White Privilege, Black Heart

April 17, 2015

It is my experience that when a politician insists they’ve been elected into office to shake up the status quo, they mean the exact opposite. They are in fact ardent status quo embracers, hugging it lovingly to their bosom, caressing it, eye licking it, making sweet, sweet love to the status quo. You are my rock, status quo. Without you, I am lost, bereft, nothing. Oh my, my status quo.

Yesterday, Mayor John Tory voted along with 4 other members of the Police Services Board to approve a revamped police carding policy that has been described as racial profiling and, quite possibly, unconstitutional. It once again allows for police to stop any individual they encounter, demand personal information without informing that individual of their charter rights to tell the police to go fuck themselves and continue on their way, provide no record to that individual of that interaction and to keep that information filed away for some defined period of time. You know, in case something comes up later, something involving concerns for public safety.

That the overwhelming number of these individuals are men of colour should in no way be taken to mean that this policy is in any way racist. Pure coincidence. If it were racist, the mayor would be the first to give the policy the thumbs down. Because the mayor’s not a racist, and he voted in favour of this policy, carding cannot be racist.

Some of the mayor’s best friends, and all that.

Listen to Mayor Tory explain his vote (as relayed by Paisley Rae on the Twitter):

I’d like to put into context my vote. I don’t doubt for a second — *interrupted by shouts of SHAME* — I have no doubt that this kind of thing is going on (racial profiling) and one time is too many. I thought I was likely to vote in favour of this policy last night so I made some notes. It’s patently false that I’m in denial. If we go back to the 2014 policy it would take us back to the same impasse we’re facing now. 2014 policy was not operationalized. Attitudes were hardening, not driven in bad faith. I will say, police leadership was probably moving more slowly than if there’d been whole-hearted agreement. But that’s not insubordination. There was none, no progress at all. So do you provoke a confrontation or do you make one more effort to achieve movement. This policy isn’t operationalized, it’s a statement of principle which I feel is being looked down on today. You can order people to do things and they’ll do them but they’ll be insincere and incomplete. We need buy-in. Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance? I don’t live in that world {the not real world} to me, the choice wasn’t between April 2014 and where we are today. It was an impasse & no policy at all & no oversight OR we could have a quick step forward and a step forward that was subject to a quick review the choice was to take meaningful progress over an impasse [The room is RAPIDLY clearing out as people quietly curse on their way out the door.] I think the time period allowed for, of 6 months, is adequate to see.

After an entire afternoon of hearing impassioned deputations about the dehumanizing effects of carding, being badgered by the police to hand over your personal information with no reason given except for the one that’s silently understood between everyone concerned, the colour of your skin, being black or brown in the wrong place at the wrong time (any time or place, really), or harsh lawyerly words about the possible unconstitutionality of the policy, having been given an option to defer the implementation of the policy in order to ‘get it right’, as TPSB member Shelley Carroll said and voting against that deferral, after all that, our mayor voted to implement this contentious policy, offering only those mealy-mouthed words in his defense.

We’ll re-visit the issue, he said. In 6 months. That’s adequate. The problem being, as the mayor saw it, was there just wasn’t any buy-in for the old board-driven policy by Chief Blair and the police force. Non-compliance not insubordination. “Do we really want to get to a place where we get widespread non-compliance?” Mayor Tory asked.

Remember that new sheriff in town, getting tough on illegal parkers? But faced with a much more dire challenge to the well-being of this city, a police chief openly defying the directives of what is essentially civilian oversight, citing some backroom ‘legal advice’, Mayor Tory caved spectacularly. As the room cleared of disgruntled and dismayed community members, mothers and fathers of targeted children, residents of Toronto who feel marginalized and diminished by this renewed policy, discriminated against and harassed, the mayor spouted words devoid of any real meaning or intent. He simply filled the air, trying to explain himself.

I’ll leave what this all means to the legacy of Chief Bill Blair and police-city relations going forward in much more capable hands. But I want to ask all those John Tory voters still cloaking themselves in the defense that things could be worse, there could be a Ford in the mayor’s chair. Could it? Would it?

As Paisley Rae tweeted a few hours after the meeting, “Last year Michael Thompson, Francis Nunziata and Mike Del Grande [Rob Ford appointed city council police services board members] passed a more progressive carding policy than Tory did today. Take that in.” In fact, Councillor Thompson forwarded a letter, signed by 14 other city councillors (make it 15 since TPSB member Shelley Carroll voted against the new policy) opposing the new carding guidelines. Clearly, they didn’t understand the words the mayor was saying, the status quo he was shaking, the world Mayor Tory lives in where a step back is called a step forward, regression progress.

indignantly submitted by Cityslikr


A Legacy Left In The Blink Of An Eye

April 15, 2015

It should come as little surprise, given the magnitude of clusterfuckery inflicted on this city for the past 4+ years now, that the defining moments of John Tory’s mayoralty are coming fast and furious at him. junkintheclosetThe chicks have come home to roost as they say. Unfortunately, they hatched from eggs he didn’t lay but, now in charge of the coop, he’s obliged to raise and tend to them.

I’ve extended that analogy as far as I care to. The drift, I imagine, you get.

There’s the matter of the Scarborough subway. A white elephant of a boondoggle waiting to happen that’s going to cost the city billions of dollars unnecessarily and has already shown up on our tax bills for the past two years. During last year’s campaign, John Tory had the opportunity to flash his fiscal bonafides and renounce the scheme as little more than political pandering. He didn’t. He said, what’s done is done, there’s no use opening up that debate again. Mayor John Tory has kept that campaign pledge, steadfastly refusing to reconsider a bad decision despite the fact that all early indications suggest a Scarborough subway will compete for ridership with the south eastern portion of his own signature transit plan, SmartTrack.sweepundertherug

Rather than rise above this parochial politics which will threaten to limit the city’s ability to pay for other big ticket capital projects in the not too distant future, Mayor Tory blinked. Maybe a forthcoming staff report will provide enough cover for him to still scuttle the plans before the worst is done. Even so, that’s not what you’d call sound leadership.

About that gaping budget hole left behind by the previous city council? John Tory assured us during the 2014 campaign that he, and only he, could heal the rift wrought by the Ford administration with the provincial government. He, and only he, could smooth the ruffled feathers and bring Queen’s Park back to the table, pockets bursting with money to ante up for long forgotten obligations they could now get back to funding. Like transit and social housing, just to pick a couple of the more important ones.

In fact, what’s happened since his election is that the city has paid more back to the province than it’s received. $95 million for the Union-Pearson rail link. sweepundertherug2Some $50 million to cover the provincial shortfall on the Spadina subway expansion. And as for that $86 million hole from the withdrawal of the social program pooling compensation? Yeah, no dice.

At which point, Mayor Tory might’ve had the responsible budget conversation with Torontonians, informing us that, for the moment, we were on our own to balance the budget and to do that we needed to talk seriously about additional revenues, higher than hoped for property tax increase for example. This was another of those defining moments, a mess not of his own making that he now had to clean up. The mayor demurred, choosing instead to pretend he’d fixed the problem. Much like his predecessor.

Unlike his predecessor, Mayor Tory decided to directly address the matter of policing in Toronto, assuming a spot on the Police Services Board rather than designate a representative. A bold move, to be sure, with a union contract to be settled, a new chief to be appointed and a number of prickly, outstanding community issues, police carding at the top of that list. This mayor was not going to run and hide from any of it.

The contract was settled quietly and amicably, it seems. sweepundertherug1The wage increase of 8.64% over 4 years isn’t outrageous out of context but it is difficult to see how it’ll bring the overall police budget, the largest single item the city has to deal with, north of $1 billion annually, into the lean machine the mayor is demanding of other city departments. Not to worry, we were assured during the budget process. Money had been set aside for such a pay increase.

The new police chief has yet to be named with the current chief, Bill Blair, set to retire near the end of this month. But at least, the carding issue has been resolved, a happy compromise reached for everyone concerned. A ‘landmark’, the mayor called it. “We cannot live in a city where young black men, for example, feel devalued or disrespected.” Hoo-rah!

Except that it seems we are. Within a matter of days, the so-called compromise unravelled into acrimonious disagreement. It satisfied almost none of the concerns the public had with the procedure, ranging from the ultimate fate of any collected information through to the informing of the public’s right of refusal to simply walk away from any interaction with the police. sweepundertherug3After claiming the compromise struck the right balance, the Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee, now suggests it simply wasn’t worth it “to go to war with the chief.”

“We were getting nowhere,” Mukherjee confessed. “There was a standoff. We were at an impasse.” In short, the police chief refused to accept direction from the board, thumbed his nose at civilian oversight. He was on his way out. Know when to pick your battles, more or less.

So now, the naming of the next police chief looms large for Mayor Tory. The choice will undoubtedly reflect intensely on his mayoralty. As he likes to remind us, he was elected to shake up the status quo. We shall see while not holding our breath.

Up next in the mayor’s legacy making tour, the fate of the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway has popped up onto the political radar. Again. This has been years in the making (and delaying) but it seems crunch time has landed right in Mayor Tory’s lap. (That sounded a lot more risqué than I intended.) sweepundertherug4This one’s already been kicked down the road as far as it can be.

The most sensible thing for anyone who isn’t one of the few drivers who uses that part of the Gardiner to get around the city is to tear it down from Jarvis street east. Replace it with a similar kind of boulevard design that happened when a previous part of the expressway was ripped own. Free that area of the city of the blight that comes from elevated thoroughfares. Step fully into the 21st-century.

But, you know, drivers. They’ll get mad. On talk radio yesterday, the mayor said people are always going to drive. So, you know, don’t rule out catering to their every demand. Drivers.

The previous council refused to make a decision. The hybrid plan – rejuvenate and rejig don’t remove the expressway — was offered up as a compromise. John Tory touted it specifically during the campaign. He was, after all, the compromise candidate.

Now that the bill has come in, and the price tag for such a compromise is so astronomical, nearly double the tear down option, nearly another billion dollars simply in order to keep car drivers happy, just how compromised is Mayor Tory?shinethoseshoes

Defining moments aren’t always time based. They happen when they happen, heedless of our orderly sensibilities and reliance on retrospective. Time isn’t on Mayor John Tory’s side. Through previous neglect and avoidance, these weighty, significant issues have piled up, their expiry dates come due. His chances are coming fast and furious. If it hasn’t yet, judgement will arrive early.

judgmentally submitted by Cityslikr


A Lasting Legacy Of Fear

April 14, 2015

Late last month Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star about Rob Ford’s ‘legacy of fear’. The choirmaster may have been chased out in disgrace but the same hymns continue to be sung. texaschainsawmassacreIt remains all about the hard working taxpayer (and a very specific, single family home owning taxpayer at that), drivers, finding efficiencies and looking out for any sort of downtown elitist assault on the little guy.

“Political paranoia has so unnerved current leaders that they are unable to make the choices they must,” Hume states.

I would venture to say that such skittishness extends to this city’s staff and public servants. Avoid spending money on anything other than what’s politically acceptable – witness the outrage with cost overruns on the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization versus the collective shrug about the nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. There’s still plenty of bloat at City Hall, so keep your departments ‘lean’. Objective analysis replaced by ideological and politically opportunistic ‘deserves’.

Think about that as the Spacing series continues to unfold, Parks in Crisis (parts 1 and 2). Toronto has, in the neighbourhood of $250 million, in what is called the Parkland Acquisitions & Development Reserve Fund. This is money paid by developers, set aside to purchase new parks and green spaces or rejuvenate existing ones in order to keep up with the increased development happening in the city, higher density development dependant on public spaces as ‘backyards’ basically for the growing number of multi-residential inhabitants.

That’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? coweringWeren’t you under the impression the city was tapped out, little room for the nice-to-haves like parklands the former mayor was always on about? Now we’re hearing there’s hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting there. What gives?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than I’ll make it out to be here (that’s why John Lorinc is an actual journalist and I’m not) but I’m going to argue that this culture of fear that has descended on City Hall plays a big part in the inertia that’s allowing park space to fall further and further behind the pace of current development.

Who was the biggest loudmouth against the purchasing and refurbishing of green space over the last 5 years or so? Rob Ford. There were very few items along those lines he did not hold and did not rail against. Too much money, was his constant mantra, to be wasting on parks, playground and almost any public space that wasn’t a road.

In such an antagonistic environment, who in their right mind would step up with a park push? Keep your head low and money pile out of sight. Rob Ford may not even know the cash is there.

More structurally problematic, as Lorinc and Kimberley Noble point out, is the understaffing at City Hall due to the continual budget cuts and revenue decreases. The city can’t even keep up with maintaining existing parks and public spaces. sittingonmoneyWhat’s the rational for building new ones that won’t be looked after?

Moreover, there’s not the departmental staff to deal with the complex negotiations that go into securing these development funds, sometimes ranging into the tens of millions of dollars, or to implement some big, mega-park enterprise. “If somebody said, ‘here’s $100 million, let’s go,’ there isn’t the staff to execute those kind of projects,” Spacing is told. In the end, the city winds up taking the money and stashing it away, in the hopes of more favourable conditions, sometime in the future, I guess.

What about now, you might ask. Isn’t our long, municipal nightmare over? There’s a new sheriff in town, we’re told.

Bringing us back to Christopher Hume’s point. Rob Ford has effectively poisoned the civic well and his successor has done little so far to suggest he’s willing to stand up in a spirited defence of the commons. Mayor Tory has claimed repeatedly he was elected to keep taxes low. Check. He’s confident he can find savings through more efficiencies, ordering a 2% reduction in departmental budgets. Check. The point people he’s tapped to oversee many of these matters don’t instill much confidence in reversing the spending chill at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor and Waterfront TO board member Denzil Minnan-Wong doesn’t see a public expenditure not on roads he can’t rail against. cuttotheboneRemember Sugar Beach and those outrageous pink umbrellas, rocks and fancy public bathrooms? Surely, cheaper. And who’s chairing the Planning and Growth Management Committee? Why that old Spadina expressway enthusiast himself and noted tightwad, Councillor David Shiner.

These are names not usually associated with policies of smart growth or generally friendly to the common good. If anything, they signal a retrenchment of the Fordian era of illogical fiscal skin-flintery. Remain invisible, city staff, and don’t get flashy with any of your valuables.

Nor should there be any expectations from Team Tory of addressing the green space inequities the Spacing series points out. 69% of the parkland reserves between 2011-2014 came from what is most of two former municipalities, Toronto and East York (47% of that from just three downtown wards). Yet that same part of the city has received just 15% of all total new parkland since amalgamation.

But wait. That can’t be. Conventional wisdom says that downtown gets everything. Conventional wisdom (even when coming from the disreputable mouths of Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti or Glenn De Baeremaeker) cannot be wrong or, at least, cannot be contested. Certainly, Mayor Tory wasn’t elected to contest such politically sensitive conventional wisdom.blowhole

“…[Rob] Ford turned self-doubt into self-hatred,” Christopher Hume writes, referring to our reflexive anti-government opinion toward City Hall. Mayor Tory has embraced that sensibility, putting a smiley face on the empty boosterism that rarely includes any positive public sector contribution. In so doing, he threatens to milk the current building boom in Toronto dry, leaving the mess that will inevitably follow for others to clean up.

fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Art Of The Deal

April 13, 2015

This shouldn’t be considered some nyah, nyah, nyah, I-told-you-so. hahaWhile I remain sceptical about the magical powers of public-private partnerships to heal our infrastructure deficit, pending a definitive study to prove/disprove their rationale beyond simply a case-by-case basis, I’ll keep my mind as open as I ideologically can toward the possibility that an argument can be made for the P3s’ merits. After all, the private sector blah, blah, blah, am I right?

But this, this, “First-of-its-kind condo deal…mired in financial troubles”, does little to engender much feeling of goodwill toward the concept. I know, I know. Why emphasize the one deal gone wrong when so many have gone right but the same thing might be said about those purely public projects that make so much noise when they go over budget and/or face significant delays. This one’s significant because Metrolinx, the provincial agency directed to get Ontario moving with a proposed massive public transit build over the next quarter century, has stressed the importance of P3s as an integral component of a successful implementation of that plan.

The lack of one being in place was cited as a reason for the recent and ongoing woes of the Yonge-Univesity-Spadina subway extension. The premier wagged her finger at the city. toogoodtobetrureThe TTC chair put forth a motion to ensure P3s were on the table going forward with future transit projects. No more opportunities would be lost in accruing the obvious benefits that come with bringing private sector expertise into building better public facilities.

Yet, it’s hard not to look at this particular deal, an attempt to integrate the concept of intensification with transit hubs, and not come away with the sense that the real expertise the private sector provides is assuring its own best outcomes. In a nutshell, a developer of some property near the Mimico GO station got official approval and rezoning for additional height of a condo project which would be directly connected to the GO station in return for building additional parking spaces specifically for the use of the GO station. Things went south, financially speaking, the development company had a little solvency problem, it seems, and Metrolinx had second thoughts.

“Some information had come to our attention that made this a less than desirable agreement to enter so we pulled out of that agreement,” a Metrolinx spokesperson told the CBC. This was back in 2012. No harm, no foul. Live and learn. Onward and upward. Metrolinx will renovate the GO station and build the extra parking spaces on its own.

But here’s the real kicker, in my opinion.ripupcontract

Despite the cancelling of the agreement, and no connection between the proposed condo development and the Mimico GO station, no additional GO parking provided, the developer still gets to keep the increased height for the project. Rebuffed by the city’s Committee of Adjustment after the deal went sour, the OMB swopped in to save the day, OKing the 7 extra stories. Private sector benefits 1, obligations nil.

This is where my dubious disposition toward P3s stems from. Private enterprise looks out for number one. That is the foundation it is built on, is it not? Self-interest. Emerging with a net gain is the key to survival.

How the public sector arrives at a win-win situation in a relationship with a private partner is therefore tricky at best. Is it possible to maximize profits at the same time as maximizing the public good? That’s the pounding sound of constantly trying to square a circle.

Governments just have to make sure contracts are signed tightly, all the eyes are dotted and tees crossed, risk fully and properly assessed, managed and allocated. Make the right deal and watch the magic happen. It all just makes such sound, intuitive, fiscal sense for everyone involved.

Except that there’s one fundamental disparity in this relationship that makes it ultimately unequal. The private sector can just walk away from any deal that becomes unworkable for them. leftholdingthebagContract signed? So, sue me. To think that any P3 agreement doesn’t include that kind of assessment built into it is probably naïve, the definitive out clause.

Public projects are ultimately the responsibility of the public sector. Failure to deliver a transit stop, for example, is not an option for them. One way or another, over budget or not, on time or not, it must come to pass. It’s the key bargaining chip a private sector partner always has in its back pocket, moral hazard a friend.

It’s difficult to imagine any cost or efficiency savings enough to trump that advantage the private sector always brings to the negotiating table.

side-eyely submitted by Cityslikr


The Next Voice You Hear…

April 12, 2015

garyowens

Tired of having to read the words that we write? (And you know you have to, because we are the voice of rhythm nation.) How about listening to the words we say, in our dulcet tones and sensurround sound (on some selected computers)?

This is what the kids these days are calling a ‘podcast’, us Two Twits Talking. Issue Segment Edition Episode #1. The Ward Boundary Review.

audibly submitted by Cityslikr


To Live And Drive In L.A.

April 10, 2015

(First time posting from our new Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, a friend of ours from back in the days of fire, earthquakes, riots and O.J. We fled to our northern safety. He remained behind.)

*  *  *

guestcommentary

Recently, Zocalo Public Square, the not-for-profit ideas exchange, hosted a discussion at MOCA in Los Angeles that asked, “Is Car Culture Dead?” The question set off an internal alarm. After all, I lived in L.A., the city known more than any other for its love affair with the car. If car culture were dead, that would mean the end of the affair. And nobody wanted that. Or did we?

I took my seat in the auditorium and tried to remember how it had all started. It was after World War II, and we’d been promised that the car would liberate us from such quaint notions as public transit and a single, central business district. We’d been promised that it would bring all the advantages of the city right up to the white picket fence that surrounded our single-family homes, our pools and our patios with the outside barbecues. All these promises were fulfilled, spectacularly so, and a deep, abiding trust developed. lovemycar6And what is trust but the bedrock of a healthy, loving relationship?

Did we have, ahem, bumps in the road? Of course. What relationship doesn’t have a few? But we dealt with them, because that’s what you do in a committed relationship. Like the time we started choking on something called SMOG. Did we give up? Heck, no. We slapped catalytic converters on our tailpipes and changed the formula of our gas. Or the riots, remember those? Some would say they were brought about by social and economic inequities engendered by the use of our cars. But did we throw up our hands and give up like a bunch of East Coast metropolitans? Double heck no! We cracked down, giving our police more guns, more helicopters and more surveillance capabilities. Why? Because I’ll repeat: That-is-what-you-do-in-a-committed-relationship.

And the relationship has only deepened through the years, because what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Right? lovemycar3So who the hell were these Zocalo Public Square types to come in here and try to pull us apart? What nerve!

If William Shakespeare had been sitting next to me, he might have leaned over and told me, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Good ol’ Bard of Avon. He’s always there when I find myself starting to become unhinged. Why he calls me a lady is another matter that I won’t go into right now.

But alas, the great explainer of human nature had a point. The city had come to be known more for its dystopian commutes than its white picket fences, putting our relationships under a new kind of strain, one we’d never seen before, and one for which we have as yet to come up with a solution.

This new strain comes from two different though related developments. On the one hand, we can point to the five separate rail lines being built or extended that will connect such disparate and distant hubs of activity as Santa Monica (the beach), Long Beach (the port), Pasadena (the foothills) and North Hollywood (the Valley) to the resurgent Downtown (down by the river). lovemycar8By early next year, a traveler will be able to traverse the 5,000 square-mile (more or less) urban cluster from any of these points with just one transfer. And without a car.

On the other hand, there just seems to be no traffic relief no matter what we do. Emblematic of this is the just-completed widening of the 405. After five years of blasting through the Santa Monica Mountains, commutes are about a minute longer now than they were before the $1 billion undertaking was undertaken. And told-you-so’s of induced demand only make car commuters that much angrier.

Even I, a devoted road warrior, have to admit: While I still loved my car, I am no longer sure I am in love with it.

Relationships, as the Bard well knows, are never easy, even when there are no Capulets or Montagues around to mess things up. And as Neil Sedaka reminded us many years ago, breaking up is hard to do. But the Bard (the Elizabethan one) provided a ray of hope.

“Hast thou considered opening up thine relationship?” lovemycar1He asked this casually, not even looking up as he texted his broker in New York.

I blushed so deep that any one of the new generation of Downtown chefs could have sliced up my head and put it in a salad. Of course I’d thought about it. I mean, who hadn’t, right? Like everyone else, I’d heard the talk. About how an open transit relationship would be better for the environment, how it would lower my car insurance, how it could extend the lifetime of my car. I’d even heard that it could spice things up in the garage, if you know what I mean.

Then one night, I found myself planning it out in my head. First, I’d leave the car at home, discreetly of course. I’d take the train or the bus, or even walk, if I could remember how. But no, the Bard shook his head. That would amount to cheating. Apparently, the way these things go, you have to be open and honest with your partner. lovemycar4Yeah, I thought, and take all the damned fun out of it!

But the Bard patiently walked me through it. I’d have to be loving and honest, and communicate clearly with my partner that the new arrangement was for the commute and for the commute only. There would have to be rules: There’d be no riding of the train to the end of the line just to see what was there; no overly chatty conversations with strangers asking you how to get to Union Station, and definitely no weekend passes! Maybe down the road, there could be a discussion about taking transit to an occasional Dodger game, so I wouldn’t have to leave in the 7th inning to beat the traffic. But that could wait. Still I wasn’t convinced. The Bard reassured me that the greater trust that would develop could even strengthen our bond. I looked at him quizzically. Strengthen our bond? Really? Where did he get this stuff? Nevertheless, I quickly jotted it down so I wouldn’t forget. lovemycarIf I could convince my partner about this bond strengthening stuff, I could have my cake and eat it too!

I watched the different people file into the auditorium. They chatted and smiled and shook hands with each other. They were, in sum, just a bunch of normal commuters, and they all seemed so satisfied with their lives that it brought me back down to earth. Who was I kidding? An open transit relationship was what they did in places like Vancouver or Portland. Or even Toronto. [Clearly our correspondent hasn’t visited us lately. – ed.] But I wasn’t in those cities. I was in L.A., a city that embraced a multitude of kinky lifestyles, but where taking the bus up Western was the ultimate taboo.

To avoid eye contact, I picked up the Metro pamphlet that was sitting in my lap. And then I saw it, a photograph of the first of the sleek, new Kinkisharyo LRTs that had recently started issuing from the Japanese company’s Palmdale assembly line. It was exactly like the one I had seen that morning on my way into work. I was stopped at a light, listening to Rush Limbaugh, when she appeared. I watched her slide gracefully through the intersection behind the lowered yellow-and-white, candy-cane striped traffic arms. A real slinky, if you ask me, she was quiet and cool as she carried her Expo Line passengers in air-conditioned comfort on the way to Culver City. kinkisharyoAnd as the last car went through, I don’t think I’d ever been so revved up. The light must have changed, because suddenly people were honking and yelling at me to move. A silly, stupid smile spread across my face like I was a frat boy getting his first lap dance at Jumbo’s Clown Room. But no, this was better. This was 50 Shades of Kinkisharyo.

The panel participants came out onto the stage, and I folded up the pamphlet and placed it safely in my backpack for later research. The moderator, an ex-Detroiter named Mike Floyd, Editor-in-chief of Automobile Magazine, introduced everyone and asked each of the panelists how he had traveled to the event. Predictably, the car people drove. They were Terry Karges, Executive Director of the Petersen Automotive Museum, and Myles Kovacs, Founder and Editor of DUB Magazine. The transit people, you guessed it, took transit. Or walked. They were Deborah Murphy, an architect and Founder of Los Angeles Walks, a pedestrian advocacy group, and Mimi Sheler, Director of Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy in Philadelphia. lovemycar2Presumably, this latter participant flew then walked. Show offs, I thought.

The tension between pro-car and pro-transit people was so thick you could cut it with a wiper blade. Ms. Sheler got things rolling with her assertion that a national and global transition is taking place, with fewer people driving and getting licenses. Mr. Karges promptly disputed this assessment, putting forth that people still like to drive, and pointed out that the Forza Motorsport driving game currently has 43 million Xbox subscribers. To which Ms. Murphy responded that those 43 million subscribers need to get out of the house, go for a walk, maybe meet a nice girl who will make them forget all about their Xboxes. Mr. Kovacs, the urban custom car enthusiast, smiled knowingly and said that in L.A., you drive to impress, and what impresses is a fast, low-slung car with poor visibility. And so it went for about 40 minutes or so.

But then the audience got into it. Somebody asked about the self-driving car, and it was off to the races. In fact, that was the only thing anybody in the audience wanted to talk about. Clearly, the autono-mobile had captured the imagination of Angelenos. The self-driving car was seen as a panacea. lovemycar7Not only would it allow us to get more work done while stuck in traffic, but the traffic itself would be cured, because as everyone knows, traffic is caused by a-hole drivers constantly accelerating and braking for no reason. If not for these jerks on the road (and I admit, I’m one of them), our commutes would once again be smooth sailing. And there wouldn’t be any accidents either because these computers on wheels, as some are calling them, are much smarter than us. And if a pedestrian decided to throw himself in front of my car as part of some misguided protest about the 99%, well, manufacturers have thought of that too. Just out is a pillow-soft bumper so that when pedestrian and car collide, the pedestrian won’t feel a thing. Rather, he’ll think he’s at a pajama party and be grateful for the playful interruption to his daily routine.

I sat in wonderment. People were so enthusiastic about the autonomous car that nobody wanted to hear about the kinks that needed to be worked out. Things like liability insurance and computer hacking. And what about driving my own damned car? The whole thing, I’ll admit, seemed to be a big step backward to me. lovemycar5I mean, I hadn’t been driven around since I was a kid, and then it was because my bike had a flat and it was my mother doing the driving. I suppose I could derive some recompense in that I would dang-sure have a mini-bar in my self-driving car, and I’d toast and make faces at the other drivers who were stuck in traffic. But wouldn’t I be stuck too, you ask? Heck no, I wouldn’t be stuck. I’d have a mini-bar!

Eventually, though, I think all the non-driving would get to me. Because without the sheer pleasure and excitement of driving, what was the point of having a car at all? And that would truly mean the end of the relationship.

I was so upset, I went home and hugged my Prius.

toliveanddieinLA

drive byly submitted by Ned Teitelbaum


Let’s Go Over This One More Time.

April 8, 2015

It’s inconceivable to me that this discussion still has to happen, that a reporter for a local news station feels compelled to shoot a segment on such an obvious topic. saigonshitToronto needs a property tax hike to pay for crumbling infrastructure. Yet, there it is.

As the video shows, a wall of bricks showers down from a community housing building, concrete chunks off a major thoroughfare, subway closures occur frequently due to fires and floods, water mains rupture, roads sinkhole. Splice the visuals together with appropriate smash cuts and you’re left with the impression of a crumbling city, apocalypse now. Toronto. Shit.

Everybody’s got an opinion about why this situation has come to be. A bloated, fat cat bureaucracy, gorging itself on big fat bonuses while the most vulnerable residents live in slum-like conditions. Out-of-control spending on public works projects, over-budget, heavily delayed. Nathan Phillips Square revitalization. The Yonge-University-Spadina subway extension. Pick your favourite bugaboo. Pink umbrellas and boulders from northern Ontario.pointingfingers

None of these complaints are wrong, necessarily — except for the pink umbrellas and rocks down at Sugar Beach which only reveals a myopic inattention to the bigger picture. Public spending should be heavily scrutinized.  Misspending and misappropriation only heightens an already suspicious belief out there in the public sector. It’s a negative feedback loop, feeding into an always ready to pounce anti-government sentiment.

Yet, do the math and in the scheme of things, added all together, none of these projects or particular bones to pick will make even a dent on the infrastructure needs this city faces. Sure, every little bit counts but every little bit is just that, a little bit, and they don’t count for much, maybe millions when we’re taking billions. We face a far deeper crisis than the easy nickel and dime solutions offered up by the apostles of outrage. We’ve grown content living on the cheap, and living off the hard decisions and sense of community obligation by previous generations.

Amidst all the tales of infrastructure decline and dissolution in Avery Haines’ news segment came the stark fact that we’re paying, in real inflationary adjusted dollars, less in property taxes now than we did back in 2000. That’s right. Less. In 2000, 3 years after amalgamation, 3 years in which there was a property tax rate freeze. hillofbeansWe’re still paying less than that.

Toronto residents pay less in property taxes than many of the GTA’s other municipalities, in some cases significantly less. This is not particularly news to anyone disinclined to think any property tax is too much property tax. During this year’s budget debate Councillor Gord Perks wrote in the Toronto Star that owing to inflation, this city has effectively cut property taxes by 12.4% since amalgamation. Inflation keeps inflating. City council keeps on not keeping up to it. Even all of those ‘through the roof’ over-the-rate-of-inflation property tax rate increases by the profligate David Miller couldn’t help the city’s coffers keep pace.

And Boom! goes the Gardiner. Boom! the brick façade of a TCHC building. Gush! goes the water spout from the busted water main.

And our new-ish mayor, John Tory, shrugs. He was elected by the voters of Toronto to keep property taxes below the rate of inflation. Why? Because he told them anything more than that would be unnecessary. sweepundertherugPlenty of money in the efficiency banana stand, I guess.

“The property taxpayers of Toronto should not be asked to bear those expenses and investments on their own,” Tory said yesterday. “The property tax was never meant to do that.” The mayor’s not wrong. In referring to downloaded social costs like housing and major infrastructure investment in things like public transit, municipalities with their limited revenue gathering base largely on property taxes aren’t supposed to be expected to pay for those big ticket items. Here in Toronto, up until 1995, the provincial government even paid for half of the TTC’s annual operating costs. In 2015, the city is putting nearly $480 million up for that cost. That’s almost one-quarter of a billion dollars that should, in a properly function system, be coming from Queen’s Park. Multiply that by 20 years and, yeah, no wonder our transit system is barely limping into the future, let alone all the other infrastructure needs the city has.

So we can get all pissed off about city council’s quick decision to step up with $90 million to cover shortfalls with the Spadina subway extension, as Ari Goldkind does today in the Star, but it misses the larger debate. cheshirecatThe city shouldn’t be paying for any part of a major transit build. It shouldn’t be contributing anything to the Union-Pearson airport link. Why are we putting up money to renovate a regional transportation route like the Gardiner Expressway?

The province has walked away from its traditional obligations, leaving cities to pick up the slack. That’s what we should really be angry about. That’s the fight we need to be engaged in.

But then we allow the province (along with the federal government to a lesser extent) off the hook, we provide them with their one bit of buckshot of ammunition when we campaign and govern on under-taxation. We’ve given you these revenue tools to deal with the added responsibilities, the province tells Toronto. Why not use them instead of always coming to us for money?

Disingenuous, accompanied with a Cheshire cat grin? You betcha. Download both the obligations and the taxing powers so loathed by the public. citybuildingThank you very much.

Like it or not, that’s where we’re at. By standing idly by, talking about moral and business cases for more investment by the senior levels of government, while deliberately chocking off your own sources of revenue even those not part of the property tax base, is simply being an accomplice to the crumbling of the city. You know there are ways to help, at least, bolster the state of disrepair. They won’t be immediately popular (made even less so by irresponsible campaign pledges that helped get you elected). The alternative, however, is untenable. Unless, of course, you’re comfortable overseeing a city that will continue to decline.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


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