Brood Parasite

June 29, 2016

The cuckoo, it is said, deviously lays its eggs in another bird’s nest to have its young raised and reared by the unsuspecting guest parent. cuckooforcocoapuffsThe cuckoo bird either hatches earlier or grows quicker than its host’s offspring, launching its faux-siblings from the nest in an effort to become the sole mouth to feed. A survival of the fittest tactic known as ‘brood parasitism’.

It strikes me as something too sinisterly perfect to be true. More like a child’s fable. No, not the white-washed ones we heard as kids. The grim ones, told by dour Germans or the icky Brits of the 18th-century, full of impending doom, evil lurking around every corner, stranger danger. The original scared straight, morality tales to keep the children in line. Suspect everyone. Trust no one. Are they really your parents?

In that vein…

The Scarborough subway. A cuckoo’s egg laid by the Ford Administration in the nest of City Hall. cuckoobirdnestIn a bid to grow and flourish, it, in turn, lays waste to everything around it, mainly in the form of reputations of those trying to give it life, even with the best of intentions. Here, I’m thinking city staff who know what’s what, a wink’s as good as a nod, but try anyway to make the best of a bad situation. It’s not a beast of their making. They’ve tried, at times, to set the record straight. To no avail, in the end, their attempt to make it all seem legitimate only succeeds in damaging their own credibility.

For those who actually try to claim parentage of this impersonator, the result is even more unbecoming or, in the extreme case, self-immolating. It derails political aspirations. Karen Stintz. It further mocks those already prone to mocking. This is not that subway. It’s a completely different subway. Which, just so happens, to be in Scarborough like that other subway. Councillor Michelle Holland. It makes some say the kookiest things. “The subway is never going to be cheaper than it is today,” said Councillor Ana Bailão.cuckoobirdbaby

Nobody’s fooled. Everybody’s embarrassed. Maybe if we can just get past the pretense of it all, we can start having a rational discussion again.

Except that no longer seems possible because no one in any position of real power is willing to step forward and admit mistakes were made, bad decisions pursued for all the wrong reasons. At first we thought this was a good idea. Now we don’t. This was an egg that should never have been allowed to hatch.

Mayor John Tory may be in line to take the biggest hit for trying to maintain this fiction. Whatever claims to sound judgment and a sober approach to governance he may have once made are meaningless now, nothing but empty campaign slogans. With his Toronto Star op-ed on Monday, he jettisoned any semblance of good sense or consensus building. Think that’s just me talking, an avowed and self-proclaimed Tory critic? cuckoobirdbaby1Or some other left-wing tongue-wagger in Torontoist?

Flip through the pages covering the transportation beat in the Star. Still not satisfied? How about this editorial in the august Globe and Mail? Both newspapers, by the way, that endorsed John Tory for mayor less than two years ago.

Why he’s taking such a risk to nurture somebody else’s terrible, terrible idea is probably both crassly obvious and backroom murky. Your guess is as good as mine. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter to John Tory because he, and every other politician who’s calculated to make this possible, won’t be around to see it to fruition, to have the scorn heaped directly on them.

In the meantime, we all can get a glimpse at the future. That deliberately misplaced egg has hatched and the cuckoo bird has already started to squawk, demanding we feed it, we love it, respect it. The sound, it sounds just like this:

fosterly submitted by Cityslikr


Rob Ford

March 24, 2016

I am sorry for your loss. 46 years of age is far too young to die. Cancer sucks. My condolences to the Ford family. Like all of them, I am sure, this is not how I wanted to see it end.

But I am thankful that, at least for the moment, it is over. The Rob Ford political/personal/family melodrama that has held the city of Toronto, a city of over 2.5 million residents, not some provincial backwoods, hillside, Hatfield-McCoy hamlet, in its dense, thick thrall for more than half a decade now has concluded. With the passing, perhaps, we can get on with having an honest debate about local governance and decision-making in the 21st-century.

As someone who only observed Rob Ford from the outside, never meeting him in person except to shake his hand once in the greeting line at one of his Ford Fest gatherings, my relationship with him is not at all complicated or complex. He was a terrible mayor, an awful local politician. His approach to representation functioned in the bleak zone of willful ignorance and stubborn self-certainty. If something conformed to his stunted, myopic world view, it must be right. Anything else was brushed aside as gravy.

That streetcar blocking the lane in front of him on his way to work must be the source of all congestion, everywhere in the city.

He leaves behind a legacy of belligerence, divisiveness, and a disdain for politicians, the bureaucracy and the political process itself. His 15+ years of public service was of the easiest kind. Push peoples’ buttons, get them angry, howl for simple solutions and lie about everything that could not be squared with reality. Millions became billions. Facts observed and acknowledged only when convenient.

The customer is always right, retail politics that Rob Ford mastered boiled down to nothing more than What can I do for you? The idea of What can I do for us? was an anathema to his political calculations. He was looking out for the little guy, gave voice to those left out of the civic discourse, as long as they saw things the way he did, said the same things he said.

Rob Ford is credited with alerting the otherwise unaware, largely downtown elite crowd to the alienated, angry, outsider voices of the inner suburbs. This is true although it hardly tells the whole truth. People were, and continue, to be angry. People weren’t being listened to or, more exactly, people weren’t being consulted, engaged with. There was indeed a certain smugness, let’s call it, at City Hall, a belief that people knew their best interests were being looked after. Bigger picture thinking was at work. The small details don’t matter.

Which turned out to be a near-fatal political mindset.

Speaking for myself, back in 2010, it wasn’t surprising many people were angry. I miscalculated the degree of anger. But mostly, I was caught off-guard that that anger so identified itself with Rob Ford and attached itself so strongly to him.

He appropriated the anger, giving it voice but no solutions. He had no interest in channeling it constructively, only in amplifying it incoherently and destructively. His Ford Nation wasn’t so much a cohesive ideology as it was pure demagoguery of blind resentment.

I don’t doubt anyone’s account of the human side of Rob Ford, his warmth, playfulness and generosity. While not at all getting the political charm of Rob Ford, others clearly did. You could watch him amiably chatting with kids in the council chambers. His enthusiasm bubbled over when he talked about things he loved, like football. That’s where the Everyman label got affixed to him.

That only proves anything if you adhere to a totality of behaviour of personality. Somebody is one thing or the other, and being one negates the other. But no one’s all saint, just as sure as nobody’s a complete shit bird.

Read through Karen Geier’s Remember these Rob Ford Gems?, compiled shortly after Ford re-emerged from what would not uncharitably be called a politically motivated rehab stint. None of it refuted. Christopher Bird’s Torontoist obituary similarly dismantles any notion of a well-intentioned but flawed character. Rob Ford seemed especially adept at one thing. Wreaking havoc. He left others to try and pick up the pieces of everything he broke.

Any notion of Rob Ford as a one-of-a-kind politician, there’ll never be another one like him again is a form of civic self-flattery. A singular political phenomenon we could never fall for again.

There will always be political opportunists. There’ll always be the possibility of another Ford. Pretending he was something he wasn’t only makes the possibility even more likely.

As we’ve seen, that would be disastrous for Toronto.

All of this in no way means I am happy he died. I am sorry for his death. I am sorry for those most affected by it. A death like he suffered will invariably leave a huge hole, a void in the lives of those closest to him.

What I am not sorry about, when all is said and done, is that I will never have to write about Rob Ford again.

submitted by Cityslikr


Thanks! … I Guess

November 21, 2015

Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, and yeah, the specs for Project: Under Gardiner look pretty nice indeed but you’ll have to excuse my hesitancy in lavishly embracing the idea. projectundergardinerIt’s still public space under a fucking urban expressway. Lipstick on a pig, and all that. Making the best of a bad situation, Our Strength.

And you’ll also have to excuse me a certain, I don’t know, dubiousness about the timing of all this. Remember back earlier this year when Mayor Tory was fighting tooth-and-nail for his hybrid option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated. While pooh-poohing the notion of a grand boulevard if that part of the freeway was brought down and rebuilt at grade, he extolled the virtues of the glorious urban life that could be had under expressways. Granville Island in Vancouver, for example, thrives under an expressway.

London, England — one of the greatest and oldest cities in the world — has developed one of the most expansive animated expressways in the world. Today underneath the Westway Expressway there are tennis courts, rock climbing walls, skateboard parks, riding stables and sports fields. It’s incredible. It’s what we can do here in Toronto: imaginative, animated public space without increasing congestion and damaging the economy.

The mayor won the day. The Gardiner from Jarvis Street east will remain elevated, probably, depending on just how expensive it will ultimately wind up being, projectundergardiner1which is still to be decided, by the way, and, to use Mayor Tory’s own words, “… lo and behold, two months later, in come the Matthews, and they want to do this incredible philanthropic city-building thing.” Imagine that! Suddenly, we’re all ga-ga over the possibilities of what can happen under those elevated expressway slicing through the downtown core of this city.

It’s hardly surprising then that the mayor ‘leaned on staff’ and ‘moved mountains’ to get this done, and get it done quickly. What better way to deflect from keeping an under-used segment of elevated expressway propped up for cheap political posturing than a well-timed example of philanthropic private sector largesse manifest in near sublime urban design? Lo and behold indeed.

Not to mention my purely ideological opposition to a single person dictating how the city prioritizes providing public space. gardinerexpressway“The Matthews’ only conditions were that Under Gardiner, as it’s called, be completed by 2017 and that the city agree to maintain it. Failure to do so meant the deal was off.” That’s what I’d call butting in line. For his part, Mayor Tory affectionately referred to it as a ‘bulldog’ approach. “‘We want to do this, but we’re not going to do it if it doesn’t get done quickly, if it doesn’t get done in a way that the city gets behind it,’ and so on.”

Well then. Who are we to get our collective backs up at being dictated to like that? Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say.

And yes, no question, what’s being proposed for that under-Gardiner strip from basically Fort York to Spadina is preferable to the dead zone there currently. I stood on the fort’s grounds in September, entranced by the odd juxtaposition of layered eras of city life on display, emphasized really, by the monstrous intrusion of the Gardiner, a relic of its time. gardinerfortyorkProject: Under Gardiner can only further highlight that fact, underline the folly of our automotive era.

And yes, it isn’t like the Gardiner is going anywhere anytime soon. What with hundreds and millions of dollars being literally poured into its upkeep at this very moment, we’ve insured its presence in our lives for a few decades at least. (But where will the cars go! Where will the car goes?! Oh, the humanity!) Lemon, meet lemonade.

Perhaps there’s a positive take away from this. Rather than focus on what could be considered the coward’s way out, yet another concession to the irrepressible domination of this car-first way of thinking that continues to mar our quality of life, Project: Under Gardiner should be chalked up to a little victory. gardinerexpressway1We’re reclaiming, at a barely perceptible creeping pace, some of the damaging fallout of past mistakes, mistakes we continue to make, mistakes that can’t be fully erased, only modified and made less worse.

That’s something, I guess, just not enough, in my opinion, to celebrate as much of a victory for 21st-century urbanism. It will inevitably suggest to many, including our current mayor, that automobile ascendancy is compatible with city life. What we’re left with is scraps. Scraps provided by a couple enlightened individuals and championed by a politician desperate to show that he’s in any way forward thinking.

ungratefully submitted by Cityslikr