Fighting For Change Tougher Than Fighting Against It

July 14, 2014

If nothing else, these past 4 years have taught us an abject lesson about the slow crawl of change in Toronto. slowchangeWhy can’t we have nice things? Because, well, change is scary and must be avoided at all costs.

First, there was Transit City. Three years in the planning and then, boom! Rob Ford’s first official day as mayor, he declares it dead. It is eventually wrestled back from his control but not in its initial shape or name and disfigured almost beyond recognition with a pricey and politically expedient Scarborough subway now attached.

Second, Waterfront TO and the Port Lands. This one underway since 2001, charged with revitalizing the rather sorry state of Toronto’s chunk of Lake Ontario. A slow but now noticeable process building public spaces and economic development. Too slow, however, and not noticeable enough (at least from their car seats, driving along the Gardiner) for the Ford Brothers and their ilk at city council. texaschainsawmassacreUnilaterally, Councillor Ford sought to take control of the situation with monorails, ferris wheels and shopping malls.

This foray, fingers crossed, was stymied without too much delay. But the attacks continue, I-don’t-even-know-where-Sugar Beach-is style. What’s with the pink umbrellas and Quebec rocks?

And remember that environmental assessment (EA) undertaken late in David Miller’s 2nd term to explore options on the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway – repair, rebuild or remove? No? Funny thing, that. After getting started, the report was quietly shelved in the fall of 2010 and the remaining money used for other ‘priority projects’. citybuildingThree years later, the EA was resuscitated and completed just this year. This one with significant delays and additional costs now attached.

Then, at last week’s council meeting, another addition to the do-we-have-to bin. After overwhelming approval just 2 months earlier, the Eglinton Connects plan came back to council for some additional authorization, this time to much less overwhelming-ness. Led by the mayor and one of his electoral challengers, the plans came under assault for being too driver unfriendly.

“City planners want to replace much-needed space on our gridlocked roads with bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” the mayor declared during the now semi-infamous shirtless protest. “This does not make sense. It’s a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. We can’t afford more gridlock than we already have. We can’t approve things that will bring this city to a standstill.”

Not to be outdone in his aversion to any new type of thinking when it comes to traffic planning, playingtothecrowdJohn Tory issued his own reactionary statement, although, to give him credit, he didn’t actually stop traffic to do it. “I have said all along that any proposal that will add to road congestion by reducing lanes of traffic is a non-starter in my books. EglintonConnects will do exactly that and will increase traffic by ten per cent on adjacent residential streets.”

We can’t change, we won’t change. As it was, so it shall always be. Anything else?

There’s most certainly some crass political pandering at work here. The War on the Car rhetoric was powerful last time around in 2010. Why not try going back to that well? Much fertile ground to plough there (not to mention plenty of metaphors to mix).

It taps into a strange and opposing dynamic in the electorate. We want change. We know we need change. We just don’t want anything to be different.eglintonconnects

So it seems no matter how much the public is consulted, how much input is offered up, in the end, any sort of significant change in pattern will arouse a noisy pushback. It might not represent significant numbers but it is loud, it is persistent, it is threatening. At least threatening enough to catch the attention of some of our local representatives.

But here’s my question.

Is it our elected officials’ sole job to listen to their constituents, and react only to the most vocal? Eglinton Connects did not suddenly emerge, out of the blue, dropping heavily onto everyone’s laps. By all accounts, it was a very public, open process. thanklessjobHere’s what we want to do? Any thoughts or ideas to improve it?

Just like in real life, sometimes councillors need to stand up to the bullies and loudmouths, marshal support for projects and ideas they believe in. This is a good plan. It will benefit the city, community, neighbourhood, street. Take a position, based on an informed decision, and sell it. Risk electoral retribution? Maybe. But that just comes with the territory, I guess.

Of course, that’s easier said from the outside when there’s no actual risk involved.

Even one of the more change-friendly city councillors, Kristyn Wong-Tam, has had to beat a tactical retreat on a plan in her ward. Friends of Chorley Park have succeeded in delaying the implementation of a new path through a portion of the south Rosedale ravine, better connecting it down through to the Brickworks, a major tourist draw, still most easily accessed by car. This, despite the fact, it has been in the works for two years, with plenty of resident notification and invitations for input.demagogue

Once it became a reality earlier this year, well, all hell broke loose. Petitions signed. Demands made. To the tune of roughly one million dollars in delays, according to Councillor Wong-Tam.

“My concern is that people are dug in so deep that they are not able to compromise on design,” she said, although she remains “…optimistic that we’re going to come up with something great. I’m optimistic that this is a community that’s going to come together and find a community-crafted resolution.”

The lesson from all this, I guess, is no matter how effective a city councillor may be, they can’t push progress forward on their own. They need support from their residents and the public at large. Get involved and get loud. You see something the city is doing that you like and want it to go forward, let everybody know. Beat the drum.

Unfortunately, it seems to be far easier to be against something rather than in favour of it. angrymobChange might result in something worse. It might be better! But it could be worse!

It’s a constant battle against human nature, fighting for change. The best place to start in engaging in that struggle is to help expose the politicians who exploit our risk aversion for their own gains. They aren’t looking out for the best interests of the city, its residents or the future. They’re beholden to only one thing and one thing only. Pure and utter self-interest.

belligerently submitted by Cityslikr