And A Good Friday To You

March 29, 2013

Making my way to where I was going yesterday, I just so happened to fall in behind a couple guys. Nothing in particular stood out about them. Both younger than I am, wearing baseball hats and smoking. homelessOne of them carried a knapsack on his back.

Two dudes, walking and chatting.

“… you still staying at the Scott Mission?” the knapsack-less man asked the other.

I don’t know why I was surprised. That’s not true. I know exactly why I was surprised. Neither one of these guys looked homeless. Whatever the fuck that means. They had shoes! Their hair wasn’t greasy! They talked in complete sentences!

Sometimes I sicken myself.toff

Turns out the guy was no longer staying at the Scott Mission. When asked why, he seemed sheepish about providing an answer until goaded into a response. “Hey! I’m not fucking judging you,” his friend assured him. (No. Leave that to me, the total stranger walking behind you, trying hard not to look like I’m eavesdropping.)

It seems the guy had left the Scott Mission because he’d found himself a nice private spot in an underground parking lot. At which point of time in the conversation, the two gentlemen stepped aside and let me pass by. Evidently, my breathing down their necks to hear every word made for an uneasy chat between them.

As many of you know I am not a religious man. But today, on the holiest of holy days for many Christians, when Jesus Christ died for our sins, it’s hard not to conclude He may well have died in vain. sgtschultzWe collectively are terrible, terrible people.

Nobody voluntarily or contentedly sleeps in an underground parking lot. There’s a series of obstacles, setbacks and just flat out ill-luck that places someone in that kind of precarious situation. Choice does not factor into such an equation.

We blithely shrugged our shoulders during the coldest parts of this winter when it was reported that our homeless shelters only bulged to 96% capacity. Some even patting themselves on the back for a job well done. See? Nobody who wanted a place to sleep was left out in the cold. We did our job.

Even if that number and claim was right, and we know neither one was factually robust, shouldn’t it be a shameful statistic rather than something to crow about? Our shelter and social housing system is bursting at the seams but, hey, our numbers prove — if you look at them in just the right light — that we’re on top of it. Nothing to see here.whatareyougoingtodo

I write that paragraph knowing how facile it is. There is no simple solution. The causes are manifold and the levels of approaches needed are many. We have been left to our own devices on the issues of housing and social programs by successive provincial and federal governments for at least a decade and a half now.

But throwing up our hands and wondering what else we can do is a cop out. At least, it’s not something Jesus would do if I recall my Sunday school sermons and lessons correctly. Unless, of course, we chalk up fair and humane public policy to rendering onto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and declare ourselves off the hook. That’s allowed, right? Decontextualizing scripture to use as justification for non-Christian behaviour?

We’ve backed down from fighting the big fights or trying to right the big wrongs. There is no grand enterprise. whatwouldjesusdoWe simply content ourselves with bitching about small potatoes like how many TTC fare collectors make a six figure salary as if putting a stop to that is going to miraculously feed our hungry and house our homeless. It’s like some demented rationalization that goes to prove governments can’t do anything right so we should stop expecting them to.

If the 1st-century C.E. population was anything like it is today, so petty, resentful, small-minded, I’m thinking Jesus got himself crucified in order to escape them not save them. Expecting Him to return any time soon is probably futile. Some 2000 years on, we’ve hardly done anything to entice Him back to save our sorry asses.

disappointingly submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Hunky Dory

March 28, 2013

hunkydory

I’m as touched as someone without a living soul can be with the concern for my well being a few of our reader’s have shown during a brief absence here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

To be clear: all’s well. There were never any problems except maybe granting posting permission to a couple layabouts in the hope that they might contribute a thing or two while I went off line. Instead, you received a fabrication and fantasy.

Oh well. Live and learn, I guess.

unreliablenarrator

But, as some of our harshest critics have pointed out time and again, never believe anything that you read here, at least not until getting a second confirmation, and only then if you fully trust your source. Nobody gets hurt or worried that way.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


Temporarily Out Of Order

March 19, 2013

technicaldifficulties

By the time you read this Cityslikr will be tucked comfortably away in seclusion, recuperating. Recuperating?! you bellow in concern. Recuperating from what? (Or maybe you’ll be thinking, finally, the bastard got what was coming to him.)

Either way, he’s fine, just a little wound.

We came into the office late last night, figuring to grab him for a quick drink and bite. Not to drink or bite him, we mean. That’s not how we roll around here.

He was hunched in front of the computer, staring crazily into the screen, shivering and muttering in what Acaphlegmic thought to be Farsi although, I’m not convinced he’s as well versed in languages as he likes to think he is.

Cityslikr wasn’t himself, let’s just say.

We gently coaxed him away from his desk and led him to his current place of repair.

technicaldifficulties2

Here’s a brief excerpt of what we found him to be working on when we entered:

What if they’re right? What if everything I was led to believe is wrong? What if unicorns can fly? [Note to self: Were unicorns able to fly? Or am I thinking dodos.
Dodos couldn’t fly. Could they? Note to self:]
It’s the Ford family that is mythical not unicorns.

Take a letter, Maria. Send it to my wife. Say I won’t be coming home. I’ve got to start a new life.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.

But you know, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that lower taxes can buy subways. [Note to self: It’s not beyond the realm of possibility, is it? I mean, stranger things have turned out to ture. Not true. Ture. IT IS SO A WORD!!!] Should I strike that last Note to self out? What if I were to die right now and somebody found that just sitting on the computer, staring out at them… staring out at me. WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT, ETHERNETS?

You know, the last words Elvis Presley’s ever spoke were, I’m going up to do some reading. I read that in a newspaper account that’s on display in a Memphis police station.

The King died on the throne. It is the biggest open secret going right now. That and the suppressed fact pressure cookers are the leading cause of death in the home. Did you know that?

It was the palak paneer, people!

I too fear dying on the toilet. It’s why I never lock the bathroom door. Remember that when you next invite me to your house for dinner.

Ana Bailão can’t really vote in favour of a casino, can she? Troubling, troubling.

CYPRESS!!

So it went for pages and pages and pages.

Let’s call this a little time out, shall we? A healing process. To get his shit back together. Cityslikr’s officially on the DL.

For how long?

technicallydifficulties3

We’re not sure. Acaphlegmic, who claims to have witnessed and participated in countless numbers of these emergencies, says Easter’s not out of the question. Definitely, for sure the April council meeting. Politically induced madness is almost always temporary here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

nursingly submitted by Acaphlegmic and Urban Sophisticat


Thoughts On P.D. Smith’s City

March 18, 2013

“ … the most courageous act of prediction in Western civilization,” Rem Koolhaas wrote in citypdsmithDelirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan, talking about the early 19th-century Commissioners’ Plan to develop Manhattan, “the land it divides, unoccupied; the population it describes, conjectural; the buildings it locates, phantoms; the activities it frames, nonexistent.”

I want to focus on the word ‘courageous’.

We haven’t seen a whole lot of that around these parts lately.

It’s been all about limitations. What we can’t afford. Who we can’t help. Why we can’t have nice things.

Aspiration’s in short supply. Expectations lowered. Let’s just aim to get by.

That’s no way to build a city, at least not a city many people actually want to live in.

We need to start seeing the possibilities and ignoring the restraints, most of which are arbitrarily self-imposed in the first place. aimlowToronto is not broke. Torontonians are not over-taxed. What we are is lacking in a little civic nerve. We’ve got challenges but not the constitution to face up to them.

Transit is the big file in the cabinet, obviously. Hardly the only one but the one most concrete, tangible, doable. All it’s going to take is money and a boat load of moxie. We have plenty of the former despite what all the naysayers tell you. The latter? Well, that’s the question, isn’t it.

And while we tangle and tussle over the details, what taxes and tolls and charges to implement, there’s plenty of little things we could be doing. For years we’ve fussed and farted half-heartedly over possible innovations in parking and car flow along the heaviest used parts of King Street. We know there are simple solutions we could try. putourheadstogetherWe’ve just balked at trying them.

One of an infinite number of ideas we could employ in order to get the city moving more smoothly.

In his keynote talk at a transit forum a couple weeks ago, former city planner Larry Beasley laid out the new approach cities need to adopt in order to increase both mobility and liveability in terms of transit planning. A hierarchy of priority that is pretty much diametrically opposed to how we do things currently. 1) Pedestrian. 2) Cycling. 3) Public transit. 4) Movement of goods. 5) Private vehicles.

That’s a sea change in urban thought, folks. Our urban thought, any rate. Doing things drastically different than we’ve done before. It’s not easy. It goes against our inclination to sink deeply into the status quo. notgoodenoughIt’s outside our comfort zone.

But that’s where brave people go to do great things. ‘Courageous acts of prediction’.

This is what we must start demanding of our elected officials. Demanding and encouraging. When we ask what we’re going to get in return for our vote, and the answer goes something like: Lower taxes and Efficiencies, it is not a bold or dynamic politician we are talking to. They are fearful, backward looking and not up to the task of representing us.

They embrace casinos as a solution to our fiscal situation.

They thrive on division and resentment.

They sloganeer instead of lead.

manhattanmap

In 1811, then Mayor of New York, De Witt Clinton, looked up at the largely uninhabited northern 75% of Manhattan and imagined what it might become one day. He decided they needed a plan. A plan he would not share in except as part of history.

Let’s start asking our politicians what their plan is for our future. Insist on being inspired not mollified.

inspirationally submitted by Cityslikr


Somebody Needs A Hug

March 17, 2013

guestcommentary

Call me Hackistan.

Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — without need of much money in my purse and nothing particularly to interest me Down South, I cut loose from a relatively stable — if not monotonous existence in deepest Southern Ontario.

My story is a little more nuanced than a paraphrase of two Moby Dick paragraphs, but I didn’t arrive in the state of mind called Hackistan by making it all about me.mobydick

This is all about here, and now, and the place we all find ourselves in. It is most assuredly not a state of mind. It is Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Earth.

So right now, that’s Toronto in my body (and probably yours), though my state of mind, infuriatingly, remains firmly in Hackistan. Come visit sometime. Set a spell. I’ll make tea.

This meat world of Toronto (the Good, to some) is a decidedly nasty place these days, what with the meanness, the skintiness, the OMFG can you believe what he did THIS time?, the Little Ginnies and the Subways Subways Subways and the Burning Rage of a 1,000 Nuziatas, and the…citybuildingwell, I could go on.

No one, not anyone in this town seems to be feeling the love, and that goes right from the top to the bottom.

On Thursday Royson James offered up a rather provocatively headlined piece to that effect — namely, that The Mayor Toronto Needs Will Start by Loving Us.

Despite the awesome headline, he never comes out and says what I think a lot of Torontonians feel — that our Mayor really doesn’t like this city very much, and if he had his way, he’d much rather be elsewhere.

“We are not ‘taxpayers’ only,” James writes. “Everything does not begin and end with the desire to reduce government and taxes…We love our cars but have not sold out our neighbourhoods to the insatiable appetite for more highways…It would be good if our mayor sees this, understands the delicate forces that sustain this incredible balance, and fight to preserve it.”

Royson clearly knows his way around Hackistan. He gives voice to what many feel, but spares himself the gears he’d inevitably have ground if he came out and said the Mayor doesn’t love Toronto. After 2.5 years of Ford Toronto, we can pretty confidently predict how that’d go.angryvoters

“How DARE you say the Mayor hates Toronto! You hate Toronto, you commie!”

Comment boards would light up, hashtags would trend after getting bombarded with angry denunciations and counter-denunciations. Pornbots would flood in, someone will inevitably accuse Royson and the Star of hating the Mayor, ‘Haters gotta hate’ will most certainly appear in the #topoli hashtag, Doug Ford would be dutifully removed from his hyperbaric chamber two days before his scheduled maintenance prior to his Sunday radio program to talk about how hurt his little brother’s feelings were, then make a cheap shot about Rob’s weight, and so on…

So snaps to Royson for saying it without actually saying it. Bigger snaps for helpfully suggesting people start thinking about what they’d like to see in a Mayor.

There’s good reason for folks to start doing so, above and beyond the fact that we’re closing in the campaign period. Simply put, he may hate us and lots of us may hate him, but the Mayor has a base, and more importantly a vision.

Granted, it’s a narrow, reductionist and often nasty vision, but it’s something for narrow, reductionist and often nasty people to hang their hats on. areyoukiddingmeIn the absence of a compelling alternative, others will hang their hats on it as well.

Loving this city is a good starting-off point. Putting forward ways to make the city we love even more loveable is better.

The rumblings have begun. Behind the scenes, the Mayoral jockeying is already underway, but the ideas need to start getting fleshed out in the sunlight, so that broad, expansive and nice people (and the people who love them) have a chance to see what those ideas are and who is putting them forward.

The incumbent is in perpetual campaign mode. He also has the advantage of incumbency. If articulating a broad, expansive and nice vision takes a back seat in October 2014 and the election becomes a mere Roberendum, then chalk up another advantage for the Mayor.

embracethelove

And that’s something even he would love.

lovingly submitted by Hackistan


Family Feud

March 15, 2013

Attended a casino information session last night in Liberty Village — @GiveMeLibertyTO, such a great Twitter handle – givemelibertywhich, honestly, wasn’t an information session so much as a citizens’ how-to on resisting a casino development. And frankly, why not? From the outset, this has been a futile exercise in getting the specifics. How much will the city receive in hosting fees? Hundreds of millions of dollars! OK, maybe $168 million? No no, we’re told by OLG. More in the range of $50-$100 million. A degree of magnitudes larger than Windsor receives from its casino.

Months and months into this discussion, we’re still hearing essentially, trust us, we’re in the business of gambling. We’ll treat you right. Listen to OLG’s President and CEO Rod Phillips today on CBC’s Metro Morning. Would you buy a casino from this man and plunk it right down on our waterfront?

I just can’t run down the pros (many still very questionable) and cons (many still unanswered) of this issue again. I canx.

But I was struck by something Michael Cruikshank of York Heritage said at last night’s gathering. That the city’s lack of a plan for the CNE grounds, which could be viewed as little more than a historic parking lot for much of the year, has left it vulnerable to this casino move. hucksterWhy not a casino? It’s not like you’re doing anything else with it.

That’s not a fair assessment. There’s the Allstream Conference Centre. The Ricoh Coliseum and BMO Field are in the vicinity. A new 26 storey hotel is slated to begin construction there sometime soon, which I don’t know how it fits into MGM’s proposed plans at this point.

In fact, I don’t know much about anything that’s going on down on the CNE grounds. Ditto, Ontario Place. What’s up with Ontario Place? I know John Tory headed some planning process for it. Whatever happened to that?

Being an engaged resident takes constant vigilance, I tells you. There’s never enough time in the day to keep informed. You elect people you hope have your best interests at heart, or at least, the city’s best interests. You hope. Fingers crossed.

Is that enough?

And then to hear from members of No Casino Toronto, a certifiable grassroots campaign created to fight the casino plans, talk about heading out into communities like Ward 37 where many of the residents hadn’t heard about the city organized casino town halls and the discussions going on about the issue. keepontopofthingsHuh? How is that possible? Ward 37 is the home to Councillor Michael Thompson, the chair of the Economic Development and Culture Committee. The one committee along with Planning and Growth that has the biggest stake in the debate, some serious skin in the game. How could his residents be unaware of what’s going on?

Fifteen some odd years into this project called amalgamation, we continue to live separate lives it seems. And hey. I’m not pointing fingers here. I don’t have the slightest idea what’s going on in Ward 37 Scarborough Centre, along with probably 40 other wards in Toronto. That’s on me. But how can we act as one entity if many of the residents aren’t part of a city defining moment like hosting a casino, something that will contribute substantially — negatively or positively, we still don’t know yet – to our economic and social well being?

Such a continued divide makes us easy prey to easy exploitation by calculating politicians who thrive on regional tribalism. Nobody benefits when they succeed, not even said politicians. Because nothing substantive or constructive ever gets accomplished under that kind of civic conflict.disengaged

We will simply stumble along, unable to give ourselves nice things.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


The Road To Irrelevancy

March 14, 2013

It’s very easy with our 21st-century hindsight (such as it is) to look back through the history books and scream in frustration at the mistakes made by our predecessors. blackdeath“It’s the fleas, you dimwits!” you yell at the poor bastards suffering through the plague. In the sixth century. And again in the fourteenth century. And the seventeenth.

Clear out the rats! Stop living in such squalor! It’s a bacteria! No, flowers in your nose won’t help! Invent antibiotics, already!

Progress is a slow march, sometimes imperceptible. The scientific method was a long time in coming and still hasn’t fully taken hold. Iterative trial-and-error, plugging in acquired knowledge as it becomes available to us. We proceed humbly with the best information we have at the time, knowing it’s not always going to be perfect or even correct.

Educated guesses. Informed assumptions.

Or there’s this.

A Transportation Town Hall for the residents of Councillor Mike Del Grande’s Scarborough Agincourt ward. scientificmethod“Transit And You. Subways. Public Transit. (TTC/GO Transit) Hwy 401. Road.”

The evening’s guest speaker? Put your hands together for Mr. Frank Klees, MPP and the Progressive Conservative Transportation Critic. Yes, folks. That Frank Klees. Member of the Mike Harris government that buried the hole where an Eglinton subway would’ve run and cut the provincial contribution to the TTC’s annual operating subsidy. Mr. Frank Klees, everyone.

(Full disclosure: I did not attend the event and am only relaying the sense I got via social media. Grain of salt not included.)

Mr. Klees pleaded for transit planning to move “beyond politics.” Too many times in the past we have seen incoming administrations simply trash can the work of their outgoing counterparts for little more than partisan reasons. Marking the territory. Male lions, taking over a new pride, killing the offspring of its defeated rival.

Hard to argue with that. I mean, Mayor Rob Ford unilaterally killing Transit City. The aforementioned dispatch by the Harris government of Eglinton subway. filltheholeSuch crass politics should be called out, detrimental as they are to healthy city building.

But strangely if not unsurprisingly, Klees ignored those examples and hopped into his way back machine in order to trot out… wait for it, wait for it… the Spadina Expressway! Yep, folks. The Opposition’s Transportation Critic at Queen’s Park sees everything that’s wrong with transit planning in this city traced back to the ignominious end of the Spadina Expressway at Eglinton Avenue.

Again, I was not in attendance, so can’t be entirely sure of Mr. Klees’ exact point. Was it just the reversal that he believed wrong or the fact that the Expressway would’ve been a boon for transportation? Whatever, but it seemed to establish a tone for the evening where the car needed to reclaim its exalted position atop the transportation hierarchy, all public transit must run underground and, why not more bridges?

Bridges? Yes, bridges. Where there are more bridges, there  is less gridlock.

“Resident says for 50 years roads have been considered dirty words. Same with cars. And trucks. And bridges.”

Look.

Sixty-five years ago or so, there was a different prevailing view. After a Great Depression and World War, after nearly 20 years of selfless sacrifice, there was a little breath of freedom in the air. Land was plentiful. suburbandreamThe energy to get people to those far flung places was cheap. So the approach to designing cities reflected those sensibilities.

Why wouldn’t they? It was based on the best information at hand. Thus, places like Scarborough Agincourt were planned into existence.

More than half a century on, we’ve realized a couple of those key suppositions turned out not to be quite right. Land is plentiful but the sprawl that followed was not really sustainable or economically viable. Energy, or at least a cheap version of it, turned out not be in infinite supply and it also happened to be hazardous to our collective health.

Again, life is not an exact fucking science. Best laid plans and all that. Mistakes happen. You learn from them and seek to correct them with the knowledge you’ve gained from experience.

What you don’t do is insist on repeating them in the hopes of a different outcome. We all know what the definition of that is.

Frank Klees, Mayor Ford and Councillor Del Grande are all conducting a flat out assault on reason when it comes to transit planning. stubborn(It’s especially galling from the councillor who leaves no opportunity wasted to tout how he as the former budget chief removed the “emotion” from the budget process.) They either don’t know or don’t care about any evidence that’s emerged that runs contrary to their strongly held opinions, apparently forged in steel in the 1950s and 60s.

It’s reactionism at its worst and a complete abdication of leadership and responsibility. Leveraging parochial resentment for political opportunism, they insist on spreading mistruths and false hope. No, guys. More roads don’t lead to less congestion. They are deniers of reality and need to be dispatched to the trash heap of irrelevancy.

Just like the experts who blamed the plague on the humid air. Only, let’s not wait as long to see that it happens.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr