Civic Cop Out

June 7, 2013

If there’s one thing growing as tiresome as the latest update of Mayor Ford’s scandals, sodoneit’s the cry for de-amalgamation from many of the mayor’s most vociferous critics. As if somehow having the mayor of Etobicoke allegedly smoking crack would make things alright in York, North York, East York, Scarborough and the old city of Toronto. None of us would have the taint of the hillbilly on us.

I know the de-amalgamation urge goes much further than that. Urbanism versus suburbanism. Reactionary versus progressive politics. Everything was just a-ok hunky dory in my neighbourhood until we had to join with Them.

But the things that plague us as a city, plague us all and were not confined to simply old political boundaries. The lack of proper transit building and other big ticket, aging infrastructure. Growing inequality. Our little civic cocoons were never as cozy and comfy as we may like to believe, back in the good ol’ days.goodolddays

Certainly there is some truth to this political divide we all are currently kvetching over; a divide expertly exploited by the Ford administration and its allies. But let’s not forget that for three straight elections, from 2000-2006, the amalgamated city settled fairly uniformly into a workable co-existence. This apparent divide we now face isn’t entrenched or unbridgeable. It’s simply a convenient narrative.

I found myself yesterday (thanks to Paisley Rae) up in the city’s northwest reaches in Rexdale. We wanted to take in the City Youth Council of Toronto’s Youth Consultation: Recreation and Youth Leadership Programs session at the Elmbank Community Centre. (For a thorough overview of the proceedings, #LetsTalkRecRexdale.)  We arrived early to wander around the area, get some sort of sense of a part of the city I’d never been to before.

Jesus Christ, people.

If we truly believe as a city that Diversity, Our Strength, then our clamoring for de-amalgamation is venal hypocrisy. diversityourstrengthIt’s just an empty motto, something we tout to prove our progressive cred. Watching the kids head home from Henry Carr or sitting having a coffee at the Albion Centre foodcourt and taking in the human flow, there’s our fucking diversity. And because we lost one election, we want to petulantly cut the already tenuous ties with parts of the city that didn’t vote in line with our expectations? We become not a city of neighbourhoods but enclaves.

People live in or come to cities because of the opportunities there. A place thrives through its ability to extend opportunities not restrict them depending on their area code. Let’s stop comforting ourselves with the notion that some politically manufactured ‘nation’ rejected our delicate sensibilities. Instead, let’s admit we failed to strengthen the connections between the various communities that make up this city.

It just so happens that I’ve taken in a number of public meetings over the last few months in Etobicoke. After last night’s, on the 40 minute bus ride back down to Kipling subway station, a thought struck me. angryvotersAt both the Humbertown and Mimico 20/20 sessions, where crowds gathered to have their say about proposed developments in their neighbourhoods, the overarching theme was they wanted to be left alone, they wanted no part of the direction Toronto was headed. Theirs were villages within the city. Exclusion rather than inclusion.

But last night, it was all about wanting in. To be a part of the city. To be included in the political discussions and decision making that was affecting the place they lived and worked. There was a fierce attachment to being from Rexdale but with the recognition Rexdale was a part of Toronto.

As we were leaving the meeting, a gentleman who was a teacher at a nearby school, said to us (and I’m paraphrasing here): lookinthemirrorThis is Rexdale. Not the shit (my word) we’re all reading about.

Not everyone wants to be a part of this experiment we call amalgamation. It is still a democracy. We can’t expect 100% buy in.

The fact is, Toronto is amalgamated, for better and worse, and not just by some provincial edict. It’s up to us to emphasize and work on the better and try to diminish the worst. There’s nothing to be gained in retiring to our own respective corners. Playing up the differences only benefits those looking to make their political fortunes.

angrily submitted by Cityslikr