Sometimes Division Is Easier Than Addition

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

7 Responses to Sometimes Division Is Easier Than Addition

  1. Patrick Smyth says:

    “But we do ourselves no favours by pretending”, that’s for sure!

  2. Steve Munro says:

    I thinks it’s a tad more complex than simply pointing to the age of a neighbourhood as a predictor of Ford Nation membership. If Scarborough were simply a car-loving “new city”, why then are there such complaints about transit quality, one key marker of a “walkable city”? This is not just a question of wanting subways, but of wanting better transit generally. Recent articles elsewhere suggest that population shifts back to dense walkable areas is a common phenomenon in other cities, not just Toronto. A politician can choose to exploit the “why does downtown have everything” story (including complaining that all of the new buildings are downtown, not in suburbia, thanks to private sector market forces), or they can focus on how to make suburbia better given the history of how it developed. Ford destroys, he does not build, and so the mythology of downtown v. suburbs is the easiest for him to run with.

    • Sol says:

      Steve, I’m not sure you and Daren are really at odds here. You’re the man on transit, and you’re also onto something with the easy divisive “why does downtown get the goodies while we get screwed” narrative, but the age of a neighbourhood isn’t necessarily determinative — it’s just one of the influences on its built form and the lifestyle it delivers to / imposes on its residents.

      Daren, you’ve also got a good point about the degree of change we’re asking of suburban residents, but really, I don’t think anyone with more than two brain cells is suggesting there’s a simple solution to a complex array of problems. If anything, I think we’re all agreed that one of Team Ford’s most egregious faults is its constant preference for simplistic rhetoric and shallow soundbites over nuance, complex analysis, and rational comprehensive discussion.

  3. Brendan says:

    I feel that one of the most overlooked aspects of the Transit City vs Scarborough Subway debate is just how much a network of LRT lines would have helped the local, pedestrian life of Scarborough residents.

    It’s just a theory but it seems to me that Scarborough supports a subway RT replacement because it’s looking at the problem of transit solely from the perspective of travel times to and from downtown (i.e. transit lines functioning as ‘pneumatic people movers’ instead of integral components of city life).

    This is important because it would explain why the 3 vs. 7 stops argument doesn’t work too well. Less stops means a faster ride and if they save a few minutes on their workday commute than it’s all worth it.

    • Stevedore says:

      I agree (inasmuch as Scarborough monolithically supports anything).

      I’m noticing two recurring themes in the Scarborough-subway talk:

      1) subway is primarily symbolic (“every other borough gets one”), or it’s better because it runs underground and doesn’t compete with automobile traffic. I find it hard to take these people seriously as I don’t think most of them are regular transit users. If they are I suspect they only use transit to get downtown and back for work and not for other purposes.

      2) subway is necessary to accommodate the population density that will exist in 30+ years. When pressed, these people will usually rhyme off a list of other subway lines that we “need” in Toronto. They usually do not accept the argument that there is no money to build multiple new subway lines or, if they do accept that, they don’t accept that the need for other subway lines is more pressing (i.e. that the DRL is needed now and not 30 years from now).

  4. Sonny says:

    The idiot got Etobicoke Lakeshore but did not get Scarborough Guildwood for the Party and/or Subway!

    Holyday who recently ran in a byelection is opposed to a municipal byelection that Ford the so called penny pincher and his supporters want?! which would require a August sitting…

    A.H. Feb. 29, 2012 – 82,756

  5. Patrick Smyth says:

    How can that be, “we are demanding big changes from our inner suburbs”? As far as I can tell the only demands have been for higher and higher taxes. The City’s budget went from $6.5 billion in 2004 to nearly $10 billion in 2010, ($3.5 billion, that’s over 50% increase.) and it came with very little change for the inner suburbs. That’s a bigger part of the gripe than, “new buildings are downtown”. (In fact, I’ve not heard that one before.) Is it that Ford is divisive, or are we ignoring the fact that the city is divided? That damage has been done and it needs to be mitigated.

    The Ford-chasers lay all the blame at the mayor’s feet and it makes me wonder if we watch the same Council? I mean, Ford had the transit file taken away from him, (by the, ahem, adults on Council) so why bring him into it at all? He’s irrelevant and doesn’t deserve any credit for subways in Scarborough. Unless of course, the Ford-chasers believe the likes of Stintz, De Baeremaeker, Colle, etc., are all stupid people too and who, somehow, occasionally fall under the spell of the mayor. (Though, that could be true. Remember, it’s a farce – anything is possible.)

    Wouldn’t it be great if all the smart people could figure out what went wrong and defeat the forces of ignorance at the next election? I’m not hopeful. The smart people are such poor communicators and the stupid people are not good with big, fancy words – never mind navigating all the literary styles. (A while back, some even thought Stintz might be a good choice!) They just don’t get how dysfunctional Council is and how the ‘Will of Council’ trumps, “nuance, complex analysis, and rational comprehensive discussion”.

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