Municipal Governance Election Manual

March 16, 2014

boxofideas

Last week in The Grid, Edward Keenan laid out an extensive campaign platform, urging municipal candidates to steal it from him. Since the official start to the race on January 2nd, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been thinking similar thoughts, building a 10 point policy proposal of our own in the hopes that it might help contribute to the election conversation. Our Municipal Governance Election Manual, we’ve dubbed it and, like Mr. Keenan, we too advocate for any and all candidates to shamelessly pilfer from it, picking and choosing the elements they like and agree with, and hopefully, expanding on them, fluffing them out to reveal a beautiful and beguiling plumage.

The manual lacks the specifics of Mr. Keenan’s platform. It could be because we’re less exacting and fundamentally lazier than he is. But we’d like to think it has to do with wanting to keep it more general in order to encourage interested candidates to adopt and make them their own. Fill in the particulars. Personalize it.

Today for the first time, we’re listing our ideas all in one post to spare everybody the hassle of clicking through all the annoying links and keeping all those tabs open (although we have kept links to each of the 10 points if you want to read about them in more detail). You’re welcome, Toronto.

unveil

So, here it is, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke Municipal Governance Election Manual:

1) Residents of Toronto are more than taxpayers. We live here. We work here. We play here. We raise families here. The taxes and user fees we pay are simply the cost of doing all these things.

Living in a city, being part of the life that goes on around you, should be tabulated by more than what it costs. Referred to as merely a taxpayer ignores the grander social element of being a city-zen. As Charles Montgomery writes in Happy City, “The city is ultimately a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.”

2) A city is only as good as its public realm. The post-war flight from the public good to private interest has undercut a sense of shared experience in city life. Detached, single family homes, dispersed on big lots, the automobile, shopping malls all represent an elevation of the individual good, a buffer against a collective enterprise.

Take the car (please!) for example.

Huge swaths of public space is designed, built and maintained exclusively for the movement of single individuals driving in their cars. Suggest a more equitable arrangement for other ways to get around, and somehow it’s declared a war. Find somewhere else to go. This is ours.

Again, Charles Montgomery in Happy City: “Rome rose as its wealth was poured into the common good of aqueducts and roads [not just for chariots – me.], then declined as it was hoarded in private villas and palaces.”

community

3) Ease of mobility. Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker’s gave a transit talk a couple months back called Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.

Disproportionately favouring one mode of how we move around this city puts people who don’t need to, want to or can’t afford to use that mode as their primary source of transportation at a disadvantage. Especially if that mode is the least efficient way of moving the most amount of people around the city. It carves out public space in favour of private use.

The only rational, civic-minded approach a municipal candidate can take in terms of transportation policy is a pledge to re-arrange the priorities that have been in place for decades and decades and decades now. It’s been said many times by many people but the goal should be about moving people not cars. Candidates need to be saying it louder and more often.

4) Taxation. Ugghhh. It’s time we stopped referring to taxes as a burden and recognize them for what they are. The only way we build a better city, with a better public realm and provide the most opportunities for the most people.

There’s no other way, folks. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise, that there’s some magical way out there that we can get everything we want without paying for it is either lying or delusional. Maybe both.

I heard it said at a recent deputation at City Hall, a request to ‘tax us fairly, spend wisely’. We can debate until the cows come home on the concepts of ‘fairly’ and ‘wisely’ but we need to move on past this silly, selfish idea that taxes are bad, a burden. Harkening back again to Charles Montgomery, “The city is a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.” And in the words of one former mayor (more or less), a great city, a prosperous city, a fair city does not come for free.

civicresponsiblity

5) The urban-suburban divide. Governing this city does not have to be a zero-sum game. I mean, it does if you’re trying to promote divisiveness as a political strategy. We are not complete aliens to one another, we Torontonians. Many have grown up in the suburbs and moved to the inner core. Others the reverse.

Of course, some of the challenges we face are different and need different solutions, depending where we live, where we work, where we go to school. One size does not, cannot fit all. But any approach to fixing the problems that currently plague us as a city shouldn’t come at the expense of others. It needs to come at the expense to us all.

6) Civic engagement. It’s more than just voting every 4 years. It’s more than paying taxes. It’s about encouraging participation. It’s about listening to disparate voices beyond those on AM talk radio and in Tim Horton’s line-ups. It’s about opening up decision making beyond just at election day.

7) Civic audacity. Cities, communities, neighbourhoods, streets aren’t built or created on a foundation of no. Aiming higher will yield better results than lowering expectations and demanding little. We need a sense of daring in the face of things that aren’t working. Accepting a broken status quo because that’s the way things have always been done is the surest way to perpetuate both a sense of decline as well as decline itself.

bebold1

8) Social justice. If you’re not interested in working for a city that improves the lives and opportunities of everyone living in it, your motives for running for municipal office are suspect. A city pockmarked by inequity, poverty and the daily grind of precariousness is not a place utilizing its greatest resource: the people choosing to live there. Social justice cannot be an abstraction, delivered with an empty slogan. It must be the cornerstone – the policy initiative core — of any municipal politician’s campaign platform.

9) Business plan. Live, play, work. A healthy city must provide all those opportunities for all its residents. None of the three can function properly if any of them aren’t.

Like so many other cities in developed nations, Toronto is undergoing a fundamental workplace change. The manufacturing base has collapsed. Fortunately, the local economy is a diverse one with a firm foothold in both the information and service sectors.

With limited tools at their disposal, municipal politicians must make the best of what they have. Their business strategy has to be more than just promising low taxes, however. They must lay out ideas how to make the city a more attractive place to not only invest in but to work in. Good business instincts aren’t exclusively about saving money.

rave

10) Rave don’t rage. In many ways, this one’s just a summary of our summary. Using elements of the previous 9 points, our local representatives have to endeavour to make the city sing. We hear talk of wanting to attract the best talent in all walks of life to the city, the best and the brightest, the most innovative and hardest working. You do that by building a city that nobody could imagine living anywhere but there. A place people believe will best provide the necessary conditions for them to flourish, to find fulfilling relationships, raise a family, grow old in.

The city entices because it is enticing.

You want a city people want to live in not one they wind up living in reluctantly, because they have to. In order to do that, you have to show the place a little love, endeavour to do the impossible, stop short-changing it. You need to turn the level of expectation up to 11.

Let me add a final point to this already lengthy post.

bloodsport

11) This doesn’t have to be a blood sport. Sure, elections are tough, sometimes unruly affairs. They are a competition after all.

They don’t have to be cutthroat, however. Fierce is different than vicious. Winning ugly tends not to translate into governing pretty.

Convince us why we should vote for you, why your ideas are better than the other candidates. We can assess your opponents on our own, thank you very much. We don’t need your help in discovering their weaknesses and flaws. Travelling down that path only really makes you look petty and insecure, unfit for public office.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Time To Rave Not Rage

March 3, 2014

Point 10. At last.

happycity(Points 1-5 here. Points 6, 7, 8 & 9, here, here, here & here.)

“…a city is really just the sum of what people think about it. The city is a subjective thing.”

— Ricardo Montezuma, National University of Colombia

[Please note: I will be freely quoting from and riffing on — more than usual — Charles Montgomery’s Happy City. Most of these ideas aren’t my own. But that’s OK because, well, a city is a ‘shared project’.]

When all is said and done, after the political posturing and ideological framing is set, the issues neatly packaged and properly charted out, what we really should be looking for in our municipal candidates is their promise to make the city dance. Dance and sing or at least hum a jaunty tune.

We want a city that vibrates with life and activity. A place made up from communities built on optimism and aspiration not fear, anger and division. A city where people want to live not one where they have to live.rave

Now, this isn’t some airy-fairy, arty-farty, New Age-y, dream-weaving utopian wish. It is the end result of down and dirty, nitty gritty, hands-on toil and nose-to-the-grindstone hustle. It’s about relentless but positive civic-mindedness.

It incorporates all the previous points we’ve written on this. In fact, a city can’t dance without serious consideration of each and every one of them. A frank and honest discussion about taxation. Improved public transit, public spaces, public realm. A dependable business and work environment that provides opportunity for every resident. A keen eye on social justice. Increased civic engagement.

Let’s umbrella it all in under the idea of civic audacity.

igotnothingCharles Montgomery referred to the former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa’s urban vision and city-building as a ‘grand experiment’ requiring ‘even grander rhetoric’.

Toronto has been severely lacking in either of those impulses lately. For 4 years now, all we’ve heard is about stripped down governance and need-to-have services and programs. You know what the gravy train is? The nice-to-haves that make a city dance and instill an inclusive sense of civic pride and belonging regardless of where your address happens to be.

Sadly, an argument could be made that kind of thinking and city-building vision was soundly rejected by Toronto voters in 2010. Pocket book issues won the day. We were busy looking after our nickels and dimes.

But I’d argue this.

There was no strong standard bearer for the Miller administration’s pro-Happy City brand of city-building. Joe Pantalone failed to enunciate exactly what they had been trying to do for the past 7 years. The others chose the easy and well-worn path of appealing to our worst instincts as city residents. Me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine.

More importantly, I believe the biggest mistake David Miller made during his time in office was to try and go it alone. communityTo try and infuse a new civic sense in the city solely through City Hall not city streets. Inspire change with leadership but not necessarily wider public engagement. So when he stepped aside, there weren’t enough people to champion what his administration had accomplished.

The only way meaningful and long term change happens is with more hands on deck, with more people participating and pitching in, with wider and deeper civic engagement. We don’t need one heroic mayor to build us a new transit system or get our potholes fixed. Vote for me. Call me. And then, sit back and let me sort everything out.

You don’t make a city dance just by providing excellent customer service. You do it by encouraging and demanding persistent resident participation and civic engagement. rollupyoursleeves1Candidates seeking city council offices should first be asking voters what they want on their streets, in their neighbourhoods, their communities, their city. And then, offer up ways to make everyone an actual agent of the changes they want to see.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,” Charles Montgomery quotes Jane Jacobs from her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

This election needs to be about more than simply building a voters’ and donors list, a team of volunteers or a winning margin. It has to be about building a civic movement full of people who, again to quote Charles Montgomery one final time today, are “… emboldened by the notion that anyone who cared enough could change the way the city worked.”elainebenesdance

Such a movement doesn’t get started on the scrawny legs of what can’t be done or what isn’t possible. It’s encouraged by bold ideas and a strong sense of inclusiveness. If we’re living in a city together, we really should be working on it together.

You dance alone, you’re Elaine Benes. But if enough of us get up on our feet and start hopping up and down — we’re not talking ballroom dancing here — we’ll eventually have a rave on our hands. I think it’s time Toronto starts to rave.

ecstatically submitted by Cityslikr


It’s All About Social Justice

February 20, 2014

Point 8.

(A recap of points 1-5 here. Points 6 & 7 here & here.)

socialjusticeSocial justice.

Fairness. Equity. No one getting left behind.

Call it what you want but without it, without an underlying sense of social justice, all these previous points I’ve taken the time to write out are worthless. If they aren’t in the service of delivering social justice, then the whole lot is nothing more than window dressing. Hobbies and pastimes for those with a roof over their heads and food on their plates.

A city without social justice is a city rotting from the inside.

What do I mean by social justice, you might ask. It’s a pretty broad notion, encompassing a wide spectrum of ideas. Housing. Food. Health. Education. Work. Inspiring public spaces.

Where do you start?

How about this.weakestlink

Social justice means equal access to opportunity and freedom from precariousness.

The best coverage we can provide together for everybody from the vagaries of life.

That’s my idea of social justice.

Some specifics.

Housing. Without a safe place to offer up shelter and comfort, nothing good or positive will happen very easily. If a city does not endeavour to adequately house every one of its residents, that city has failed to deliver equal access to opportunity and a freedom from precariousness.

Food. A city endowed with social justice is a place not riddled with food deserts. Residents left to fend for themselves and their families with little more than fast food and convenience store supplies do not have equal access to opportunity. They are not free from precariousness.

A truly public realm. A city that places more importance on private space than it does public space exhibits little interest in social justice. shelterEveryone, as they move around the city, should have equal access to the opportunity of doing so in vibrant, welcoming public spaces. That ability, that fundamental right, promotes an environment of inclusion. It lessens a sense of isolation and instills a feeling of mutuality. Freedom from precariousness.

Fill in your concept of social justice here but without it, in whatever form it takes, a city becomes a hostile place. An everyone-for-themselves, grabbing and stashing of self-interest. What’s in it for me? How do I get what I need and want at the lowest cost possible?

The city as a shopping mall.

Of course, as it stands, cities themselves do not possess an equal access to opportunity and are subject to all sorts of precariousness. Even intent on pursuing a mandate of social justice, cities do not have all the tools at their disposal to do so. Higher orders of government used to recognize this and showed interest in the well-being of cities. Social housing was part of their purview. Public transit. Matters of good health and education remain files of provincial and federal governments. civicresponsiblityCities however are subject to the unpredictable degree of interest those truly holding the purse strings show in such matters.

The impulse by some elected local representatives is to simply throw up their hands in defeat, blame others for the inaction and say, what are we going to do? Our hands are tied. We’d really like to help but…

Unfortunately, whoever’s fault it may be, the resulting mess of neglect always lands right at the city’s feet. Where are the homeless homeless? Where does the crime happen when people are desperate and frightened? Where do the roads get clogged and buses packed to the hilt when there’s not enough money for public transit to operate properly?

Cities.

A lack of social justice manifests itself mostly where the people are. The people are in the cities. More and more so.

Happy City author, Charles Montgomery, tweeted out a link to an article yesterday, quoting a line from it. happycity“For if the city is not for everyone, it benefits no one.”

That is the essential core of social justice. Any candidate seeking public office in order to represent the needs of every resident of their city who does not have that line written somewhere in their campaign literature (and backing it up with policy ideas to bring that impulse to reality) really needs to consider why it is they’re running in the first place. And voters, considering such candidates, really have to wonder just whose interests it is they’re looking to serve.

helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Civic Audacity

February 13, 2014

Point 7.

happycity(Points 1-5 summarized here. Point 6 here.)

I’m just going to come right out and lift it from Charles Montgomery’s Happy City. I couldn’t phrase it any better or more succinctly.

Civic audacity. [page 105]

What Toronto needs now is a whole lot of civic audacity.

Not the kind of audacity we’ve been exposed to over the last three years or so. To re-coin another author’s turn of phrase, that’s The Audacity of No Hope. Toronto as some sort of Get Off My Lawn, Grumpy Old Man. Oh, no we can’t. It’s too expensive. Keep it down, kids. Can’t you see we’re in one of our drunken stupors.

The audacity of mendacity, let’s call it.

No. I’m talking about boldness now. A certain daring-do and courage to step up and say, I’ve got an idea. I’ve got an idea that’s so crazy it just might work.dipmytoein

This may be a little too much to expect. Even discounting the current reactionary regime at City Hall, it’s been some time since the city as a whole has embraced audacity or boldness. Radical initiatives aren’t really in our DNA. We’re toe-dippers, averse to changing what isn’t working right now because it used to work before.

And I fear after the tumult in the wake of the Ford administration that all we’re really going to be looking for is a little peace and quiet. We’re tired of turmoil and embarrassment. Could you dial down the tomfoolery a notch and just get on with governing. Gently. Without kicking up too much of a fuss.

I guess, everything else being equal, it wouldn’t be an unreasonable request. This city has been put through an emotional wringer, a theme park roller coaster that simply will not end. timeoutSince 2010, it hasn’t been about governance but pitched battle.

Makes perfect sense to want a little respite. A break from the non-stop action. Hey! We’ve all got lives to live here.

The thing is…

This is no time to fall back to sleep at the switch. There’s too much to be done. We’ve avoided tough choices and necessary action for too long. While the city grows, it has begun to groan and creak under the weight of neglect and indecision. These past three years have been little more than simply fending off further damaging destabilization.

Breathing a big sigh of relief and letting down your guard at this point of time is nothing short of the Coyote opening up an umbrella to protect himself from the falling boulder. coyoteumbrellaAn empty gesture. Futile, even.

In the face of such an open attack on the proper state of affairs of this city, what we need now is a spirited, forceful pushback. “A grand experiment”, in the further words of Charles Montgomery, requiring “grander rhetoric”. We don’t want measured. We don’t want milquetoast. We don’t want a bringer of calm.

We want boldness. We want inspiration. We want audacity.

For instance?

OK. Take the matter of the recent staff report on the future of the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway, for instance.

The easy thing to do (if not exactly the fiscally responsible thing) would be to maintain the status quo. Throw a billion dollars or so (rounding off in a Ford manner) at it and leave everything as is. Steady as she goes. Doesn’t upset the applecart that’s already pretty much been overturned for some time now.

Or… or… we could tear it down and open up a whole new host of possibilities and opportunities in its place. Yes, some car commuters are going to be inconvenienced, time added on both going to and coming home from work. bebold1But you know what? It’s not 1954 anymore. We won’t be the first place that’s started to re-jig our transportation priorities.

Or how about the matter of public transit?

This is an area obviously ripe for audacity, nerve, zazz and more than a little chutzpah. A bold vision, if you will, outlining how this city’s going to get around over the next 25, 30 years. A view that looks beyond vote-generating pet projects and lays out a plan for an entire network and system. Enough of the technology porn already. Tell us how you’re going to get people from point A to point B, quickly, seamlessly and, yes, enjoyably. And not just some people. Every resident of the city.

Pick a thread of our municipal fabric and pitch us as to how exactly you’ll stop it from further unravelling. Affordable housing. Community development. Neighbourhood planning.reachforthesky

Wow us. Don’t underwhelm us. Tell us what we can do not what we can’t. Set the bar higher. Stop diminishing our expectations.

Give the city and its residents something to aspire toward rather shrink away from. Challenge us instead of placating us. Appeal to our better angels. Stop inflaming our worst instincts.

Be bold. We’ve tried brazen. Only later did we realize there’s a big difference between the two.

upliftingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Recap

January 28, 2014

letsrecapEarlier this month, near the start of the 2014 municipal election campaign, we set off on a bid to lay out a 10 point (give or take) platform we’d like to see candidates out promoting as they sought public office. Something more than simply slogans or tribal chants. Substantive. City-zen focussed not taxpayer obsessive.

Here’s what we’ve come up with so far (in no particular order save from first to last):

magnacarta

1) Residents of Toronto are more than taxpayers. We live here. We work here. We play here. We raise families here. The taxes and user fees we pay are simply the cost of doing all these things.

Living in a city, being part of the life that goes on around you, should be tabulated by more than what it costs. Referred to as merely a taxpayer ignores the grander social element of being a city-zen. As Charles Montgomery writes in Happy City, “The city is ultimately a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.”

publicrealm1

2) A city is only as good as its public realm. The post-war flight from the public good to private interest has undercut a sense of shared experience in city life. Detached, single family homes, dispersed on big lots, the automobile, shopping malls all represent an elevation of the individual good, a buffer against a collective enterprise.

Take the car (please!) for example.

Huge swaths of public space is designed, built and maintained exclusively for the movement of single individuals driving in their cars. Suggest a more equitable arrangement for other ways to get around, and somehow it’s declared a war. Find somewhere else to go. This is ours.

Again, Charles Montgomery in Happy City: “Rome rose as its wealth was poured into the common good of aqueducts and roads [not just for chariots – me.], then declined as it was hoarded in private villas and palaces.”

gettingfromatob

3) Ease of mobility. The title of Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker’s transit talk last week? Abundant Access: Public Transit As An Instrument of Freedom.

Disproportionately favouring one mode of how we move around this city puts people who don’t need to, want to or can’t afford to use that mode as their primary source of transportation at a disadvantage. Especially if that mode is the least efficient way of moving the most amount of people around the city. It carves out public space in favour of private use.

The only rational, civic-minded approach a municipal candidate can take in terms of transportation policy is a pledge to re-arrange the priorities that have been in place for decades and decades and decades now. It’s been said many times by many people but the goal should be about moving people not cars. Candidates need to be saying it louder and more often.

taxation

4) Taxation. Ugghhh. It’s time we stopped referring to taxes as a burden and recognize them for what they are. The only way we build a better city, with a better public realm and provide the most opportunities for the most people.

There’s no other way, folks. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise, that there’s some magical way out there that we can get everything we want without paying for it is either lying or delusional. Maybe both.

I heard it said at a recent deputation at City Hall, a request to ‘tax us fairly, spend wisely’. We can debate until the cows come home on the concepts of ‘fairly’ and ‘wisely’ but we need to move on past this silly, selfish idea that taxes are bad, a burden. Harkening back again to Charles Montgomery, “The city is a shared project…a place where we can fashion a common good that we simply cannot build alone.” And in the words of one former mayor (more or less), a great city, a prosperous city, a fair city does not come for free.

urbansuburbandivide

5) The urban-suburban divide. Governing this city does not have to be a zero-sum game. I mean, it does if you’re trying to promote divisiveness as a political strategy. We are not complete aliens to one another, we Torontonians. Many have grown up in the suburbs and moved to the inner core. Others the reverse.

Of course, some of the challenges we face are different and need different solutions, depending where we live, where we work, where we go to school. One size does not, cannot fit all. But any approach to fixing the problems that currently plague us as a city shouldn’t come at the expense of others. It needs to come at the expense to us all.

Sure, we face some problems arising out of built form. There are no easy fixes. We’re talking culture changes.

That’s a tough nut to crack. It’s much easier to disengage and retreat to our respective corners. Blame other people and pine for the old days, the good old days.

Well, to quote (no, not Charles Montgomery this time) The Libertines, there were no good old days. These are the good old days. And we’re in it together to make sure of just that. These are the good old days.

To be continued.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


A City Is Public Domain

January 9, 2014

Point 2.happycity

(Point 1 being from Monday that began our search for a 2014 campaign manifesto creed. A document to move us beyond talk of taxpayers, to find words or ideas that encompass the complexity of our relationship with each other and the city we live in. In his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery cites Henri Lefebvre who talks of citizens and denizens. Citadin, he says. Citident? Resizen? We’ll keep working on it.)

We have been pitched a faulty narrative over the course of the last few years, decades really, if we go back to Margaret Thatcher’s claim that there is no such thing as society. Here in Toronto since 2010, it’s all been about the taxpayer. That hardworking, heroic figure who just wants to make a few bucks, put food on the table for his family, maybe have a coupla pops on a Friday night. The little guy.

The only thing standing in the way — like a streetcar hogging up two perfectly good lanes of road — taxesof this simple, common sense approach to life, is the government. All greedy, grabby hands, reaching deep into our pockets, taking our hard-earned money to spend on their sketchy (and probably corrupt) boondoggles and international excursions. Everything would be so much better if governments would just get off our backs and let us do our thing!

Picture this.

A house on a street. Not one of those European semi-detached ones or row houses. An actual house. On its own. A nice front yard. A driveway to the side.

A home. A castle, am I right? A haven from the rough and tumble world going on outside of it.

The urban homestead. Pitched by self-sufficient pioneers come to the city despite its purse-snatchers and perverts, jaywalkers and bus riders, to seize the opportunity from petty bureaucrats and political bagmen. Look out world! Here I am, twirling on a street corner, tossing my hat in the air. homesteader[Note to self: rework that last image. It comes across as a little too girlie.]

It’s a myth, of course. Pure bullshit. Always has been.

Underneath that detached house on the street, pipes and drains and mains. Overhead, wires. All conveying some sort of public utility. Let me state that again. Public utility. Potable water in, treated first somewhere, a city service. Sewage out, again, treated somewhere, a city service. Electricity. Gas. Likely some combination of public-private partnership, depending on where it is you live.

That street out front of that house?

Built and maintained, if not directly by the city, by tax dollars brought into and paid out by the city. Cleared of snow and ice in the winter by the city. Cleaned of refuse the rest of the year by the city. On many of those streets, the city provides space for private vehicles to park at rates far below what the market would demand.

Any notion that any of us live or work in this city free of assistance and cooperation from everybody else is simply delusional. A taxpayer alone lives in a shack in the woods at the end of dirt path. complexsystemHe fends for himself.

Even the mighty industrialists among us depend on the kindness of strangers to chip in and pay for the infrastructure business needs to deliver its goods and services to succeed. Who did our mayor turn to in order to gussy up the surroundings of his family business in time for its 50th anniversary? Why, the city of course.

Look at our most recent run in with crazy inclement weather. No, not the outer space-like cold snap. Before that. The ice storm, and the toll it took on this city’s trees.

We all know trees, and how beneficial a healthy tree canopy is to a city. So much so that City Hall exerts a mighty control over their well-being. It spends a lot of money maintaining a healthy stock of trees.

You might have a tree in your yard. It is rooted in your property but overhangs a neighbour’s house or a neighbour’s car parked on the street. The ice storms blows through, bringing down huge branches of your tree, crashing down on top of that car, taking out the wires that provide electricity to a couple of your other neighbours’ houses. pitchinPower’s not restored for days. A lot of the food in their fridges and freezers goes bad.

Ooops.

Just because that tree is in your yard, you can hardly be expected to pay for all that damage. Such an expectation would just be silly and dumb. That tree in your yard contributes positively to all of our lives even those of us who don’t live in your neighbourhood or community. It makes sense that we all pitch in to help when things take a turn for the worse for that tree in your yard.

That’s not just a real life example. It works as a metaphor too, I think. A city cannot function on the self-interested efforts of individuals. While there is an ‘i’ in city (and community and neighbourhood), it is only just one letter among many. It can make its own word but isn’t much of a stand alone read.

In Happy City, Charles Montgomery refers to a city as a “social machine”. A place that provides opportunities to connect and engage others on an infinite number of levels. Friendship. Romantic. Business. Shared interests.

As diverse and complex as the inhabitants who dwell there.

pacmanIf you only see yourself as a taxpayer in your relationship to the place you live, the opportunities for engagement with those around you are limited. Those outside of this limited social circle are little more than rivals for the resources you’ve paid for. Get off my lawn! Get out of my way! Get moving!

At its very core, it’s adversarial. Cities are a collaborative project. Living in one as just a taxpayer is nothing more than a shirking of your responsibilities to everyone else who helps make your life a whole lot easier.

collectively submitted by Cityslikr


Demand A Creed Not A Slogan

January 6, 2014

Of the many adjectives you might attach to Toronto’s last municipal campaign in 2010, ‘aspirational’ would not be one of them. texaschainsawmassacreIn fact, it was pretty much the exact opposite. Petty. Mean-spirited. Divisive. Exclusive.

The anti-JFK, paraphrased.

Ask what your city can do for you, ask not what you can do for your city.

It was nearly a year long orgy of lowering expectations while raising the bar of outrage. City Hall successfully portrayed as this lumbering, predatory beast, only interested in picking the pockets of hard working families and delivering nothing back in return. Respect For Taxpayers! became the winning battle cry/catch-phrase.

As has been noted by many people in many debates during the ensuing three years, being a taxpayer is not particularly inspiring or aspirational. It just sort of comes with the territory, living in any type of organized social grouping. It’s simply transactional. tightwadTaxpayer. Customer. Two dimensional. I pay. I receive.

It’s all so blasé an approach to democracy. There’s no responsibility attached to it. You pays your money. You gets your services. End stop.

This time around I want candidates coming to my door striving for more than that, demanding more from me as a voter citizen resident. Hitting on another nub of the problem that has also been much discussed. How exactly do you refer to someone who endeavours to be more than just a taxpayer? Voter lacks a similarly multifaceted aspect. Citizen excludes too many people who contribute everything to the welfare of the place they call home except voting.

Resident is soft, so passive. I don’t even live here. I reside here.

The absence of a proper word to offset the persuasive power of taxpayer is unsettling as we head into the 2014 campaign. happycityIn his book Happy City, Charles Montgomery quotes National University of Colombia urbanist, Ricardo Montezuma: … Because in a big way a city is really just the sum of what people think about it. The city is a subjective thing. For those of us who rankle at the bumper sticker notion of being only taxpayers, what is the word that defines us? What is our subjective interpretation of the city we live in?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been mulling over the notion of a 10 point campaign manifesto. Why 10 points? I don’t know. It’s the metric in me, I guess. I’d be happy with 5. Anything less seems flimsy. 7 or 8 would also work. 6 or 9 are out. I find them to be slippery numbers. More than 10, while ambitious, may be too unwieldy.

And while we’re at it, let’s call it something other than a manifesto. That smacks of you know what, and is easily dismissed by the more literal minded. How about a creed. A 10 point campaign creed for non-taxpayers. No, no. Strike that. A 10 point campaign creed for taxpaying non-Taxpayers [working title].martinluther1

Point 1.

We are more than taxpayers.

Don’t tell us how much money you’re going to save us. Tell us what you’re going to do with the money you spend. How you’re going to use it to build a better city. A better city? Yes. A more equitable city that offers more opportunity for more people. Opportunity? Yes. Opportunity to live safely and securely. Opportunity to prosper. Opportunity to move freely around the city in whatever mode you want that benefits the greatest number of people. Opportunity to truly believe that there is a healthy, sustainable, thriving future for you and your children and your grandchildren.

None of that is possible with a sole emphasis on keeping taxes low. We know this from the previous 3 years experience. corevaluesRespect For Taxpayers has translated into neglect of the city and everyone who lives, works, plays in it.

You see, there’s no one word for that.

We are more than taxpayers. Those seeking office in 2014 need to address the broader issues that encompass the governance of a city that is home to over 2.5 million inhabitants. Anything less. Why are you even bothering?

apolloly submitted by Cityslikr