A Sad Symmetry

I pretty much had the story already written in my head as I was making my way out to the state of T.O. transit planning public meeting at the Scarborough Civic Centre last night. symmetryIt would be full of beautiful symmetry with a healthy dollop of delicious irony. The last time I had made the trek for the same purpose, back in 2012, just after then mayor Rob Ford had lost control of the transit file, the gathering descended into a verbal melee with then TTC chair Karen Stintz the brunt of much yelling and abuse. Gordon Chong, one of the evening’s panelists, asked her (very rhetorically) if she was ‘thick’. A woman near where I was sitting, outside of the council chambers, just kept yelling, “Where is your plan, Karen? Where is your plan?!”

Oh, Councillor Stintz had a plan alright. It just didn’t pan out very well. For anyone concerned.

With the news coming out a couple days ago, just ahead of last night’s meeting, of possible home and property expropriations as part of the emerging preferred staff route for the one-stop Scarborough subway along McCowan Road, I thought, this’ll be perfect. disbandedtheptaSame place, same subject, 4 years later. Only this time around, the crowd will be screaming against subways! Just like a Simpson’s episode.

Alas, reality does not always break like you hope it would. Probably a good thing, in the end. The reality in my head sometimes even scares me.

While last night’s meeting had feisty spikes from the packed crowd, it felt more discouraged and disgruntled than angry. In no way could I describe the vibe as anti-subway. There were just problems with this proposed subway alignment. Why just one stop now? Why not 2? There seemed to be significant support for keeping a Lawrence stop. Or converting the whole thing to an articulated electric bus network since projected ridership for the subway proposal seems to diminish with each iteration.

It would be easy to just throw up your hands and shake your head, writing off such mob mentality. The issue of expropriation only really flared up after the formal staff presentation and questions from the audience when a man start shouting at Councillor Paul Ainslie, demanding to know if he’s ever had his property expropriated. rageYeah, that Councillor Ainslie. The only Scarborough councillor to hold steady against the building of a subway.

The man should’ve been shouting at another Scarborough councillor, Glenn De Baeremaeker, who was holding court just a few feet away, brushing aside questions of the low projected ridership for his pet project with a glib list of subway stops with even lower ridership numbers. Should we close them too? Why do ridership numbers only matter in Scarborough? It’s only fair. North York has X number of subway stops. Scarborough deserves more to even out the score.

We are currently experiencing a catastrophic failure of political leadership with the transit failure. It didn’t start with Rob Ford, or did it end with him. Glenn De Baeremaeker has become an abhorrent local representative with his subway mania. Karen Stintz gambled a mayoral run on championing a Scarborough subway instead of a sensible transit plan. The current mayor, John Tory, tossed in his own little bit of nonsense, SmartTrack, which, as staff admitted last night, shadowpuppetsis pushing the proposed subway alignment further east than it probably should be, possibly contributing to deflated ridership numbers and bringing up the spectre of expropriations.

And the provincial Liberal government, supposedly the adults in the room, have only helped fan the flames of divisiveness, resentment and bad transit planning. Many of their Scarborough MPPs were former city councillors, and they have drawn a line in the sand. Give them a subway or give them death! Mitzi Hunter was elected to Queen’s Park, touting her credentials as the Subway Champion.

The problem is, the numbers don’t support a subway. They never have. The Scarborough subway is purely political. It’s proven to be great policy for getting elected but a terrible one for getting people around.

None of this is news or any sort of revelation. The public hunger for a subway and their anger directed at any public official who seemed to be standing in the way of it was understandable when the debate was still theoretical. notthisagainSubway versus LRT. But as the studies progress and the numbers continue to roll in showing just how bad an idea building the Scarborough subway extension really is, anger turns to frustration and dismay. Why is this taking so long? Just build something already. Wait, not there. That doesn’t make any sense.

That’s a different kind of symmetry than I originally envisioned. It does, however, follow its own logical arc. Hope becoming cynicism with the eventual realization that politicians are pursuing policies that benefit their own self-interests not those of the wider public.

similarly submitted by Cityslikr

Why We Don’t Have Nice Things

Allow me, if you will, to make this a Rob Ford story, while he plays a cameo in it, the familiar part of “former Toronto mayor…allegedly smoking crack” basketball1(Allegedly? The man’s admitted it already!), there are, admittedly, much bigger, wider, deeper issues at play.

Courting controversy: Push for public basketball courts runs up against misguided fears,” is the last in a 4 part series in the Globe and Mail “examining support programs and services for lower-income residents in Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon – the cities and towns of Peel Region more known for their affluent middle and upper classes than a growing population who live in poverty.” Once more we are faced with our “veiled racism”, as a young Tristen Mason generously sees it in the article, in continuing opposition to building and operating basketball courts throughout the GTA.

“Veiled racism”? What’s the kid talking about? What’s racist about opposing basketball courts?

Let me ask you this.

When I say, Fill in the blank in the following statement: basketballBasketball is a game played mostly by _______, what’s your first response?

Yeah. Exactly. And then follow that through with the usual equating of basketball to drugs and gangs and gun play. Like I said. Mr. Mason’s talk of ‘veiled racism’ is generous indeed.

Such sentiments are ham-fistedly stoked by local knuckleheads like longtime Ward 7 York West city councillor, Giorgio Mammoliti, who features prominently in Dakshana Bascaramurty’s piece. “We don’t welcome the concept, at all, of gang bangers…selling drugs on outdoor basketball courts,” he once said. Basketball courts, and all their yelling and screaming and fights and guns! Having changed one over to a place for ball hockey instead, I mean, what’s more Canadian white bread than ball hockey, Mammoliti claimed police told him crime dropped ‘dramatically’. Of course, the police claimed no such thing.

The councillor was at it again, late last municipal campaign where, probably not coincidentally one of his opponents, Keegan Henry-Mathieu, just so happened to be black. fanningtheflamesWhen Mammoliti was asked about his dim view of basketball courts, he pretty much replayed the dog whistle tune. “For one reason or another, [basketball hoops] seem to attract the wrong crowd outside. What I’ve heard loud and clear is that nobody is playing outdoor basketball any more, they seem to be selling drugs.”

That’s always a distinct possibility when you actively neglect a public space into dereliction.

Which brings me back to the subject of Rob Ford.

One of the dilapidated basketball courts that went untended and disregarded had originally been built with the proceeds from a foundation of one-time Toronto Raptor superstar, Vince Carter. The “Rolls-Royce of outdoor basketball courts,” the Globe and Mail called it. Now?

These days, the backboards are rusted. One rim has no net; the other is torn-up and ratty: like a once-voluminous coif thinned to a comb-over. Empty water bottles, McDonald’s cups and even an old 3.8-litre bleach container are scattered over the grass around the court. For a stretch, even the rims were taken down, effectively rendering the city-owned court useless.

Here’s the kicker.

Our friend over at Marshall’s Musings, Sean Marshall, pointed out that this one time ‘Rolls Royce of outdoor basketball courts’ is located right smack dab in Ward 2 Etobicoke North, fiefdom of the Ford clan, Rob-then Doug-then Rob again. basketball2Of course it is. Irony or poetic injustice demands it.

While serving as councillors/mayors, rarely was any opportunity passed up by the brothers Ford to squawk about private section participation in the running of the city. Want to build a subway? (And who doesn’t?) The private sector’ll pay for it. (Still waiting.) Want to host a splashy international event? (Don’t we all?) Corporate sponorship’ll foot the bill. (Honest.) Yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. Blah, blah, blah.

Here we have a perfect example of such a model. The private sector, through a private donation, builds the ‘Rolls Royce of outdoor basketball courts’ for the city, serving it up on a platter for the Boys of Ward 2 to make political hay with, and what happens? They let it go to shit. “Nobody has done more for black people than me,” Rob Ford crowed during the 2010 mayoral race. And by ‘more’, obviously he meant more, as in, more to promote drugs, guns and violence through underfunding services and programs and undermining the marginalized community he’s represented, in one way or another, for more than a decade now.

This is the absolute and abysmal hollowness that forms the core of the Ford brand of fake populism. pretendpopulismTalk a big game about looking out for the little guy, assure them there are easy ways to serve their best interests and when the chips are down, when it comes to putting money where their mouths are? M.I.A.

Worse yet, go missing and then blame the failure on everybody else. Bloated and misdirected spending at City Hall. The suburbs never getting anything. Thugs that they don’t hug.

What we really ought to do is post signs around the abandoned basketball court, pointing out the reality of continuing to fall for the politics of the Fords. This basketball court, brought to you by Vince Carter. This basketball court, destroyed by Rob and Doug Ford.

suggestingly submitted by Cityslikr

Once Upon A Time There Was A Transit Plan…

Transit planning in Toronto is becoming more and more like one of the fables of yore. Tales told to teach children a valuable moral lesson. grimmFailure to absorb said counsel would result in rather… a-hem, a-hem… grim doings like throwing an old blind woman into an oven or cutting off your toe to fit into a shoe. Not so much happy-endings as, can you fucking believe what just happened?!

Read yesterday’s Toronto Star article from Royson James, Politicians ignore disaster coming down the track, and decipher the moral of the story, if you dare. Massaged ridership numbers. Deliberately downplayed costs. Overt political meddling in the planning process. What glimmer of enlightenment do you glean, standing as we do right now in the dark, foreboding forest?

Here, Little Red Riding Hood. Take this basket of goodies to your ailing grandmother. grimm1Take the shortcut to grannie’s house through that wolf-infested thicket of woods.

What could possibly go wrong?

Which is exactly where we’re sitting, waiting for staff reports to come back this fall on the feasibility of Mayor John Tory’s signature SmartTrack plan as well as the alignment of choice for the Scarborough subway. Here, Toronto. Take this basket of goodies to your transit ailing system. Please ignore the wolves at your door.

What could possibly go wrong?

Now, it’s easy to cast the villain in this tale. Emerging from under the bridge, Rob “Subways, Subways, Subways” Ford plays the ogre. Once with the perceived power to do so (what politicians like to call their ‘mandate’) in his grasp, he killed off a perfectly good and provincially funded transit plan with no realistic alternative in place. grimm3Just killed it dead. Because he could.

The fact is, however, Rob Ford is nothing more than the inciting incident of this story. His madness could’ve been stopped in its tracks by people wielding far more power than he did. While city council was probably correct in not forcing him to bring his Transit City Dead motion immediately up for a vote during his brief but impressive ascendancy, and handing him an “official” stamp of approval, others could’ve stood firm in the face of his onslaught.

That is the real moral of this story. Political cravenness and calculation in the face of inchoate populism. Good governance brushed aside for good poll numbers. Doing the right thing? Define the word ‘right’.

Lies added to lies, multiplied by lies to the power of three. Compounded lies, all in the service of expediency and to the detriment of public policy. Everyone became a subway champion (under and above ground). Remember. grimm2Don’t take what you think is the best course possible. Take the one that’s most popular.

That’s the lesson of Toronto’s transit fable. Have no conviction. Disregard facts and evidence. Cater first and foremost to popular opinion. (I mean, come on. It’s not like I’m the only person advocating we burn the witch, am I right? Burn the witch! Burn the witch!!) Never, no matter what, whatever you do, stand up to a bully especially if he really, really popular. No good can come of it.

It’s a morality tale devoid of any morality or ethics. A story with far more villains than heroes. Taking and retaining power is all that matters, kids. If you want to get ahead in this life, best void yourselves of scruples as soon as you can. Integrity and principles are for suckers, boys and girls. Learn that now and save yourself a boatload of anguish and misery later.

The End.

grimly submitted by Cityslikr