Toronto’s Taxing Problem, Part Infinity

May 27, 2016

I was in New York City earlier this week when this city’s City Manager, Peter Wallace, read the fiscal riot act to city council via Mayor John Tory and his Executive Committee in the boldest terms an unelected official could to his elected colleagues at City Hall. readtheriotact(Could I use the word ‘city’ and any of its derivations more times in one sentence? Probably. But, you know, overkill.)

What the mayor was told was the same thing the mayor and his predecessor have been told for pretty much 5 years now. Yes, there are probably more efficiencies to be found in the budget, efficiencies are always being found. Yes, the city can look at selling off monetizing some of its assets for a one time, payday infusion of cash. Yes, of course but… None of it will come close to narrowing the widening gap between the money coming in and money going out to pay for the services, programs and capital needs Toronto is responsible for. Not even close.

Mayor Tory was told all that but what he heard Jonathan Goldsbie highlights here in NOW. Essentially, the mayor heard what he wanted to hear. He heard what every self-serving, small-minded, pandering local politician hears when it comes to the city’s finances. Taxes bad. We already pay too much. Stretched to the limit. Hardworking homeowners. whatthecathearsNickel and dimed to death. Get off our lawns. Plow our streets.

A few years back, during a similar if not exact budget and fiscal discussion, I remember coming across a page listing the taxes and fees residents of other big cities throughout the world pay. For the life of me, I can’t find it now, and I’m too lazy and inept to actually track it down on the internetz but it did get me to thinking about a comparison I could probably present in a reasonable fashion. New York and Toronto.

I found this from 2009, a study of New York City’s taxation policy, funded by the Solomon Foundation, an off-shoot of the Solomon Company, a fairly substantial investment firm. Now, I offer it up with all the usual caveats. No comparison between cities is perfect, especially cities in different country and jurisdictions. This was from 7 years ago, so things might’ve changed. Moreover, I’m not much of numbers guy, my financial comprehension should be considered suspect and I am easily distracted.

That said…

Consider page 12, Exhibit 1, New York City Taxes and Other Revenue Sources.

NYCTaxes2009

Check out what I think could be called a laundry list of revenue sources the city taps into, taxes making up about 59% of all revenues. Personal income taxes, business taxes, sales tax, hotel tax, cigarette tax, beer, wine and liquor tax, horserace admission tax, vehicle tax, taxi tax. That’s before we even get to property taxes.

No wonder the city never sleeps! Everybody’s working 24/7 to pay all those taxes.

Now, look at this page [page 29], a pie chart from Toronto’s 2016 operating budget.

2016TOBudgetFinal

46% of our city’s revenues come from taxation, at least in name. Property tax, Land Transfer tax and something called “Supplementary Taxation”. Toronto already taxes residents and visitors to this city 13% less than New York did in 2009. So how is it that we’re overtaxed and “stretched to the limit” as the mayor claims we are, we being that mysterious group of “homeowners”?

And this is New York City we’re talking about here, not some zany, left-wing, socialist Scandinavian city. imbalanceThe Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, Tax Hating U.S. of A.

Mayor Tory and his allies do have a point, if they are trying to make a valid point that the city coffers are too dependent on property taxes to help pay the bills. Throwing in the Land Transfer tax, 44% of Toronto’s annual revenues come from property taxes. In 2009, “Real Estate Related Taxes” made up just 26.6% of New York’s revenues, 23.6% of that from straight up property taxes. So yes, especially given how we assess property taxes here, we probably rely too much on them to generate revenue.

So, let’s look for other sources of revenue then, shall we? Not just by selling off assets or ferreting out further efficiencies. The city manager, like the city manager before him, said that’s not going to do the trick.

We need to talk about revenue tools, taxes if you prefer. That’s not a bad word. notlisteningAt least, it isn’t in places that realize you have to pay for the things you want and need. Torontonians want, need and expect the city to provide these things. Somehow, if the words and deeds of many of the people we elect to represent us are any indication, we except to get all these things at impossibly low costs to us. Somebody else pay because I’m already paying too much!

It’s a tired line of argument, one with almost no factual merit. You get the kind of city you pay for. The bottom line is, we’re not paying for the city we say we want.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Everything’s Fine!

May 16, 2016

These days, this council.

With the provincial government dangling the prospect of ballot reform, tantalizingly, and today’s announcement of the ward boundary review recommendation, giddywe here in Toronto should be giddy with excitement at the opportunity to reshape our local democracy. It’s something that hasn’t been done for 16 years since Queen’s Park pretty much unilaterally aligned all the city’s wards with the federal and provincial riding boundaries. So, we’re overdue, to make an understatement. Seize the moment to try and iron out some of the parochial wrinkles that have accumulated. Sweep out the dust bunnies and moldy odors that have collected in the cupboards.

It’s just… You know…

These days, this council.

With Councillor Justin Di Ciano, as city council’s woefully underwhelming representative, taking his anti-ranked ballots clownshow up University Avenue to speak to the standing committee overseeing voting reform initiatives, there’s some serious concern that Toronto voters won’t get a crack at using ranked ballots. dampenHell, if the councillor has his way, we’ll be robbed of even having a debate about it. His argument against moving from the current First Past The Post system is so full of shopworn bullet talking points, it’s impossible to tell what his real motives are with this antediluvian quest.

Equally unclear are the reasons our mayor, John Tory, seems determined to curtail debate on the ward boundary review ahead of the final recommendation going public. Earlier this year, when five possible new ward alignment options were outlined, he stated his position, which was pretty much as dismissive as you could be. “The last thing we need is more politicians.” Over this past weekend, his rhetoric had ossified into place, suggesting Mayor Tory hadn’t put so much as another thought into the matter.

I’ve maintained my position, which is, first of all, I don’t personally see the need for an expanded number of politicians, and secondly, I have yet to meet a Toronto citizen who has told me that their top priority — or any kind of priority of their’s — is to expand the number of politicians. I think we can make arrangements by reorganizing the boundaries a little bit.

The bottom line is I don’t think we need to have more decision makers at City Hall.

That there? That’s the sound of the door slamming on any sort of serious discussion about the size, shape or reorganization of city council. Maybe ‘a little bit’, John Tory’s incrementalism on full display. draggedIf it ain’t broke, amirite?

Rather than take the opportunity to show some civic leadership, and begin a discussion that might inject some new ideas and life into the governance structure at City Hall, Mayor Tory is intent on belittling the debate to nothing more than the number of councillors. Just like his predecessor did. As if numbers, and numbers alone, are the sole determinant of good, solid and proper political representation.

While it wasn’t part of the ward boundary review mandate to look at the structure of city council, the mayor and councillors could make it theirs, take the initiative and start talking about ways to improve how council functions, how to better represent the residents who’ve elected them to office. One of the biggest glitches plaguing governance in Toronto is the seemingly intractable urban-suburban divide that engenders division instead of cohesion. (Something I suspect is going to be a lightning rod of contention surrounding the ward boundary recommendation today.) Could a move toward at least some at-large, ward-free councillor positions help address that?

Maybe. Maybe not. It’s at least worth some sort of examination, isn’t it?notlistening

Whatever the outcome and final decision city council makes determining new ward boundaries, it’s going to be in place for the next 4 election cycles, 2018, 2022, 2026, 2030. During that time span, the city is projected to see huge population growth – 600,000 new residents by 2031 — and significant demographic changes. Is this Mayor Tory led city council really going to look at that and pursue a redrawing of wards only through the lens of a head count? Will it also brush aside the chance to give voters in the city a new way to elect its local politicians, maybe even in a new type of arrangement that might help reduce the type of harmful geographic divisiveness that has dogged it pretty much from the beginning of amalgamation?

You’d hope not but… well, you know…

These days, this mayor, this council.

same-ol’-same-olly submitted by Cityslikr


Michael Ford, Lord Of The Ward 2 Manor

May 6, 2016

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Toronto District School Board Trustee and Nephew, Michael Ford, resigned from the board and announced he was in the running for the late mayor and Ward 2 councillor, Rob Ford’s seat, multiplicity2seemingly moments after city council declared it vacant and voted to hold a July by-election to elect a new councillor. Almost as if they were already prepared to go. Almost as if that was the plan all along, which it was, back in the 2014 municipal election, until Rob Ford stepped out of the mayoral campaign for health reasons, and settled back into the Ward 2 council race. The TDSB trustee position was something of a consolation prize for Nephew Ford.

I had initial reactions to this week’s completely expected turn of events but then, it dawned on me. Here in Ward 20, in 2010, there was a similar if not exact scenario. After long time councillor Joe Pantalone decided to run for mayor, leaving the ward open, a young Mike Layton stepped forward to replace him. You might recognize the surname, not to mention that his famous dad was partnered up with the local sitting Member of Parliament, herself something of a City Hall institution, having represented the ward just one over for 15 years or so.

Truth be told, I did not take to Mike Layton. I resented the political carpetbagging aspect of it, the dynastic sensibility, the passing of the torch. multiplicity1Besides, to my mind, there was a much more qualified candidate, someone who seemed to have spent much more of her time working in the public realm, let’s call it. I did not vote for Mike Layton in 2010.

I did in 2014. Turns outs, he’s an exceptionally good city councillor. So… you know. Michael Ford. It could happen.

People are certainly saying nice things about him. He doesn’t seem to possess the bombastic side of both his uncles. He comes across as soft-spoken, gentle even, legitimately open-minded on some social issues.

Then, there’s his campaign website. “Customer Service”. “Keeping Taxes Low”. Even his “Sustainable Community Investment” is couched in Fordian terms careful spending and within a tight budget framework.

Still.

No rabid dog Subways! Subways! Subways! Light on the Respect For Taxpayers. But not without some coat tailing. “I will continue the benchmark set by my family”.

I guess the idea that Nephew could be a better city councillor than either of his uncles is a step forward. multiplicityA pretty low threshold, for sure, almost imperceptible on the progress scale. It is, however, the way we measure things in a Mayor John Tory’s Toronto. Oh well, better than X Ford.

Electing Michael Ford as councillor for Ward 2 is not the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen is some sort of uncontested coronation. Michael Ford cannot be acclaimed as the new councillor. This should never happen at any electoral level, ever, anywhere.

Look, even Rob Ford, who’d served as Ward 2 councillor for 10 years before becoming mayor, only garnered 58% of the popular vote in 2014 when he ran again for the council seat. Yes, no one else came close. Yes, by almost every measure, you could call it a laugher. And yes, the absolutely unqualified Nephew had something of a cakewalk in his trustee race, pulling in about 46% of the votes.

But this is a city council election, the only city council campaign that will be taking place in July, not one of 44, not as part of a mayoral campaign. The summertime spotlight will shine exclusively on the Ward 2 by-election, on Nephew Ford. He must be challenged. littlelordfauntelroyThe idea that Ward 2 is some sort of family fiefdom needs to be challenged.

In 2014, 42% of Ward 2 voters expressed dissatisfaction with the Ford family brand, and that was with Rob – arguably the brand – flying the colours. Is the Nephew new and improved or is this just a case of Multiplicity, a watered down, reasonable facsimile of a knockoff?

Voters in Ward 2 need to be able to kick the product tires to start to figure that out. That can’t happen if the doors to City Hall are held open for him to just walk through, proclaimed, acclaimed, unchallenged, uncontested. Nephew Ford needs to campaign for the position not simply have it handed to him as some sort of birthright or family heirloom.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Lobbing A Lobbying Bomb

May 4, 2016

I’m going to paraphrase about a hundred people who’ve expressed these exact sentiments, and if that makes me another Margaret Wente, so be it. cheatingIt’s a jab I’m willing to live with.

Here goes.

If all those Uber people were even half as passionate about other, far more important city issues as they are with accessing their inexpensive, on-demand, chauffeur service, Toronto would be a civic paradise.

That said, I’ve said as much as I want to say about the Uber debate. It’s already taken a disproportionately significant chunk of our local political discourse over the past couple years. Mayor Tory made it his key item to begin this month’s city council meeting yesterday, and it consumed every bit of the extended day to finish it off. For now. Always, for now.

People will argue that it’s simply a response commensurate with the demand out there for Uber. outofproportion45,000 people a day can’t be wrong, won’t be denied. A grassroots uprising breaking the death grip of the taxi industry monopoly, yaddie, yaddie.

Maybe…maybe.

Or, here’s another angle.

This Is How Uber Takes Over A City

“Uber’s made a name for itself by barging into cities and forcing politicians to respond.”

How, you ask?

A $40 billion value corporation (as of the article’s writing last June) with all the lobbying muscle that kind of money can buy.

Over the past year, Uber built one of the largest and most successful lobbying forces in the country, with a presence in almost every statehouse. It has 250 lobbyists and 29 lobbying firms registered in capitols around the nation, at least a third more than Wal-Mart Stores. That doesn’t count municipal lobbyists. In Portland, the 28th-largest city in the U.S., 10 people would ultimately register to lobby on Uber’s behalf. They’d become a constant force in City Hall. City officials say they’d never seen anything on this scale.

“Uber makes the rules; cities fall in line.”

Bringing it closer to home here in Toronto, we all know that two of the mayor’s former campaign mucky-mucks, John Duffy and Nick Kouvalis, have gone to work for Uber, bullyone as a lobbyist, the other to do some polling. And it seems like there’s been a lot of Uber lobbying of the Mayor’s office leading up to this week’s meeting. According to Anna Mehler Paperny of Global News, “And the mayor’s staff met with Uber more than anyone else on this topic last year.”

But, you know, whatever. The various branches of the taxi industry are no slouches themselves when it comes to lobbying, and donating to municipal campaigns, and just generally getting this debate front and centre in a way that makes it seem like it’s the most important policy matter the city faces. It isn’t, not by a long shot. That’s just what effective lobbying does. That’s why lobbyists and lobbying firms get paid the big bucks.

None of this is news. I didn’t write and crib some 500 words to tell you something you didn’t already know. It is what it is.

Although, and here’s the kicker and the reason I wrote anything about this at all, after the Uber debate dies down, and perhaps today’s equally noisy matter of the proposed bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street gets settled, teeoneupthere’s an interesting little item going to council from the Executive Committee. It was deferred from the March meeting, and the oh-so-perfect irony of the timing of it is hard to ignore.

As part of some lobbying by-law amendments being considered, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forth a motion asking for a staff report on the question of forcing unions and not-for-profit organizations to register with the city as lobbyists. It’s been an idea, as Jonathan Goldsbie writes in NOW, kicking around since the establishment of the Lobbyist Registrar back during David Miller’s first term in office. It’s been given a new lease on life with the support of Mayor Tory, his deputy mayor and 9 other councillors sitting on his Executive Committee.

His [Mayor Tory] position is that there are groups that have vested interests in the outcome of council decisions that are not confined to direct financial benefit. This is about transparency, and our belief that the public should have visibility into the various groups that lobby city councillors on matters of public record.

This statement from the mayor’s office in response to the NOW article has made some of those “various groups” more than a little nervous. “STOP Mayor Tory’s attempt to force community groups to register as lobbyists. buildingawallSign this petition now!” tweeted out the shadowy NOJetsTO group who have used their deep pockets and sneaky loophole seeking ways to bully the under-resourced and hamstrung-by-lobbying-rules little guy Robert Deluce and Porter Airlines in order to stymy island airport expansion. Why? What do they stand to gain from keeping the airport just like it is?

Until they are brought to heel under the careful watch of the Lobbyist Registrar, we won’t clearly understand their motivations. We’ll just have to file it under: “not confined to direct financial benefit.”

But if I were a community group or social activist type, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, though. My guess is, Mayor Tory’s eyeing bigger game, like the unions, who the motion mentions specifically. And even that may be reading too much malicious intent into it.

Maybe the mayor is really and truly trying to level the playing field for everyone down at City Hall. wolfinsheepsclothingAfter yesterday’s vote, and his and a solid majority of city council’s complete and utter capitulation to the ferocious lobbying and PR effort of Uber, he’s reaching out to give the grassroots a leg up. See? Lobbying works. Become a lobbyist. Access millions and millions of dollars to hire high-priced consultants, pollsters and glad-handers. Then, prepare to roll over your local elected representatives.

If an upstart company like Uber can do it, you can too, little group looking to… I don’t know, provide some extra affordable daycare spaces. Think big. Big Daycare.

Besides, it’s only fair. Otherwise, just anybody can drop a line or send off an email, demanding access to decision-makers at City Hall. That’s just not how things get done around here anymore.

blithely submitted by Cityslikr


A Streetfighting Mayor?

April 29, 2016

Oh, to be young again. Young and full of hope, dreams, aspirations. hopeHope. Hope, hope, hope.

Dreams.

You know the difference between someone who’s been around the block a time or two and somebody still standing on the curb, waiting for the light to change so they can cross the street? After a couple key events here in Toronto this week, the second person in the scenario claps their hands together enthusiastically and thinks — really, really thinks — that this could happen in Toronto. The other one, the more grizzled, beaten down fellow? All he’s thinking is that he really needs to figure out a way to move to New York City.

Confused? Not surprising. You’re listening to the ramblings and lamentations of a jaded, former optimistic glass half fuller, as they used to call me back in the barracks.streetfight

Earlier this week, former New York City transportation commissioner and overseer of, I don’t know, 17,000 miles of new bike lanes in 4 months, Janette Sadik-Khan was in town, giving a couple talks, promoting her new book, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. The audience squeed in delight at her tales of transformation throughout North America’s largest city. To paraphrase her rephrasing, “If they can remake it there, we can remake it anywhere.”

Is that so?

At Toronto City Hall, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee laboured through what should’ve been a breezy debate on a proposal to put in a bike lane pilot project along a 2.5 kilometre strip of Bloor Street west. How is that possible, you ask? Let me try explaining it for you with popular cultural references you’re familiar with.

There are city councillors, many holding key positions within the current administration, who are like those puffy old clients Larry Tate brings in for ad man Darrin Stephens to pitch ideas at to sell their products. dickyorkThey look on while smoking, in disbelief at what they view to be the young man’s crazy, magical thinking. (And it just might be because Darrin’s wife, Samantha, is a witch!)

What? Never heard of Bewitched? It was hilarious! Darrin’s mother-in-law, Endora, who disapproved of her daughter’s “mixed-marriage” to a mortal, could never get his name right. Derwood? Dustin. Dustbin? Comedic gold.

Still nothing? OK. Update. Bewitched = Mad Men. Darrin Stephens = Don Draper. Samantha Stephens = Better Draper. Larry Tate = Roger Sterling. Clients = Clients.

No?

The point I’m trying to make here is that we’ve moved from the stale, toxic air of the Ford era to that musty dankness that hits you when you walk into a grandparent’s room to discover they’ve been dead for a couple days. … What do you mean that’s never happened to you? In my day, that was a rite of passage!

Mayor John Tory just doesn’t get it. I don’t think he truly grasps the challenges (and opportunities, don’t forget the opportunities) cities like Toronto are facing and what needs to be done to address them. endoraHe says words. He mouths the right sounds. Yet, nothing about his actions indicate he has an understanding or inclination of the way forward. Certainly, nobody he’s appointed to positions of power strike you as agents of change. Not his deputy mayor. Not his budget chief. Not his chair of Public Works.

When Ms. Sadik-Khan joined the Bloomberg administration, the mayor there had a detailed agenda on moving the city into the 21st-century. PlaNYC, it was called.

From Streetfight:

The document that Mayor Bloomberg and Team Camelot under Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff (pronounced “Plan-Y-C”) was the first real inventory of the city’s collective resources, assets, and deficiencies. It systematically reverse-engineered the city to accommodate expected population growth, amortizing the costs of investments over decades instead of election cycles, and looked at the impact of growth on health, the environment, and quality of life. From 2000 to 2005 alone, New York City’s population grew by 200,000 people.

To address the increase demands on the city, PlaNYC returned to a central theme: density is New York’s destiny, and city planning must leverage that strength to enhance mobility and the quality of city life and avoid sprawl. Successful urban density isn’t simply a matter of tall buildings stacked next to one another. City residents require both space and privacy, green space and open sky, breathing room and room to run. How cities deliver their services must be organized in ways that can be maintained over decades without depleting their coffers or making neighbourhoods and the environment inhospitable.

Our mayor? He goes to Asia, looks around and comes back to tell us we need more private sector involvement in public transit.emptysuit

So, you see why I’m something of a skeptic when it comes to thinking he’s up to the task of transforming Toronto in any positive, 2016 way? After nearly 18 months in office, what issues has he enthusiastically grabbed and run with? Keeping the Gardiner East expressway elevated and expediting road construction. And racoon proof green bins.

Talk about “a change-based urbanism”, as Ms. Sadik-Khan does in Streetfight, and very little of what our mayor is doing right now suggests he gets the concept or, if he does, is at all comfortable with it. He was elected to change the mayor. Changing the city isn’t really part of his constitution.

There was so much excitement around Janette Sadik-Khan’s visit to our city — it seemed to tap into all the anticipation, frustration, and hope that Torontonians hold for the future of our streets. But armed with new copies of her book, Toronto is now ready to win the streetfight.

This is one Claire Nelischer, writing at the Ryerson City Building Institute blog. God bless, Ms. Nelischer, and her clearly young beating heart, full of hope and optimism. Some of Toronto may be ready for a streetfight, some are engaged in it already. Unfortunately, the elected leadership at City Hall is, once more, proving to be on the wrong side of that fight.

selfinflictedfiringsquad

crustily submitted by Cityslikr


As Advertised

April 26, 2016

Maybe we’ve been thinking about this incorrectly, our approach gone about all wrong.brightidea

What if, instead of getting caught up in a race to modernize the city, to adapt to a changing environment, demographics, that whole, confusing and, frankly, somewhat suspect new urbanism business, Toronto pitch itself as a haven from the 21st-century? Why bother trying to keep pace with New York City? It’s a losing battle. Paris? Forget it. Too European. Even Los Angeles, the very model of a major metropolitan area (as sung by The Beach Boys), is valiantly attempting to reconfigure its transportation hierarchy.

There’s a niche opening up here for our city if we’re bold enough to seize the opportunity.

You Like Things Just The Way They Used To Be? Tired Of Having To Rethink Your Strongly Held Views? 1950scaradDo You Suspect That Prioritizing Public Transit And Other Forms Of Non-Car Commuting Is Probably Some Sort Of Special Interest Agenda? Don’t Mind Sitting In Traffic With The Tunes Blasting In Your Smooth, Smooth Ride? (Do You Know How Much This Honey Cost Me? Status, Baby. Status.)

Then Toronto just might be the place for you.

The bones of a dynamic, autocentric, 1950s throwback city are pretty much still in place. We’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain an elevated urban expressway. Who else is doing that? Our mayor and city council leave no stone unturned in finding money to repair our roads while remaining tight-lipped and fisted funding transit.

And development? As long as we can keep the towers going up downtown, replenishing the wider tax base, the “village feel” we all rabidly protect elsewhere will be maintained. americangothicMidrise? That’s not the kind of neighbourhood I want to raise my kids in. Think about the traffic! Oh, and the children.

Change is hard. Not changing is easy. With everybody else out there chasing change, Toronto can tap into the inevitable reactionary discontent.

Disgruntled? Fed Up With Being Told You Made A Terrible Lifestyle Choice? Ready To Put Down Roots Somewhere Your Self-Important Sense Of Entitlement Will Be Appreciated And Catered To?

Toronto is the place. Dig in here. Call it home.

spitballingly submitted by Cityslikr


Westwood

March 30, 2016

More news on the lunacy of our parking policy/philosophy front: It’s tough finding a parking spot at your local Trader Joe’s!traderjoes

Read through the Twitter timeline in this Buzzfeed post, 23 Hilariously Accurate Tweets About Trader Joe’s Parking Lots, and after about the 4th one in, try not screaming, THEN GET OUT OF YOUR CAR, YOU FUCKING DIMWIT!! WALK A BIT!

Let me add a personal anecdote. There’s a Trader Joe’s about a 10, 15 minute walk from our place here. It pretty much sits right in the heart of Westwood. Even before reading this article, we noted the hazard of walking past the store’s underground lot. Cars flew out, past the gate with little obvious thought to occupants on the sidewalk ahead. Cars turned madly into the lot, not making eye contact with the pedestrians they just stopped in their tracks as if this was perfectly acceptable behaviour. Horns, the soundtrack of Los Angeles, frequently sounded.crazedparking

It must be pure pandemonium down there, we thought. A real knock-em-down contest for precious few spots. I even wrote about it earlier, the importance of validation, some weeks back.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is that, after downtown Santa Monica, and the ocean strip between it and Venice, and maybe Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Westwood is probably the most pedestrianized area on the westside of Los Angeles. The UCLA campus anchors it on the north. Many of the students live in low and medium rise buildings within walking distance to the west and southwest of the school. The western end of the so-called Condo Canyon strip along Wilshire Boulevard stops just to the southeast.

There is lots of built-in density in the area, in other words, which should provide a natural pedestrian constituency to Westwood. Yet cars still rule. Aside from a couple scrambled pedestrian crossings up nearer to the campus, traffic lights are geared to car travel. zeegogglesYou could stand for minutes waiting at even the non-busiest of side streets, vainly pressing the walk signal. Zee button! It does nuss-ing!! At other spots, the pedestrian crossing is awkward, unnecessarily two-stage. Another is simply fucking dangerous.

Why?

This entire section of Westwood would be perfect for some tactical urbanism. Close streets to car traffic here, reduce it to a single lane there. Encourage more restaurant patio life which is surprisingly sparse, given the generally agreeable climate.

The truth is, it couldn’t hurt Westwood. While memory shouldn’t be considered reliable, at least not mine, at least not mine contemplating over 20 years, I do remember a much livelier neighbourhood back when I lived here in the early-90s. More restaurants and bars. Retail didn’t feel as, I don’t know, shopworn and trinkety. I mean, even further back in the day, Westwood was the place for big Hollywood premieres. westwoodA couple of those theatres remain in place, carrying the pedigree if not the status they once did.

It’s not that Westwood is devoid of street life. While not exactly bustling, there are people on foot, getting to the places they’re going. There’s just no sense of lingering. No just hanging out. No Gehl-ing.

Westwood seems like a perfect place to try and instill a little of that sensibility in Los Angeles.

There is a weekly farmer’s market on one of the side streets. Further down Westwood Boulevard, south of Wilshire, a block was cordoned off from cars last Sunday, for the Persian New Year celebration, Nowruz, in the area of the city known as Tehrangeles, for the Iranian population that settled there. People flocked to the event, once they could find a parking spot on a nearby sidestreet.

In fact, the whole strip of Westwood Boulevard, from Santa Monica Boulevard north, which, to these eyes, is far too wide already for the amount of traffic it accommodates, could be scaled back on its auto primacy, and reconfigured in a more equitable way. Remove a couple car lanes. westwoodblvdInstall an actual bike lane instead of the painted lines that are more notable for their disregard than actual use. Widen the sidewalks. Green it up. Actually try embracing the boulevard in Westwood Boulevard.

An uphill battle in most cities, even those less entrenched in a car culture, this would be the steepest of inclines here. Those who might benefit and enjoy it most, UCLA students, have their own public commons on campus, although it’s surprisingly small and contained, competing as it has to for space with the various parking lots. I guess Westwood as it stands serves their needs as much as it has to, with its various grocery stores, drug stores, quick eats joints and bars.

And much of the rest of the surrounding community, living in some of the most expensive real estate in the country, Brentwood, Bel Air, Beverly Hills adjacent, has shown open hostility to any sort of suggestion that would get in the way of their cars. tuscanyA dedicated rush hour bus lane along the Condo Canyon section of Wilshire. Bike lanes on Westwood.

I guess you don’t buy your expensive automobiles in order to leave them parked in your laneway while you walk over to do some shopping or grab a bite to eat. There are parking spots at Trader Joe’s to fight over and bitch about the lack of, dammit! If people want to stroll somewhere to grab a bottle of good, inexpensive wine, can’t they just go to Tuscany like everybody else?

in vainly submitted by Cityslikr


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