Alternate Reality

July 31, 2012

Toronto names a new Chief Planner and we Storify the reaction.

Alternate Reality

over therely submitted by Cityslikr


You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

July 30, 2012

Turns out, even for a somewhat political obsessive like me, it’s remarkably easy to switch off the electronic gizmos and happily walk away without so much as looking back. Head off to some place where people haven’t the foggiest idea what #TOpoli means and might just stare blankly at you when you respond to their query about where you’re from. “You mean, New York?” Places our country itself is but a vague notion. “It’s big, yes? With big mountains?”

Admittedly, it wasn’t complete cold turkey. I did find myself on occasion plopped down in a fully licensed free wifi zone, casually, very casually, checking in on what was going on back here. More disconcerting gunplay. More a-one diplomacy with the province from our mayor. The mayor’s big birthday surprise.

All the important stuff.

Still, despite such self-imposed exile (yeah, that’s what we call ‘vacations’ in these parts), politics does seep in, largely unnoticed at first. Knocking around Madrid and then more southerly spots in Spain as well as unOlympicized parts of northern Great Britain, it’s difficult not to see the economic distress. En alquiler, en venta, for sale, to let. Precio reducido. We won’t be undersold.

Everywhere. Along with boarded up storefronts and abandoned buildings. I tweeted about a moment in Grenada. Wandering through some alleyway, we encountered two bins on wheels outside a five storey walk up building. Both were full to bursting with what could be seen as stuff pulled out as part of some pre-renovation demolition. But it was all too intact and too many personal items for that to be the likely case. Repossession and salvage was our guess.

A man walked up the stairs past us and, very likely hearing our English prattling, turned back in our direction as he passed the bins and said, This Is Spain. Twice. Not necessarily angrily although it wasn’t simply a passing remark. Sad wouldn’t be how I describe it either. Resigned? Disappointed? Disbelieving? How the hell did it come to this?

Sitting in one of Madrid’s main squares, Plaza Mayor, we chatted with our waiter about the quiet atmosphere of the place. Granted it was a Monday night and it was only midnight or so, things do generally pick up later in Spain than they do here, but it was July. It was a gorgeous evening out. Que pasa?

Apparently, the place is packed and jumping on weekends but come the week nights? Nada. Unsettlingly subdued. On the upside… yeah, no. There is no upside.

The parts of northern Wales and up into Scotland we travelled didn’t look a whole lot more robust. Plenty of places for rent or sale, deserted and derelict properties. Sales galore! Of course, all that gloominess could’ve been on account of the greyer skies and cooler temperatures.

For its part, Edinburgh seemed chock full of vital with infrastructure construction going on all over the place. Sure, most of that was to do with the building of a tram system but even that will sound familiar to those of us who’ve been living in Toronto for the past 5 years or so. Initially, the system was supposed to run from the airport down through the town centre and onto the portside community of Leith. The whole enterprise was put on hold a couple years ago due to concerns over funding. A more modest version is now well underway. What was once a War on Cars has been scaled back to a mere skirmish.

Hanging over all of the UK now is the shadow of a double dip recession. It seems the austerity measures of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition haven’t quite worked out as hoped. Or, depending on your political perspective, it’s all gone swimmingly. Growth is down, unemployment is up and angry eyes have turned toward the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Fortunately for him and his government, the Olympics have got Britons’ hearts a-beating and their flags a-waving; their minds momentarily diverted from the economic crisis taking firmer hold of their green and pleasant land.

(That’s not hokey now if Danny Boyle used it.)

I couldn’t have been happier travelling in my relative Canadian anonymity than I was during the past two weeks. Who wants the rest of the world to know what our government is saying about their situation right now? Smugly tsk, tsk, tsking the Euro-region for the dire condition of their books and urging more, deeper austerity despite all indications pointing to this being the worst thing we can do at this moment. It’s working so well for us, right? What’s that you say CIBC?

Thank god I didn’t have to explain to anyone the nonsense going on here in this city where we’ve had to fend off a faux-financial crisis entirely manufactured by those who see almost any government spending as the root of all evil. Fiscal dimwits gravely invoking the names of Greece or Spain every time they sense any pushback to a proposed cut to services or programs. As if library spending rather than LIBOR fiddling was at the root of the global economic malaise. (Woo! Did I have to work for that one.)

It’s ugly out there which causes me to think the situation isn’t nearly as rosy for many of us here as we’re trying to convince ourselves. Pretending that it is, pretending all that stands between us and future prosperity is a tax cut here, a service efficiency there is nothing short of fucking delusional. Delusional, and if you’re an elected official, bordering on pure negligence. No, we’re not Greece or Spain. We’re not Great Britain. But the surest path in that direction is to advocate slashing and burning as the way avoid their grim fate.

*sigh*

Vacation’s over, I guess.

grumpily submitted by Cityslikr


Summer Recess

July 15, 2012

No more tweeting/No more netbooks/No more Speaker’s dirty looks..

Council’s Out For Summer!

At least, we think it is.

Last year with the Core Services Review and surprise attack on the Port Lands, there didn’t seem to be a down period at City Hall. This summer, things seem to be shaping up a bit differently. There’s no wind behind Mayor Ford’s sails. He currently does not have the look of a world beater. So maybe some down time is in order. Hit a few of the festivals around town. Grab some cottage time up north. Knock on a door or two, let the folks know that if they need anything, some help in the garden, washing their car, the mayor’s just a phone call away.

So, we too are going to log some reduced summer hours around these parts. Catch up on some reading. Take in a ball game or two. Maybe head off somewhere cool and breezy. We hear the U.K. is having itself a sunshine-less summer!

Then come August, we’ll ease back into things. Fiddle with this site a little. Spend some time over at this place here, getting the old activist muscles in swimsuit shape.

It won’t be all cold turkey, see you in September. We’ll keep in touch. Chime in with a few thoughts every now and then. But mostly the next little while’s going to be all about sippin’ on gin and juice, laid back…

living it easily submitted by Cityslikr


No City For Young Children

July 13, 2012

I have seen the urban-suburban divide, and it’s name is Doug Holyday. Councillor Doug Holyday. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday.

If not the political father to the Ford Brothers, he is their political godfather. A lean, mean libertarian and last mayor of pre-amalgamation Etobicoke, Councillor Holyday’s the antiest of anti-government types. There is no aspect of governing (except maybe policing) the man doesn’t believe can be done better and cheaper by the private sector. Government as a source for out-sourcing.

Despite the political and territorial affinity between the Deputy Mayor and the Fords, Councillor Holyday must bear a little ill-will toward their late father, Doug Sr. As a backbench MPP for the Mike Harris government, Ford-pere helped smash the 6 former municipalities of Metro Toronto into one unwieldy beast. This leashed the Deputy Mayor’s beloved ol’ Etobicoke home to the licentious, rapacious, elitist grab all downtown.

Arcadia was under threat. Progress’s shadow drew nearer, bringing darkness ever closer to the perpetual 1950s sunshine of Toronto’s gateway to Mississauga.

Since 1997 Doug Holyday’s picket fenced mind set has been besieged by the onset of the 21st-century. Urbanism. Multiculturalism. Diversity of views and lifestyles that include… wait for it, wait for it… children growing up in downtown highrises with no place to play other than the traffic.

Yesterday’s well-documented dust up between the deputy mayor and Councillor Adam Vaughan (if you want to see it for yourself here’s the link, scroll through to 149:46) over the requirement for 10% of condo units to be 3 bedroom in a King Street West development proposal revealed the deep hostility directed at the downtown core from the suburban leadership elected to represent the entire city. “I personally wouldn’t want to raise my kids on King Street or Yonge Street,” the deputy mayor said. “Some people might, and if they do, that’s fine. … I’m saying I personally wouldn’t want to be on the 47th floor of a condominium building at the corner of King and John with three kids.”

“I can just see it now,” ‘Where’s little Jenny? Well, she’s downstairs playing in the traffic on her way to the park’”.

When the city’s acting chief planner Gregg Lintern suggested that encouraging families to live in every part of the city including right downtown “…makes for a healthier city” the deputy mayor wasn’t buying it.  “It makes for a healthier city to have children out on King Street where there is bumper-to-bumper traffic, people galore all night and day? I just think of raising my own family there. That’s not the place I’d choose.”

Apparently, if you choose a lifestyle contrary to one Doug Holyday deems acceptable, well hey, god bless you, you’re on your own. Briefly stepping back from his Grandpa Simpson mode, the deputy mayor wrapped himself in his comfy libertarian cloak and railed that government shouldn’t be telling the private sector what they can and cannot be building. In putting forward a motion to delete the 10% 3 bedroom requirement for the development proposal, he suggested that it should be left up to the free market to sort out.

“I’m not going to dictate to a developer,” the Deputy Mayor said, “that they must provide 10% of their units in the three bedroom form when there may or may not be a market for it.”

If there’s such a clamour for family condo units downtown, developers will respond. That’s just Economics 101. No matter that bigger units/development mean fewer units/development and less money overall. Developers aren’t concerned about money in the long run. They just want to respond to market demand.

Turns out the Deputy Mayor isn’t as laissez-faire on the matter of planning when it gets closer to home. During the ensuing debate, Councillor Vaughan pointed out that a few years back, when a developer proposed building rowhouses — OMG not townhouses! — in Etobicoke’s single family enclave, Mr. Holyday wasn’t so invisibly handy as he was toward downtown development. So it’s free reign for the private sector when it comes to situations the Deputy Mayor doesn’t approve of but let’s get all state controlled if it imposes on his lifestyle.

I don’t  believe that a majority of those in the suburbs reflect Deputy Mayor Holyday’s cloistered views. People live outside the core for many reasons. Space, affordability, just a preference for that way of life. They don’t judge those who make their homes downtown as dimly as our deputy mayor does.

I agree with writer Shawn Micallef when he referred to Mr. Holyday’s opinions as ‘creaks from the grave of thought.’ They’re shocking because it’s difficult to believe anyone still thinks like that. It’s a dying breed kicking and screaming against modernity.

Unfortunately, Mr. Holyday isn’t just anyone. In theory, he’s the 2nd in command of the largest city in the country. A rapidly evolving metropolis of some 2.5 million residents that has long since outgrown the strictures of sleepy, small town governance. More worrisome is that the mayor, his actual right hand man, Councillor Ford, and a small cadre of similar anti-urban minds now have their hands on the levers of power.

All of them are unfit for the positions they are currently in. They don’t understand the needs of the city they’ve been elected to represent. The only thing they seem determined to accomplish is to roll back any and all evidence of the 21st-century.

The Deputy Mayor’s comments reflected that and underline the need to resist every antediluvian idea he and his cohorts try to inflict on the city.

corely submitted by Cityslikr


Mea Culpa

July 12, 2012

I’ll take the blame.

My exuberance and enthusiasm for a bold transit plan blinded me to its shortcomings. The lack of a wider consultative process both at the council level as well as with the province and regional partners. A less than ideal funding mechanism proposal. Cost underestimation. All capital, no operating. Yet another politically motivated subway expansion that was only necessary in order to curry voters’ favour.

I was aware of all that but didn’t care. A conversation had been started, a vital conversation with some meat on its bones. Transit, transit, transit not subways, subways, subways.

Turns out,  the plan was fatally flawed, the minuses outweighing the pluses. I hoped when I should’ve thought.

My mistake.

Nothing was really lost, however, in yesterday’s vote except maybe a little sheen from the TTC Chair’s star. But all things considered, she’s had a pretty good year. Her pluses outweighing the minuses.

This spring’s transit vote remains in place. LRT construction is underway.  Any notion that Mayor Ford (who spoke nary a word during the day’s debate) has somehow reclaimed control of the transit file is nothing more than laughable spin.

On top of which, the East Bayfront LRT proposal was underlined as a priority going forward. This will help keep it on the radar as the waterfront redevelopment continues apace. Let’s not use sight of that.

Still, it was all so anti-climatic. Great expectations dashed. Or at least, put off until the fall.

At which time I hope — no, demand — the vigorous debate of the first few days of One City is once again picked up. Taking staff recommendations and getting down to the nitty gritty of how we plan to pay for the transit Toronto desperately needs. Because that’s the one thing that came out of the whirlwind that was One City. There’s plenty to do. We just need to accept the fact it won’t get done for free.

only semi-crushedly submitted by Cityslikr


Priorities

July 11, 2012

Priorities, priorities, priorities. The people want priorities.

Congestion. Public transit and infrastructure deficits. A spike in gun violence.

All these hot button issues facing the city and what was council debating for the majority of the meeting this morning, the last meeting before October? Policy Changes to Facilitate Councillor Office Operations.

Office chairs, constituency offices, floor space at 80 cents a square foot. Councillor house calls. All in search of the holy grail filled with gravy.

How much gravy?

I’m not exactly sure. But consider this. The total cost to the city’s coffers, the amount picked from the taxpayers’ wallets annually, for councillors’ expenses — all of it, all in, the whole enchilada, salaries, staff, office expenses, everything — about $19 million. Throw in about $1.6 million to keep the mayor in the lifestyle he is accustomed, and that’s just around $21 million.

A year. $21 million of an annual operating budget of over $10 billion. And what the debate focused on this morning was a tiny, tiny fraction of that. A minute slice. A speck. Tens of thousands of dollars.

This was not a good use of time by any stretch of the imagination. One might even call it inefficient. Generating gravy to uncover gravy. A gravy wash, let’s call it.

Mayor Ford fiddles and the city struggles.

miserly submitted by Cityslikr


Swimming With Sharks

July 10, 2012

Is there a term or phrase that refers to the period of time after somebody jumps the shark? That vast pool of ridiculousness when jumping the shark has become the general rule rather than an exception. Suspension of disbelief is simply too, too difficult to maintain; the only proper response: Oh, Come On!

I can’t support taxing the taxpayer.

Seriously.

That’s what Mayor Ford said yesterday in response to the One City transit proposal.

I can’t support taxing the taxpayer.

Oh, Come On!

It’s like we’re witnessing some increasingly deeper, darker performance art piece. Dada Mayor Dada. What he says next will confound and amaze you! I’m half expecting Andy Kaufman to burst from a fat suit and begin singing the Mighty Mouse theme song.

Here I come to save the day/So taxpayers will never pay!

But just in case you think it’s all some sort of stale joke, a sitcom relying solely on stunt casting at this point, the man purporting to be mayor has fired off a written request to City Manager, Joe Pennachetti, angling for a property tax freeze for both 2014 and 2015. Combined with a 2011 property tax freeze and followed by a modest 2.5% increase in 2012 and an even lower proposed one of 1.75% in 2013, that totals a 4.25% increase in property taxes during Mayor Ford’s term, in all likelihood below the rate of inflation during that period. That math basically works out to less money to pay the increased costs of running this city.

Can you say, No Service Cuts, Guaranteed?

The mayor’s road to re-election has him on a collision course with reality. Something’s got to give and pretence ultimately crumbles in the face of the facts on the ground. At least, in the long run it does. As the administration struggles and snorts to the halfway mark of its term, the vacuity of its political philosophy is on full display. It’s irresponsible. It’s petulant. It’s pandering not governing. To suggest all taxes are evil, as the mayor’s brother and councillor-consigliere did earlier this year is to admit you don’t actually know how government works and that you’re wholly unqualified to be in the position you’re in.

By now, none of this should come as a surprise. God knows, we’ve talked endlessly about it here. Still, it’s always surprising to listen to what comes out of the mouths of hardcore right wing ideologues and their steadfast belief that what they’re saying actually makes any sense. More surprising is that there remains any core of support for this monotony of mindless summer reruns. (Albeit, an ever shrinking core of support if the liberal media is to be believed.)

A city does not operate on wishful thinking and a tip jar. Why do people really think they should pay less and get more? I understand residents were angry at something back in 2010 and thought they found a vehicle in Rob Ford that would right the injustices that caused them such misery. It would all be so simple. Find efficiencies here. Restructure there. You wouldn’t feel a thing, folks.

Ooops.

The truth, as it usually does, turned out to be a little more complicated. Toronto faces difficult choices and can’t afford to rest on whatever laurels it once had. A refusal to acknowledge that and pretend the future will happen without us having to contribute anything to it is… how did Councillor David Shiner refer to the original design of the Fort York bridge?… a little fancy, a flight of fancy.

Electing Rob Ford mayor may’ve seemed like a good idea at the time. The comedic sidekick character given a starring role in an exciting new spin off. Not to worry. His one note schtick wouldn’t become quickly tiresome. He’d grow into the role. Really. It would be a huge hit.

Guess the shark jumping happened right at the get-go, back in October 2010.

fonziely submitted by Cityslikr