The Bold And The Beautiful

October 13, 2011

It’s difficult to reconcile being in a room full of articulate, passionate and fully engaged Torontonians for about 6 hours or so and the state this city finds itself in currently. I mean, if we’re facing such seemingly intractable and menacing issues, why aren’t some of these people in charge? After all, they can’t be that busy. Here they were, taking an afternoon to talk to the likes of us.

So it was yesterday as I sat in attendance in the Baillie Court auditorium at the AGO for a symposium, Imagine Toronto, that kicked off the launch of The Toronto Project followed by a Walrus sponsored debate, Be It Resolved That Toronto Will Never Be Beautiful. The room was packed with bright stars both on and off the stage, exchanging ideas, expressing hope (guarded), concern (sincere), outrage (very, very palpable). David Crombie moderated the afternoon session that featured 10 takes on the essence of Toronto, past, present and future. There was author-professor-philosopher Mark Kingwell. From the Maytree Foundation, Ratna Omidvar. Author-editor-stroller, Shawn Micallef. CivicAction‘s Naki Osutei. Rahul Bhardwaj talked about Toronto’s worrisome Vital Signs but remained surprisingly upbeat. Architect Wayne Kuwabara. Visual artist Shary Boyle tore up the place, beseeching the audience to imagine a Toronto that embraced itself and its artists proudly rather than half-heartedly. Writer-activist Dave Meslin called for more community, grassroots engagement in our political process.

That was all before the evening’s entertainment had begun.

One crossover between the day’s two meeting of minds was journalist John Lorinc. His cover article for the November issue of The Walrus magazine, Where Toronto Went Wrong, has been the talk of the town since it came out and was the cornerstone of both gatherings. No, folks. Things didn’t suddenly go south when Rob Ford became mayor. Even the enforced amalgamation foisted upon us by the Harris government and the subsequent downloading and bailing of responsibilities by Queen’s Park cannot be pointed to as the only culprit although it certainly served as a key role in how things are playing out here presently. Weaving a historical overview, Lorinc writes about how for every positive step the city leaders and their provincial overlords took, such as the creation of a two-tier system of regional governance with the formation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954, there were two steps back like, well, the undoing of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. (Amalgamation didn’t have to include the elimination of the metro level of government.)

My take on the whys and hows Toronto ‘lost its groove’ can be distilled in two points Mr. Lorinc makes in his article.  “Unfortunately, Toronto’s history is filled with examples of high-minded plans for open spaces that were crushed by its deep-seated disinclination to invest in the public realm.” Four paragraphs later he writes, “Such not-so-benign neglect, borne of a culture of stinginess, has been a long-standing element of Toronto’s DNA.”

Our leaders have suffered from a severe aversion to boldness, masked in an embrace of parsimoniousness calling itself fiscal prudence. Not only have we allowed them to conduct their business in such a fashion, we’ve encouraged it, demanding low taxes before civic amenities. ‘Need-to-haves’ over ‘nice-to-haves’ to use Mayor Ford’s words.

A ‘stinginess’ with money infecting a ‘stinginess’ of spirit. No to a Yonge Street subway in 1912 because of its price tag, repeated some 80 years later when Mike Harris buried the hole already dug for an Eglinton Avenue subway. The costs too rich for our blood that would haunt and saddle future generations with a significantly higher amount of money needed to think big on matters of transit. A history of here and now closed-mindedness and fistedness.

Remember a few months back when Councillor David Shiner killed plans for the Fort York bridge because he thought it ‘too fancy’? A miserliness of thinking handed down from his mother, Esther Shiner, Spadiner Shiner, who led the charge to extend the Spadina Expressway from where it had been stopped in its tracks at Lawrence Avenue down to Eglinton Avenue. The so-called Davis Ditch which, among other proposals was one from Buckminster Fuller that feature a mixed use development atop the Spadina subway extension. Instead, we got Allen Road. Anyone who’s ever tried to negotiate that intersection on foot, bike or even a car knows the price we paid for that.

We have inherited a short-sightedness in terms of money that never seems capable of taking in the bigger picture. A deficit of boldness that always means passing the buck, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes, oftentimes, a penny saved is not a penny earned. It’s just responsibility deferred.

To be bold means more than strictly adhering to the bottom line. Down the road, money you think you’ve saved just accrues, collecting interest that will have to be paid by someone else. Not doing something because it seems unaffordable now may seem noble and conscientious and shows Respect For The Taxpayer but in many cases, when it comes to building a sustainable, liveable, just city, is nothing more than a refusal to govern. It isn’t even caretaking. It’s obstructionism. Politicians priding themselves in that would do us all a favour and step out of the way. As I witnessed yesterday, there’s plenty of people ready to offer up solutions and ideas to get Toronto back on the right track.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Ciao Giorgio. C U In November.

July 6, 2010

Giorgio Mammoliti has left the building. Figuratively speaking of course. Out of the mayoral race as of yesterday, he announced he was returning to the hinterlands to seek re-election as councillor in Ward 7 and if the voters so chose (as they almost always do with their incumbents), he would be back at City Hall after the October 25th election.

Gone with him is much of the colour and panache that he provided in the campaign. As things stand now, without him, it promises to be a dreary affair. Doubly so as the palpably overt contempt Mammoliti never shied away from showing for fellow candidate Rob Ford was rarely matched by anyone else up on the dais with them during the debates. The two men clearly loath one another and the tension between them was almost sexual in its sweatiness if such a thing can be pictured without causing one to lapse into a self-protective coma.

To say that the Mammoliti, Outrageously In Touch brand never really caught fire is simply committing to bytes a firm grasp of the obvious. His problems as we saw it stemmed from the fact that it was difficult to get a handle on his candidacy. Part bat shit crazy, part go for broke bold, he was never able to reconcile the two into a workable platform. For every audacious waterfront plan he threw out there, he tripped himself up with countless panderings to the fearful and the tax haters. His dismissal of bike lanes as being not a serious, ‘meat and potatoes’ issue in his speech yesterday revealed his stunted thinking about an overall transit strategy. Although he is not alone in that amongst the other mayoral candidates, it was just tough to get a sense of where exactly the Mammoliti campaign stood. Perhaps his motto should’ve been: Giorgio Mammoliti, Outrageously Touched.

Still, we will say this much about Mammoliti’s run for mayor. For the most part it was one, if not of vision, at least of forward thinking. At times he seemed to be actually trying to figure shit out and not simply offering empty platitudes and easy bromides. This was most apparent when we watched him wrestle with the more nuanced, intricate issues last month at the AGO’s Mayoral forum, A New Mayors Vision For Architecture, Design and Planning In The City Of Toronto. As we wrote here about the event, Mammoliti seemed the most engaged and willing to talk about matters that clearly weren’t his strong suit. What he displayed was passion rather than calculation.

He drops out now leaving a largely listless pack of contenders who mostly seem content trying to convince Toronto voters that they best can restore Toronto to its glory years of the 1970s by bringing back 1970s levels of taxing and spending. And Joe Pantalone, who has developed a serious knack for delivering the right message a day later than he should. Mammoliti probably deserves the fate that has befallen him but if that’s true, all 5 of the other front running candidates warrant similar outcomes. Certainly none of them have earned the right to be taken any more seriously than Giorgio Mammoliti.

Further to his credit, Mammoliti didn’t exit the race quietly. While refusing to endorse any other candidate, he did suggest that the previously considered “fringe” candidate, Rocco Achampong, be allowed to take his place at future mayoral debates, doing his best to not allow the media and entrenched mayoral camps from using his departure to narrow the field down to simply five. Whatever his motives, he used what will probably be his highest level of media attention to try and keep the proceedings that much more open and democratic. For that he should be applauded.

How likely anyone will take him up on the challenge will be interesting to watch. Clearly much of the media hadn’t spent any time examining candidates outside the Six Pack, some not even getting the spelling of Mr. Achampong’s correct. (LIVE on CP24 ROCCO ACHANPONG asks CP24 to be included at July 20th Mayoral debate – in place of Mammoliti.) Heaven forbid that someone like HiMY SYeD begins to garner a higher profile. Imagine the spelling slaughter on that. In that light, I guess Giorgio Mammoliti should consider his aborted mayoral campaign an unqualified success. At least they got his name right.

send offingly submitted by Cityslikr


Massacre At The AGO

June 17, 2010

To cut the 6 front running mayoral candidates a little slack, one could say that they might’ve been sandbagged at the AGO’s Pug Talk: A New Mayors Vision For Architecture, Design and Planning In The City Of Toronto last night. Before the roundtable discussion commenced, Toronto’s former Tiny Perfect Mayor, David Crombie, took to the stage and warmed up the crowd with talk of a “continuation of regeneration of the public realm”. He spoke of “reimagination, reinvention and reinvestment” in the “civic magic” that makes all the difference between simply living in a city and loving living in a city. In 3 short minutes, I found myself plotting a Draft Crombie For Mayor movement.

Crombie was then followed by a grade school participant in the Pug Ed program which is “… designed to engage senior elementary school students in architecture, design and urban development…” who succinctly laid out a very green (environmentally speaking) plan of what he would do if he were mayor. As he finished up, one of the mayoral candidates said it was a good thing that he wasn’t running for office now. Truer words have never been spoken by anyone on the campaign trail.

And then came the real kick in the sack. A video clip of Councillor Adam Vaughan (clip starts at about the 83′ mark) taking part in an earlier Pug Talk where he spoke of the choice between wanting to “build a civilization or sustain a settlement” and needing to elevate the notion of city building above merely filling potholes and fixing street lights.  High falutin’ stuff, as Rob Ford and his zombie army might say if they knew what it meant, and certainly leaving many in the audience wondering why Mr. Vaughan wasn’t running for the mayor’s job.

The warm up act finished, it was now time for the headliners, and I don’t think it much of an overstatement to tell you that the next hour and three-quarters was nothing short of a big ol’ fucking train wreck.  It might’ve been more fun to watch if, you know, our collective futures weren’t riding on all of it.  I didn’t think it possible for a city that elected Mel Lastman mayor twice could find itself less than a decade later with even dimmer prospects. But it was difficult to shake off that sense after the performances I witnessed last night.

Joe Pantalone, bless his soul, I think has his heart in the right place. As a progressive, left wing voter, my sympathies are with him. It’s his struggles to straddle the middle way — distancing himself from the current administration that he’s been an integral part of but is the bogey man of this campaign, while trying to point out the positive aspects it has delivered — that leave him floundering, easy prey for vacuous political sharks like George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi. He’s fighting their fight and getting beaten to the punch constantly.

For a second consecutive night, Giorgio Mammoliti delivered what I saw as the most impassioned, least calculated performance. His wild swings for the fences never ever hit one out of the park or, quite possibly, ever got him safely on base but it seemed that he tied Pantalone for at least trying to mould their responses to the room they were speaking to. There was a sense Mammoliti believed the topic at hand was important even if he wasn’t sure about what needed to be done about it.

It was performance miles ahead of the rest of the mayoral pack.

Rob Ford was so far out of his element that it was almost embarrassing to witness. But not that embarrassing. He clearly has no mind for complex issues and his adaptive powers are equally absent. Despite having been given the questions beforehand, he answered none, only using them to launch into his now familiar spiel of out of control taxing and spending, blah, blah, blah. He was heckled by a suit just into his first rambling response and by the end the crowd was openly laughing at his answers especially the one where he claimed to have made Rexdale into Rosedale.

Was Rob ruffled? Hard to say. He always seems ruffled. For him, the crowd’s reaction had nothing to do with his performance. They were all just rude and a bunch of NDPers, he told reporters afterwards. Apparently, the man simply sees culture, education and discourse on weighty issues as some sort of socialist plot.

George Smitherman didn’t really use the opportunity of Ford’s missteps to further his cause much as he just was popping in on his way to another engagement long enough to take a couple swipes at Ford and Pantalone, buddy up with Rocco Rossi and mimic some of the key words and phrases he’d heard bandied about. Public realm. Elevated urban planning. We found it telling that the man had just returned from a trip to China that included a stop in Shanghai, arguably one of the architectural marvels of the modern world, and he made no mention of it at an Architecture, Design and Planning roundtable discussion!!! I guess his engineers hadn’t got the opportunity to program that into his hard drive yet.

As for Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson, they are little more than talkers of talking points. Rossi, the smoother of the two, seemed the most knowledgeable about the subject at hand and spoke baritonely about beauty and planning but in examining my notes, I realize I jotted down nothing of what he actually said. And Thomson still sounds as if she just recently joined the debate club. Her approach is exhaustively Wikipedian, able to talk about any topic that comes up but for no longer than 2 minutes a pop. Her ability to adjust to the crowd is as equally suspect as Ford’s. Last night speaking at the AGO to an audience with a large contingent of designers and architects, she began one statement as follows: “I don’t know if you know the ROM…” Yeah, my guess is they probably do, Sarah.

What was most discouraging about this particular evening was that it offered up the perfect opportunity for the candidates to unveil a grand vision of why they want to be mayor and how they see the future of the city coming together under their leadership. Not one of them rose to the occasion. The proceedings had started out with glimpses of heavyweights in the forms of David Crombie, Adam Vaughan and a pre-pubescent child. It ended with a choice of lightweights.

It may be time to turn our attention to our respective council races in order to send strong representatives to City Hall in the hopes of at least trying to mitigate the disaster that’s taking shape in the race to be mayor.

despairingly submitted by Cityslikr


One Big Happy Family Day

February 15, 2010

Family Day is quickly becoming our favourite holiday here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Free of the pressures of gift giving/receiving, religious connotations, easter egg hunting, tree planting and general all round labouring, Family Day is simply the third day of a long weekend in February, just past the half way mark of the winter season.

The Christmas spirit has long since past (although the overdue bills linger) but the days are growing noticeably longer, the nights shorter. If the winter has not yet killed us, we bask in the growing possibility of spring being right around the corner.. and up the street, then take a left and go two, no wait, three or four long city blocks until you reach a stop light. There, spring will be just around the corner.

With the annual trip down south into the warmth not until the kids’ spring break, by Family Day you realize that it is still more than a month away, give or take a week depending on your school board and you secretly start (once again) to curse your luck and your ancestors for possessing the grand stupidity in deciding to settle here. I mean, seriously. It was the olden days. Why didn’t they just keep going from wherever it is they came from, across the border, through the Midwest and spread out to the semi-tropical climes of Florida or the arid dry heat of the American southwest? Screw that. Why weren’t they even more adventurous and become pirates somewhere in the Caribbean? Anywhere in the Caribbean except for maybe Haiti.

Still, it could be worse. You could be living in Winnipeg or Regina. Or suffering under the unbearable spirit and constant drizzle of the Olympics in Vancouver.

But why did they give us an extra day in the middle of February again? Couldn’t they’ve jammed it into one of the summer months when there’s stuff you can actually do and enjoy? Downhill skiing is too expensive. Cross country skiing’s just stupid. The AGO still has the fucking King Tut exhibit. And no, I don’t care how bored I am, you cannot make me go see Precious.

I’ll tell you what. You take the kids and go see Precious or that real life football player story with Sandra Bullock while I just go into to work, book the day. We’ll try to tack it onto one of the other days off we have and make it a real long weekend. When it’s nice out. We can drive somewhere and it won’t cost us an arm and a leg. How’s that sound?

So happy, happy Family Day, everyone. From our family here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke to yours. And don’t fret. We can all get back to work tomorrow.

forced vacationally submitted by Cityslikr