Vaughan Gone

April 19, 2014

We should’ve known something was up when the eye glasses changed, became more bookish.

Aside from the news that Rob Ford had been elected mayor of Toronto, professorpeabodyhearing that Councillor Adam Vaughan was opting for a run at a federal seat comes a close second in terms of a bummer municipal politics turn of events. He provided much of the spark and lightness during this dark term at City Hall, sparing no opportunity to skewer and eviscerate the bumbling, destructive exploits of the Ford administration. Nothing could lift your spirits like an indignant broadside from Vaughan directed at the latest boneheaded malignancy the wrecking crew had cooked up.

He was the poster boy of anti-Fordism, held up as the example of everything that was wrong with the forces of downtown elitism at City Hall. Whippet smart, tart tongued, dismissive and derisive, his detractors, those preferring their politicians dumb and willfully ignorant, labelled Vaughan smug, pompous and arrogant. There’s certainly some truth to that. At times he came across as prickly, impatient with those not keeping up with him. catandmouseThe proverbial inability to suffer fools gladly.

But if his critics were truly honest with themselves they’d admit that what galls them most about Adam Vaughan is that he was right about this mayor and the administration he misruled. Incompetence above all else. How would you say that in Latin? Imperitiam, quod super omnia. The motto emblazoned on the Team Ford crest. Vaughan called them on it regularly and, many times, ill-manneredly.

Should he have been more temperate in his engagement? Maybe. Except, at this juncture, knowing all that we know now, given all that we’ve seen, what would that have accomplished? The Fords brooked no opposition, sought no compromise with anyone who disagreed with them or called them on their bullshit.

It seldom pays to concede to bullies and thugs. Next to incompetence, what the Fords did best was to play the thug card. Councillor Vaughan stood up to that, many times encouraged it, bringing it out into the open for everyone to see.clownthug

During one particularly heated debate, I forget exactly which one of the too many to commit to memory, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti leaning back in his chair and yapping down the aisle at Vaughan. I used to beat up guys like you in high school. Yes, we’re sure you did, Giorgio. We’re sure you did.

Over the past 3 years or so, I was fortunate enough to have some conversations with the councillor outside of the political arena, beyond the political melodrama, to talk about building a city. He knew his shit, and his enthusiasm for transforming streets, neighbourhoods and communities was infectious. It challenged me to try and better understand the nature of what makes cities successfully tick.

I imagine when Councillor Vaughan gets asked what he sees as his biggest accomplishment from his time at City Hall, he will point to the redevelopment of Alexandra Park that is just getting under way. Both in private and publicly, I heard him boast about the process and how it hinged on the input from the residents of the community. This was not going to be his redevelopment or the city’s, but theirs, those who lived there.

manoflamanchaWhich makes his jump to federal politics all the more puzzling.

I get the impetus. Any city councillor worth their salt is going to feel the limitations of municipal governance. There isn’t access to all the necessary tools, especially the fiscal ones, to get the job done on major issues like transit, child care and housing. t must be head-bangingly frustrating to care about these items and know there’s only so much you can do, to battle with colleagues who view such shortcomings as a way not to deal with them.

Councillor Vaughan says he wants to go to Ottawa to finally deliver a national strategy on housing for cities. I truly wish him good luck with that but, frankly, these days, Ottawa is where good intentions and direct, hands on democracy go to die. Olivia Chow, whose vacant federal seat Vaughan is seeking to fill, became an MP with similar purpose in mind, and Jack Layton before her. It’s been some time since the federal government paid much attention to the needs of this country’s cities. Maybe Adam Vaughan can turn that around. I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

I’m guessing the past four years have been a study in frustration for Vaughan. Time spent mostly trying to push against the reactionary, roll back impulses of the Fords and their ilk. He’s done his hitch. robfordbellicoseWhile I’d hoped he’d be around to help pick up the broken pieces of what gets left behind after this messy weather passes through town, he won’t. It’s going to be a pretty big hole that needs to be filled.

When this term is up, Adam Vaughan will have served at City Hall for nearly 8 years. Rob Ford’s time in office there? 14 years. If you are ever trying to figure out why Toronto faces the problems it does, engages in the kind of politics it does, that’s as a good a place to start as any. Fixing that sort of discrepancy will go a long way to sorting our problems out.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Demons

February 3, 2014

I was shocked. Equal parts to the news, and with my reaction to it.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of an apparent drug overdose.

Ah, shit. Fuck, even.

demon

As my interest in movies, once pretty much an obsession, wanes, Hoffman was one of the few names that would peak my interest in any project he was involved in. Upon hearing of his death, the top 10 list of his best work immediately filled up to overflowing. He was at his best in [fill in the blank]. No, but wait. What about [fill in the blank]?

But this isn’t a celebrity obituary. I’ll leave that in the hands of the professionals, like Norman Wilner over at NOW. “The landscape of American cinema is hollowed out.

Some of the disbelief at the news was due to a matter of his age. We are of similar vintage. So your natural reaction (at least, I hope other people reacted similarly and I’m not just some self-absorbed asshole) went something along the lines of, Holy shit, that’s young! Followed by the macabre relief that drugs, a certain kind of celebrity levelling drug in fact, may well have been the cause. Phee-ew! At least that’s not one of my vices that’s going to kill me.

I know, I know.

Even more unfortunate, I think, is the next response.

He had so much to live for. Three young children. A limitless professional future. What a shame.

While all true for sure, it seems to suggest that for only those with something or someone to live for should we mourn their untimely exit. Such risk taking behaviour in those possessing a bright future strikes us as inconceivable. There must’ve been some terrible demons. What sort of demons was he battling to take such risks?

Demons.

Something we’re either running away from or trying desperately to catch hold of.

And something we know plenty about currently in Toronto, watching our very own tragic morality play unfold in real time with our chief magistrate in the lead role. Today’s release of Robyn Doolittle’s book about the mayor, Crazy Town, will only beef up the narrative of a man chased by unhealthy family dynamics into a life of unhealthy behaviour. He has it all, wealth, power, fame. What drives him to such extreme, outrageous behaviour?

Demons.

(In the odd irony of this particular situation, Hoffman was often touted in the Toronto parlour game of Who Would Portray The Mayor in the imaginary film of the Rob Ford story. The second choice after Chris Farley who was unavailable due to having died from a drug overdose more than 15 years ago. Like an onion, peeling back layer after layer.)

The thing is, very few people go through life without a demon monkey on their backs. Some are lighter to carry than others. Some people develop the tools to better deal with them. Many of us are just genetically luckier, hardwired in such a way that makes coping with the demons easier. Or our environment just so happens to be such that we aren’t battling those demons on our own.

Not many of us, at least at some point of time in our lives, don’t have something to live for. For lots of folks that time may drift further and further away as they struggle more and more with the demons haunting them. But any death resulting from addiction needs to be mourned as a terrible waste because it is a terrible waste, no matter if it happens in a nice Manhattan apartment or in a dark alley beside a dumpster somewhere.

Compassion and empathy arise out of the acceptance that each of us is bedevilled in some fashion or another. That doesn’t mean we continually excuse bad or outrageous behaviour, shrug it off as just some coping mechanism. We all have to live with one another after all. But we also need to make space for our slip-ups and missteps in the hopes that all of us can find some peace or equilibrium before that one mistake ends any possibility of that ever happening.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


When Irony’s Lost

December 4, 2013

On a train from Toronto to Ottawa, imaging us skimming along on rails greased by oily political doings and shenanigans, scratchmyhead1it’s hard not to wonder how exactly we got here. A crack and booze addled mess of a mayor in name only behind me, a Senate expense scandal ahead, both propped up and propagated by wilful politicians and their ardent supporters who have lost all sense of any moral bearing.

It gets, if not worse, at least more depressingly tawdry.

A felonious former newspaper baron, having already served as an apologist for the Toronto mayor’s bad behaviour in print (and scribe of this fucking beaut: “No sane person could imagine that City Council is a teeming hotbed of Tocquevillian champions of disinterested local government…”), will give the mayor a further platform with a television interview between the two men. Maybe they’ll have a robust discussion about their respective disregard for the law.

A disgraced and criminally charged senator who’s on the periphery of the current Senate scandal has sought press credentials to cover matters of his former colleagues for the recently resurrected on the interwebs satirical magazine, Frank. “Hey, everybody”, the ex-Conservative Senator will write. twistedtale“Can you believe these guys?”

How do you react to such happenings?

If I were to write all this out in its full gory detail, changing the names to protect the innocent from litigious intent, and slap the claim of fiction on it – “A satirical look at the state of political affairs today!”, a blurb on the back cover would exclaim — you wouldn’t believe it. Not a word. “How gullible does this author believe the reading public to be?” a reviewer will ask, rhetorically. “Such characters do not inhabit the real world,” another might sniff. “Unless you count as the real world, the crude and extreme machinations of reality TV.”

Yet, here we are.

It’s hard to write satire when the world’s become soaked in the stuff.

I’m going out on a very shaky, breaky limb here, hanging unsteadily above a small pond of literary critique, literarytheorybut what the hell. I have a theory.

If memory serves (and when it doesn’t, Wikipedia enhances) satire is best served up with heaps of irony. “In satire,” as I believe Northrop Frye once said, “irony is militant.” I think that’s what I’m getting at but without the full context, who knows?

Satire without irony is just… is just… [clicking back to Wikipedia]… parody or burlesque. But if irony is everywhere, employed by everyone even by many who don’t even realize that’s what they’re doing, a faithful use of it is simply lost. A blade of grass cannot be grassier when it’s part of a larger cause of being a lawn. The whole world’s going irony.

This infliction is the result of, at least politically speaking, and here’s my theory, electing politicians to office who fundamentally don’t believe in the public service role of government. Government isn’t the solution. Government is the problem. There’s no such thing as society. Getting government off our backs.

You see? There’s a fundamental disconnect at work here. A cognitive dissonance. Politicians in power actively pursuing a course of action that diminishes the efficacy of the institution they were elected to oversee.unbelievable

Of course, they can’t come right out and say that, not in so many words. We still haven’t descended far enough into the nihilist goo to reject outright the belief in the need for government. Yet. Government is a necessary evil, we tell ourselves. Required in small doses. Until it isn’t. Like in the case of natural disasters or illness.

What has the government ever done for us?

We demand our politicians pretend to want to govern judiciously, nobly even. Smash the Mechanisms of Governance is what people chant when they actually want to smash the mechanisms of governance and really have no hope of getting close enough to do it from the inside. wilecoyoteSmash the Mechanisms of Governance is what people absolutely don’t say out loud when that’s their real intention and they’re standing right in front of console they’re looking to dismantle piece by piece.

So we elect politicians and parties to government that don’t want to govern and we twist ourselves into mental and moral knots clinging desperately to the illusion that our best interests as a society are being looked out for. Everybody’s doing and saying one thing while pretending we’re intending to do and say the exact opposite. Or something. It’s a twisted old tree of irony we dance around.

And we end up deluding ourselves that the crack smoking mayor has at least saved us a little bit of scratch when all is said and done even though he very likely hasn’t. Or that the wily prime minister hadn’t been dumb enough to stuff the senate, that institution of rotting abscess he promised to reform, with a bunch of dummies who’d soak it for all they could before setting the place on fire in a final act of self-preservation. And the prime minister, convinced of his superb wiliness, carelessly gets involved in trying to sweep the whole matter under the rug, gives a wink and a nod. Somebody cut this guy a cheque, would they.

burntheplacedown

The irony? By failing colossally and spectacularly, these guys will further undermine our already shaky faith in government, a faith they and their most avid supporters never shared in the first place. Politicians, eh? They’re all the same.

Ta-da!

earnestly submitted by Cityslikr


Why Can’t We Be Friends?

November 29, 2013

I’ll take some of the initial blame.

Reading Chris Ramsaroop’s article, Ford on his own turf, allmyfaultin this week’s NOW magazine and following along and participating in the ensuing chatter about it on Twitter, I thought, Yeah, that’s me, a dismisser of the suburbs.

Back in 2010 during the municipal campaign when Ford Nation began to coalesce into a formidable movement, I remember being dumbstruck by it. What the fuck are you thinking?! This guy??

“Rather than demonize the suburbs (they are already criminalized because of over-policing),” Ramsaroop writes, “it’s important to have a rethink. Poverty and racism are extremely complicated and affect people in numerous ways. The folks who show up at a Ford BBQ or rally are some of the same people denied adequate services, decent housing and good jobs.”

Fair enough. And these same people think Rob Ford was the politician to alleviate all those shortcomings for them? Why? Whatever in his career as a councillor would lead you to think that he’d deliver adequate services, decent housing and good jobs?

You know all those phone and house calls were just about building a voters’ database, right? fordnationLittle he did for constituents individually would help the problems long term. Rob Ford very rarely concerned himself with looking out for the little guy.

If suburban voters didn’t know that beforehand, they’d certainly find it out once he assumed office. That’ll show them, I sulked. Serves them right. (See? Suburbanites aren’t the only ones who can wallow in spite and resentment.)

But as things proceeded, I came out from under my self-imposed funk and started to wonder what it was I wasn’t getting. What was the connection between residents out in Etobicoke, York, Scarborough and this mayor who was doing very little to help their daily lives. Savings in frozen property taxes and the elimination of the VRT were being offset by increases to the cost in using transit and other pay as you go fees. whatareyousayingServices were being reduced and programs cut despite the mayor’s campaign promise that none of that would happen. Guaranteed.

I was loath to think of such support being based on what some referred to as ‘low information’. That’s not far off calling somebody stupid in my view. The kind of patronizing attitude that’s apparently got us into this mess in the first place.

But hey. I was willing to accept the premise that there were plenty of folks out there, busy going about their business, working hard just to get by who didn’t have the time to tune in closely to the ins and outs of city council although, I know plenty of people who were also busy going about their business, working hard just to get by who managed to find the time to be more informed.

Still. I get it. There are loads of people due to their location, race, ethnicity, income level, feeling that City Hall is too removed from their daily lives and just some place that takes money from their pockets and gives back little in return. A sense of disenfranchisement encouraged by those elected to represent many of these same people; roadtrip1city councillors who thrived on exploiting this urban-suburban divide as a way to cover their own inability or disinclination to deliver anything of much to their residents. Not unlike Mayor Ford himself.

The only way to bridge this gap was to start reaching out beyond our comfy, walled confines of downtown. Get on the subway and then onto a bus and then another bus and see what the members of Ford Nation were saying in the places they met and organized. As we were constantly being told (no, Mr. Ramsaroop is not the first person to chastise downtowners for their apparent insularity), get outside of the bubble we were existing in, and get to know our suburban neighbours.

If I’m being honest here, my efforts to do just that have not been as extensive as my best intentions. I have attended a couple handfuls of meetings, both official (community council meetings) and resident organized ones. My ongoing connections with these groups are tenuous although others are gathering a solid database. communitymeetingBut this is a project I have been a part of for a couple years now.

And I will tell you, for my part, it did not get off to an auspicious start. One of the first gatherings I attended outside of the downtown core was a transit town hall meeting which I later dubbed Seething in Scarborough. People were not present to converse or have a dialogue. It was shouty from the get-go. Much of my time was spent desperately trying to look inconspicuous, wondering if I shouldn’t join in and let fly with a howl of indignation just so no one might figure me as an outsider.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to go out to the political hinterlands and impose my views on the locals. I honestly don’t know what motivates suburban residents, what their expectations are of City Hall, what drives them nuts. Aside from probably the same things we all want. buildabettercityA city that strives to provide the opportunities every resident needs to flourish (eudaimonia, to steal a thought from Charles Montgomery’s Happy City). A place that’s easy to get around, safely. A respectful city that allows and encourages all our diversity.

And aside from that one madhouse meeting in Scarborough (and one or two proposed development sessions I’ve witnessed), my impression is most people who take the time to organize and attend community events want those exact same things. The devil’s in the details and the sticking points always tend to be how exactly to achieve those goals. Most of the times I’ve ventured north of Bloor, as we joke, the experience has been positive and a little inspiring.

But I will tell Chris Ramsaroop that misconceptions abound on both sides of this particular fence. backandforthHe wouldn’t want anyone to assume everybody living in the suburbs thinks like the worst of the unhinged supporters of the mayor who show up in the comments section of newspapers. So he shouldn’t assume that there’s a blanket downtown disregard and dismissal of the suburbs represented by the intemperate outbursts expressed in some of those same newspaper pages.

There are many of us trying to understand and engage. But, like those in the suburbs, our lives are full too and we can’t keep on top of everything that’s happening around this city. You want us to come to your meetings, make concrete steps and deliver the goods? You’ve got to do a little reaching out yourselves, let us know when and where. Chances are a few of us will be there.

friendly-ly submitted by Cityslikr


Are We Finished With The Nonsense Yet?

September 12, 2013

There’s this from Steve Munro over at Torontoist. And Ben Spurr here at NOW. stackofpapersBoth based on Metrolinx’s Feasibility Study Subway in Scarborough RT Corridor, comparing and contrasting Toronto city council’s Scarborough subway proposal with one announced by the Ontario government’s Ministry of Transportation last week.

Essentially, the province’s 2 stop subway addition to the eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth line will not clock in at the price the transportation minister is claiming, and the ridership numbers very, very suspect without the line running past the Scarborough Town Centre up to Sheppard Avenue. Moreover, the conversion of the planned LRT extension running along the current SRT route into a subway will necessitate station design changes that threaten the timing of the Eglinton LRT crosstown, one of the transit projects in this city actually being built.

So, shorter, serving fewer people with fewer stations, more expensive and quite possibly throwing a spanner into the works into another project already underway.

Whatever. It’s full steam ahead according to Transportation Minister Glen Murray.

“People are fed up with the debate,” Murray declared. whiteelephant“We’re building now. We’re past debate.”

It’s a terrible plan, in some ways worse than the terrible subway plan council and the TTC chair, Karen Stintz, championed in the summer. If you didn’t know any better, it’s almost as if the provincial government is attempting to run a subway along where an LRT more logically fits only for the opportunity to claim having built a subway in Scarborough. That’s hardly leadership. It’s politically pandering of the worst kind.

The odd thing is, because of the province’s expediency on this file, jettisoning sound policy decision making for crass political gain, our city council has been given yet another chance to emerge from this wreckage as the less dysfunctional governing body. A low bar to clear, for sure, given the transit debates we’ve seen over the last few years decades generations decades. Nonetheless, council can reassert control over the Scarborough transit debate and appear almost like the adults in the room.

The subway it asked for and the funding for it is not what the province now has on offer. therightstuffMany of the councillors’ support for that subway was contingent on those two things. Having not received it, they can now walk away, saying they tried delivering this Scarborough subway unicorn but were rebuffed by the senior levels of government. Embrace the Master Agreement that’s still in place that will return to the more sensible LRT plan that never should’ve been set aside in the first place.

More importantly, perhaps this discussion can now move beyond the platitudinous banner-speak that has polluted it since 2010. Let’s now start talking transit planning based on logistics and practicalities not grievances. What’s been revealed about both proposed Scarborough subway plans is there’s not enough money available to build one that would actually utilize the technology to the fullest. Even if there were money, a subway running either of the possible routes doesn’t make particular sense. reasonablediscussionMuch of it would be running at grade or elevated just like an LRT or it would be underground through established residential neighbourhoods where the necessary development to feed the ridership numbers might not be possible.

And any sort of Scarborough subway would be at least a decade away. We could start building the LRT tomorrow.

Despite Minister Murray’s chest-thumping claims, this debate isn’t over. But maybe, just maybe, if a majority of council so chooses, it can take a turn for the sensible and rational. There may be no precedent for such a thing but all the alternatives have led us down blind alleys, on foot, still waiting for transit.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


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