Relationship Woes

October 24, 2012

Look, none of us wanted to be in this arrangement. We all were more or less happy, living side by side, tossing the occasional gentle barbs at each other, sharing a police force, a perfectly adequate transit system and some other infrastructure. It wasn’t paradise but it functioned properly.

But that was then and this is now. We are stuck with each other, by god, and nothing, it seems, can rend us asunder. (Is that even possible? A rendering asunder?) Our shotgun marriage has stuck, so let’s just make the best of a bad situation and at least try to get along.

In the affluent Humber Valley Village neighbourhood, density is a dirty word.

A proposed development at the site of the Humbertown Shopping Centre has met with furious opposition from local residents, who have staked their lawns with “Save Humbertown” signs and flooded two community consultation meetings. On Thursday evening, area residents spent more than two hours in an Etobicoke high-school auditorium grilling the plaza’s owners, First Capital Realty, over what they see as an assault on their suburban lifestyle.

**sigh**

Humber Valley Village. Enjoy all the amenities of a big city while living in a small town feel. No apartment complexes. No green spaces you can’t call your own. No poor people. (I’ll get to that in a minute).

According to the Humber Valley Village Residents’ Association president, Niels Christensen, the ‘suburban lifestyle’ as exemplified by Humber Valley Village consists of “…single-family homes, quiet streets and low-rise buildings.” Anything else constitutes a threat. All hands on deck! The urbanists are coming! The urbanists are coming!

You know, where exactly is that contract the city signs when you buy a house and settle into a neighbourhood guaranteeing nothing’s going to change forever and ever? You bought it as is. It’s going to stay as is. Come hell or high water.

Now I get I chose to live in an area of town that was already dense. I adapted my lifestyle to accommodate to that environment. Getting around by car is a pain. So I do as little of that as possible. The streets aren’t always quiet. I can sometimes hear my neighbour’s TV through the wall of the house we share. That backyard is, what do you call it, postage stamp small.

But the area continues to get denser, bringing in more people. I can’t expect to stop that 40 story tower going up 8 blocks to the east, nor would I want to. As Joe Strummer once sang, It’s just the beat of time/the beat that must go on/If you’ve been trying for years/we ‘ready heard your song

Post-war, automobile 1st city planning and living is dead or, at least, on life support. It’s too expensive to maintain. No longer a luxury municipalities, the province or the country, ultimately, can afford. As much as some suburbanites are convinced that they pay for all the ‘nice to haves’ downtowners enjoy – subways, community centres, free swim lessons, poor people cleaning our windshields – the ugly truth is the exact opposite. We are all subsidizing the suburban, low density lifestyle.

“The population of this area, of this census tract, has declined 2 per cent in the last census, it has declined 2 per cent in the census before,” a local resident, Robert Ruggerio, told the crowd gathered at the October community consultation meeting. “And unless we have change, and unless we have new life in the neighbourhood, our neighbourhood will suffer.”

Food for thought, right?

Indigestible it seems. According to the Globe and Mail article, Mr. Ruggerio’s comments drew heckling. When he went on to say that new apartments might be the only way he could continue to afford to live in the neighbourhood, someone in the mob crowd told him to get a job. Apparently, low income earners aren’t really welcome in Humber Valley Village.

“That’s never been the demographic for that area,” the local councillor, Gloria Lindsay Luby, said.

I guess, along with increased density, traffic and noise, poor people are also an assault on the suburban lifestyle of Humber Valley Village.

Apparently, the harassment of those speaking in favour of the proposed development continued after the meeting. Ruggerio tweeted yesterday that he received a phone call and was told he should move downtown. You want density, diversity and apartment living? Move downtown. Humber Valley Village. Love It (as is) or Leave It.

But I have a better idea. If you want to live the bucolic small town life with your wide open spaces and drives to the corner store for your bags of milk, move to a bucolic small town. Take the small fortune your single family house is now worth because of the increased property values due to the growth of this city and buy your piece of mind out on a leafy lane in the countryside. This ain’t your granddaddy’s Etobicoke anymore. The rest of us are tired paying to maintain your lifestyle.

That’s what being in a relationship is all about, give and take, compromise. A decade and a half into this thing we call the megacity and I’m not quite sure what anti-development suburbanites are bringing to the table except a destructive resistance to necessary change.

scoldingly submitted by Cityslikr


Designed Obsolescence

October 23, 2012

Put aside your bias for a moment, if you could, and I’ll try to put aside mine. Clear our heads of all preconceived notions of political matters here in Toronto. Let loose our spirits from partisanship.

Then, listen to Councillor Adam Vaughan talk density and city building yesterday with Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning. When you’re finished with that, check out Mayor Rob Ford a day earlier on his two hour Sunday radio show talking plastic bags (October 21st, part one, 1’35” mark.) Pause, reflect and consider the implications before asking yourself: Who would you rather have running this city?

Like I said, keep your politics at the door on this. Vehemently disagree or heartily agree with Councillor Vaughan all you want but admit that he’s talking about and understands substantive issues. His ward is at the epicenter of development in the city right now. Pressures of densification are intense. He is front and centre in the changing face of Toronto.

And Mayor Ford?

When not ordering city staff to spruce up the area around his family owned business, he’s busy, busy, busy visiting and revisiting the inadvertent plastic bag ban he instigated earlier this year.

A plastic bag ban, folks! The mayor of Toronto is determined to spend considerable political capital (and time) reversing a ban he already failed to have reversed. Almost halfway through his term, a weekly talk radio bully pulpit at his disposal and he spends even a fraction of the opportunity talking plastic bags? Why?

“It is essential that we have plastic bags,” Mayor Ford said on his show. “…they are very, very handy.”

Handy, sure, if what you’re really looking for is an easily digestible, yes/no, right/wrong binary issue that even a part time mayor can sum up in a bumper sticker slogan. When larger matters like more and better transit, an affordable housing shortage, city planning for the 21st-century are a little too cumbersome to get your head around, latch on to an inconsequential, divisive item and just don’t let go. Essential? You betcha. For re-election.

“We are doing great. We are doing what taxpayers elected me to do. We are straightening out the city.”

Is this really what Mayor Ford was elected to do? (It bears repeating that this plastic bag ban was entirely the mayor’s doing when he went off half-cocked at council trying to end the 5 cent – 6 cents if you include HST – plastic bag fee the city was demanding retailers charge their customers). Was he being literal when he said people were tired of being nickel and dimed to death and he’d put an end to it? One nickel – 6 cents if you include HST – at a time.

It was a flimsy if catchy campaign platform that successfully caught a wave of voter discontent in 2010. As a governing policy, however, it leaves a little to be desired. Is it really the best use of city time and resources to have our mayor running around filling potholes, rescuing kittens from trees, obsessing over a 5 cent – 6 cents if you include HST – plastic bag fee-turned-ban? Shouldn’t the mayor of city with some 2.5 million residents have more important things to do?

If your answer to that question is no, as a matter of fact, Mayor Ford is doing exactly what I voted for him to do, your expectations of the role municipal governments play in our lives is quite low. Access to regular and reliable public transit is essential. Plastic bags aren’t. Our aim should be a lot higher than the target Mayor Ford shoots for and his supporters cheer him on to do.

That’s called ‘reducing the role of government’ by example.

activistly submitted by Cityslikr


An Off-Kilter Moral Centre

October 22, 2012

[We interrupt our regularly scheduled flow of municipal news, information and opinion to give way to our wayward colleague, Acaphlegmic – back from hinterlands unknown – and his thoughts on yesterday’s death of Senator George McGovern.]

*  *  *

If you’re reading this there’s a very good chance that I am much older than you are. The news of George McGovern’s passing, in likelihood, had the same impact on you as being told a distant great-great something or other had died peacefully in their sleep. A compassionate shrug and I’m sorry for your loss. This does not make you a bad person. Only a young one.

But if you find yourself these days disturbed, dismayed, disappointment at the far right drift of our society, the cult of hyper-individualism, the deification of greed as sound economic policy, wars without end waged against vague concepts, you, my friends, are all children of George McGovern.

It can be argued that his landslide loss to Richard Nixon in the 1972 American presidential election was the official death of the 1960s (although I would mark the occasion 4 years earlier and the assassination of Robert Kennedy). Dirty hippism was soundly relegated to the fringe sidelines; pet projects and peeves of hapless Marxists, jobless malcontents, the socially and sexually deviant. The counterculture was out. Reactionism was all the rage.

We are all Nixonians now.

(And let’s not take comfort in the naïve notion that the likes of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan would be too liberal for the Republican Party these days. Both would’ve changed their skins to suit their political needs. They were as conservative as they needed to be and are the progenitor’s of our age’s radical right chic.)

By voting so overwhelmingly for Nixon in ’72, Americans signalled to politicians that appealing to our worst instincts, dividing rather than uniting, operating under craven cynicism and not any sort of honourable principles would be the surest way to winning elections. From that point forward, no decent candidate would get anywhere near the White House. Jimmy Carter was merely a blip on the screen, an electoral eeek! at the revealed hideousness of the Nixon administration, a collective statement that we may be bad but not that bad. Four years later, Americans shrugged and proceeded down the low road.

Now hold on a minute, I hear you saying. No decent candidate? What about Bill Clinton? What about Barack Obama?

Read the following passage from the New York Times OpEd on McGovern and imagine either of them taking such a stand in terms of the country’s foreign ‘entanglements’ in Afghanistan, Iraq.

Yet unlike most presidential candidates since 1972, Mr. McGovern had a moral streak that he refused to suppress regardless of the cost to his ambition. During a remarkable campaign speech at fundamentalist Wheaton College in Illinois, Mr. McGovern called upon his audience to grieve not only for American casualties in Vietnam but also for the Vietnamese lives lost from American military actions. Indifference to Vietnamese deaths troubled him, so he insisted that Americans confront their own responsibility for the consequences of war and “change those things in our character which turned us astray, away from the truth that the people of Vietnam are, like us, children of God.” Words like these led critics to castigate Mr. McGovern as a moralistic scold who was angry at his own country.

‘A moralistic scold’. An apologist. Forty years after that election and it is still considered fringe or radical to question the actions of your country and leaders. America, Love It Or Leave remains the norm.

And look not southward so condescendingly, Canada. Our governments can hardly be viewed as paradigms of good democracy at the moment. Don’t believe me? Even Mr. Andrew Coyne righteously and rightfully has his knickers in a twist.

Now, the strength of many 1960s causes has resisted crippling pushbacks. Women’s rights, gay rights, visible minority rights – equality and inclusion in a word or two – continue their inevitable march toward wholesale acceptance. Not unscathed or free of the relentless and mindless attacks from the right thinkers who remain doggedly in our midst. Still, it would be too overly pessimistic and entirely incorrect to conclude that George McGovern and politicians of his ilk ultimately died in vain.

But we are less of and a smaller society because the likes of George McGovern were pushed aside and thought of as being too out of touch with the mainstream, a far left extremism. By demonizing basic common decency and morality as fringe traits, nice to haves not need to haves, we normalized radical, anti-social political thought. Liberals began to quake in their boots at the prospect of being labelled as such. Tories took flight. True and destructive radicalism from the right assumed the pole position in the race that is now winner-take-all.

sadly submitted by Acaphlegmic


Furiously Fast And Loose

October 21, 2012

In me the need to talk is a primary impulse, and I can’t help saying right off what comes to my tongue.

— Miguel de Cervantes

A true story…

Which is almost always followed by something only distantly related to the truth, if at all. I know you’re not going to believe this (and you shouldn’t because it isn’t to be believed) but trust me (don’t), this is a true story (it isn’t).

Everything Councillor Doug Ford says should begin with ‘A true story…’ No, wait. ‘This is a true story, folks.’

Earlier this week with Tim Hudak at City Hall to announce the Ford’s the PC’s transit plan (essentially Metrolinx assuming control of the money making portions of the TTC and subways, subways, subways whenever), Councillor Ford complained how he was always getting stuck behind streetcars when driving into work from his Etobicoke home. On Friday, however, it seemed that the councillor suggested he travels back and forth on the streetcar-free Gardiner Expressway and would happily pay a toll to do so if the private sector built a new toll lane.

Either the councillor is making it up as he goes along, scant attention paid to what he’s said previously or as Matt Elliott suggested, we “must confront the possibility that Doug Ford just drives circuitous routes around the city every day, constantly, forever.” Is it that he doesn’t remember the words that spew from his mouth whenever he’s near a camera and microphone or does he simply hope and believe his supporters won’t remember? In the end, I’m not sure it matters. Bullshit is bullshit. It smells the same whether intentional or deliberate.

And when Councillor Ford isn’t filling the air with a litany of nose stretchers, he’s tossing out hyperbolic claims like Mardi Gras throws from the parade float. At Councillor Ana Bailão’s drunk driving press conference, Councillor Ford announced that not only had he not had a drink of alcohol for “20, 30 years” but that he was “..the only person in this whole building right now that doesn’t drink ever.” Add this to the collection of grand claims he’s piled up in the almost 2 years he’s been at City Hall.

“There’s no one that helps black youth more than Rob Ford.”

“I work harder than any mayor ever has.” (Oh wait. Sorry. That was Mayor Ford over-stating. A family trait, I guess.)

“I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons.”

“We have more libraries per person than any other city in the world.”

Who does that? Who just spouts easily debunked statements as if they’re hard, cold facts? You don’t buy that? Then how about this one?

I know there’s a large degree of the salesman in Councillor Ford. I guess that was his job in the private sector at Deco Labels and Tags. And I get that we’re indoctrinated in the belief that all politicians lie.

Still.

He doesn’t even pretend to be concerned that we might be on to him. That by now, only the die hardest of Team Ford supporters believe a single word that comes out of his mouth.

He says he has 4 daughters. Has anyone actually seen them all in a room together? If so, how do we know he’s not hiding a fifth one away in the attic because having five daughters would be, I don’t know, unmanly?

But if there’s nothing you won’t say in order to prove your point or state your case, how flimsy a point is it, how worthy your case? To fudge facts and fib about such minor things just serves to undermine his arguments on the bigger issues of the day. You say that spending is out of control at City Hall and there’s still tons of gravy to be found? You can’t even come clean about the route you take home.

Cervantes’ knight-errant, Don Quixote, wandered in a fog of delusion because he believed too much in the books he read and not enough in the real world around him. He dreamed of the possibility of a more perfect world, a more just world. His was a noble lie.

Councillor Doug Ford can’t stop uttering nonsense it seems because he just likes to hear himself talk.

truthfully submitted by Cityslikr


Conservatives Versus Cities

October 19, 2012

It will come as no surprise to anyone who’s paid so much as even a passing notice of Toronto that we’re presently groaning under the weight of a downtown-suburban political divide. The entirely predictable result of an amalgamated mash-up done at the hands of a disinterested provincial government that possessed an animosity toward the city it was largely unrepresented in. At war with itself so as not to be bother to anyone else.

While it may be an extreme case what we’re experiencing at the moment, I do think it’s indicative of a wider, fundamental phenomenon cities are enduring here in North America. Conservatives, as they have been hard-wired for a few decades now, simply don’t understand and actively distrust cities, especially those parts of a city with fewer detached house than not and higher reliance on public transit to get around. It’s almost a foreign land to most conservatives who run such places like absentee landlords.

Insert ‘Conservatives’ every time you read ‘Republicans’ and ‘Tim Hudak’ or ‘Rob/Doug Ford’ for any Republican politician in these paragraphs from Kevin Baker’s New York Times Sunday Review piece from a couple weeks back, How the G.O.P. Became the Anti-Urban Party.

For Republicans, cities now became object lessons on the shortcomings of activist government and the welfare state — sinkholes of crime and social dysfunction, where Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queens” cavorted in their Cadillacs. The very idea of the city seemed to be a thing of the past, an archaic concept — so much so that Gerald R. Ford seriously considered letting New York go bankrupt in 1975…

Yet the national Republican Party still can’t get seem to get past its animus toward the very idea of urban life. The only place that Amtrak turns a profit is the Northeast corridor — yet all Republicans can think to do is privatize it, along with the local rail lines on which millions of Americans have been commuting into cities to work for as long as a century and a half. Republicans promise to ban same-sex marriage, make it easier for anyone to get a gun, delegitimize and destroy what they mockingly call “public employees’ unions,” and deport the immigrant workers performing so many thankless but vital tasks.

In short, they promise to rip and tear at the immensely complex fabric of city life while sneering at the entire “urban vision of dense housing and government transit.” There is a terrible arrogance here that has ramifications well beyond the Republicans’ electoral prospects.

Check out recent electoral maps in Canada. Federally, outside of Alberta, many of the country’s biggest cities are islands of red and orange surrounded by a sea of blue. In Quebec in 2011, it was essentially an orange wave.

In Ontario, provincial Tory blue can barely be seen in any of the major cities. Despite the fact Ford Nation failed to deliver the Progressive Conservatives a single seat in the 416 area code in last October’s election, Tim Hudak is doubling down in support of the mayor’s errant subways, subways, subways plan. He doesn’t seem to get that they don’t seem to get how the city functions, what its needs are.

Take for example Mayor Ford’s campaign promise to cut the number of city councillors in half, from 44 to 22 which would match the number of federal and provincial seats in the city. Why do we need 44 councillors when we have just 22 MPs and 22 MPPs, he’s asked rhetorically on numerous occasions. We don’t, is his answer, revealing a stunning and depressing lack of understanding about the differences in the job description between municipal politicians and their counterparts at the other two levels of government.

The municipalities are where the boots are on the ground, where the rubber hits the road. Councillors are the ones who deal with the day-to-day exigencies of residents. Not just the things that are under direct control of the city but the fallout from both federal and provincial legislation and regulation. Ottawa decides to cut funding for refugees, say. Who picks up the slack?

As Daniel Dale wrote in the Toronto Star yesterday, “A $21 million provincial cut to homelessness prevention funding in Toronto will make it harder for thousands of poor residents to stay out of shelters…” Queen’s Park cuts. Toronto is expected to clean the mess. Quoting Michael Shapcott, director of housing and innovation for the Wellesley Institute, Dale writes, “Unanticipated needs may well arise and then the city has to make one of two hard choices: pony up local property-tax dollars, which are of course already scarce and fully allocated elsewhere, or secondly, say to people, ‘Tough luck, can’t do anything, you’re on your own.’”

Cities deliver the services and infrastructure needed to enact the direction other levels of government dictate. Building a school or hospital is fine as far as it goes but how do you get the people there to staff those places? Where do they live? Who picks up their garbage?

Conservatives like to answer those types of questions with some variation of the private sector and be done with it. Infrastructure is for bush league players to handle when there are wars to be fought and deficits to be wrestled with. Conservatives don’t like to spend their money on other people, thus their general abhorrence of taxes. Unfortunately, without a big enough pool of money, cities don’t tend to function all that well.

Once a city gets to a certain size, its needs demand a budget that delivers services and infrastructure that keeps it operational. People must be housed safely. They must be able to get around easily. There is no way to do that on the cheap. Actually, there is but you do it poorly and everyone suffers.

As we saw in the 2011 federal election, the Conservatives got their fingers on a few ridings in the downtown core of Toronto to go along with their romp in the suburban areas of the GTA that help secure them their strong stable majority government. Traditionally, conservatives do well in the suburbs, convincing voters there that the urban cores of their cities are simply sucking them dry with their demands to house the homeless, assist the afflicted, ride around in their fancy, world class subways and for national transit strategies. Hell, Rob Ford convinced enough voters in Toronto that was the case to get himself elected mayor.

But as everyone’s slowly realizing, it’s a false divide. The urban and suburban parts that make up a city and a region are codependent not independent. Neglect of one part, left unchecked, will eventually spread to the wider whole. It’s a contagion that’s adversely affecting cities across the continent. Bridges collapse. Traffic grinds to a halt. Liveability becomes toxic.

In the face of all that, conservatives want to beat a retreat. Otherwise, to deal with the problems and possibilities of cities, you have to govern. Conservatives don’t get governing. Conservatives don’t get cities.

— urbanely submitted by Cityslikr