Sometimes Division Is Easier Than Addition

August 9, 2013

Let’s presume for presumption’s sake that this thing known as Ford Nation actually exists. monolithA monolith of unwavering support for Mayor Rob Ford that will not, cannot be moved regardless of his performance both on and off the political field. Toronto’s 40%ers; my mayor, right or wrong.

Linking to a Toronto Life piece from Philip Preville that informed us Ford Nation might not be what we think it is – spoiler alert: it’s the poors and new Canadians – a discussion sprang up, beginning with the assertion that progressives in this city have lost the ability to speak for the ‘working class’. That sounded a little too pat, if not a little patronizing. Who are we to speak for anyone? Shouldn’t that be ‘speak to’?

Besides, using anything Mr. Preville writes about this city as some sort of springboard to further debate is dubious. As has been written here previously, we aren’t particularly overwhelmed by his take on things here in Toronto. In fact, just this past May, he wrote in Slate of Our Highly Effective Idiot. “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is crass, offensive, and may smoke crack. He is also a pretty good mayor,” reads the sub-headline. Hey. idon'tknowaboutthatThe guy may be a dim bulb but he got the $60 vehicle registration tax revoked. That oughta count for something, right? Right?

Not surprisingly, the gist of Preville’s take on Ford Nation was put under the microscope and found, if not wanting, at least not entirely sufficient an explanation. Patrick Cain did some of the magic mapwork he does so well and found a very intriguing result.

“It’s complicated (these things always are) but some maps I’ve been working with recently show an eerily precise relationship between the age of a Toronto neighbourhood and its level of support for Ford in 2010, a pattern stronger than anything related to income.”

*  *  *

“The maps tend to support the idea that there is a fundamental difference in civic culture between the walkable neighbourhoods of the prewar period and the car-centred ones that came after, and that in electoral terms the difference can be more important than income.”

It’s complicated… these things always are…

Ford Nation is not just this thing or that thing. If that were the case, it’d be so much simpler to engage with them, complicatedspeak to their single-minded concern of inclusion or security. Just like the mayor does.

Mr. Cain’s analysis points to a much deeper, more complicated pattern for engagement and discourse. We’re talking a sense of place. Of course, that includes elements of income and ethnicity. But there’s far more to it than that. A fundamental difference in civic culture, Cain writes. You know what that sounds like? The War on the Car. Downtown Elites. Don Cherry versus Jane Jacobs.

If Mayor Ford has shown us little else, he’s very ably proven that it’s far easier to exploit the inherent divisions in fundamental differences in civic culture for political gain than it is to attempt to bridge them. Railing against change mainlines directly into our status quo bias. No matter how rough things may be right now, there’s a certain comfort to its familiarity, its being known to us. Any positive aspects to change are purely speculative and don’t tend to happen overnight.urbansuburban

What we in non-Ford Nation need to really appreciate is that we’re demanding much more change to the civic culture from those in the inner suburbs than we are having to face ourselves. As hesitant as I am to give in to broad generalizations, I foray into that territory to suggest many of us living in those higher density, public transit friendly, more walkable neighbourhoods Mr. Cain describes as not part of Ford Nation, have sought those kind of places out. We can either afford them or have made the tough choices necessary in order to live there because that’s the lifestyle we want.

That’s not to say that everyone living in the car-centric, wide lot, single-family developments of the inner suburbs would rather be a downtowner if they could. It’s just that the lifestyle that was promised when these neighbourhoods grew, of unlimited space and resources, is no longer feasible. understandjpgOr at least, no longer feasible at the costs we’re currently paying.

As a city, we are demanding big changes from our inner suburbs, less dependence on private vehicles, higher density. There’s going to be resistance. It’s only natural.

We just have to get better at justifying our reasons, for laying out the benefits that will come with these changes. To show how we’re all in this together and that none of this should be seen as some highly competitive, zero-sum game.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. But we do ourselves no favours by pretending there’s a simple solution to our complex situation.

hopefully not condescendingly submitted by Cityslikr