It’s Friday. The weather outside is dee-lightful. I may or may not have had too much to drink last night.
My will to fight, rant and rage is compromised.
Mayor Tory is determined to lead the charge in the transit debacle that is the Scarborough subway currently unfolding before our eyes. Today he showed grit and determination to bury (along with the Bloor-Danforth extension) whatever vestiges of prudence, reasonableness and good governance he was clinging on to, fully stepping into crank hackery territory. Zero vision indeed. Credibility gone. Leadership void.
The degree with which the mayor is now trying to stifle further discussion is directly proportional to the growing realization how terrible a project this one-stop, “express” subway actually is, reflected in the latest bit of bad news from Oliver Moore in the Globe and Mail. For Mayor Tory, any criticism of the plan comes from naysayers, scaredy-cats and those who just want to debate not build things. Almost as if those kind of people really exist.
This mayor is as lacking in good judgement as I feared he would be. He is not leading us from the civic wilderness the Ford administration took us into. He’s just taking us down another awful path. And if you think that’s the case, Mayor Tory wants you to know that you’re the one with the problem, not him. He’s a doer, goddammit! His critics are just an obstacle to progress.
But, it’s Friday and sunny. Let’s take a few days off and pretend not to be worried that Toronto is, once again, in incapable hands. Ahh, well. This city’s tendency to elect incompetent mayors will still be staring us right in the face come next week.
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. It 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. Same 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. Yeah, 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, is 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. Subway 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.
Oh, to be young again. Young and full of hope, dreams, aspirations. Hope. Hope, hope, hope.
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.
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. They 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.
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. He 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.
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.
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.