Boxstore Aesthetic

April 29, 2011

There’s not much I can add to the discussion about this week’s decision by the Public Works Committee to kill the Fort York pedestrian bridge that hasn’t been already said more fully and completely by Derek Flack at blogTO and Ford For Toronto’s Matt Elliott. Except maybe to introduce a new word to the English language. Derived from a combination of despair and anger that has become the prevalent mood here in Toronto during the Mayor Rob Ford era. Angair? Desger? Despanger? (Try it with a French pronunciation. Day-PAN-jay.)

How many times and ways can we talk about myopia and short-sightedness? Pennywise and poundfoolishness. The stunted notion of ‘core services’ being seen as little more than roads and sewers and not the wider, longer view of all round liveability.

That the public face of the move to kill the bridge is Councillor David Shiner comes as no surprise. He is part of the core group of Team Ford whose prime motivating factor seems to be, even more than simple political ideology, exacting revenge on anyone or anything from the Miller administration for excluding them from positions of power or influence. Once the mighty budget chief under Mel Lastman, Councillor Shiner was reduced to outsider status during the David Miller years, and somebody has to pay for that slight.

He couldn’t really have bagged a bigger prize, either, than the Fort York bridge. Not a big ticket item money-wise (less than the revenue the city won’t see from the decision to repeal the VRT), it was the baby of Ward 19’s former councillor and Miller’s Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone.  ‘An attack on taxpayers’, Councillor Shiner called the bridge and its ‘fancy’ design. Fancy’s the old way of doing things at City Hall. Austerity (in both mind and matter) is the new fancy.

What’s especially rich about Councillor Shiner’s demand for more financial accountability in somebody else’s ward is that he’s one of the beneficiaries of perhaps the biggest boondoggle… I mean, investment in future development… in recent memory:  the Sheppard subway line. Running through a bottom slice of his Ward 24, we have recently heard the councillor get up and defend the mayor’s plan to extend the subway, extolling ‘the subway to nowhere’’s contribution to a construction boom along its corridor. An argument some have made about the Fort York bridge. Its fancy design would help spur interesting investment around it much more than a Gardiner Expressway version of it might.

It’s also interesting to note that in justifying his decision Councillor Shiner said, “… just think about what that $23 million could do for bridge rehab, for road repair; think of the community centres it could fix up, of the children’s services and child care centres it could provide.” I believe that this is the same councillor who back a few months during the budget debate, grilled a representative from the Toronto Public Library about switching projects after money had been specifically allocated even if timelines and preparedness dictated a strategic change. Doesn’t his rationale about using possible savings from a scaled back version of the bridge on more pressing needs use the same kind of reasoning he dismissed on the part of TPL?

While I’m sure impossible to track, it would be interesting to see how much of any savings that might arise from a new, modified bridge construction Councillor Shriner will then fight to spend on infrastructure upgrades, community centres and child care. Colour me sceptical (which is more or less teal-like) that’ll be the case. Instead, I see whatever money there is being flushed down the sinkhole created by tax cuts and freezes, and the fundamental ill-will the conservative faction at City Hall bear toward generating revenue.

The fate of the Fort York bridge is the inevitable outcome that arises when politicians elected on a platform of respecting taxpayers not citizens gain power. There’s no bigger picture outside the bottom line. Why do anything special or fancy when it can be done for less money? Imagine the oodles of dough saved for Paris way back when if Napolean III told Baron Haussmann that his plans were all pretty and such but let’s scale it back a little, shall we. Why build a stage with a Frank Gehry proscenium arch (to use an example from one of the mayor’s favourite cities, Chicago) when a concrete band shell would work just as well?

despangerly submitted by Cityslikr

These Happy Days Are Yours And Mine

March 6, 2011

It is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile Mayor Ford’s approach to governing and his relatively young age. Just into his 40s, the Ford Nation feels more and more like one ruled by an octogenarian. Maybe it’s because the mayor’s blinkered sensibility is formed exclusively by his view out over his suburban backyard and through his windshield. City life, to his way of thinking, as depicted by the seminal documentary of the 1950s, Happy Days.

The latest manifestation of this is the mayor’s declared War on Graffiti. Signaling an about-face from an earlier decision just after the mayor was elected to target graffiti only on a complaint basis, the city issued over 150 removal notices along Queen Street in just 10 days, catching business owners and the local BIA by surprise in the process. The removal notices appear to make no distinction between your run of the mill graffiti and commissioned murals, bringing to mind a variation on that old standard, I may not know much about art but I know what I don’t like.

This follows an earlier eyebrow raiser last month when the Brickworks received notice for 13 graffiti violations. That chair of the Municipal Licensing and Standards Committee that polices matters of graffiti, Councillor Cesar Palacio, has somewhat softened his original hard line stance that graffiti is graffiti, comes as little consolation in light of the Queen Street blitz. The city’s aggressive proactive approach puts the onus on homeowners and businesses to prove that they’re not besmirching the cityscape with graffiti regardless if there have been any complaints from neighbours, belying the mayor’s claim to be looking out for the little guy.

So the mayor campaigned on a promise of taking City Hall’s hands out of the taxpayers’ pockets but seems to have little compunction in unleashing the bureaucracy on them if they don’t measure up to his artistic or community standards.

Which must be a trait of his strain of Tea Party-like reactionary conservatism. As Bill Maher said on his show Friday night, in the U.S. the Tea Party got elected on a straight forward platform of slaying government spending and debt but has quickly moved on to things like attacking collective bargaining, reproductive rights and almost everything else with a progressive stench of secularism. Mayor Ford has similarly set his sights outside of the fiscal realm. He’s trying to push LRTs underground. He’s asked the province to declare the TTC an essential service. Now this wading into public order with an ill-defined, if-I-don’t-like-or-understand it assault on graffiti, he’s revealing his inner non-libertarian and very authoritarian self.

Mayor Ford’s also exposing an attitude toward urbanism that is decades behind the times. A clean, whitewashed main street, full of mom and pops stores, soda shops and cruising the drag on a Saturday night. (No, most definitely not that kind of cruising or drag.) It is an intolerance to differing opinions and tastes, chock full of patronizing father-knows-bestism. Not to mention counter-productive and, ultimately, carrying an additional financial burden to households and small business owners. Eliminating commissioned murals clears out space for less agreeable forms of graffiti and tagging which those owning the buildings will have to constantly spend time and money dealing with. It also appropriates police resources which surely would be put to better use on more pressing issues the city faces.

All in pursuit of what? In a speech he gave to the Board of Trade earlier this year, the mayor said “It’s [graffiti] just out of control. Nobody likes it. It doesn’t help our city. I want people to come to the city and say wow this is spotless, and it is safe.” Note the mental myopia. The world seen only through his eyes. I don’t like graffiti so nobody likes graffiti. It’s stunningly monochromatic and reveals a remarkable lack of empathy. Never mind the Sunday School logic of equating cleanliness with safety. In addition to the mayor having obviously spent his youth watching the wholesome adventures of Richie, Potsie, Ralph and the Fonz, my guess is he also overdosed on regular viewings of The Warriors.

This is the danger of electing a mayor with such unsophisticated thinking who lacks any sort of wider vision for the city. He governs based purely on pet peeves and petty prejudices. Unchecked, we face four years not looking toward the future but back at an idealized past that never existed except in the minds of those like Mayor Ford.

heyyyyly submitted by Cityslikr

Saturday Drivers

February 6, 2011

The sins of Friday night are visited upon a Saturday afternoon as I found myself in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. Let’s call him ‘Steve’ because that’s his name. My friend, that is, not the car. We were on an errand run that Steve claimed I agreed to participate in sometime after the Glenmorangie had run dry and we were trying to convince ourselves that the Crown Royal was just as good.

While I was in no position to dispute his version of events, I found it to be highly improbable that I would’ve agreed to such a thing as an ‘errand run’ regardless of how drunk and amenable I might’ve been. I don’t do ‘errand runs’. It’s why I’ve lived in an apartment all my life. To avoid doing ‘errand runs’. Light bulbs blow. Call the landlord. Water pipes freeze and burst. Call the landlord. Dead body on the landing of the staircase. Call 9-1-1. Then call the landlord.

I do not own a home because I do not have any interest in doing ‘errand runs’. That, and I am a terrible credit risk. We’re talking ultra-risky. Unsuitable for one of those subprime mortgages they were throwing around down in the States a few years back. It all started with an outstanding phone bill, most of which wasn’t mine, and pretty well snowballed from there.

But I really do hate errand runs and yet, there I was, running errands in the passenger seat of Steve’s car on a Saturday afternoon. He was determined to finish up the exercise room in his basement so that he could finally unpack his Bowflex that had arrived, he’s claiming just a few months back. I’m pretty sure it’s been at least a couple years.

Judging from the traffic, we were not alone on our errand run. The roads were unbelievable. How do people do this, I asked Steve. Grind out traffic Monday to Friday on their way to and from work, and then this again on Saturday? That’s a whole lot of your life spent behind the wheel of a car. No wonder society is so marked by anger and frustration. This is no way to live.

And the behaviour on the roads? Deplorable. Rude.  Anti-social. People simply do not act like this when they’re not driving. Just like anonymous posters on the internet. All tough talking and bullying online but in real life? Sunday school teachers. And not the creepy kind of Sunday school teachers.

It got a whole lot worse as the wet snow started to fall just around the time the sun set. No noticeable reduction in speeds while lane jockeying increased. Space between cars misinterpreted as invites to cut in rather than a safety buffer. Did that dude just blow right past the streetcar’s open doors?

Perhaps things seemed more precarious than they actually were because Steve was skidding about in his all-weather tires which, of course, precipitated a heated discussion between driver and passenger. I don’t even own a car and I know that all-weather tires mean all weather except for winter. Unlike that $40 package of 4 season furnace filters Steve bought at Lowes where the summer filter seemed a bit superfluous to me, winter tires aren’t really gimmicky.

“We don’t usually get that much snow in Toronto,” Steve yelled at me. “Yes, but when we do,” I yelled back, refusing to turn down The Cult-like song we were listening to on the radio so that we might have a more cordial discussion on the matter, “you don’t take your life into your hands every time you drive.” Steve just gave me the finger and turned the music up louder.

Along with increased errand runs, driving and car culture just encourages bad behaviour. It gives those who participate in it on a regular basis a misguided sense of entitlement. They live a life full of rage and unchecked aggressive tendencies. We will never build better societies until we diminish our dependency on the automobile and accept the fact that they make us despicable people.

antiautobodily submitted by Cityslikr


January 16, 2011

OK, so we’ve finally caved to our older demographic who have been moaning and complaining for months about how difficult our site and its black background was to read. Where we saw edgy noirish, they saw blurry. “I don’t care what you have to say,” they harped. “If you’re gonna make me squint, I ain’t reading it.”

So here. Happy now, grandpa?

We’re not completely satisfied with the look just yet, and would like to add more things like blog rolls and links to all you fine people and sites out there that we read and would like to promote . We’re just kind of retarded technologically speaking, and we’re not being glib with that word either. It’s taken us all weekend just to arrive at the changes you’re looking at. So, clearly the process is going to be a torturous one. Please bear with us.

pleadingly submitted by Cityslikr

ExTreme Makeover: New Orleans

November 20, 2010

Its [New Orleans) frauds and farces represent some of American’s worst excesses and affronts. But, day by day, year by year, New Orleans also conjures moments of artistic clarity and urban transcendence that are the best that Americans as a people can hope for. That is, if we who bare witness to them are not too jaded, too spent, too stupid to recognize them for what they are.

— Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), Treme.

I’d hardly think to offer a thoughtful analysis of the city of New Orleans after a quick jaunt there that left me less full of insight than it did life threatening fatty foods and rum induced bleary-eyed incoherence. But its future fate is something anyone interested in urban affairs should watch with keen interest. The dynamics that once made the city a cultural touchstone – race, economics, an international port of call – are currently undergoing highly charged changes that are either necessary for its survival as a vital, forward looking city or nothing short of an ethno-class cleansing. Or do such divisions have to be so starkly drawn?

The worry to some is that, post-Katrina, New Orleans simply becomes a gentrified tourist destination. A Cajun Orlando where the world comes to party like they’re all still college undergrads and watch the inhabitants perform nothing but past glories. Play When the Saints Go Marching In again while I eat a bag of beignets, will you? Museum New Orleans, monument to past glories.

There’s little room for innovation or adaptation within that framework. New Orleans as it was not how it could be. If you’re not part of that (re)vision then there’s no place for you in the new New Orleans. Play music. Wait tables. Deal blackjack. Hail taxicabs. If you don’t want to be part of that, well, there are other cities in other parts of the country that you can move to. Here, the past is the future. Minus, of course, the unsavoury, unpleasant bits.

That’s all too harsh and in no way so black and white. But it is a struggle that we should all be aware of, not just in New Orleans, but wherever we live. How do we embrace those things that made our homes, neighbourhoods, communities livable, vital and, in some cases, great without smothering them or not allowing for new ideas and approaches to help bring about necessary improvements to all our lives? Building on the past instead of plaster casting it and elevating it on a pedestal to be gazed upon but not touched.

Or maybe that’s just the whisky sours talking.

almost soberly submitted by Cityslikr