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


Pacific Standard Time

January 27, 2016

So here’s how it happened.

I was at my doctor’s, checking in for my annual checking up. To see what condition my condition was in. (I am of that age, yes.) sayahhEverything but my attitude came out just fine.

“You have the heart of a 57 year-old man,” my MD informed me.

“But I’m only 54.”

“A very healthy 57 year-old man,” the doc said, as if somehow… Never mind. That’s beside the point of this particular story.

Like I said, I was not feeling particularly ebullient at this juncture. It could be just a case of the post-holiday, January blues, my doctor suggested. “SAD, maybe.” He told me to seek out some light, shine it on the darkness.

“The days are getting longer.”

While I felt comfortable leaving my physical health in this man’s hands, I was less inclined to adhere to his mental health diagnosis. I knew the January blahs. feelingblueI’d never been prone to the deeper seasonal affective disorder, and wasn’t entirely sure why I might be now.

No. This was different. I didn’t feel sad or depressed or down in the dumps. I was just angry. Anger mixed with an occasional dose of despair. Angrair. Despry.

“What on earth do you have to be angry about?” my doctor asked me. “You’re a healthy, middle-aged man with no family history of prostate cancer. You know how many people would be ecstatic about that prognosis? Get your angry ass out of my office.” A little too dismissive, I thought as I headed down the hallway toward the receptionist’s desk to make an appointment for my next physical a year from now. But not entirely without merit.

I have very little to be angry about, let alone despair. Aside from all that creeping mortality business that begins to make a serious appearance when your life’s well more than half over. I know, I know. 55 is the new 25 and all that. That’s what the kid’s are saying these days, isn’t it?

Still. You do reach an age when you always think before getting down to shovel the snow from the walk, angryWill this be my last shovel of snow? Dying with your winter boots on.

That said, in my medical opinion, this wasn’t really about my impending death. It had more to do, in my humble opinion, with what I was doing with my dwindling time here on earth. Pounding your head ceaselessly against a wall doesn’t feel like a productive use of your time. I’m not sure it ever did. It’s just started to feel especially useless at this point in my life.

And let’s face, that’s what I’ve been doing, have been doing for at least a year now here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. When the Ford’s were defeated back in October 2014, I imagined myself stepping back from the fray, the political side of things, to concentrate on the stuff that really interested me. The nuts and bolts of building a better, fairer, more sustainable city. Lots of the nerdy, geeky stuff I didn’t know enough about but wanted to learn in more detail.

Obviously, that’s not what happened. While I never entertained the highest of hopes in John Tory, I never thought he’d flounder as much as he has. angry1Competent if not inspirational or reform-minded, I’d hoped, for no other reason than hoping for less would be too soul crushing to imagine.

Maybe he has turned a corner with his recent conversion on the public transit file. Maybe not. Maybe competency is possible! I don’t know and, frankly, it just makes me angry and despairing more than a little that that’s the straw I’m left clutching at. Maybe our mayor may just be less worse than he was shaping up to be.

Huzzah and hurrah!

Angrair. Despry.

Which brings me to the point of all of this, if you’re still following along.beverlyhillbillies

LA, CA. Los Angeles, California. Swimming pools and movie stars. That’s the place I ought to be.

Until April, at any rate. Until the snow begins to retreat. Until it’s baseball season again

It’s an enforced step back that I could not execute under close proximity. A little breathing space. Some distance.

Now, there’s a little history between Los Angeles and me. This ain’t my first… a-hem, a-hem… Rodeo… Drive. LA and I go back some.

Back to the early-90s, when I had dreams of being a big time sitcom writer. (Don’t believe everything you read in the About section of any blog. Hell, you might not want to believe anything I’m writing right now.) laxI had my Home Improvement and Murphy Brown spec scripts tucked under my arm, and made my way south and westward to find the kind of fame and fortune that is so lavishly heaped upon screenwriters. Swimming pools, movie stars.

The early-90s turned out to be an interesting time to live in Los Angeles. Fires, floods, riots, lurid celebrity murders, surreal police car chases and trials, earthquakes. Did I miss anything? A “string of disruptions and upheavals, both natural and civil,” as David L. Ulin, who moved to LA from the east about the same time as I had, describes it in his recent book, Sidewalking.

With my career plans not panning out like I’d hoped and the city I was pursuing them in feeling more and more like Old Testament times, I decided to cut and run back home to Toronto, never to return but twice. sidewalkingIn 1995 to pitch a sitcom pilot to the Seinfeld production company, Castle Rock, the closest I would come to a full on sitcom career, and not again for nearly 20 years, a couple years back, on nothing more than an extended long weekend visit.

A funny thing happened in those ensuing two decades. I had begun writing about city and urban issues, albeit one city in particular but not without some wider overlap, and Los Angeles, for its part, had started taking on some of those same urban issues. When I left the city in the fall of 1994, there was one light rail line and a 5 station stubway, largely serving downtown LA. Outside of that, it was buses operated by a litany of municipalities that make up Los Angeles County. It was generally acknowledged that to live in LA, you drove in LA.

Today, the city has two subway lines, consisting of 22 stations and 4 light rail lines serving nearly 70 stations with further expansion right around the corner. It’s pushing dedicated bus lanes in other under-served areas. In the kingdom of the private automobile, the last two mayors of Los Angeles have seemed serious about pursuing mobility alternatives to the car.

During that same time span, Toronto has what? Built a stubway of its own after having buried a previous project already underway. Converted a couple streetcar lines into their own ROWs without any other sort of traffic priority. californiadreamingThere’s another subway extension in progress and only a couple years from completion. The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is still 4 years away.

And plans for more. Plans, lots of plans. Always with the plans.

You see what I’m talking about here?

We need a little break, me and Toronto. A trial separation. If you can’t say anything good, then maybe don’t say anything at all. Shut it down and open up space for other, more constructive, voices to speak up and be heard.

Settle in for a spell, down here in Southern California. Take in how another city is attempting to deal with the 21st-century. Don’t get caught up in the politics of it all. Just observe and report. californiadreaming1What’s working. What’s not. Why and why not.

Maybe try to learn a thing or two instead of driving myself and everyone else crazy with the know-it-all pose. Stop being so angry and try to embrace the whole mellow thing. At least for a couple months. A little change of perspective might go a long way to brightening my outlook when I get back home.

dreamingly submitted by Cityslikr


Stumbling Toward Progress

January 22, 2016

Wow!

And what a week it was.whirlwind

Under the steady, competent and business-like stewardship of John Tory, this kind of wild ride at City Hall was supposed to be a thing of the past. Granted, not your garden variety, crack-fueled, more-than-enough-to-eat-at-home sort of melodrama we’ve previously witnessed. Purely political, up and down the daily calendar. But still.

It all began with a fairly standard bit of annual budgeting that’s happened for the past few years. Ix-nay he-tay alk-tay bout-ay ew-na evenue-ray. Pilfer reserve funds. Continue to squeeze a little harder on the stone in the hopes of getting blood this time around. Circle three times, click you heels twice. Declare the budget balanced in the fairest, most reasonable, prudent manner possible.

Then it started to rain staff reports and the going got crazy.

SmartTrack. Redrawn options for the Gardiner East hybrid. The Scarborough subway extension. New numbers and projections. countNew configurations. New realities. New respect for expert staff advice, depending on the project, of course. Proposed compromises that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the original plans. Fewer subways. More LRTs. More developable waterfront land. Tighter turn radii.

Somewhere in the midst of all that doubling and tripling back mayhem, the man who should be chief of police leveled a broadside against his organization, demanding fundamental reform of the way it goes about its policing business. He then went silent or was silenced. The head of the Police Services Association responded with a public pout. The former reform-minded chair of the Police Services Board filed a complaint against the actual chief of police and the Police Services Board for not clarifying statements the police chief made during a year end interview questioning the accuracy of statements the former TPSB chair made about implementation of proposed reforms. joustingWe then learned the police were deploying some 50 combat ready assault rifles for front line officers as tools of de-escalation and in no way was militarizing policing in the city.

Mayor Tory deemed it all to be reasonable. Nothing to be alarmed at. As you were.

You could look at all this and conclude that it was simply the result of an industrious administration dealing with the inevitable array of issues that come from governing a growing and busy metropolis. Shit happens, am I right? Roll up your sleeves and get down into the goo. This city isn’t going to run itself.

But it doesn’t feel like that at all to me. At week’s end, it kind of feels like a reckoning. Bills have come due and need to be paid.

The mayor’s refusal to have a serious discussion about proper revenue streams, holding tight onto his campaign promise of keeping property tax rate hikes to at or below the rate of inflation, continues to hamstring the city for yet another year in dealing with a wall of serious fiscal matters, both on the capital and operating sides of the ledger. madscrambleIt’s even more ridiculous in light of how he’s backtracked on other hare-brained campaign promises, mostly revolving around public transit. He’s insisting on putting off a tax and spend conversation that will only get more difficult the closer we get to another election.

On the policing front, the mayor took his spot on the board rather than designate a council colleague in his place. So he was right there, hands on, to change the culture both on the board and in the services itself. A shot at serious reform, which he keeps talking about, within reach. A new, forward thinking chief waiting in the wings, reports and recommendations for implementation of change on the table in front of him.

But he blinked, retreated, embraced the status quo. More business as usual.

Where there is some brightness, some hope for more positive outcomes is on transit, a file the mayor, and as a candidate before that, made even more problematic and difficult to negotiate, layering on additional fanciful talk and plans in his bid for the job. headlesschickenBut he’s backtracked on SmartTrack. He’s rethought his once adamant support of the Scarborough subway extension. Having joined the crowd in politicizing transit planning, he’s now attempted to hand it back, tattered and somewhat worse for wear, to those who actually know a thing or two about transit planning.

The retreat comes with some potentially good results. The city could end up with an Eglinton Crosstown running from Pearson airport right through to the Scarborough campus of the University of Toronto. We might build fewer subways in Scarborough and more LRTs. So much new transit could be in the offing that we as a city will have no choice to not only talk about new revenue sources but to actually implement some in order to help pay for and operate it.

This comes, unsurprisingly, with a whole boatload of caveats. The new SmartTrack mock up is still so dependent on unknown variables like capacity and fare pricing as to remain highly theoretical, and yet, is something of a linchpin for the new proposed Scarborough subway alignment to work properly. chaseyourowntailIs $2 billion (or more) for one subway station too steep a price to pay to try and ensure a non-fractious majority of city council buy in? All the delays and false starts have pushed timelines further and further down the road, past upcoming elections cycles, leaving most of today’s proposed projects susceptible to future political interference, still just lines on a map.

Unlike the budget process and the policing news, however, I don’t see this week’s transit resets as steps back or no steps taken at all. At least in the light of recent transit upheavals in Toronto, what’s occurred over the past few days is something akin to progress. If not forward momentum, let’s call it forward motion.

It shouldn’t have to be this fucking hard, and I will not absolve Mayor Tory of any blame for contributing to the ongoing difficulty. fingerscrossed1If he had’ve met the parochial chest-beating of the Ford’s head on, and not derided and sneered at his opponents who did so, none of this would’ve been necessary. We wouldn’t have lost so much time and money while he and his team pretended SmartTrack was actually a thing, that the Scarborough subway had any legitimacy whatsoever.

But, there it is, and here we are.

Try as I might to wrap this up on an optimistic note, I can’t bring myself to do it unless you consider It’s Not All Bad News upbeat. In the flurry that was this week, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Maybe. When it could be worse is not good enough, it will have to do.

Open ended. That’s all I’ve got.

unfinishedly submitted by Cityslikr


Physics Lesson

January 19, 2016

Think budgeting in this city has evolved under John Tory, out and up from the morass of political sloganeering and accounting sorcery of the Ford administration? clownsinavolkswagenThink again, mes amis. Here’s a pre-masticated chunk for you to chew on.

In the rate supported solid waste budget already approved in December by city council, there was a savings of a little over $2 million with the elimination of the city rebate for those XL garbage bins some households have. You know, the ones the size of a fucking Volkswagen. A family of 7 clowns could comfortably live inside one. City staff thought maybe we shouldn’t be subsidizing people to throw away a lot of garbage that costs all of us to haul away and store in landfills especially since it seems that those with XL garbage cans recycle and green bin their organics less than others.

Council agreed. But now, with a submission to committee yesterday, the budget chair, Councillor Gary Crawford (presumably with Mayor Tory’s blessing) headscratcherwants that $2.23 million XL garbage bin rebate “reinstated”. This, while they’re raiding reserve funds, demanding $5 million more from the TTC and not funding about 60% of the promises and pledges council and the mayor have made. The budget chair wants to remove $2.23 million from the proposed operating budget back to rebate XL garbage bin users. (h/t to Matt Elliott for explaining the nuanced dance of rate and tax supported budgets.)

Maybe it’s simply being used as a bargaining chip, to be given up during the horse-trading that’s going to only intensify between now and mid-February when city council finalizes this budget. Still. It seems impossibly, I don’t know, short-sighted and… dumb. There’s not a word in my arsenal I can summon to describe it.

I get that XL garbage bins are used in multiunit residences, like rooming houses for example. Surely though, we have the technology to determine between those and single family homes using this type of receptacle, and can adjust the rebates accordingly. Because, right now, in 2016, there’s no way single families shouldn’t be paying full cost for the use of XL garbage bins. None. Zip. aimlesslyForget about it.

It’s a tiny, tiny matter in the bigger $11 billion picture of the 2016 budget for sure but it just epitomizes for me the amorphous direction of this administration, two budgets into its term now. Keeping taxes low is the only touchstone, exactly like the Ford years, with big promises of improvements to our quality of life but woefully short on the follow through. Outside of that (and keeping talk of new sources of revenue at bay), anything goes. Just meet that property tax rate increase cap, and it’s all good.

Actually, what it feels like, and forgive me the sports analogy here, is a baseball manager’s long, deliberate walk from the dugout toward the mound, taking his time to make sure the bullpen arms are good and ready to jump in and offer immediate relief. Mayor Tory’s stalling, waiting, hoping for money to start flowing in to the city’s coffers from senior levels of government, fullclosetespecially the feds who seem itching to start spreading infrastructure money around in order to help out the teetering economy. If he can just string things out a little bit longer, keep things duct taped together for one more budget cycle, until the cavalry arrives…

That would be welcome, of course, and long overdue. But it isn’t realistic to think either Queen’s Park or Ottawa is going to fill our every need, is it? Should they? Yes, they should be redirecting money back to cities on things municipalities should never have been paying for off of the property tax base in the first place including affordable housing and a transit system that provides a regional service. Arguably though, we aren’t even properly funding the things we should be paying for, like parks, planning and libraries, off the top of my head, forcing ourselves to make hard choices about need-to-have versus nice-to-haves through our collective refusal to reach a little deeper into our own pockets.

John Tory promised to bring a more clear-headed, rational, reasonable way of doing things to City Hall. We gave him a mulligan on his first budget, as we tend to do to most new mayors, as they are inheriting somebody else’s work in progress, let’s call it.bulldurham Second time around, however, we’re expecting a little more ownership, a sense of purpose, a manifestation of a mandate.

What’s on offer right now from Team Tory is a black hole, sucking the operation of this city into it. A patchwork of cuts here, additions there, amounting to little more than numbers summing up to zero for no other seeming purpose than because they have to. Governance entropy, waiting, fingers crossed, for an injection of life and energy from somewhere out there in the cosmos.

nonevently submitted by Cityslikr


Keeping Up With The Joneses

January 18, 2016

It’s odd to wake up on a Monday morning, read through your local news and information and realize there’s a lot of change in the air. goodnewseveryoneDeputy Chief Peter Sloly suggests a complete overhaul of our approach to policing. Former city council candidate and Better Budget TO co-founder Alex Mazer raises the possibility of some ‘fiscal honesty’. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has plans on completely re-imagining King Street from Dufferin all the way east to River.

Oh my. I think I just gave myself a case of the dizzies. So much… possibilities!

This comes after a weekend of occasional contemplation on what seems to be the inevitable strategic retreat by Mayor Tory on his heavily touted (by he and his team, at least) SmartTrack transit plan. On Friday stories began to emerge about scaling back and spending less on it. The always dubious ‘western spur’ dropped and replaced (Fingers Crossed!) by the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. The eastern branch north of the Kennedy subway station quietly binned. stepbackLeaving some sort of expanded GO train-like service tracing the much more desirable Relief Line route, the slightest impression acknowledging SmartTrack even once existed as a concept.

I wondered what the campaign architects of SmartTrack were thinking now. Was this pretty much how the saw things happening? They knew, along with a solid majority of everybody else, that the plan was wholly unworkable. Just get their guy elected, go through the motions, not to mention millions, pretending he was serious about building SmartTrack. When it hit smack dab into the wall of reality, revealed to be the sham it was, stitching together a couple good ideas into an ill-fitting and grotesquely expensive cloth, walk it back, on the advice of the experts that weren’t, apparently, available during the 10 month long campaign.lipstickonapig

SmartTrack was an election scheme in no way meant to refute the heavy-rail, off-road transit vision of John Tory’s main rival for the job, Rob-then-Doug Ford. That’s why it was referred to as ‘Surface Subway’. That’s why John Tory backed the Scarborough subway. John Tory refused to confront the political pandering that sat deep in the heart of the Ford approach to transit planning. Instead, he chose to wrestle it into his own image.

So, I look at today’s news, the transformative opportunities, and temper my immediate enthusiasm. Just how willing is John Tory, essentially, to buck the status quo, to grapple with the ghost of the Ford administration? Little so far would indicate his willingness to do so. Every restoration of TTC service he announces is more than equaled by expedited expressway repairs, Gardiner hybrids and traffic flow announcements. Do we really expect him to stand strong in the face of the inevitable outrage at the chief planner’s plans to de-emphasis car travel along King Street and in the downtown core?

Fiscal honesty? I write this as I’m following along with the budget chief’s lunchtime presser. “We did not have to use revenue tools on this budget,” Councillor Crawford told reporters. putalidonit1All the while keeping property tax rate increases impossibly low, raiding reserve funds and insisting on line-by-lines cuts to office supplies and travel costs in order to try and plug the inevitable holes in the operating budget. Sound familiar? It should. That’s what’s been passing as ‘fiscal honesty’ at City Hall for the past 5 years or so.

And as mayor, John Tory sits on the Police Services Board that passed over the opportunity to appoint reformer Peter Sloly as Chief of Police, all the while holding the door open for the similarly reform-minded chair, Alok Mukherjee, to make an early exit. He’s already had the chance to help affect much needed change and dropped the ball. Well into his second year in office, it’s difficult not to see Mayor Tory as anything but an obstacle, no less than his predecessor.

Of course, it’s hard to look forward when you’re constantly checking back over your shoulder to see what your competition’s up to. Ultimately, it’s of cold comfort that John Tory defeated Doug Ford to become mayor if, in the end, there’s little to differentiate between the two in matters of policy. kipMaintaining the status quo is maintaining the status quo even if you can’t see the gold chain around somebody’s neck.

If John Tory really wants to establish an enduring legacy during his time in office, he could do so by challenging the Ford city building and governance mystique head on, bury it six feet under the ground where it belongs. The possibilities in doing so are in evidence in today’s news. But, for me, the mayor’s motivations remain opaque. Like with SmartTrack, he seems more intent on a simple redesign, keeping a uninterrupted message, only delivered by a different messenger.

not anticipatingly submitted by Cityslikr


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