A Recap

letsrecapEarlier 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

11 Responses to A Recap

  1. Sonny says:

    Fords can’t deal with reality. Ford’s $50 million would have little IMPACT to services. Which he could have introduced last January following the 2013 Budget, earlier this month at Budget OR Exec. Committee. Plus I like how the Board of Trade handled their guest.

    Rally For More TTC Service And Lower Fees. Watch the city council meeting on the TTC, talk to riders and rally for more funding. Jan 29 to 30, 10 am. Free. City Hall, Queen and Bay, ttcriders.ca

  2. GW says:

    Okay, on one hand you make it pretty clear that you disapprove of detached, single family homes, cars and shopping malls, and would not be unhappy to see them go away entirely. How then does this not put you into a zero-sum game with people who like these things and have deliberately chosen them over the lifestyle you prefer (and would have the rest of us adopt)? How do you deal with the large number of people who don’t like density or public transit, or who don’t like to think of the community in which they live as a “project”?

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Mr GW,

      At the transit talk we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke attended last Thursday (and wrote up on Monday), the point was made about accepting the consequences and responsibilities of your location. This essentially comes down to cost. You want to live in a low density, car-dependent neighbourhood? Have at it. Just start paying the full amount for it.

      We have been subsidizing sprawl, servicing it fully, since the very start, doling out for high cost infrastructure to build and maintain on low cost land. If that’s your choice of a place to live, you have to start paying for it.

      Problem is, in Toronto many people have moved to the lower cost parts of the inner suburbs out of necessity not choice, because of the lower cost. As it gets more expensive, they are forced out of there, extending sprawl even further, putting more and more pressure on municipal budgets.

      It’s not that the downtown core is perfect and in no need of adaptation. It’s just that the suburban built form is where the real fiscal pressure comes from currently. That’s where our urban renewal has to begin.

      And we don’t do that by going on about tax freezes and revenue roll backs. Ironically, the pressure for that is mainly coming from elected officials who represent those very neighbourhoods and communities.

      • GW says:

        Okay, so your grievances against your suburban neighbours come down to questions of subsidies and externalities. Fair enough. That is certainly a topic on which rational discussion can take place. Am I to take it then that if suburban communities were to agree to take on the full costs of their chosen lifestyle that we would no longer hear from you on the evils of cars, single-family homes, backyards, parking lots, shopping malls, big-box retail, etc.?

      • cityslikr says:

        Dear Mr GW,

        We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke don’t think it’s going to be as easy as saying suburban communities agree to take on the full costs of their chose lifestyle. If that were to happen, you’d see immediate changes since not everyone either chooses that lifestyle out of anything other than costs, and many wouldn’t be able to afford that lifestyle any longer. What happens then?

        But if you’re asking us if that’s our only grievance with car-dependent, single-family housing, backyards, parking lots, shopping malls, big-box retail, well no, no it isn’t. We have come to believe that the entire built form around private automobile use is detrimental to building healthy and equitable cities. The over-prioritization on designing communities around car use negatively impacts on the public realm, thereby reducing a key element of what makes cities work, sociability. That’s not to say we eliminate cars but they must be relegated to the bottom of our transportation hierarchy.

      • GW says:

        Okay, so this *is* about you wanting to impose your values, priorities and lifestyle preferences on people who don’t share them. I appreciate your clearing that up, because you had me a little confused with all this economics talk. When you said “Have at it” in your previous post above, what you were really saying was something to the effect of “Not if I can help it,” notwithstanding of course your apparent aversion to singular personal pronouns. I guess we’re back in zero-sum game territory then.

        Put it this way. You can either use your blog to showcase your unremitting hostility towards the suburban lifestyle or you can use it to try to reach out to suburbanites and help heal the downtown/burbs rift. You seem to be trying to do both, but you can’t, at least not credibly. If you go out of your way to condemn cars, single-family houses, shopping malls, chain stores/restaurants, etc. then you are going to alienate those people who like those things and have chosen those things. They will not listen to your arguments, no matter how eloquently (or wittily) expressed. Since you can’t both lash out and reach out, I’d suggest you go with the former, as it’s clearly more your comfort zone. And it hardly makes you unique on the Internet. I say accept the rift, and your role in perpetuating it. That’s certainly more realistic than expecting everyone to want to live downtown, or in an ersatz downtown outside the core.

      • cityslikr says:

        Dr Mr GW,

        It’s unfortunate that you’ve chosen to personalize this, as if this debate stems from my values, my priorities, my lifestyle preferences. As if it cannot be objectively quantifiable.

        What we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have stated is that people have to start accepting the consequences of their choice of location. Once we truly do that, once we actually start costing out the suburban lifestyle, it will become quickly obvious that it is not sustainable. For many individuals and families. For municipalities that have to pay for it.

        Does that mean everybody has to move downtown or every place has to be like downtown? Of course not. We’ve never stated such a thing.

        As much as you may comfort yourself believing this is all just the ravings of some anti-suburban/anti-car lunatic, sorry to burst your bubble. There is a growing consensus among planners, urbanists and general all-round city thinkers that car-oriented communities and cities are detrimental to the well being of everyone that must contend with them. Mistakes were made, starting 80 years or so ago. That happens. Now is the time to start dealing with the fallout of those bad ideas.

      • GW says:

        I don’t think of you as a lunatic, but you are definitely anti-suburb and anti-car, in a way that seems to transcend matters of economy and ecology.

        And as for “mistakes” and the need to recover from them, I wouldn’t be surprised to find people 80 years from now thinking in such terms about the ideas of Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida. Of course, I’ll be long dead by then, so I’ll never know.

        In the meantime, I’m going to continue to make my lifestyle choices in accordance with my values, priorities and preferences, until those who disapprove of them acquire sufficient power to outlaw them or make them prohibitively costly. If that’s your (zero-sum) game plan, then as you say, “have at it”,

  3. Simon Says says:

    All your posts still read “downtown, good! suburbs, bad!” And if everyone lived downtown, how would that work? You realize that eventually, the suburbs become the downtown.

    Mimico was cottage country for those who lived in the downtown. Long branch was farm land.

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