Earlier this month, near the start of the 2014 municipal election campaign, we set off on a bid to lay out a 10 point (give or take) platform we’d like to see candidates out promoting as they sought public office. Something more than simply slogans or tribal chants. Substantive. City-zen focussed not taxpayer obsessive.
Here’s what we’ve come up with so far (in no particular order save from first to last):
1) Residents of Toronto are more than taxpayers. We live here. We work here. We play here. We raise families here. The taxes and user fees we pay are simply the cost of doing all these things.
Living in a city, being part of the life that goes on around you, should be tabulated by more than what it costs. Referred to as merely a taxpayer ignores the grander social element of being a city-zen. As Charles Montgomery writes in Happy City, “The city is ultimately a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.”
2) A city is only as good as its public realm. The post-war flight from the public good to private interest has undercut a sense of shared experience in city life. Detached, single family homes, dispersed on big lots, the automobile, shopping malls all represent an elevation of the individual good, a buffer against a collective enterprise.
Take the car (please!) for example.
Huge swaths of public space is designed, built and maintained exclusively for the movement of single individuals driving in their cars. Suggest a more equitable arrangement for other ways to get around, and somehow it’s declared a war. Find somewhere else to go. This is ours.
Again, Charles Montgomery in Happy City: “Rome rose as its wealth was poured into the common good of aqueducts and roads [not just for chariots – me.], then declined as it was hoarded in private villas and palaces.”
3) Ease of mobility. The title of Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker’s transit talk last week? Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.
Disproportionately favouring one mode of how we move around this city puts people who don’t need to, want to or can’t afford to use that mode as their primary source of transportation at a disadvantage. Especially if that mode is the least efficient way of moving the most amount of people around the city. It carves out public space in favour of private use.
The only rational, civic-minded approach a municipal candidate can take in terms of transportation policy is a pledge to re-arrange the priorities that have been in place for decades and decades and decades now. It’s been said many times by many people but the goal should be about moving people not cars. Candidates need to be saying it louder and more often.
4) Taxation. Ugghhh. It’s time we stopped referring to taxes as a burden and recognize them for what they are. The only way we build a better city, with a better public realm and provide the most opportunities for the most people.
There’s no other way, folks. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise, that there’s some magical way out there that we can get everything we want without paying for it is either lying or delusional. Maybe both.
I heard it said at a recent deputation at City Hall, a request to ‘tax us fairly, spend wisely’. We can debate until the cows come home on the concepts of ‘fairly’ and ‘wisely’ but we need to move on past this silly, selfish idea that taxes are bad, a burden. Harkening back again to Charles Montgomery, “The city is a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.” And in the words of one former mayor (more or less), a great city, a prosperous city, a fair city does not come for free.
5) The urban-suburban divide. Governing this city does not have to be a zero-sum game. I mean, it does if you’re trying to promote divisiveness as a political strategy. We are not complete aliens to one another, we Torontonians. Many have grown up in the suburbs and moved to the inner core. Others the reverse.
Of course, some of the challenges we face are different and need different solutions, depending where we live, where we work, where we go to school. One size does not, cannot fit all. But any approach to fixing the problems that currently plague us as a city shouldn’t come at the expense of others. It needs to come at the expense to us all.
Sure, we face some problems arising out of built form. There are no easy fixes. We’re talking culture changes.
That’s a tough nut to crack. It’s much easier to disengage and retreat to our respective corners. Blame other people and pine for the old days, the good old days.
Well, to quote (no, not Charles Montgomery this time) The Libertines, there were no good old days. These are the good old days. And we’re in it together to make sure of just that. These are the good old days.
To be continued.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr