Rob “Subways, Subways, Subways” Ford plays the ogre. Once with the perceived power to do so (what politicians like to call their ‘mandate’) in his grasp, he killed off a perfectly good and provincially funded transit plan with no realistic alternative in place. grimm3Just killed it dead. Because he could.

The fact is, however, Rob Ford is nothing more than the inciting incident of this story. His madness could’ve been stopped in its tracks by people wielding far more power than he did. While city council was probably correct in not forcing him to bring his Transit City Dead motion immediately up for a vote during his brief but impressive ascendancy, and handing him an “official” stamp of approval, others could’ve stood firm in the face of his onslaught.

That is the real moral of this story. Political cravenness and calculation in the face of inchoate populism. Good governance brushed aside for good poll numbers. Doing the right thing? Define the word ‘right’.

Lies added to lies, multiplied by lies to the power of three. Compounded lies, all in the service of expediency and to the detriment of public policy. Everyone became a subway champion (under and above ground). Remember. grimm2Don’t take what you think is the best course possible. Take the one that’s most popular.

That’s the lesson of Toronto’s transit fable. Have no conviction. Disregard facts and evidence. Cater first and foremost to popular opinion. (I mean, come on. It’s not like I’m the only person advocating we burn the witch, am I right? Burn the witch! Burn the witch!!) Never, no matter what, whatever you do, stand up to a bully especially if he really, really popular. No good can come of it.

It’s a morality tale devoid of any morality or ethics. A story with far more villains than heroes. Taking and retaining power is all that matters, kids. If you want to get ahead in this life, best void yourselves of scruples as soon as you can. Integrity and principles are for suckers, boys and girls. Learn that now and save yourself a boatload of anguish and misery later.

The End.

grimly submitted by Cityslikr


Uber Allies

August 9, 2015

garyowens

Disruptive technology don’t need no stinkin’ regulations!

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Toronto The Deluded

August 6, 2015

Let me give you the ‘ethno-racial’ (to use Jan Doering’s phrase in his Martin Prosperity Institute paper, The Political Uses of Race and Ethnicity) makeup of the current Toronto city council (and I’ll throw in gender to further the point). dothemathOf its 45 members (1 mayor, 44 councillors), there are 5 visible minorities and 14 women. That’s what? 11% and 32%, respectively.

I bring this fact up not so much in response to Mr. Doering’s paper but in reaction to it. From my very un-scholarly perspective, it all seems solidly research-y. No aspersions cast in his direction. That’s just an admission I’m a fucking idiot.

My reaction to it is in the direction of the ethno-racial ‘reputation’ of this city as seen by Mr. Doering’s in his examination of campaign material and literature from Toronto’s municipal campaign last year in his comparison to the most recent local election in Chicago. “In Toronto,” Doering writes, “candidates of all backgrounds portrayed immigrant ethnicities as a valued source of culture and symbolically included these groups in the political process.” ‘Portrayed’. ‘Symbolically’. I have no idea if Doering intentionally used such layered language, let’s call it, but to anyone who watched Toronto’s 2014 municipal election unfold, such words certainly have more than one meaning.

Recently, a large study of municipal elections found that race is the single most important factor shaping electoral outcomes in the United States… Moreover, Chicago and Toronto represent starkly different ethno-racial contexts, which provides analytic contrast. Toronto is widely celebrated as a successful model of multiculturalism, while Chicago is known as a hotbed of ethno-racial contestation.

Hoo-rah! Am I right? Toronto ‘widely celebrated as a successful model of multiculturalism’, a haven from all that racist animosity we smugly view emanating from the States. We don’t see colour, to quote Stephen Colbert. Ours is a post-racial society.

And yet, a mere 11% of our city council members are made up of visible minorities. muniraabukarHow do we square that circle?

“In Toronto,” Doering states, “candidates never invoked race and ethnicity as a barrier to upward mobility or as a site of struggle.”

Maybe someone should tell that to Ward 2 Etobicoke North city council candidate Munira Abukar who had her campaign signs defaced, informing her to “Go Back Home”. Her campaign team had garbage thrown at them from a passing Purolator truck. “Terrorist!”

“I’m the most racist guy around,” former mayor Rob Ford reportedly said during a phone call back in the bad ol’ days. “Nobody sticks up for people like I do, every fucking kike, nigger, fucking wop, dago, whatever the race. Nobody does. I’m the most racist guy around. I’m the mayor of Toronto.”robford

Rob Ford was also caught on video, drunkenly (and presumably crack-inducingly) patois-ing while waiting for a late-night order at Steak Queen. As a city councillor a few years earlier he suggested that those “Oriental people work like dogs… The Oriental people, they’re slowly taking over…” and he couldn’t understand the outrage. It was a compliment! What’s wrong with you people?

Remember, despite all that, Ford remained a serious contender in his bid to be re-elected mayor until ill-health sidelined him from that race. Even then, he was easily elected in his old spot as city councillor. Racist?! Who, us?? Look what’s going on in Ferguson, Missouri!!

“It appears that Toronto’s political culture tends to discourage potentially divisive invocations of race and ethnicity,” Doering writes.dontsaythatword

In one of the most telling examples of this trait of ours, Doering recounts the clutching of pearls and mock outrage episode in the mayoral campaign after candidate Olivia Chow’s advisor, Warren Kinsella, called rival candidate John Tory’s transit plans ‘segragationist’. Never mind that the statement was true. Tory’s plans left much of the already under-served inner suburban areas of the city, areas home to many of the city’s immigrant and visible minority communities, under-served. You just don’t use words like ‘segragationist’ here in the culture mosaic that is Toronto, Diversity, Our Strength.

Huffing and puffing, Tory, a firm disbeliever in the notion of white privilege, never really denied the core of Kinsella’s accusation, just the use of such an ugly, non-Torontonian word. “Ill-considered”, he told the press, “if you look at what’s going on in North America right now, especially in Missouri and so on.” And so forth. No, we’re good.

Finally, candidates overwhelmingly selected ethno-racial references that “fit” with narratives of ethno-racial politics in Chicago and Toronto. Making this point requires taking a step back. Comparing the patterns of how ethno-racial references were distributed across the two cities, politics in Chicago turned out to be much more divided than in Toronto. This is consistent with existing scholarship… Importantly, however, it is also consistent with voters’ perceptions. Candidates built on the perception of Chicago as an arena of zero-sum group competition and Toronto as a multicultural sanctuary. Thus, African-American and Latino candidates in Chicago mobilized perceptions of exclusion, discrimination, and conflict to promise political leadership in fighting these injustices. They proudly cited endorsements from ethno-racial advocacy organizations. And they largely abstained from using those ethno-racial references that candidates in Toronto heavily relied on: invoking ethnicity as culture and symbolically including groups in the political process by using their heritage languages. These forms of addressing race and ethnicity were persuasive because they were consistent with widespread narratives about how ethnic politics worked in these two cities. Conversely, using those narratives reproduced them as organizing principles of ethno-racial politics. In other words, the findings reveal not only ethnic conflict and harmony, but how conflict and harmony are socially constructed.

This leads to the question of whether certain ethno-racial references cannot successfully be made because they clash with widely-shared narratives. [bolding mine]

The “widely-shared” narrative in Toronto is that, at least in comparison to the United States, there’s no racial or ethnic drive here. This feeds “voters’ perceptions”, freeing them from much self-reflection when they go to the ballot box, convinced they didn’t vote for that black guy or that Muslim woman or Asian candidate because they were black or Muslim or Asian. Race has nothing to do with it. How could it? This is Toronto.

So, it’s just a coincidence that only 11% of city council is made up of visible minorities in a city where that demographic is 3 to 4 times that size. Nothing to see here.

oliviachow

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


The Strange Power Of Wishful Thinking

August 4, 2015

Apparently, our regular daily travel times haven’t changed all that much over the years. According to a recent article in Nature, Six research routes to steer transport policy, “On average, people around the world spend an hour a day travelling, a pattern that has held for centuries and across cultures.”lovemycar7

By that calculation, many of us here in the GTA are pitching in to bring up that average time, especially commuters in the outer areas of the region, places like Oshawa and up in Barrie, who clock in at 45 minutes, one-way. Kind of confounding, when you think about it. Living in an age of speedy trains and automobiles, yet here we are, some of us, lagging behind the horse-and-trolley era.

How can that possibly be?

Well, as it turns out, according to the article’s authors, Eric Bruun and Moshe Givoni, commuting and simply getting around are not simply all about the advanced technology. In fact, they warn that a simple reliance on new technologies like the all hailed driverless cars to untangle our congested mess of traffic woes could just as easily make matters worse.

Although the excitement associated with a new product, service or tool is often justified, the negative, unintended impacts must be anticipated.

Take the driverless cars. Depending on whom one asks, such cars will be in wide use in some countries by 2025 or 2050. They are framed as a technology that offers cheap mobility while saving time and energy. But it was exactly this thinking that brought us the ‘with-driver’ private car and its unsustainable consequences.

The driverless car promises to be even more successful. Getting people out of their driverless cars will be even harder.

By making driving easier and, more fun or, at least, tolerable, and better improving traffic flow, driverless cars will attract more drivers. futuristicAt which point of time, new technology runs smack dab into old rules of the road like induced demand. Better driving = more driving. No one’s yet figured out how to design or build around that one absolute constant in the congestion equation. Bruun and Givoni suggest that driverless vehicles may be a much more valuable technological advance in terms of public transit.

Even something like Uber, the self-vaunted, self-dubbed car-sharing disruptive technology may possibly entice more cars onto our roads. “Like any innovation they are a great opportunity but also carry risks.” Freed of expensive driving headaches like parking, more people may opt for the cheaper alternative, Uber, which is still a car. More people using Uber instead of their own cars merely mean swapping cars. In terms of congestion, a car’s a car. “Even with shared cars, it is physically impossible for large cities to meet everyone’s travel needs with what is essentially a variation of single-occupant vehicles.”shinyobject

We can’t simply cross our fingers, close our eyes and pray that some magical technological innovation will sweep our roads and highways free of congestion, improve our lives or clean our dishes for us. OK. That, we have. But changing how we get around the places we live and increase our quality of life in the process is a more complex problem.

This includes the touchy subject of built form. “Total expenditure (public and private) on passenger transport decrease as urban density increases,” the authors write. “Yet zoning and infrastructure investment decisions are not based on broader scientific analyses of the impacts.”

Y’think?

Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Toronto’s Scarborough subway debate where built form has zero connection to ‘passenger transport’ decisions and ‘broader scientific analyses’ consists of nothing more than wishful incantations. silverbulletSubways, subways, subways.

Given that experience here, it’s difficult not to see Bruun and Givoni’s call for more scientific and date-driven decision making as hopelessly naïve and ivory tower locked. “Researchers must come up with new evaluation methods that are robust and scientifically defensible,” they write. Uh huh. “The outputs must be comprehensible to elected officials and to the public.” Absolutely. “Such methods must include both quantitative and qualitative benefits and costs, and capture a much larger array of them.” Hear, hear!

And when all that work falls on deaf ears, ears plugged by political machinations and parochial resentment? What we really should be working on is some sort of gene therapy that creates leadership willing to be honest and forthright about the need to confront our prevailing transportation status quo. Leadership willing to argue it’ll take more than a few tweaks here and there, that there’s no one miracle innovation to turn this thing around. labworkDiscover a switch to turn on the political courage gene.

While we’re at it, maybe we can also try and rediscover that seemingly atavistic trait in all of us to see beyond our own self-interested short term point of view.

Echoing Jan Gehl, Eric Bruun and Moshe Giovani insist that “Our transport systems’, as well as our cities must be planned for people – not for a particular mode of transport or by a handful of companies with vast lobbying power.” The tools to do so are at our disposal. It’s our will that is lacking.

scientifically submitted by Cityslikr


Sage Counsel From A Former Councillor

August 2, 2015

garyowens

We sit down for a chat with our favourite ex-city councillor, John Parker. A reasonable, thoughtful conservative we could use a lot more of around these parts. A reasonable, thoughtful conservative our current mayor campaigned against.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


Just Another NDP Candidate?

July 30, 2015

So, some sixteen months after resigning office to run for mayor of Toronto, Olivia Chow is seeking a return to federal politics, announcing last week her intention to run in her old but re-jigged riding of Trinity-Spadina.

oliviachowI’m not at all sure how I feel about that but mostly it just doesn’t feel right.

This coming from someone who has voted for Olivia Chow at every given opportunity. As city councillor when I lived in her ward. As a member of parliament in 1997, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2011. As mayor in last year’s unsuccessful mayoral bid. I think it’s safe to say I’ve voted for Olivia Chow more than any other politician.

And I’m not sure that would be the case this time around.

It’s not like I’ve got any problems with this concept of ‘career politicians’ either. If someone dedicates their lives to public service, and does so with the best of intentions of contributing to a wider public good, my hat’s off to them. Do it as long as you’re able, you’re dutiful and have the confidence of a majority of your constituents.

That’s not what this is about.

I just wish if Olivia wanted to stay and work in Ottawa, she would’ve stayed and worked in Ottawa. Thanking those supporters pushing her to run for mayor of Toronto, she’d decline their exhortations, insisting that the federal level was where she felt she could be most effective. All humble and grateful for their belief in her but holding firm in taking a pass.

Olivia Chow’s entry into the race for mayor last year (not to mention the months and months of speculation beforehand) drastically altered the landscape. crashandburnIt pushed at least two other very capable candidacies to the sidelines in an effort to keep the left of centre side united. In essence, Chow was anointed, seen as the saviour to move Toronto on from the tumultuous Ford years.

And then she went and dropped the ball, doing a terrible, terrible job. Why? I can offer nothing but pure speculation. Bad advice? Unable to maintain a strong city-wide campaign? No compelling narrative beyond We Can Do Better? A combination of a bunch of weaknesses?

Her quick jump back into federal politics suggests another possible reason for her mayoral crash and burn. Maybe her heart just wasn’t in it. It was nothing more than an opportunity, an opportunity with a fallback position of returning to Ottawa if things didn’t work out. Maybe John Tory’s team was right. Maybe Olivia Chow was just another NDP candidate. Mayor. M.P. Whatevs.

I wish Olivia would’ve stuck around after her municipal defeat last October to help rebuild the progressive side of the political equation her campaign helped splinter. To assist in figuring out how enough self-proclaimed progressive voters concluded someone like John Tory was moderate enough for them. To be a part of a different team that puts the city and not a party first.

Perhaps she still will. It’s hardly guaranteed she can defeat the Liberal incumbent, Adam Vaughan, who took the riding after Chow resigned her seat. sad1With the re-drawing of Trinity-Spadina, the demographics may skew less in her favour than it once did. Still, it’s hard to see the election battle between the two playing out as anything less than a titanic struggle.

All I do know is that, because of the new riding configurations, I’ll be spared the tough decision of whether or not to vote against Olivia Chow. It wasn’t something I ever had to think much about doing before. That’s a little bit sad.

frowningly submitted by Cityslikr


Racist?! Who, Us?

July 26, 2015

garyowens

Pretending institutional racism doesn’t exist is part of the problem.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


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