Keeping Up With The Joneses

January 18, 2016

It’s odd to wake up on a Monday morning, read through your local news and information and realize there’s a lot of change in the air. goodnewseveryoneDeputy Chief Peter Sloly suggests a complete overhaul of our approach to policing. Former city council candidate and Better Budget TO co-founder Alex Mazer raises the possibility of some ‘fiscal honesty’. Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat has plans on completely re-imagining King Street from Dufferin all the way east to River.

Oh my. I think I just gave myself a case of the dizzies. So much… possibilities!

This comes after a weekend of occasional contemplation on what seems to be the inevitable strategic retreat by Mayor Tory on his heavily touted (by he and his team, at least) SmartTrack transit plan. On Friday stories began to emerge about scaling back and spending less on it. The always dubious ‘western spur’ dropped and replaced (Fingers Crossed!) by the westward extension of the Eglinton Crosstown to the airport. The eastern branch north of the Kennedy subway station quietly binned. stepbackLeaving some sort of expanded GO train-like service tracing the much more desirable Relief Line route, the slightest impression acknowledging SmartTrack even once existed as a concept.

I wondered what the campaign architects of SmartTrack were thinking now. Was this pretty much how the saw things happening? They knew, along with a solid majority of everybody else, that the plan was wholly unworkable. Just get their guy elected, go through the motions, not to mention millions, pretending he was serious about building SmartTrack. When it hit smack dab into the wall of reality, revealed to be the sham it was, stitching together a couple good ideas into an ill-fitting and grotesquely expensive cloth, walk it back, on the advice of the experts that weren’t, apparently, available during the 10 month long campaign.lipstickonapig

SmartTrack was an election scheme in no way meant to refute the heavy-rail, off-road transit vision of John Tory’s main rival for the job, Rob-then-Doug Ford. That’s why it was referred to as ‘Surface Subway’. That’s why John Tory backed the Scarborough subway. John Tory refused to confront the political pandering that sat deep in the heart of the Ford approach to transit planning. Instead, he chose to wrestle it into his own image.

So, I look at today’s news, the transformative opportunities, and temper my immediate enthusiasm. Just how willing is John Tory, essentially, to buck the status quo, to grapple with the ghost of the Ford administration? Little so far would indicate his willingness to do so. Every restoration of TTC service he announces is more than equaled by expedited expressway repairs, Gardiner hybrids and traffic flow announcements. Do we really expect him to stand strong in the face of the inevitable outrage at the chief planner’s plans to de-emphasis car travel along King Street and in the downtown core?

Fiscal honesty? I write this as I’m following along with the budget chief’s lunchtime presser. “We did not have to use revenue tools on this budget,” Councillor Crawford told reporters. putalidonit1All the while keeping property tax rate increases impossibly low, raiding reserve funds and insisting on line-by-lines cuts to office supplies and travel costs in order to try and plug the inevitable holes in the operating budget. Sound familiar? It should. That’s what’s been passing as ‘fiscal honesty’ at City Hall for the past 5 years or so.

And as mayor, John Tory sits on the Police Services Board that passed over the opportunity to appoint reformer Peter Sloly as Chief of Police, all the while holding the door open for the similarly reform-minded chair, Alok Mukherjee, to make an early exit. He’s already had the chance to help affect much needed change and dropped the ball. Well into his second year in office, it’s difficult not to see Mayor Tory as anything but an obstacle, no less than his predecessor.

Of course, it’s hard to look forward when you’re constantly checking back over your shoulder to see what your competition’s up to. Ultimately, it’s of cold comfort that John Tory defeated Doug Ford to become mayor if, in the end, there’s little to differentiate between the two in matters of policy. kipMaintaining the status quo is maintaining the status quo even if you can’t see the gold chain around somebody’s neck.

If John Tory really wants to establish an enduring legacy during his time in office, he could do so by challenging the Ford city building and governance mystique head on, bury it six feet under the ground where it belongs. The possibilities in doing so are in evidence in today’s news. But, for me, the mayor’s motivations remain opaque. Like with SmartTrack, he seems more intent on a simple redesign, keeping a uninterrupted message, only delivered by a different messenger.

not anticipatingly submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Can’t Have Nice Things (Part One Billion)

May 13, 2014

I’m sorry I have to go back to this well but I think the point is well worth repeating and remembering.repeatmyself

As important as the mayor’s race is to the future proper functioning of the city, the direction it ultimately goes will be determined by the make up of the 44 councillors. And as long as the likes of Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby and Denzil Minnan-Wong remain in the mix, we should expect a rocky road going forward. These two are why we can’t have nice things in Toronto, to paraphrase the old lament.

“Why is it when tolls are proposed in this city, they always end up targeting those who live in Etobicoke?” Councillor Lindsay Luby tweeted. “Of course we get nothing in return.”

Nothing in return, save the roads that move you back and forth to your detached homes with their big yards and green lawns. nonono4How dare we even bring up the subject of finally getting around to start charging for the actual cost of building and maintaining the system that allows those behind the wheel of a car to move about the city and region from great distances. Why must we always be so anti-Etobicoke?

Why indeed.

It’s a marvel to me that someone who has served in public office for as long as Councillor Lindsay Luby continues to see the city through such a fundamentally skewed lens. Why Etobicoke? Perhaps because the very skeleton of its existence is built on 3 major thoroughfares running through it. The 401. The 427. The Gardiner Expressway. Why’s the man always got to stick it to poor ol’ E with his road tolls? It just might have to do with you living in a car-dependent, highway heavy area of the city, councillor.

While Councillor Lindsay Luby may be misguided, even woefully so, I don’t think she is trying to be willfully destructive or dismissive. nonono2That would be the domain of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong who seems to have slithered out more into the sun since the shadow of Rob Ford has receded somewhat.

In response to an intriguing article written by the city’s Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, in the Globe and Mail, Here’s how to change Canada from a suburban to an urban nation, Councillor DMW fired off a couple tweets. “We love our gardens and lawns in Don Mills. We are proud of our neighbourhood in the suburbs.” A couple minutes later, this. “Not everyone wants to live in a little box in the sky.”

Never mind the chief planner didn’t suggest anything of the sort. There was no talk of razing detached suburban homes or pulling up their manicured lawns and fancy gardens, and replacing it all with 80 story monstrosities, devoid of windows, air and sunshine. nononoThat’s just what the councillor wants you to think, wants you to believe is part of the urbanism espoused by our chief planner. There’s no in-between with this extreme. Only unholy, enforced communal living in tiny little boxes in the sky versus the clean open spaces (and lawns and gardens) preferred by right thinking people.

The suburban-urban divide. You might recognize that tune having been sung before.

In the second sentence of her Globe article, Ms. Keesmaat writes “…it is unlikely that our next wave of development will resemble the last.” This echoes a sentiment I heard from Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker earlier this year when he suggested people always assume (incorrectly, it turns out) the future is going to be just like the past. You grow up and live in a leafy suburb, driving everywhere you go, so it is, so it will always be.

For the likes of councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and Gloria Lindsay Luby, they refuse to comprehend any other approach to going about business aside from the way it’s always been done during their respective lifetimes. Back in October 2012, nonono5Councillor Lindsay Luby led the charge against a development proposal in her ward’s Humbertown (since settled to everyone’s relative satisfaction without going to the OMB). Railing against the idea of affordable forms of housing like, what do you call them, apartments being built in the neighbourhood, she said famously: “That’s never been the demographic for that area.”

Change? My family didn’t settle here back in the 1950s in order to have things be different sixty years later. You will get road tolls from me when you drag the coins from my cold, dead hand.

It’s the blanket incuriosity that is most infuriating. Everybody knows that there’s a serious problem with mobility in this city and region. Getting around, to work, to school, to errands, has become a burden to many, an unnecessary burden.

But when it comes to offering up solutions? Led by politicians like councillors Minnan-Wong and Lindsay Luby, it’s all about, don’t be looking at me. nonperpetualmotionThere’s no sacrifice they’re willing to make, no change in lifestyle they’re prepared to undergo to contribute in order to begin fixing anything. Low taxes. No user fees. No little boxes in the sky. Only wide, green lawns and brightly flowered gardens for now and forever.

Steady as she goes. Never change course. Always looking back, never forward.

As long as city council is infused with this way of thinking, Toronto will be doomed to repeating past mistakes, and coming to grips with the problems we face will always be an uphill battle.

sick and tiredly submitted by Cityslikr


Just Wrapping Up Loose Ends

February 27, 2013

Yesterday I decided to take a break from our perpetual mayoral sorrow and His Worship’s latest justice dust-up governanceand spend some time catching up on the actual running of the city. Drop into a Community Council meeting maybe, witness me some day-to-day governance going on in the shadows of continued misrule. Ask the question: can a chicken really still run with its head cut off?

Entering the City Hall lobby, a sign caught my attention. Chief Planner roundtable…  Our Urban Fabric: Designing and Creating Public Places. Well, look at that, would you. And off I was, my destination changed from Committee Room #1 to Committee Room #2.

I encourage everyone who wasn’t there or didn’t follow along with the live stream to take some time and watch the proceedings. Failing that, read the agenda outline. What the city may lack in political leadership currently, it is made up for by a ferocious intelligence determined to grapple with some of the major issues we’re facing.

On the particular issue of the public realm, it was quite clear from the outset that many on the chief planner’s panel held diametrically opposed views from our administration. publicrealmThat’s not entirely fair. I mean, can anyone express the mayor’s views on the public realm in fifty words or less? Here, let me try. A football field.

The public realm is no one thing, obviously. Building design. Transportation. Green space. Planning and development. Seemingly disparate items but all serving the single notion of liveability and quality of life. Very few of those things has Mayor Ford had much to say about.

Certainly some of the views expressed by some on the panel — made up of urban planners, designers, landscape architects, civil engineers, transportation consultants, market researchers, from both the private and public sectors. And Anne Golden! – would not be those you’d be hearing from Mayor Ford and his allies. According to the city’s General Manager of Transportation Services, Stephen Buckley, his department is “no longer just about moving cars…” I says, what?! Who the hell hired this guy? Denzil! Code Red! lookingthewrongwayRogue city staff! STAT!

(One of the upsides to our mayor’s obsessive focus on every single nickel and returning residents’ phone calls could well be his disengagement with the hiring of senior city staff. Whatever influence his office has on such matters, I can only imagine his involvement in anything that doesn’t directly have to do with dollars and cents is passing at best. Can picture the hiring of Jennifer Keesmaat as chief planner going something along the lines of, Hey, she’s from the private sector! Without looking up, a silent thumbs-up from the mayor as he works his phone.)

Such a disconnect between our highest elected local official and those implementing policy cannot be maintained, of course. Eventually, they have to either coalesce into some sort of coherence or heads are going to roll. Just ask Gary Webster, for instance.

But the ball may not be in the mayor’s court this time out. Not only has he essentially lost control of the agenda at council, he’s also heading into a campaign year. While that may be his strong suit, or at least, stronger than governing, as the incumbent he might not be as free to simply tout meaningless numbers and slogans as he was in 2010. He might have to talk honest-to-god policy ideas.

During yesterday’s panel discussion, the chief planner talked at some length about value. costvalueWhat it is we place value on as residents of the city. It struck me that would be a good place to start asking our politicians as we head into the next campaign. What is it that they value?

We know with almost dead certainty how Mayor Ford would respond to that question. What do you value? Customer service and respect for the taxpayer.

But what does that mean in everyday practical terms?

Returned phone calls and low taxes? What’s the value of those?

It doesn’t deliver us much needed transit. It doesn’t rebuild aging infrastructure. It doesn’t create vibrant public spaces. Outside of our own individual satisfaction there is no value in a phone call from the mayor or not paying the level of taxes necessary to properly maintain our city.

The mayor has no sense of the value of public service. stumped1His values don’t deliver, build or create anything other than divisions, resentment and antagonism.

After Mayor Ford escaped unscathed from the Compliance Audit Committee on Monday, Matt Elliott suggested it was now time for him to get back to the work of governing. “It didn’t escape my notice yesterday,” Elliott wrote, “that when Ford started to listing his mayoral accomplishments in his post-victory speech, virtually none of them came from the last six months of his term.” Sure, we can lay the blame for that on all his legal wranglings but I think the truth of the matter is that Mayor Ford has nothing else to offer because there is nothing else he really values.

Public transit is merely a nuisance to him. There’s only value in it if it’s kept underground, out of sight, out of mind. Of course he’s in favour of a casino wherever it’ll fetch the most money for city coffers and offset some of the revenue his administration has foregone in its War on Taxes.

After that, what does he value? With no values, you can’t govern. And if you can’t govern, what else is there? killingtimeCampaigning for re-election.

“I think a lot of people are already in that election mode,” the mayor told the media, “and just wrapping up a few loose ends and we’re going to be on the campaign trail.”

With about 20 months to go before the next election, Mayor Ford is ‘just wrapping up a few loose ends’. That’s what a politician with no values calls governing.

impatiently submitted by Cityslikr