Borrowing and Burrowing

September 30, 2015

guestcommentary

(All Fired Up in the Big Smoke’s L.A. correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, chimes in with some thoughts from a city that is bidding on the 2024 Olympic games.)

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I have to admit, when I heard about the possibility that the Olympic games might be coming to Los Angeles in 2024, my first thought was that this could be the perfect excuse to accelerate construction of the Metro Purple Line to UCLA. latransit2030Back in 1984, the campus was one of the principal venues for the games, and given that L.A. is much more congested today than it was then, completing the subway to the campus might be not just the best, but the only, way to carry off the behemoth undertaking.

As you may know, the Purple Line, which includes a proposed stop at UCLA, was supposed to be the Subway to the Sea. But then methane gas caused a shopping center along the planned route to blow up, and as a result, the line sat in limbo for 22 years. Meanwhile, the Expo Line, the light rail to the Westside, made steady progress in the same direction, but along a more southerly route. It should begin service to Santa Monica by early next year, providing the dreamed-for access to the sea.

But that still doesn’t solve the problem of Westwood, where the campus of UCLA sits, increasingly choked off from the city, and where the Purple Line is not scheduled to arrive until 2036. Using the Olympics to accelerate this project makes a lot of sense. fixieAfter all, borrowing is still cheap, and burrowing would come at a discount as well, the theory being that it is cheaper to leave the tunnel boring machine in the ground and just keep going. Also, while we’re at it, we might as well accelerate the airport connector. And lest I forget, if we could connect by High Speed Rail to San Francisco, just think of all the new counter-cultural Olympics events we could stage, such as the Fixie Downhill Slalom and the OlympiCon Naked Bar Crawl!

This, in any case, was my first fevered reaction to the news that we might get to host the Olympics again. But the next day, my fever broke. Capital infrastructure was all well and good, sexy even, with your high profile public transit projects and grand palaces to world class athleticism. blackpowerBut what about our human infrastructure? What about our homeless? What about our schools, and environmental justice? Are these not infrastructure issues even more worthy of acceleration for the Olympics?

In 1968, the Olympics were held in Mexico City, and the thing I remember most was watching Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise the Black Power salute during the awards ceremony. I thought it was awesome. In my blended North-South family (mother from Alabama, father from Brooklyn), the Civil Rights Movement was often the subject of ugly, impassioned argument. But that day in 1968, those brave men who held their fists aloft as our National Anthem played introduced an unfamiliar phenomenon into our home: silence. Neither of my parents spoke. And me? To paraphrase Michelle Obama, it was the first time I had ever been proud of my country. Plus we took the gold and the bronze!

Today I am thinking of that event not only because it is my first memory of the Olympics, but because Los Angeles is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Watts Riots. watts1965Those riots, which occurred in 1965, must have been fresh in the minds of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Now, as we prepare to make our newest bid for the games, we should use those riots, and the conditions that caused them, as a yardstick against which to measure the progress Los Angeles has, and has not, made. LA has its own history and its own legacy of racism, a legacy which is impossible to separate from the harmful decisions the city has made throughout the years regarding infrastructure. And we need to do it fast, as the Olympic committee will make its decision in 2017.

Olympic-sizely submitted by Ned Teitelbaum


A Bid For What?

September 3, 2015

behindcloseddoorsIt’s impossible to see at this point of time just what Mayor John Tory’s angle is in his continued pursuit for entering Toronto into the 2024 Olympics sweepstakes. On Tuesday, Los Angeles city council voted unanimously to throw that city’s hat into the ring(s). Boston declined to go ahead back a month or so ago.

Both cities appear to have much more advanced, detailed plans in place, organizations ready to go than Toronto less than two weeks before the mid-September deadline to put your name forward for consideration as a host city to the International Olympic Committee. Never mind Paris, Rome and whatever other places – surely China must have a location in mind — have made their intentions known. In comparison, Toronto’s approach comes across as almost an after-thought. Basking in the late-summer heat, still sporting a PanAm Games glow, we’re like, Hey! Why not give it a whirl?

If that’s actually the case, of course. It’ll be interesting to watch over the next week and a half just how prepared the city the mayor is to proceed. weighingmyoptionsAccusations of secrecy and backroom doings are popping up. The mayor’s “cagey” when asked questions about what’s happening. Mealy mouthed to others. Others being me. “I hope to be in a position…to have a reasonably complete summary of all that information at my disposal when it comes time to make a decision on whether to submit a letter or not,” he told the press on Tuesday.

A reasonably complete summary?!

“Extraordinarily secretive,” Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at UWO, told Metro’s Jessica Smith Cross.

Normally we’d know the players at this point in time, because it’s one of the biggest decisions, economically, Toronto and Ontario will have to make, whether or not they commit themselves to this bid. They should be very concerned about their lack of transparency at this point in time, and if they want to gain back the public’s trust they should put out clear press saying exactly what is going to happen.

This is highly unusual for a democracy.

So either Toronto’s woefully underprepared for the September 15th deadline or it’s good-to-go, put together on the lowdown, out of sight, out of mind. olympicbidsTONeither situation is particularly palatable, eliciting more questions than answers. Why would Mayor Tory spend millions (somebody’s millions) to go down an almost certain doomed path? Or, what the fuck is going on back there?

Whose bidding is Mayor Tory doing if he insists on pushing ahead with a 2024 Olympic bid?

I’m not going to get into the whole merits/demerits of hosting the Olympics here. That’s being done much more thoroughly over at Dammit Janet! and NoTO2024. At this point, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of public support for a bid but that could simply be a result of the hesitant, should we-shouldn’t we, peek-a-boo approach the mayor is taking. Hard to catch the fever when the bug’s been quarantined.

And it’s hard to imagine exactly what’s changed in the 19 months since the city’s Economic Development Committee ‘deferred indefinitely’ the feasibility of Toronto hosting the 2024 Olympics. savedgarbageAside from a new administration, that is, taking over the mayor’s office. An administration shy about overturning previous council decisions like the Scarborough subway. So, an Olympic bid must be very, very important to Mayor Tory.

Why would that be?

He tells us hosting the Olympics is a sure fire way to get big infrastructure projects like transit and affordable housing money from senior levels of government. Finance further waterfront development? A new athletes’ village or Olympic stadium would be just the ticket. Ottawa and Queen’s Park aren’t going to give Toronto money simply because the city needs it. They’ll want something in return, something big and shiny, a legacy.

Governance by spectacle. If you’re world class enough to host the Olympics, you’re world class enough for an entire transit network. If not, muddle along, as you were.

But what happens if the city doesn’t feel compelled to bid or does and loses out? hailmaryHaving thrown up their hail mary pass, what razzle dazzle play does Mayor Tory and his Olympic supporting colleagues like Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker call next in the huddle? They’ve established the framework that good public policy and basic common sense won’t deliver the kind of social and infrastructure upgrades Toronto needs, and can’t afford without assistance from the federal and provincial governments. Come September 15th and there’s no submitted letter of intent to IOC from Toronto, say? An official shrug and a We Told You So? Enjoy your daily commute on that packed subway. Unless you have some other cockamamie scheme to fund things, get used to it.

this or thatly submitted by Cityslikr


An Olympic Beg

August 20, 2015

Of all the reasons that steer me in the direction of, what would you call it? Fuck An Olympic Bid?, the one most compelling is the cynicism sitting right at the heart of Toronto 2024 proponents. haveigotadealforyouMaybe cynicism is too strong a word. Pure political calculation might be more appropriate.

It’s this.

If we get the Olympics, X piece of infrastructure will get done. The Olympics will bring us new social housing. A forced Olympics deadline will deliver all those things this city has been clamoring for for a generation now.

It seems in this day and age, a wholly adequate 1970s transit system for a city of 2.5 million in 2015 fails to meet the definition of any sort of deadline. 7500 homes boarded up in less than 10 years if more funding is not forthcoming from senior levels of government for Toronto Community Housing does not constitute any firm deadline. No. The only deadline that matters now is the discriminating gaze from the rest of the world as it turns its attention toward the Olympic host city, 20xx.

Our international reputation is on the line here, people. Time to pull up our socks. The clock is ticking!

I’m not about to get into all the nitty gritty about the pluses and minuses of hosting the Olympics.polishthesilverware It’d be generous, I think, for me to call it a wash. Sure, cities get stuff they didn’t have before, some of it necessary even. But the costs for that seem to be very, very steep.

On CBC’s MetroMorning this morning, former Olympic bid… guy, Bob Richardson (but definitely not that thing this time around) blithely assured the radio listening audience that the International Olympic Committee have changed their tune and the body is now more reasonable in its approach. “The IOC is really trying to ratchet down their costs…and making the rules a lot more flexible,” he told host David Common.

Somebody ought to tell officials down in Boston that news. A report that came out after the city decided it wasn’t going to bid on the 2024 Games after all paints a slightly different impressionistic picture of the IOC, the bidding and hosting process.

The report found that the risks it examined are inherent to the bidding process as specified by the International Olympic Committee, calling them “inflexible elements” of any bid. “In requiring these guarantees, the IOC imposes financial risk on the part of those entities providing the guarantees and, ultimately, in the case of Boston, on city and state taxpayers.”

That was just after stating this finding:

The State and Local governments, while having only limited ability to influence and shape the bid, would bear significant financial risks as the ultimate guarantors under the financial Letters of Guarantee. All of the risks associated with public infrastructure spending would fall completely on the Commonwealth. The taxpayers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would be the ultimate risk bearers.

In my experience, always be wary of those assuring us that this time, it’ll be different.

Even if you can justify an Olympic investment in terms of the benefits accrued, all your t’s are crossed, your i’s dotted, it feels a little like a civic hostage taking. Do the bid or the city gets it. alcaponedeaddeaddeadRather, do the bid or the city doesn’t get it. Affordable housing? Dead. Transit upgrade? Dead. All infrastructure needs? Dead, dead, dead.

And what happens if your city is deemed not Olympic worthy? Sorry, Winnipeg. Nothing for you this decade because the feds are throwing a shitload of money at Olympic Host City X to show the world what a great country we are. Maybe team up with Regina and Saskatoon for a co-bid in 20 years or so.

“We got more done in the last 5 years [leading up to the PanAm/ParaPan Games] than we did in the previous 15 years in terms of infrastructure,” Mr. Richardson told Metro Morning.

Does that mean in order to invest in basic upgrades to the city, we have to be in perpetual bid mode? Bring the world to us and reap the benefits. Otherwise, this is the reality of our situation. “Almost half of Ontario’s municipalities have to hike property taxes by at least one full per cent to raise $50,000,” the Association of Municipalities of Ontario president, Gary McNamara, told the conference this week. olympicgoodies“Policy-makers at Queen’s Park need to understand (it all adds) up to one serious problem faster than they can imagine.”

“There is a strong case for municipal government to be better funded than it is, not just in Ontario, but in other jurisdictions across Canada,” he said, pointing out that “the federal and provincial governments receive 4 or 5 more times revenue than municipalities” which represents more than 90% of every tax dollar collected at every level of government.

Yet increasingly, cities have to gussy up and perform pony tricks to access necessary funds from their ‘partners’ at the senior levels of government in the hopes of keeping things running properly. Local politicians tap into that dynamic, some using it to absolve themselves of responsibility for, you know, governance. You want project X? Well, dance, monkey. Dance. The alternative is to go to war with Ottawa and Queen’s Park or, heaven forbid, start tapping into our own methods of revenue generation to get that project done.dogshow

Instead, we choose to use an Olympic bid as the middle man for major transactions between our elected officials, facilitating the movement of money from public coffers to public good. For their efforts, middle men skim a little of that cash off the top. Nothing underhanded or particularly shady, it’s just the nature of middle manning.

But it does raise the question why, in terms of building necessary infrastructure, a middle man is required?

curiously submitted by Cityslikr


Building Legacies

January 21, 2014

I wish there were times when I could simply agree with the mayor. Just flat out, nod my head, flash two thumbs up and say, the dude’s right. high5broOn this point, the mayor and I are completely simpatico. Now let’s go stormin’ the Sex Laser dance floor. It’s Triumph, baby!

It’d be a display of, I don’t know, rare bipartisanship. Proof that I don’t categorically dismiss everything Mayor Ford stands for simply because it’s Mayor Ford. He says up, I say down. He says black, I say white.

So it could’ve been with our respective responses to a city bid for the 2024 Olympics. Not interested. What?! I said it first! No, I said it first!!

There you have. Mayor Ford and I agree. No 2024 Olympic bid for Toronto.

And yet… and yet…copying

Applauding him for that stance is applauding him for his stubborn anti-everything stance. We come to the same conclusion but arrived there taking very, very different routes. Him? The government should not be in the business of [anything outside of road maintenance and public safety]. Me?

I’m just not convinced the benefits to the city would ultimately outweigh the enormous costs it would be to host such an event. Ditto, an Expo. I’m not yet sold on the upside.

That doesn’t mean I’d rule it out. It’s not unreasonable, I think, to call the recent results of hosting such international gatherings as mixed. For every apparent success story – Salt Lake City? Sydney? Beijing? – there’s an Athens. How did the 2004 summer games work out for them?

Seriously. I’m genuinely asking. I don’t know the answer, and I think it might be because there isn’t any clear cut answer.

unsure1It all depends is probably closer to the truth.

In Canada we have two cities, Montreal and Vancouver, who’ve hosted both the Olympics and their very own Expo. Is it safe to say that the results of each varied considerably? To an ill-informed outsider, Vancouver seemed to have come off alright in both cases. Montreal’s 1967 Expo might be seen as a defining moment not only for the city but the entire country. The 1976 Olympics? Well, there’s that white elephant of a stadium with the faulty roof symbolizing everything that could go wrong.

That’s the most compelling argument that gets made in favour of these things, legacy projects. By landing an Olympics or Expo, we entice all levels of governments to get involved, gussying up the place for the millions of visitors who will make their way here. droolingPut our best foot forward with a brand new stadium here, an athletes’ village there, ready for re-purposing, new public transit everywhere.

New public transit everywhere…. *aaarrggggghhh…. drooling…*

With the 2015 PanAm Games on its way, Toronto is getting help fixing up parts of its waterfront, some much needed affordable housing and, well… let’s not talk about the public transit at this point. While we’re not entirely clear what the costs of all that’ll be yet, there are suggestions it’s going to come in higher than anticipated but that’s not entirely news. Such things tend to be pitched with lower, more acceptable price tags at the outset, only to suffer from what we’ll call the inevitable ‘project creep’. Just comes with the territory on undertaking of this scale.

Now, I’m going to come across as all Pollyannish about this, but why do we require these super spectacles in order to entice our politicians to invest in legacy projects? What happened to wrapping your legacy around restarting an affordable housing boom instead of a sporting event? Mayor/Premier/Prime Minister So-and-So is credited with getting transit building off the ground once again in Toronto/Ontario/Canada. The entirely revitalized Toronto waterfront? cutoutthemiddlemanDue to the dogged determination of Mayor/Premier/Prime Minister So-and-So.

We want international attention? How about becoming a leader in public transit again. Kick start a charge in building affordable housing throughout the city. Let’s pursue a legacy of sustainable living.

What’s with the middlemen from the Olympic or Expo committees? It just seems like a layer of bureaucracy and expense we don’t need to go through to get the stuff we desperately need. Inefficient.

On that, I think the mayor and I can both agree.

for posteritily submitted by Cityslikr