About Sol

Dive instructor, human to XXL Russian dog. Thoughts are my own. This is the home for long-form essays (and possibly a cure for insomnia). The smartypants, no impulse control, squirrel-on-crystal-meth blog is over on tumblr.

Skirmish Won. Battle Still Ongoing. Victory From From Secure.

(As we were in absentia for Team Ford’s waterfront retreat, we turn to colleague Sol Chrom for a summary of last week’s important but very, very fluid victory on the waterfront.)

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If Team Ford’s Port Lands plans are truly dead, would someone mind driving a stake through them?

The plans, that is.

That’s how a tweet from Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan is describing things, linking to a quote from Councillor Paula Fletcher.

This is a triumph for the public…This is a Toronto moment, a Jane Jacobs moment.

Can’t argue with the sentiments, but I’m inclined to agree with a comment left on the Torontoist site by one dsmithhfx:

Don’t celebrate quite yet… I don’t trust this cabal of scumbag opportunists as far as I could throw them. It’s a setback, to be sure. And much as we’d like to think of it as a turning point, the point where the wave of ignorance, resentment, stupidity, and short-term greed that the Ford approach taps into finally broke, let’s not start the happy dance just yet.

The Port Lands/Waterfront fiasco has captivated our attention for several weeks, to be sure, and we can’t underestimate its symbolic importance. But it’s also possible to think of it as this week’s Shiny ObjectTM — something thing that attracts our attention and keeps us all occupied while other things are going on.

A thoughtful essay by Dylan Reid in Spacing last week discussed the slow decline of a community through a process of dozens of little cuts. Cancel a minor program here, put less resources into something else there, cut back on the scope of something else over there. The examples Reid cites include things like litter pickup, tree planting, neighbourhood improvement programs, snow clearing, and making bylaw enforcement reactive rather than proactive. As Reid writes:

Individually, the impact of each of these is small. And it’s quite possible some of them could be reasonable proposals for a city with a screwed-up budgetary process if they were thought through properly (e.g. all parks could have citizen committees that take care of flower planting and care, if the city provides the flowers and eases up on regulation). But done all in a rush, and all together, the overall impact will be a gradual degradation in the walking environment. It will get dirtier and trickier, and many programs that make it more attractive will be abandoned. People will still be able to walk, of course. They just won’t want to walk as much, unless they have to. And since walking is how people experience their city most directly, Toronto will feel a little bit more like a city in decline — which, given the amount of building going on and people moving in, it really shouldn’t.

By themselves, these measures may not amount to much. They don’t have the impact or the visibility of the Port Lands clusterfuck, because they don’t carry the same scale or price tag. That’s why they’re mostly off the radar. Cumulatively, however, their effect on our quality of life could be just as serious. The places we love and live in, whether they’re downtown or in the suburbs, would become dirtier, more threadbare, and less welcoming.

But this is what happens when the function of government is entrusted to people with no commitment to the public sphere. I’ve already written that the current administration seems colonized by people with no interest in using the power of government to advance the common good, and the events of the past few weeks have done nothing to suggest otherwise. When you start pulling at the threads that hold a community together, you never know when the whole thing’s going to unravel.

This is not to take anything away from the the people whose efforts forced a retreat on the waterfront, of course. And the folks involved in CodeBlueTO deserve a special shout-out. Let’s just remember, though, that this is a long war that has to be fought on many fronts. These guys aren’t done yet. There’s still a long slog ahead.

submitted by Sol Chrom

(Not only is Sol Chrom an occasional commenter here but he’s also been known to blog over at Posteroustumblr and OpenFile.)

Not Your Grandaddy’s Conservatism

(Hey ho, people. Listen up. An auspicious Sunday as we introduce a guest contributor to All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, Sol Chrom. Not only is he an occasional commenter here but he’s also been known to blog over at Posterous, tumblr and OpenFile. A busy, busy man. So we are honoured to have him appear with us. Hopefully the first of many.)

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I’ve tried to avoid the easy snark in reaction to Doug Ford’s musings about turning what’s left of Toronto’s waterfront into a megamall-themed, monorail-adorned, Ferris-wheel-festooned amusement park. It doesn’t do any good to get all riled up and turn into indignant sputtering caricatures of Left-Wing Kooks every time Brother Doug has a brain fart.

But it turns out it wasn’t just a brain fart. Turns out it was something that arose out of a series of private meetings with real estate developers and mall operators. Isn’t this very much like the corruption and backroom dealing Councillor Rob Ford used to rail against and promised to do away with if he was elected mayor? You know, transparency and respect for taxpayers and all that?

There’s not much point in spending a lot of detail on the obvious political arguments. “Who the hell does this guy think he is?” is the easy question. He doesn’t have the mandate to singlehandedly tear up years of planning and consultation, flushing millions of tax dollars down the drain. An easy criticism, and not likely to dissuade anything.

It’s also pretty easy to point out that pawning off capital assets in a one-time fire sale in a half-assed effort to make up an operating deficit isn’t exactly prudent management. Weren’t these guys supposed to be the antidote to years of socialist fiscal ineptitude?

One could also ask why this is getting fast-tracked to Executive Committee, but again − easy question. That’s how this bunch operates. Spring it on us with almost no warning and give us less than a week to absorb and discuss. No surprise there either.

No. There’s a much larger and more overarching issue here: whence this pathological compulsion to tear things apart? First Transit City, and now this? Years of planning, study, consultation, remediation, standard-setting, consensus-building, and Team Ford wants to attack it with sledgehammers, tear it to shreds, and set fire to it – and for what? How does this benefit the public? There’s got to be something deeper and more disturbing here than mere impatience with process or the childish desire for payback against David Miller and the nefarious downtown elites.

Once again, it’s worth taking a step back and trying to view this in a larger historical context. While I’m usually reluctant to categorize things in terms of labels, I’m willing to make an exception here, if only because on the surface there seems to be such a correlation between people who identify as “conservative” and support for Team Ford.

But is there? An open letter to the city’s Executive Committee from the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance is urging caution on the Port Lands proposals for pretty much the same reasons: it’s not prudent to make wholesale and irrevocable changes to a large body of existing work and tear up years of planning without undertaking a rigorous and transparent process of public consultation: The proposed changes to be discussed at your next meeting are very significant, are not well understood and were not the subject of any substantive debate or discussion in the last municipal election campaign.

Despite the imprimatur of noted local Trotskyite John Tory, this doesn’t sound like wild-eyed revolutionary zeal; it sounds more like an attempt to stop it, or at least slow it down.

Back to the historical context. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution was reverberating throughout Europe. The established social and political order was facing its most fundamental challenge since the Protestant Reformation. In England, the statesman and orator Edmund Burke was reflecting upon the French Revolution: I cannot conceive how any man can have brought himself to that pitch of presumption, to consider his country as nothing but carte blanche, upon which he may scribble whatever he pleases.

Remind you of anyone?

Burke’s words resonate here because he’s frequently cited as one of the fathers of modern conservatism. It’s worth taking some time here to reflect upon the meaning of the word; to the extent that I understand it, it carries connotations of care, civility, preservation of tradition, honouring the most worthwhile aspects of our collective past, learning from our mistakes, and trying to leave things as clean and orderly as possible for the people who come after us. It means identifying and retaining the best parts of our history and the lessons it’s taught us. We have a body of intellectual and political tradition that’s been cultivated and developed over decades, over generations, over centuries even. Sweeping it all away with a dismissive wave of the arm is not the hallmark of responsible or careful governance.

You don’t have to identify as a conservative to acknowledge that it’s an honourable tradition – one that’s stood the test of time and has much to teach us. In that light, it’s hard to see the Ford “plans” for the waterfront as anything but antithetical to genuine conservatism.

So where is this coming from? Given what we’ve seen from this bunch, I fear that it’s not “conservatism” as we understand it at all, but something more sinister: atavistic autocratic bullshit, aided by a sophomorically gleeful narrative encouraging the bull-in-the-china-shop approach because … well, just because. It’s not an ideology or a collection of ideas and tradition at all. It’s rule by fiat. Might makes right. We’re doing this because we have money and power and you don’t, so step out of the way, peasant. We don’t even have to pretend this makes sense from a financial or infrastructural point of view, and we don’t have to address your insolent questions.

When was it that people used to act this way? Oh, that’s right. Medieval times. Or perhaps under the feudal system.

It’s not as if this started with Team Ford. It’s just particularly blatant because it’s served up with such an overwhelming air of triumphalism and belligerent ignorance. It’s not a pleasant realization, but the first step in confronting it is recognizing it for what it is.

As the Civic Action letter makes clear, this is going to have ramifications that go well beyond the mandate of the Ford administration and its successors. Screw this up and the damage could be irreparable. Executive Committee members and city councillors contemplating whether to get on board should keep this in mind.

— submitted by Sol Chrom

(To read the original post Team Ford goes Godzilla on the waterfront: this ain’t your grandpa’s conservatism in its entirety, click here.)