Scarborough Unfair

April 30, 2013

I can’t even.

facepalm

If Scarborough is not going to get any benefits from enhanced revenue tools, why would we support it? We’ll put our money where our mouth is as long as we get to benefit. If we are not going to benefit, then we see no reason to support either the downtown relief line or any other expansion of transit in the city of Toronto.  Councillor Michael Thompson.

It’s times like this when, if asked about the notion of de-amalgamation, I just throw up my hands and say, yeah, fuck it. Let’s do it. Such noxious self-serving toadying will be the death of any good transit planning anyway. So if a majority of Scarborough councillors want to stamp their feet and hold the entire process hostage by stirring up sub-regional resentment, good riddance to them.

(Although the transit file was dealt with on a 416 wide level long before amalgamation. kicktothecurbBut since we’re swimming in a spite pool, allow me to dip my toe in.)

It’s not that I even believe a further Scarborough subway extension of the Bloor-Danforth line is necessarily a bad idea. As Tess Kalinowski and David Rider point out in their Star article, there are compelling arguments for doing so. But councillors Michelle Berardinetti, Glenn De Baeremaeker and Thompson don’t bother putting them forward, choosing instead to wallow in the cheap, petulant politics of misinformation that’s usually the speciality of Mayor Ford.

Only in the minds of those more interested in grandstanding than in reason and fact based governing would getting an LRT be seen as some sort of slap in the face. By dismissing LRT technology as of no benefit and somehow getting less than other parts of the city, the Scarborough 7 have internalized the Ford Administration’s baseless and entirely uniformed transit views. metooIt’s legitimizing them and foisting them back into the debate.

So what if there’s a subway going up into Vaughan? (And I’ve only been out of town for a couple days. When did I miss Markham getting a subway?) Why compound one mistake – if the University line subway extension up past York and into Vaughan was a mistake – by making another? Mississauga seems content to build an LRT. Why does Scarborough think it’s better than Mississauga?

You see where this discussion might go, right?

It’s the destabilizing effect in opening up this debate once again that could be the most damaging. As the only rational seeming Scarborough representative, Councillor Paul Ainslie points out it simply signals the city’s unpredictable and impulsive attitude toward transit building. imwithstupidWhy should the rest of the city and the entire GTA region bother being serious if a group of Scarborough councillors are willing to scupper a deal to score cheap political points?

The increasingly Machiavellian (and I say that in the most non-complimentary way possible) Councillor Josh Colle believes that even if it throws the transit debate wide open to a pie in the sky wish list of options, it’ll be worth it to finally air out the Scarborough LRT-versus-subway for good. Uh huh. Maybe if we were actually going to have an honest debate about the issue, I could fully get behind that sentiment. But it doesn’t appear as if that’s going to happen, given the re-opening salvo from the Berardinetti-De Baeremaeker-Thompson triumvirate. Instead, we’re going to get full on crass pandering and pitting one region against another rather than region wide transit building.

Nobody “deserves” a particular form of transit especially based purely on what a nearby neighbourhood or area of the city has. You should get the transit that best fits the built environment within the budget you’re willing to spend. youhappynowSo let’s have the debate based on that premise, if we haven’t already, and not the politics of petty parochialism.

It’s that that’ll kill any chances we have of getting a GTHA-wide agreement on the proper funding tools needed to get started on the Big(ger) Move. And if we fail to do so, we’ll know where to point the finger of blame. I hope all the Scarborough councillors who are now beating their collective chests demanding their subway will be prepared for that kind of exposure.

annoyedly submitted by Cityslikr


Music To A Councillor’s Ears

April 28, 2013

Tell the truth.

communitybenefits

Have you ever heard of a CBA before? Community Benefits Agreement. Apparently, they’re all the rage in other places.

This from a handout I picked up at the Community Benefits Mount Dennis Weston public forum on Friday:

A community benefit agreement or CBA is a contract negotiated between a developer or public agency and a community that outlines the benefits the community will receive from the development in return for community support of the proposed project. Benefits can range from guarantees of local hiring and training to a Project Labour Agreement to community-space allocations and funs for community programmes.

When big development projects like the Staples Centre in Los Angeles, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Vancouver Island Highway came to life from the planning stages, representatives from impacted communities stepped forward to start negotiating for things like living wage agreements and apprenticeship programs. staplescenterBig development projects, you say? Toronto’s got development projects. Where are our CBAs?

The Community Benefits group is trying to get that on the table as construction for the Eglinton LRT kicks into gear. (Never mind that the PanAm Games are just a little over two years from now.) On the former Kodak lands in Mount Dennis, Metrolinx is set to build a maintenance and storage facility. Aggressive pursuit of a CBA would greatly help the area economically. An area in need of an economic boost.

Yet, on Friday evening the audience is told only six people in the entire city are working on the CBA angle. Six people. $8.4 billion is going into LRT lines in Toronto. How much in getting ready for the PanAm Games? And six people are trying to kickstart the idea of Community Benefits Agreements?

Our mayor expends what little energy he actually expends on his job talking up the economic upsides of a possible waterfront casino or island airport runway extension (while talking down new taxes that would directly lead to more jobs building transit). bigmoveWhy is he not tubthumbing about CBAs on projects that are already up and going? Fighting for fantasy jobs when there are real ones right here already to be had?

And Councillor Frances Nunziata whose ward the Kodak lands are in, one of the most economically disadvantaged wards in the city, where is she on CBAs? Why is she spending her time cheerleading Mayor Ford’s phantasmagorical pursuits rather than acting as a conduit between her community’s economic interests and Metrolinx on a development running right through her ward?

Councillor Nunziata is one of the biggest complainers at City Hall. Never does she miss an opportunity to point out how deprived and in need her Ward 11 is. An area of the city she has represented one way or another since 1988, it should be noted. Surely to christ she must be one of the six people in Toronto working away on Community Benefits Agreements for the Eglinton LRT construction. If she isn’t, why isn’t she?

The councillor made the briefest of appearances at Friday’s public forum. Shook a few hands. Stood in front of a camera. panamgames2015But was gone before the discussion got started.

A discussion that included Patricia Castellanos, the Deputy Director of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, who was instrumental in forging a CBA on the Staples Centre development. Ms. Castellanos praised the municipal politicians in Los Angeles she worked with, calling them enlightened on the topic of CBAs and very helpful in getting them finalized. She said that many of the councillors she worked with were embarrassed with high employment rates in their districts, so were driven to find ways to provide jobs and benefit their communities.

Maybe the first step residents of Mount Dennis Weston and Ward 11 need to take is to elect municipal politicians who will actually care about such local concerns as employment, training and poverty. Some new blood willing to learn about alternative approaches to community building like CBAs. Enlightened politicians embarrassed about unemployment and poverty rates in their ward, and prepared to do something about them other than just to use them as a cudgel to make divisive noises.

headinsand

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Tax Free

April 27, 2013

urbansophisticat

A thought experiment:

Tired of being bled dry by our vampirical municipal government, I decide to stop paying my property taxes and utility bills. For the sake of easy round numbers, let’s call it an even $4000 a year.

Now, with those 40 Robert Borden’s stuffed back into the pocket of my chinos, I’m going to venture out into the private, for-profit sector and acquire all those things the city used to provide in return for my hard-earned money.

thoughtexperiment

1) Clean water piped directly into my house.

2) Dirty water and other nasty stuff piped directly out of my house and treated accordingly.

3) Garbage, waste and recycling collected from my curb on a weekly basis.

4) My streets cleaned in the summer, plowed in the winter and reasonably navigable all year round. Sidewalks should be plentiful when I chose to walk. And fit a bike path or two in as well.

5) My neighbourhood will be safe and secure. Fire services on the ready in case of a conflagration and emergency services nearby in case I twist my ankle on a rough patch in the sidewalk and I fall down into the street in front of a car.

calculating

6) Parks, well groomed and maintained. Swimming pools, clean and refreshing. A healthy tree canopy.

7) $3 more or less to take transportation to anywhere in the city at any time of day.

8) Make sure my neighbours don’t sell their attached house to an overzealous developer who decides to rip the place down and put a 40 story condo. Oh yeah. And make sure my neighbour doesn’t build a 40 foot fence dividing our backyards.

Maybe that can be the same people who police the streets but they’re already working for me 24/7, and the overtime’s going to put a serious dent in my 4 grand.

Let’s see. That cover everything?

countingfingers

Water & waste. Clean streets. Law & order. Public transit. Parks. Planning. Zoning.

Oh yeah, right…

9) I’m not crazy about people having to sleep out on the streets or park benches. So I’d be happy to chip in to provide some shelter and affordable housing if need be. But if it gets too expensive, we can throw people in jails and put them on the provincial dime.

10) It would also be good to make sure my local haunts keep their cutlery clean and ground chuck properly refrigerated. You can never be too careful.

11) Stray animals. Nothing’s more depressing than coming across homeless cats or dogs. OK, homeless people but I covered those in point 9. And racoons. Somebody’s got to keep those little buggers out of my attic.

So… water & waste. Clean streets. Law & order. Public transit. parks. Planning. Zoning. Various social services. Proper permits and licensing. Animal control.

wheresmypony

All for $4000 a year. $333.33 a month. $83.33 a week. $11.90 a day.

And since this is all through the private sector, where efficiencies abound, I’ll be expecting some change.

— hypothetically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


The Emptiness of Empty Protests

April 26, 2013

Those must have been heady political days in the late-60s, early-70s, here in Toronto. stopthespadinaA citizens group forms to stop the move to pave neighbourhoods and put up an expressway. It coalesces into a bunch of reform-minded politicians who take control of City Hall and run it for the next decade or so.

The dream of grassroots activists everywhere!

Faint echoes of such a movement occurred in 2003, with David Miller’s broom representative of sweeping out the cronyism and incompetence that had consumed the Mel Lastman administration. But truthfully, that really only resonated at the mayoral level. The make up of council did not change that much. Thirty incumbents were re-elected. Only four defeated. And of the two new faces entering City Hall, Mike Del Grande and Karen Stintz, would hardly be considered Millerites.

No. The real descendant of the David Crombie-John Sewell municipal populist movement would have to be – gulp! – fordnationRob Ford. Yes, Rob Ford, dammit. In 2010, not only did he handily win the office of mayor, thumping the outgoing Deputy Mayor in the process, but five incumbents are tossed including the speaker, Sandra Bussin, a couple more are scared into submission with squeaker victories in their respective wards and a majority of the nine other rookie councillors initially falling in line to support the new mayor’s mandate.

Ford Nation, folks. Brimming full of respect for the taxpayers and come to stop the gravy train at City Hall. It’s what a grassroots insurgency looks like in the 21st-century.

But it seems in the intervening 40 years or so between the Crombie-Ford eras the protest portion of populism’s DNA has subsumed the reformist urge. noWhile David Crombie’s CivicAction Party began as a protest against the proposal to bring the Spadina Expressway downtown, it grew into something that actually governed the city.

Now into its third year in power, the Ford Administration shows no similar ability or inclination even. Governing is what professional politicians do. One-note outraged howls of protest are for the self-proclaimed amateurs.

Take a gander at Councillor Doug (Imma Businessman Not A Politician Folks) Ford’s op-ed on proposed transit funding today here and here and here. Or just read one. It’s the same thing spread over three of the city’s four dailies. Go figure.

Or let me summarize for you if you’re pressed for time.

No. No, no, no. No, no, no, no. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo. No. Uh-uh. Nope. No, no, no. Not on my watch. Over my dead body. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo.

Not a word about alternatives. No other options offered up. johnnystrablerYou’d think with all that free press at his disposal, the councillor might use the opportunity to lay out a transit plan that has been lacking for the three years since his brother announced his intentions to run for mayor. A plan?! We don’t need no stinkin’ plan!!

We just say no.

Name an initiative Team Ford has put forth that hasn’t been about cutting or dismantling.

It’s never about building. Theirs is a protest of destruction not construction. The anti-tax foundation on which Ford Nation is built extends to anti-everything. They took the ‘pro’ out of protest. Let’s call it the antitest.

I thought about labelling this movement the Johnny Strablers after Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One. “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” Mildred asks. “Whaddya got?” Johnny answers.

But there’s too much retro-cool in that. stubbornThe Ford brothers might take it as a compliment.

So I’ll go further back, into the 19th-century, and the nativist Know-Nothing political party. Ford Nation shares quite a bit in common with them but it’s not a perfect fit. So let’s dub them the No-Nothing party. You want new transit? No. Need to open additional shelter beds? No. Hey, Mayor Ford. You going to march in this year’s Pride Parade? No.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re all for brand new shiny stuff if you convince them it won’t cost the city a dime. A casino? You betcha. Jets flying into the island airport? Okey-dokey. But any talk of reaching into our pockets and contributing to the broader public commons? No.

This is the inevitable outcome of protest built on pure negativity. We voted for someone with a long list of what’s wrong but an empty column of how to fix it. Opposition with no solutions is just opposition. Nothing gets done. Everything grinds to a halt.

strutsandfretsIt’s a situation any parent will immediately recognize. We are living through a two year old’s temper tantrum.

feet stampingly submitted by Cityslikr


Transit Defiled

April 25, 2013

“If 30 members of council want to sign a petition to call a special meeting to raise taxes on the backs of citizens who can’t afford them, that will be the first campaign poster for the mayor’s 2014 campaign.” Mark Towhey, Chief of Staff, Mayor Ford.

snidelywhiplash

For a bunch of reasons, the 2014 municipal campaign can’t come soon enough for me. But mostly I’m just eager for this angle to play out. Mayor Ford, steadfast in his respect for taxpayers, refuses to so much as even discuss options for transit expansion.

“I promised taxpayers I’d keep their taxes low. I kept their taxes low.”emptypromise

“You also promised taxpayers subways,” counters a hypothetical opponent. “Subways, subways, subways.”

“City Council refused to let me build a subway. It’s their fault.”

“But you had 3 years [four years by the time the campaign rolls around] to come up with a plan to build subways. Where is it?”

“The private sector. P3s. P3s. The private sector. The private sector. Did I say, ‘P3s’? P3s. The private sector. The people want subways. Subways, subways, subways.”

Maybe Mark Towhey and the rest of the Team Ford brain trust are really, truly salivating at the prospect of running a re-election campaign on the mayor’s bread-and-butter issue of low taxes but the ground has shifted considerably since 2010. This time he won’t just be running against some easily smearable, downtown tax-and-spender. In his determined digging in of his heels and holding his breath until the transit conversation loses steam or Tim Hudak is elected premier, Mayor Ford is painting himself into a sad, lonely political corner with only the Toronto Sun holdmybreath(and maybe not even the Sun based on today’s transit talk with columnist Sue-Ann Levy) to keep him warm.

His continued transit funding intransigence (as a matter of fact, yes, I did have to go there) has left Mayor Ford running against not just a majority of his city council but the Toronto Board of Trade. John Tory and the CivicAction Alliance. Hazel McCallion and almost every other elected official in the 905 region. Hardly a left-leaner among them.

There is a significant difference between a lone wolf howling at the moon and a crazy person shouting the same thing over and over again on a street corner.

In the hopes of riding an anti-tax wave back into office next year, the mayor will have to cross his fingers that voters and his opponents will forget some of the other stuff he promised and claimed in 2010, and not just subways. The city didn’t have a revenue problem, remember? It had a spending problem. Yet, he’s spent considerable political capital pushing for a downtown casino because all of the revenue it would generate for the city.

Oh, I see. The city doesn’t have a tax revenue problem. It’s the other type of revenue we’re a little short on.fingerscrossed

Expect a boatload of that kind of semantic hair-splitting going forward.

Mayor Ford’s also revived his 2010 campaign idea of cutting our way to a better city by joining the empty chorus of finding efficiencies experts who insist a little belt tightening will pop out the loose change we need to build whatever it is we want. Short on details, of course. Long on vague pandering populism.

Ditto the whole boondoggle angle being embraced by those trying to fend off new taxes. Add up your eHealths and your ORNGEs and your gas plants and your PRESTO fiascos, and you’re still well short of the funds needed to build the proposed transit. That’s not to condone these trip ups or simply shrug them off. Of course, there’s a huge trust issue with handing over more money for another major public infrastructure endeavour to a government whose track record in matters of oversight is somewhat sketchy. It still doesn’t mean doing nothing about congestion and our woeful lack of regional transit.

But that’s the thing.

Mayor Ford is simply looking for any excuse to do nothing on the transit file. The thought of actually doing something runs counter to every political instinct in his body. robfordstreetcarsOutside of public safety, the government isn’t supposed to do anything. Certainly not if it means disrupting traffic flow or demanding drivers pay more for the privilege right to drive their vehicles.

While Team Ford disavowed any attachment to it back in 2010, it is very telling to read through the mayor’s chief of staff’s views on public transit and the TTC back in the day. (Captured for posterity by Steve Munro, and brought to our attention by yesterday by Jude MacDonald.) In short it reads: stop funding the TTC, sell off the assets and let the market decide how people get around the city.

Since coming to office, has Mayor Ford done anything in terms of transit that has been less indifferent than the attitude his chief of staff displayed three years ago? So why would we expect him to change now? Of course, he’s fighting tooth and nail against new revenue tools for transit expansion. He doesn’t give a shit about transit.

So Team Ford has to do its best to frame this as a pitched battle to keep taxes low because the flipside of that debate – government shouldn’t be involved in actually governing – is unwinnable. shellgameThe mayor and those planning his re-election campaign seem to believe people will be content enough with the notion that their taxes have been kept low to return him to office. Moreover, voters will be ready to punish any councillor who even so much as raised the possibility of new taxes.

At this juncture, it seems more like wishful thinking than any sort of sound strategy. But that’s really all this administration’s ever been about, isn’t it.

bay of fund it all readily submitted by Cityslikr


Cities Don’t Just Build Themselves

April 24, 2013

In the cradle of the American Revolution, home to the Boston Tea Party and No Taxation Without Representation, your hotel room rates come with 3 add on taxes. State and municipal occupancy taxes, both in and around 6%, plus something called a Convention Centre tax adding another 2.75% to your bill.

bostonteaparty

Nowhere did I see a casino, tucked away in 8 per cent of the floor space, its slots churning out the necessary revenue to build the structure that housed it. The recent refurbishments and expansion to the south Boston convention centre was paid for, at least in part, by a tax placed on visitors to the city, many of whom, I am guessing, had zero political say in implementing the charge. No taxation without representation indeed.

Further inland, there is a ball park, built in 1912 and now more than a 100 years later, remains the beating heart of a neighbourhood, if not the entire city. (No less a nation, even. Red Sox Nation.) The place is quirky. It is a little dumpy. It seats far fewer people than would eagerly come out to watch their beloved Sox play ball if they were to tear it down and build a bigger shrine with all the mod cons.

Toronto also had a baseball stadium, re-built a couple years before Fenway. It’s been merely a memory for nearly eight decades now. Plowed under to make way for an airport on the island which, in the 1930s probably seemed like a very good idea. But as circumstances changed over the years and the city developed in ways our predecessors could never have imagined, earlier decisions seem a little quaint and maybe even woefully misguided.

fenwaypark

Cities don’t just evolve, organically, on their own. They are shaped by choices, both officially and not. What seems like a no-brainer in an earlier era strikes the next one as pure bone-headedness. Bad decisions are unavoidable. Nobody can predict the future with absolute accuracy.

Mistakes can be mitigated, however, and reduced in numbers and scope when facts and informed opinion are utilized rather than simple wishful thinking. Pure self-interest and expediency seldom generate good public policy or a satisfying public realm. Craven appeals to crass politics, hoping for some miracle to appear to spare us the hard work of proper city building is short-sighted at best, an abuse of power and an abdication of responsibility at worst.

A city reflects the attitudes residents have toward it. Benign neglect is certainly the easiest option. It avoids dealing with difficult problems and passes them along, with interest compounded, to the next generation. Benign neglect allows a city’s history to be bulldozed and hands over the future to those with very narrow vested interests.

bostonconventioncenter

Those are the cities people tend not to flock to but away from.

submitted by Cityslikr


Sunday Driving

April 22, 2013

speeddemon

On Sunday morning driving up Bathurst Street – yes, such a thing does happen occasionally – I looked down at the speedometer to see that I was travelling at about 70 km/h. That can’t be the legal limit, I thought to myself. Fifty unless otherwise posted, yes?

For anyone who’s ever driven this stretch of road, speeding isn’t normally a concern. Bathurst tends to be a slog of a drive; a terrible way to make your way north or south through the city. But when it isn’t clogged with traffic, clearly the street is built for speed.

speedlimits

Making my way back from my Sunday north-of-Bloor errands, I decided to take Spadina Road south for a bit. Here, sign posts dotted almost every other block it seemed, informing drivers to keep it to 40 km/h. (Fifty unless otherwise posted, yes?) Of course, when I noticed the signs, I was moving nearly 20 km/h over that limit.

Mostly out of curiosity, and with only a pinch of obligation, I experimented adhering to the suggested speed limit. I’m here to tell you that forty kilometres an hour feels really, really slow. I mean, really slow. Slowing to a crawl slow. Like, what’s the use of having a combustion engine if you’re only going to go this slow slow.

And the cars lined up behind me were probably very much in agreement. By the time I wound my way around Casa Loma, it was as if I led a funeral procession. Nobody was driving so much as promenading.

deathrace2000

We have to stop designing streets that enable speeding. Drivers will drive as fast as they feel they are capable of driving. Speed limits, speed traps and photo radar are merely impediments to that impulse. Only streets built to accommodate vehicular traffic moving at a maximum of 40 km/h will keep speeds at 40 km/h. Anything else is just pretend.

racily submitted by Cityslikr