Time To Rave Not Rage

March 3, 2014

Point 10. At last.

happycity(Points 1-5 here. Points 6, 7, 8 & 9, here, here, here & here.)

“…a city is really just the sum of what people think about it. The city is a subjective thing.”

– Ricardo Montezuma, National University of Colombia

[Please note: I will be freely quoting from and riffing on -- more than usual -- Charles Montgomery’s Happy City. Most of these ideas aren’t my own. But that’s OK because, well, a city is a ‘shared project’.]

When all is said and done, after the political posturing and ideological framing is set, the issues neatly packaged and properly charted out, what we really should be looking for in our municipal candidates is their promise to make the city dance. Dance and sing or at least hum a jaunty tune.

We want a city that vibrates with life and activity. A place made up from communities built on optimism and aspiration not fear, anger and division. A city where people want to live not one where they have to live.rave

Now, this isn’t some airy-fairy, arty-farty, New Age-y, dream-weaving utopian wish. It is the end result of down and dirty, nitty gritty, hands-on toil and nose-to-the-grindstone hustle. It’s about relentless but positive civic-mindedness.

It incorporates all the previous points we’ve written on this. In fact, a city can’t dance without serious consideration of each and every one of them. A frank and honest discussion about taxation. Improved public transit, public spaces, public realm. A dependable business and work environment that provides opportunity for every resident. A keen eye on social justice. Increased civic engagement.

Let’s umbrella it all in under the idea of civic audacity.

igotnothingCharles Montgomery referred to the former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa’s urban vision and city-building as a ‘grand experiment’ requiring ‘even grander rhetoric’.

Toronto has been severely lacking in either of those impulses lately. For 4 years now, all we’ve heard is about stripped down governance and need-to-have services and programs. You know what the gravy train is? The nice-to-haves that make a city dance and instill an inclusive sense of civic pride and belonging regardless of where your address happens to be.

Sadly, an argument could be made that kind of thinking and city-building vision was soundly rejected by Toronto voters in 2010. Pocket book issues won the day. We were busy looking after our nickels and dimes.

But I’d argue this.

There was no strong standard bearer for the Miller administration’s pro-Happy City brand of city-building. Joe Pantalone failed to enunciate exactly what they had been trying to do for the past 7 years. The others chose the easy and well-worn path of appealing to our worst instincts as city residents. Me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine.

More importantly, I believe the biggest mistake David Miller made during his time in office was to try and go it alone. communityTo try and infuse a new civic sense in the city solely through City Hall not city streets. Inspire change with leadership but not necessarily wider public engagement. So when he stepped aside, there weren’t enough people to champion what his administration had accomplished.

The only way meaningful and long term change happens is with more hands on deck, with more people participating and pitching in, with wider and deeper civic engagement. We don’t need one heroic mayor to build us a new transit system or get our potholes fixed. Vote for me. Call me. And then, sit back and let me sort everything out.

You don’t make a city dance just by providing excellent customer service. You do it by encouraging and demanding persistent resident participation and civic engagement. rollupyoursleeves1Candidates seeking city council offices should first be asking voters what they want on their streets, in their neighbourhoods, their communities, their city. And then, offer up ways to make everyone an actual agent of the changes they want to see.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,” Charles Montgomery quotes Jane Jacobs from her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

This election needs to be about more than simply building a voters’ and donors list, a team of volunteers or a winning margin. It has to be about building a civic movement full of people who, again to quote Charles Montgomery one final time today, are “… emboldened by the notion that anyone who cared enough could change the way the city worked.”elainebenesdance

Such a movement doesn’t get started on the scrawny legs of what can’t be done or what isn’t possible. It’s encouraged by bold ideas and a strong sense of inclusiveness. If we’re living in a city together, we really should be working on it together.

You dance alone, you’re Elaine Benes. But if enough of us get up on our feet and start hopping up and down — we’re not talking ballroom dancing here — we’ll eventually have a rave on our hands. I think it’s time Toronto starts to rave.

ecstatically submitted by Cityslikr


Deconstruct The Construct

September 30, 2013

I sometimes picture the mayor sitting at his office desk (as infrequently as that might be) with a 2010 electoral map open in front of him, 2010electoralmapnodding in satisfaction at the image of downtown pink(o), pinned up inescapably against the unforgiving waves of Lake Ontario, encircled on all three other sides by Ford Nation blue.

These are my people, he figures. My electoral bread and butter. Keep them happy or, at least, angry at the right people, and keep my job.

Fortress Ford Nation. A single bloc of like-minded folks dedicated to one thing and one politician. Their voice being heard at City Hall.

That’s what Mayor Ford has to believe. It isn’t like he’s made any alternative plans to stay in office past next year. A more consensus-seeking politician might look for ways to grow the base, extend a reach into new territory. Not Mayor Ford. fordnationEverything’s about maintaining the base in lock step.

He sees a single monolith of suburban voters because he has to. Given his limited political gifts, it’s the only way the mayor can press forward in the hopes of securing a second term. As wholly manufactured as the downtown-suburban dynamic is, you have to tip your hat to the Ford camp for knowing how to create it in their image and exploit it to their advantage. It may not be in any way good city building. No matter. It makes for one hell of a potent political force.

Embracing that scenario while standing in opposition to the mayor makes far less sense. There’s absolutely no reason anyone else has to follow that particular playbook. trapplayDoing so only helps make the notion of Ford Nation more of a reality than just simply the calculated wishful thinking of one political team.

From a crass logistical angle, the numbers simply don’t add up. There are more potential voters in Scarborough, York, North York and Etobicoke than there are in the two less Ford friendly former municipalities of East York and the old city of Toronto. That’s just the demographics. Conceding that chunk of voters makes the idea of defeating Mayor Ford in 2014 an uphill battle from the outset.

Worse than that is the sheer condescending attitude behind accepting such a definition of Ford Nation. Oh, anyone who voted the guy is nothing but a knucklehead. Those still supporting him 3 years later after everything they’ve witnessed? Contemptible and not worth engaging. De-amalgamate now!

It’s easy to wrap yourself in that kind of security blanket of petulance. fordnation1Spend any time in the comments section of a newspaper or on social media, you will encounter the most extremes of the Ford-loving stereotypes. Pugnacious. Full of resentment. Ill-informed. Rubes bought off with free hamburgers and beer singing about their cost cutting cowboy.

Yes, Mayor Ford will have a surprising amount of support right until the bitter end. He speaks to a certain percentage of the population. It is hardly a nation, though.

If not exactly an anomaly, the 2010 election caught a particular wave that we should see as very possibly a one-off. Piss poor quality of candidates at the mayoral level. Voters edgy and angry with an economic still in turmoil, the lingering stench of a garbage strike in the air. Kick da bums out!

But there’s no reason to assume that’s now par for the course.

Never mind that 4 years earlier, David Miller had won every ward in the city save a couple in North York. He was a popular incumbent (much more popular than the current mayor is at a similar point in his first term). The opposition was weak. The voters in the city content.

In 2003, a then obscure Councillor Miller won the mayor’s office with the help of wards in Scarborough, York and Etobicoke. This while facing a vote split on the left with Barbara Hall and a high profile right of centre candidate. changetherulesThere was no Miller Nation you could point to. It was a city wide victory.

Putting together such a winning coalition is possible again. The quickest way to make sure it isn’t is to accept Team Ford’s conceit that it, and only it, represents the best interests of the city’s suburban voters, and that suburban voters en masse agree with that assessment. It’s disrespectful, disdainful, short-sighted, small-minded and, ultimately, the kind of thinking that deserves a healthy beat down next October.

parsingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Recumbent Incumbent

September 3, 2013

Gawd! These infernal pre-campaign polls. Story generators produced by those without caller ID on their phones, onthephonewilling to engage with anyone who dials their number. Idle speculation meant to fill in the gap between actual stories.

The only folks these polls are intended to help out are those mulling over a mayoral run. An informal testing of the waters. Polls establish front runners, differentiating them from those without a hope in hell of becoming the city’s next mayor. Hey. Possible candidate X was seen having lunch with John Laschinger at Spadina Garden. How would they do in next year’s election matched up against candidate Y?

The funny thing is, if the history of amalgamated Toronto is anything to go by, such polls conducted so many, many months before the actual election are pretty much meaningless aside from confirming the name (or names) of the candidates to beat. In 2003, John Tory and Barbara Hall. wiltsIn 2010, George Smitherman. All lost the subsequent elections to candidates few had on their radar when the campaign actually commenced.

So beware everyone currently placing their bets and hopes on the likes of John Tory (again), Olivia Chow, Karen Stintz. Our recent electoral history has not treated early front runners well.

I think the one certainty we can take from the likes of Forum Research’s most recent poll for next year’s municipal election in Toronto is that the incumbent, unlike his predecessors, is going to find himself in the midst of a bruising battle to keep his job. In 2000, Mel Lastman was as good as acclaimed for a second term, facing no politically established opponent in the campaign. In 2006, Councillor Jane Pitfield stood as little more than a sacrificial lamb in her attempt to deny David Miller another go-around at the job.

It ain’t going to be so easy for Rob Ford. The one caveat is that both Lastman and Miller went into re-election mode after only two years (of a 3 year term)donnybrook in office, perhaps seeming a little more fresh-faced than our current mayor who’s had an additional year of public scrutiny in office before his re-election campaign begins. Perhaps this will be the new norm with 4 year council terms now. A one term mayor facing an uphill battle in a bid for re-election.

For many incumbents that might seem a little daunting but may be this is nothing but good news for Mayor Ford. He loves playing the underdog, the outsider. The little engine that nobody said could and nobody better think of writing off as an impossible long shot again. Every indication suggests that 2014 is the mayor’s election to win. Just like 2010.

deweydefeatstruman

If you didn’t know any better, you’d almost think that’s the exact spot he’s positioned himself to be in at this juncture. Failing miserably toward a second term

cassandraly submitted by Cityslikr


Credit Not Where It’s Due

July 11, 2013

This is not Mayor Rob Ford’s debt. Don’t give him the credit. He doesn’t want it. dontlookatmeHe doesn’t deserve it.

As was pointed out in at least a couple corners (Matt Elliott here and Rob Granatstein here) yesterday, the Toronto Star’s headline, tagging the mayor with the increase in debt for capital spending was misleading at best, flat out wrong at worst. The city sets out a 10 year plan for capital expenditures which it adjusts annually. Incoming administrations inherit capital plans (and costs) from the preceding one and can only tinker so much with them. Such is the case currently. Mayor Ford took on much of the debt run up by the Miller administration.

AND THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT!

Among other things, the city is getting a new fleet of transit vehicles including much needed streetcars rolling out next year as part of the capital spending that’s lead to the debt. This is neither unusual nor a bad thing. Governments, businesses and individuals rarely purchase big ticket items with cash up front. notthattheresanythingwrongwiththatIt makes no sense to do so especially with things that are going to be used over long periods of time like streetcars.

But almost all government spending is anathema to politicians like Mayor Ford. Debt is a red flag to him, proof positive that the gravy train chugs on and wasteful liberals are out of control. Since becoming mayor, he has done everything in his power to roll back the city’s debt including diverting money from the operating budget to pay off capital purchases outright.

(Everything, that is, outside of ensuring a proper revenue stream. There was a compelling argument as part of Matt’s Twitter stream above that by reducing revenue in the form of freezing property taxes and cutting the VRT, Mayor Ford had, in fact, contributed to the growing debt. moneydownthedrainThat’s not an unfair assessment.)

While certainly there is a bump in the city’s debt load currently, in looking over the various 10 year capital projections, you get a sense of, if not an overall decrease in debt, a definite flat lining of it. I think it’s safe to say that the mayor has successfully wrestled our debt to a stalemate. Done his best to put a lid on it.

Hold your applause, folks.

There’s nothing admirable in the mayor’s approach to debt. There’s nothing even remotely fiscally responsible about it. As was pointed out today in the probably not left leaning magazine, Canadian Business, congestion could be costing the GTA as much as $11 billion a year. Congestion caused by decades and decades of inaction on transit building.

And as was pointed out to us by the undeniably non-partisan storm on Monday evening, our sluggish investment in infrastructure under our streets is costing us millions and millions of dollars as well. “We’re hanging on by a thread,” said our debt-averse mayor in reaction to the damage inflicted by the heavy rains. Shut off your lights and power down your computer. floodTO3Half measures, long after the barn doors’ been kicked from their hinges, called for by a mayor unwilling to spend the money on real solutions.

The truth of the matter is, in his obsessive drive to reduce government to little more than a police force that keeps our roads paved and clear of anything but cars and trucks, Mayor Ford is limiting our chances in dealing with some serious changes that have already arrived while we’ve been pretending not to notice. Councillor Janet Davis pointed out that over a billion dollars was cut in the 10 year capital plan for the city’s Wet Weather Flow Program in this year’s budget.

What’s that you ask?

“Toronto’s Wet Weather Flow Master Plan (WWFMP) is a long-term plan to protect our environment and sustain healthy rivers, streams and other water bodies. And it’s about reducing the adverse effects of wet weather flow, which is runoff generated when it rains or snows.”togridlock

“The adverse effects of wet weather flow…” Ring a bell for anyone whose basement flooded Monday or who hoped to go for a swim in Lake Ontario this weekend before this week’s massive sewage dump? Adverse effects? What adverse effects?

Earlier this year, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee – the committee that oversees much of the substantial, debt-inducing spending that helps keep the city up and running properly – floated an idea to cap the revenue brought into by the Land Transfer Tax. It was intended to be a compromise between the mayor who wanted the tax eliminated entirely and those councillors who saw it as an important piece of the budget puzzle. The net effect, if it had been adopted by council (it wasn’t), would be to ultimately reduce city revenue.

We’re hanging on by a thread, and our mayor and chair of one of the most important committees in terms of building for the future are busy figuring out ways to generate less money. As if somehow, magically, leaving more money in the pockets of taxpayers will rebuild aging infrastructure and new transit lines and not simply rewrite the formula for inaction that it’s been for decades now.

takecredit

So stop trying to discredit Mayor Ford with our increased in capital debt. It’s none of his doing. He hasn’t earned such praise.

tightly submitted by Cityslikr


Trapped In An Endless Loop

July 4, 2013

After spending the better part of 13 hours or so in a committee room, I don’t think it unreasonable to expect some sort of return on that investment. dalieyeA little nugget of wisdom. A soupcon of insight. I’d even settle for just one witty bon mot.

Yesterday’s beyond lengthy Executive Committee delivered on all that and more. Without resorting to any Doug Fordian detached from reality over-statement or hyperbole here but I think I can safely say that, by meeting’s end, I had caught a glimpse into Toronto’s troubled, tortured soul.

Yeah OK. I could still be a little fuzzily delusion. It was a long day.

On the one hand we’re like this place itching to be taken seriously as a world-class city. And world-class cities have subways-subways-subways, ferris wheels, casinos and an airport on the waterfront. But in the same breath, if the debate turns to something like the struggles of BIXI with an analysis of how similar bike-sharing programs are working in places like Paris and New York, the response is always, well, we’re not Paris or New York burtlancaster(or London or Chicago), are we.

Small town minds with big city dreams, as Burt Lancaster might’ve said in some movie from the 1950s. In fact, he probably did and I’m lifting it.

So the sense you get is a dog chasing its own tail, going in circles, believing something will be different this time around. Hours and hours Wednesday were taken up on stuff we’ve been rehashing for years. The island airport. Another report on the possibility of extending a subway further into Scarborough. Repealing a tax instituted in 2008.

Governance of the undead. Issues never die. They just lumber forward in search of brains.

Which is exactly why we’re still talking about a Scarborough subway instead of having one, or an LRT that was good to go five years ago. Volumes have been written about our lack of nerve in building needed transit since about, oh I don’t know, when Bill Davis was premier of the province. scroogeLack of nerve combined with a tightness of wallets might be a fairer assessment of the situation.

We are witnessing that inclination to the extreme currently at City Hall. The Executive Committee, the mayor’s handpicked cabinet of sorts, represents the most radical example of this city’s penchant for both fiscal and policy penury. We got great plans, folks. As long as it doesn’t cost us a dime.

Translation? We’re not going to do anything much other than keep everybody’s taxes detrimentally low.

Many of these guys made their mark railing at any and all the initiatives of the previous administration of David Miller and have essentially spent the better part of the last 3 years ripping them to shreds, regardless of the economic consequences or setbacks. Canines — when not chasing their tails — marking their territory and ruining the carpet in the process. Doesn’t matter to them. holdonsecThey can’t smell anything anyway, having cut off their noses and all that.

But it was interesting to note, that when the subject of reducing the Land Transfer Tax came up deep into the evening, there was far from unanimity in the crowd. Mayor Ford’s Executive Committee hasn’t exactly been a band of brothers for some time now (although it most certainly is a bunch of bros at the moment), and it appears as if it’s not regrouping for him on what was a key election issue back in 2010. He promised to get rid of the LTT and has since scaled back on that, eyeing a gradual elimination, starting with 10% next year.

Not so fast, said some key members of his Executive including, and arguably most vocally, councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner. Councillor Minnan-Wong pointed out that, while understanding the mayor’s ‘enthusiasm’ to start repealing the LTT, it wasn’t a campaign promise he had made. Any loss of revenue from the land transfer tax was probably going to have to be made up with higher property tax increases which the councillor was dead set against.

Councillor Shiner was even more adamant in his opposition. He’d spent much of the meeting thundering about the need to find a way to start building transit. canttouchthis“Subways, subways, subways? Where’s the money, money, money?”

We cannot any longer sit on our bottoms and do nothing,” Shiner said during the LTT debate.

While the item was eventually passed along to the budget committee for its deliberation, it’s really, really hard to see it with much of a life expectancy.

Of course, 2014 election watchers will see that and begin to worry about how Mayor Ford will happily use the rejection of any sort of reduction of the Land Transfer Tax as a campaign cudgel. Any loss is a win at this point. Over at The Grid yesterday, Edward Keenan scared the bejesus out of everyone with an article mulling over the very real possibility of Mayor Ford’s re-election next year. Nothing seems to dampen the man’s rock solid base with polls having him at exactly the 47% approval rating he won with in 2010.

But I see some real problems brewing for the mayor going forward.

While he most certainly will hold any defeat of his push to reduce the LTT aloft and blame city council for ignoring his mandate and blocking the will of the people, Mayor Ford won’t be able to just paint City Hall with a simple tax-and-spend brushstroke. armyofoneLast time out, I think fellow conservative travellers like councillors Minnan-Wong and Shiner sat back and let their colleague do his thing in the hopes he’d clear the stink of Millerism out of the place. They’d happily assume positions of power that had been denied them since 2003 or so.

This time out they might not be so quiet.

If conservative councillors like Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner vote against any reduction of the LTT, I imagine they’ll be very forthright explaining to their constituents why. The city can’t afford to lose the revenue especially if it’s actually serious about building public transit. The scenario will be such that conservative councillors in suburban ridings the mayor needs to win will be campaigning against the mayor’s agenda.

Who will Mayor Ford be running against then? Everybody. dejavuAnd that’s a mighty high hill to climb even for an incumbent starting from a solid base of support.

Before embracing what might be a little glimmer of hope, however, it would do well to remember that our city does have a tendency to turn on itself. If history is anything to go by, we could be back having this exact conversation a year, two years, five years, a decade down the road.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr

 


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