Suburban? Moi?

October 11, 2013

Just in case you think city council’s Scarborough subway decision put an end to the conversation once and for all, justbeguntofightlet me disabuse you of that flightful bit of fancy. While the LRT plan to replace the aging SRT may’ve had the plug pulled on it, we’ve now moved to which subway are we going to build. That battle’s just begun and, as reported in Spacing yesterday, doesn’t look like it’ll be resolved any time soon.

*sigh*

A more theoretical and interesting discussion cropped up following the subway decision in, of all places, Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly’s Twitter timeline. No, no. That’s no typo. And let me be clear, it was not a conversation intentionally instigated by the long time Scarborough councillor but one, like much of the city business that swirls around his presence at City Hall, grandboulevardhe just occasionally and unwittingly runs smack into.

You see, the deputy mayor like most of the Scarborough subway supporters have embraced the technology almost exclusively for its world classiness. They take every opportunity to point out all the glitzy international destinations that have subways running underneath their grand boulevards. New York. London. Paris. Madrid. Ipso facto, if Toronto truly wants to consider itself world class, it needs to start playing subway catch up.

The fact that many of these same cities are also building LRTs as a part of their transit network is usually greeted by silence when it’s pointed out to the likes of Deputy Mayor Kelly and other subway-philes.

But yesterday, he chimed in with a new counter-argument. whome1“Madrid builds subways in the city,” the deputy mayor tweeted. “Scarborough is IN the city. Madrid builds LRT’s in the suburbs. Our suburbs are in the GTA.”

Wow.

That is either the dumbest assertion I have heard in a while or a stroke of pure ingenuity in rationalization.

Given the source, I’ll assume the former but, probably not coincidentally, it’s a line of reasoning I encountered a few days earlier. Another subway advocate told me he was all for LRTs but “… in the ‘burbs (like Markham, Durham and Oakville)”. Apparently, with the expansion of growth out into the wider GTA, almost exclusively built on a suburban model, the former suburban municipalities that are now part of the legacy city of Toronto should no longer be viewed as suburbs and therefore, need to be treated accordingly.

With subways. Like they have in every other city worth mentioning.

It reminds me of the punch line to a joke never told in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. “I’m not Saul. I’m Paul. And this guy’s the Jew.”

Scarborough’s not a suburb. Markham’s a suburb. They should be the ones getting an LRT.suburbandream

You can’t just simply ignore intensive post-war design and development based almost exclusively on private automobile use and single family detached housing by pointing out that newer cities around you are more car dependent and single family house-y. That doesn’t make a place any less that because other places are more so. Inner suburb. Outer suburb. Note the similar word in both those descriptors.

It’s as if grafting a transit mode associated with a densely populated urban core will magically transform the suburban landscape of Scarborough into Manhattan. That’s like me envying a bird and wanting wings sewn to my back so I can fly. It doesn’t work like that. I’m simply not built for flight.

I know this is not your grandpa’s Scarborough. Much has changed over the course of the last four decades. attemptedflightThe demographics. More intensification. A bigger population.

But just a head’s up. Subways aren’t going to make you any less suburban. No one’s going to suddenly mistake you for Madrid. Or downtown Toronto even.

Besides, as long as this kind of stuff keeps happening, any claim that Scarborough has moved from its suburban roots is kind of suspect. In reaction to an application to build 50 townhouses on a vacant lot in his Scarborough East ward, Councillor Ron Moeser said, “I’ve got a single-family community that wants to stay that way.” For the record, Councillor Moeser voted in favour of the Scarborough subway.

This is not to say Scarborough (or Etobicoke or North York) can’t change. That the city’s suburbs shouldn’t endeavour to build healthier communities and neighbourhoods by decreasing their reliance on private vehicles. lookinthemirror1It’s just that there are better approaches that reflect the current reality on the ground than mindlessly demanding a type of transportation designed for an entirely different built form.

Scarborough is now a part of the city of Toronto, a big chunk too, nearly a suburban quarter of it, occupying its eastern boundary. Insisting on more subway stops isn’t going to alter that. Demanding better transit sooner will go a whole lot further in making the entire city more connected, more inclusive and, yes, maybe even a little less suburban.

non-judgementally submitted by Cityslikr


Only Sure Thing Is There’s Never A Sure Thing

September 27, 2013

The sounds of much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth could be heard this week in reaction to John Lorinc’s Spacing piece, noooooooSubway Nation rises again. “There’s little doubt,” Mr. Lorinc writes, “that this long-awaited federal contribution marks a check mate move for Mayor Rob Ford. Barring a criminal charge relating to Project Traveller, he will walk away with next year’s race…”

Hmmm.

I’m hoping Mr. Lorinc states that as some sort of heads-up warning shot, a little chin music to stiffen the resolve of those grown complacent, thinking the mayor’s political future will destruct under his own volition. Focus, people! This bad dream isn’t over yet.

He’s too astute an observer of the political scene here in Toronto to honestly believe that statement. That this particular moment in time, more than 13 months before the actual election, will prove to be the defining moment in securing the mayor his re-election. This transit situation has been too fluid to imagine a sudden hardening in place. chinmusicAnd Mayor Ford, well, he hasn’t shown himself to be the best in protecting leads.

Here’s a politician who took an electoral mandate in 2010 and trampled his way to surprise success for the first year of his term before squandering it with a potent mixture of hubris, over-reach and chest-beating triumphalism. Since that time, he’s established that he can take a punch like George Chuvalo, Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. He has a solid base that hasn’t abandoned him yet. But that’s about the extent of it. Now suddenly, he’s snatched the ring from Frodo and has an undefended line straight to Mordor?

I think already this week since the fed’s announcement of funding for the Scarborough subway and Lorinc’s Spacing article, some loose threads have shown along the hemline of Mayor Ford’s cloak of invincibility.

The $660 million in federal funding seemed to secure the certainty of the city’s Scarborough subway proposal to replace the LRT. It also immediately exposed city council’s need to come up with nearly a billion dollars of its own to put some skin in the game as many of the subway’s supporters like to say. georgchuvalo(For a crazy good analysis of the full costs of the Scarborough subway, David Hains’ post in the Torontoist is a must read. Click now. Go, read it. I’ll still be here when you get back.)

Back in July when council precipitated this whole transit fiasco, Mayor Ford would only agree to a .25% property tax increase to be dedicated to the Scarborough subway which, everybody else knew even in the best case scenario of funding from other levels of government, was woefully inadequate. It seems the mayor is holding tightly to that number despite the obvious shortfall.

So when city council meets next month to debate the issue, the mayor is either going to have to champion the subway but go on record as being not willing to pay for it or he is going to have to get behind a higher property tax increase. That one’s going to be tough because, while Mr. Lorinc suggests that subways were “the centre piece plank in his 2010 platform”, I don’t remember it quite that way.

Rob Ford’s centre piece plank in his 2010 campaign platform for mayor was about money. robfordsuperheroTransit was a hastily drawn up throw in when the campaign team realized his candidacy was actually being taken seriously. He was the numbers guy, stopping the gravy train, representing the little guy tired of being nickel and dimed to death with tax increases and money grab fees.

Now he’s going to hold the subway trophy above his head in 2014 and tell Ford Nation, oh yeah, about those additional property tax increases?

I get the concern that logic and reason don’t always apply to the supporters of Mayor Ford. Cognitive dissonance and magical thinking tend to be a way of life. But, come on, every house of cards eventually collapses.

On top of which, recent polls suggest that the subway preference in Scarborough isn’t nearly as maniacal as its most ardent supporters insist it is. shellgame1Already soft, what happens when the true costs, ridership numbers, coverage become a campaign issue? When voters are being inundated with what they’re getting versus what they’re giving up?

This goes right to the matter of the mayor’s slam dunk re-election. Much of that supposition rests on the belief with both the mayor’s supporters and biggest detractors that somehow 2014 will play out just like 2010. That the 47% of votes he collected in 2010 are somehow an unmoveable bloc. That the power of incumbency will only play a positive role. That Mayor Ford will face no serious opposition in a candidate a plurality of Torontonian can rally around.

While I’m uncomfortable making any sort of prediction about an elections that’s still more than a year away, I will confidently suggest 2010 will be nothing like 2014.

Take former Scarborough councillor David Soknacki’s open musings about running for mayor. dejavuA pro-LRT, right of centre suburban candidate with past experience but no office to have to give up to run full tilt right to the end. How rock solid is Mayor Ford’s support to withstand an attack from not one of the usual suspects who is constantly calling into question the mayor’s fiscal credibility?

More than that, let’s atomize next year’s race down to the council level. What happens when Scarborough councillors running for re-election outside of the immediate area where a subway might be beneficial get assailed by opponents pointing out that their constituents are getting none of the pluses while paying their share of the costs? The Norm Kellys. The Mike Del Grandes. The Michelle Berardinettis. Paul Ainslies and Gary Crawfords.

Beyond Scarborough, what do incumbents in York, North York and Etobicoke tell their voters about asking them to pay additional property taxes for a subway that in no way will help them. In fact, it’ll probably set their transit needs back decades. hediditAnswer me that, Councillor Vincent Crisanti in Rexdale. Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti, Frances Nunziata and Anthony Perruzza in York. Councillors Mark Grimes and Peter Milczyn in Mimico. Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio. Budget. Chief.

Campaigned on just the right way, the Scarborough subway could fracture this whole suburban as one myth that everyone seems to have accepted as fact based on just the past election.

From a transit perspective, the Scarborough subway is nothing but bad news. But I also fail to see how it’s all good news for Mayor Ford’s re-election chances. The electoral landscape may’ve changed, it’s just far too early to tell to whose advantage.

wobbly submitted by Cityslikr


Corrosive Politics

July 29, 2013

John Lorinc drops another great article today about transit planning and election races. As has often been the case recently, gamesmanshipself-interest and narrow political calculation run roughshod over reasoned debate at every governance level involved. There ain’t no good guys in this story except the ones with almost zero chance of winning provincial office this coming Thursday.

Now, I know you’re going to get all up in my face when I quote the following passage from the story but I beg you to bear with me.

The broader point to make here is that Rob Ford’s corrosive influence on all the parties and the state of debate is writ large in this by-election. He’s given too many political people from all three partisan clans permission to be astonishingly dishonest and unprincipled with both the voters and themselves.

No, no. I am not pointing the finger of blame squarely at the mayor on this issue. gasolineonfireHe’s been remarkably consistent with views on public transit in this city. Horribly misinformed and willfully ignorant, but remarkably consistent.

The truly incredible aspect of this is that almost every other politicians of every political stripe allowed him to define the terms of debate, and continue to do so long after it seems simply politically expedient to do so.

The provincial Liberals could’ve stopped this latest debacle in its tracks back in 2010 after the newly elected mayor of Toronto declared Transit City dead. They could’ve stepped up and politely said, nope, sorry. The deal’s been signed and the books are closed on this.

Instead, lagging in the polls and intimidated by the notion of Ford Nation decimating them throughout ridings in Toronto, they shrugged. Whatevs. It’s our money to do whatever you want with.

And even after the Ford Nation wave failed to materialize and the mayor’s hold on whatever1city council has grown increasingly tenuous, his views on a Scarborough subway continue to hold sway. In the provincial by-election campaign. With sitting Scarborough Liberal MPPs. At City Hall.

I’d ask why that is but it’s pretty obvious. Pick a word. Pandering. Calculating. Craven. And put shameless as an adjective in front of them (or use its adverbial variation as needed).

It’s bad enough, the adverse affects this is having on actually trying to get transit — the right kind of transit – built in this city and region. Even more worrisome is how Mayor Ford’s ‘corrosive influence’ has been adopted. Rather than re-examine how he and his team, using catchy slogans, dubious claims and numbers, won the day back in 2010, toxicatmosphere1many of his opponents have embraced those practices for their own purposes and not figured out ways in which to successfully combat them. In the end, it’s nothing more than an endorsement of cynical sloganeering and destructive obfuscation.

Not only does that short-circuit efforts to build transit in this city but it also poisons the entire political atmosphere, turning off public engagement instead of encouraging it.

drippingly submitted by Cityslikr


Try And Try Again

July 16, 2013

It may come as something of a surprise to many of you but this week’s city council meeting – surprisedthe last one of the summer – is not a hastily convened, special transit session, called specifically on the eternal question of a Scarborough subway. No. It is a regularly scheduled meeting, in place to deal with the entirety of the city’s business. An agenda that, according to Councillor Janet Davis, is the biggest she’s seen in her 10 years at City Hall.

But you’ll be forgiven if you thought otherwise. The talk’s been almost exclusively about the brewing Scarborough LRT-versus-subway brouhaha leading up to today’s start of council meeting. It’s as if there’s nothing else really going on.

I’m not going to contribute to this transit talk overload. My views are well documented. You’re probably as sick and tired reading about them as I am writing about them.

If you’re a glutton for punishment on this issue, however, and you really want to get down to the nub of this never-ending debate, sotiredI highly suggest reading John Lorinc’s take on it yesterday and Steve Munro’s over the weekend. I’d happily link to any persuasive pro-subway articles but the problem seems to be THERE AREN’T ANY! To see the sorry state of the subway proponents’ case, take a leisurely scroll through the Twitter timelines of councillors Michelle Berardinetti and James Pasternak.

I will say a couple things on the topic though.

Any councillor ultimately voting in favour of re-opening the Master Agreement between the city and Metrolinx in the hopes of building a subway extension rather than an LRT at the current eastern terminus of the Bloor-Danforth line loses any claim to being fiscally prudent or conservative. There is no viable economic argument to make the switch. None. moneybagsIt is nothing less than tossing out an already funded plan (by another level of government, no less) and replacing it with a much riskier, numbers still on a cocktail napkin pipe dream. In no way do any possible benefits outweigh the very considerable costs to the city and city’s taxpayers, both current and future.

Secondly, absolute credit has to go to Mayor Rob Ford for keeping the dream of MOAR SCARBOROUGH SUBWAYS alive through his dogged, single-minded determination (Forditude? Did someone already coined that word? If not, dibs. See? I am getting punchy.) to pander to a bloc of voters he absolutely needs if he has any hope of being re-elected next year. Failing spectacularly earlier this term to get a Sheppard subway extension up and going, he’s hopped aboard the Bloor-Danforth version, looking for sellable talking points to take to the voters taxpayers and his devoted radio listeners. He promised you subways, Scarborough, and he’s delivering you subways. screamingYears late and for billions more but the mayor’s never really been about the fine print.

That’s doing him some disservice. The fact that he’s got a seeming majority of council ready to take this senseless leap, along with a handful of Scarborough Liberal MPPs and two successive Liberal governments at Queen’s Park, is a testimony to the power of his retail politicking. Any sort of subway extension for Scarborough is nothing more than politics for him. So much so that he’s abandoned his core political principle, revenue tools are just taxes and he’s against taxes, for it. In order to build his Scarborough subway, Mayor Rob Ford has had to go on record saying that taxes used to build a subway should be seen as an investment. An investment. Not some onerous reach around into the taxpayers’ pocket.

Yeah, that Rob Ford.

Such naked, hypocritical pandering, rather than being toxic as you might think, seems to be infectious. Everybody’s in on it now, willing to bend over backwards to feed the apparent sense of entitlement felt by Scarborough commuters, generated by the mayor’s constant divisive drum beating. imwithstupid1Once more, transit planning has become a game of chicken, intended only to assist political aspirations at both the provincial and municipal levels of government.

All the key players have descended to the mayor’s level, catering to his ill-thought out and ill-advised transit views instead of challenging them on their merit and feasibility. Despite losing control of the transit file over a year ago now, he’s still dictating the terms of the conversation. Regardless of what happens this week, Mayor Ford’s already won.

tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Nimby

May 15, 2013

For three years now, ever since then-councillor Rob Ford announced his run for mayor, we’ve been clubbed over the head with the urban-suburban divide.fordnation The narrative of downtown elites hoarding all the goodness that is living in Toronto, leaving their suburban counterparts with nothing more than the crumbs and scraps. Get out of your cars so we can have bike lanes! No subways for you! Your taxes spent on us.

Rob Ford rode such resentment into office, and the continued suburban support maintains his not impossible chances for re-election next year. He is the self-proclaimed champion of the little guy in places like Scarborough, basing his entire transit policy around getting a new subway out there. Nobody rails about and profits from deriding the self-satisfied, special interest insularity of downtowners like the mayor and the rest of Team Ford.

An accusation I’ve tried to take to heart. Get out there, learn what makes these suburban types tick, their likes, dislikes, their pet peeves, their pet causes. haughtyTry and find out why they’re so mad at us and how politicians like Mayor Ford so easily tap into that vein of anger.

The latest leg of that journey outside of my south of Bloor/west of the Don Valley comfort zone took me to the Scarborough Civic Centre yesterday for their monthly Community Council meeting. Here you can see the local councillors and their constituents at work far from the spotlight of City Hall, not dwelling on the Us-versus-Them but instead focusing on pure Scarborough time (or North York or Etobicoke-York or Toronto-East York time depending on which community council meeting you’re attending). Community council concentrates on the minutiae of local governance.

As the agenda for the Scarborough meeting showed, this is the time spent adjudicating neighbours’ fence heights, debating the need for a stop sign or traffic lights, the removal of tree from private property, parking, always parking. toilIt isn’t glorious or sexy. Just the nuts and bolts of the political process at the municipal level.

Perhaps the most charged item I witnessed yesterday was over the fate of the wading pool just outside of the civic centre. Apparently it was a community hub for the forty years of the building’s existence but last summer the This Is Not A Wading Pool sign went up due to the lack of funding to pay for a lifeguard. Scarborough councillors set out to try and rectify that situation.

Most of the time, big ticket, highly contentious, city wide items don’t dominate community council meetings. A casino, tall tower complex or the island airport runway expansion rarely find their way to be debated at North York or Scarborough community councils. The majority of those end up for discussion at Toronto-East York community council.

And Etobicoke-York, apparently.

For the last two months the west-end community council has had to conduct additional meeting time to deal with the public reaction to two developments that are being proposed in their catchment area. In April, there was an evening session at the Etobicoke Civic Centre over the proposed waterfront development in Ward 6, Mimico 20/20. nonono1And yesterday for six hours, the public came out to express their unanimous opposition to First Capital Realty’s intention to convert the Humbertown shopping plaza into a mixed up residential-commercial space.

This one was a biggie. As David Hains writes in the Grid, it was held in a 3,200 seat church on the Queensway, was broadcast on TV and streamed online and brought out much of the media as well as the big gun politicians like the mayor and his councillor-brother. (As a member of the Etobicoke-York community council, it’s not unusual that Councillor Ford was in attendance although, it is worth noting that he was absent for the Mimico meeting last month, choosing instead to attend a provincial Progressive Conservative fundraiser.)

Now, I don’t know if the Humbertown development is a good one or not. Certainly the community’s concerns over the increase in traffic caught my attention. It didn’t strike me as the disaster-in-waiting almost every speaker to person claimed it would turn out to be. villagesquireThere are voices living in the area that even think it’s a positive thing for the area.

What I will tell you, however, is that I didn’t care for the tone I heard from the development’s opponents. Like many who spoke out against the Mimico 20/20 plans, we were told the Humber Valley neighbourhood was like a village wrapped inside a big city. A place for families to thrive and grow, away from big city concerns. People were born in Humber Valley. They went to school in Humber Valley. They got married in Humber Valley. They have children of their own who they want to raise in the same Humber Valley they grew up in.

After a couple hours of this, I couldn’t help but think if these people really wanted the village life, they should maybe move to an actual village. Somewhere, I don’t know, in Amish country. Or maybe on the edge of the moors in south-west England. A village village.

Not a pretend one of their imagination, situated 1500 metres from a major east-west subway line. No, what these people want is to enjoy all the amenities a big city offers while keeping the messier aspects like intensification and underground parking (really, underground parking) at bay. usversusthemThis is a wealthy enclave with the time and resources which, as my friend Paisley Rae said, should not determine the outcome of the civic process, trying to keep the 21st-century from their front door.

And the real kicker is that these are our populist mayor and brother’s people not the poor schlubs having to endure a cold winters rid on the Scarborough SRT or even those living further north in Etobicoke, up in Rexdale. This development is right in both the Fords’ backyards and the little guys they’re looking out for are those who can afford to hire their own architect to draw up alternate plans and find the concept of shopping on a second floor inconceivable. I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve invented a moving staircase in which to ascend us to ladies wear.

“We cannot let these developers come in and bully us,” said the mayor who’s all in pushing a waterfront casino. He vowed to fight the Humbertown development ‘tooth and nail’. “Let’s go to the board (Ontario Municipal Board),” he urged if First Capital Realty didn’t back down, presumably with money from the city he often tries to stop at council when other communities faced with unwanted development face appeals at the OMB. Everything Mayor Ford purports to be got completely turned on its head with his strident opposition to the Humbertown development.

Not in my backyard.humbertown

The fact is, Mayor Ford doesn’t really represent the aspirations or alienation of suburban Toronto. At least not those of the hard-working little guys in large portions of Scarborough or Etobicoke. It’s a very select few he will go to the mat for, the ones who essentially live in his own neighbourhood. The overwhelming majority of suburban residents are nothing more than votes to him.

nimbly submitted by Cityslikr


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