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


A Lasting Legacy Of Fear

April 14, 2015

Late last month Christopher Hume wrote in the Toronto Star about Rob Ford’s ‘legacy of fear’. The choirmaster may have been chased out in disgrace but the same hymns continue to be sung. texaschainsawmassacreIt remains all about the hard working taxpayer (and a very specific, single family home owning taxpayer at that), drivers, finding efficiencies and looking out for any sort of downtown elitist assault on the little guy.

“Political paranoia has so unnerved current leaders that they are unable to make the choices they must,” Hume states.

I would venture to say that such skittishness extends to this city’s staff and public servants. Avoid spending money on anything other than what’s politically acceptable – witness the outrage with cost overruns on the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization versus the collective shrug about the nearly half a billion dollars to speed up repairs on the Gardiner Expressway. There’s still plenty of bloat at City Hall, so keep your departments ‘lean’. Objective analysis replaced by ideological and politically opportunistic ‘deserves’.

Think about that as the Spacing series continues to unfold, Parks in Crisis (parts 1 and 2). Toronto has, in the neighbourhood of $250 million, in what is called the Parkland Acquisitions & Development Reserve Fund. This is money paid by developers, set aside to purchase new parks and green spaces or rejuvenate existing ones in order to keep up with the increased development happening in the city, higher density development dependant on public spaces as ‘backyards’ basically for the growing number of multi-residential inhabitants.

That’s kind of surprising, isn’t it? coweringWeren’t you under the impression the city was tapped out, little room for the nice-to-haves like parklands the former mayor was always on about? Now we’re hearing there’s hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting there. What gives?

Of course, it’s a little more complicated than I’ll make it out to be here (that’s why John Lorinc is an actual journalist and I’m not) but I’m going to argue that this culture of fear that has descended on City Hall plays a big part in the inertia that’s allowing park space to fall further and further behind the pace of current development.

Who was the biggest loudmouth against the purchasing and refurbishing of green space over the last 5 years or so? Rob Ford. There were very few items along those lines he did not hold and did not rail against. Too much money, was his constant mantra, to be wasting on parks, playground and almost any public space that wasn’t a road.

In such an antagonistic environment, who in their right mind would step up with a park push? Keep your head low and money pile out of sight. Rob Ford may not even know the cash is there.

More structurally problematic, as Lorinc and Kimberley Noble point out, is the understaffing at City Hall due to the continual budget cuts and revenue decreases. The city can’t even keep up with maintaining existing parks and public spaces. sittingonmoneyWhat’s the rational for building new ones that won’t be looked after?

Moreover, there’s not the departmental staff to deal with the complex negotiations that go into securing these development funds, sometimes ranging into the tens of millions of dollars, or to implement some big, mega-park enterprise. “If somebody said, ‘here’s $100 million, let’s go,’ there isn’t the staff to execute those kind of projects,” Spacing is told. In the end, the city winds up taking the money and stashing it away, in the hopes of more favourable conditions, sometime in the future, I guess.

What about now, you might ask. Isn’t our long, municipal nightmare over? There’s a new sheriff in town, we’re told.

Bringing us back to Christopher Hume’s point. Rob Ford has effectively poisoned the civic well and his successor has done little so far to suggest he’s willing to stand up in a spirited defence of the commons. Mayor Tory has claimed repeatedly he was elected to keep taxes low. Check. He’s confident he can find savings through more efficiencies, ordering a 2% reduction in departmental budgets. Check. The point people he’s tapped to oversee many of these matters don’t instill much confidence in reversing the spending chill at City Hall.

Deputy Mayor and Waterfront TO board member Denzil Minnan-Wong doesn’t see a public expenditure not on roads he can’t rail against. cuttotheboneRemember Sugar Beach and those outrageous pink umbrellas, rocks and fancy public bathrooms? Surely, cheaper. And who’s chairing the Planning and Growth Management Committee? Why that old Spadina expressway enthusiast himself and noted tightwad, Councillor David Shiner.

These are names not usually associated with policies of smart growth or generally friendly to the common good. If anything, they signal a retrenchment of the Fordian era of illogical fiscal skin-flintery. Remain invisible, city staff, and don’t get flashy with any of your valuables.

Nor should there be any expectations from Team Tory of addressing the green space inequities the Spacing series points out. 69% of the parkland reserves between 2011-2014 came from what is most of two former municipalities, Toronto and East York (47% of that from just three downtown wards). Yet that same part of the city has received just 15% of all total new parkland since amalgamation.

But wait. That can’t be. Conventional wisdom says that downtown gets everything. Conventional wisdom (even when coming from the disreputable mouths of Rob Ford, Giorgio Mammoliti or Glenn De Baeremaeker) cannot be wrong or, at least, cannot be contested. Certainly, Mayor Tory wasn’t elected to contest such politically sensitive conventional wisdom.blowhole

“…[Rob] Ford turned self-doubt into self-hatred,” Christopher Hume writes, referring to our reflexive anti-government opinion toward City Hall. Mayor Tory has embraced that sensibility, putting a smiley face on the empty boosterism that rarely includes any positive public sector contribution. In so doing, he threatens to milk the current building boom in Toronto dry, leaving the mess that will inevitably follow for others to clean up.

fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Lads Doth Protest Too Much

July 3, 2014

So what is it with the Ford Bros. goons and their anti-urban henchman, Ccitybuildingouncillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, and Waterfront TO? Following along at Executive Committee yesterday as the 3 of them took turns taking swipes at the agency in charge of redeveloping the city’s long forlorn waterfront, you had to wonder what the hell was in that tree they were all barking up. Get that squirrel, Dougie! Get that squirrel!!

“This is the old hokey-pokey,” said Councillor Ford about the alleged shenanigans down on the waterfront. Hokey-pokey being, I guess, the kissing cousin to the boondoggle, and a safe way to hint at corruption without the worry of having to prove it.

“Councillor Doug Ford has turned a dark shade of purple as he rants about Waterfront Toronto,” Toronto Sun reporter Don Peat tweeted.

“You’re looking at a million dollars for 36 umbrellas and a rock, two rocks, two big rocks,” Mayor Ford pointed out about the design of Sugar Beach. “Two rocks. Where did these rocks come from?” he asked staff, pretty much rhetorically. “A rock is a signature piece?

“This is a cancer we must cut out,” the mayor declared. sugarbeach1The Gravy Train, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie, switching up into campaign stump speech.

“It is emblematic of Waterfront Toronto that they just don’t get the value of a dollar,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong stated, as if he alone in his tight-fisted, small-mindedness, understood.

“You’re missing the point in Sugar Beach!” Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly told the Executive Committee.

Ahh, yes. You’re missing the point. Especially you, TweetleDum, TweetleDumber and TweetleDMW.

My initial reaction was to look for deeper meaning or intentions in such intemperate outbursts although with these guys it isn’t an irregular occurrence. sugarbeachThe Fords have a tendency to turn various shades of bluster whenever they open their mouths. Councillor Minnan-Wong, he develops a certain tone of smug petulance.

But you will remember back nearly 3 years ago, Councillor Ford had big plans for some of the waterfront. Such monumentally huge plans that he appeared to have left his brother, the mayor, out of the loop. Ferris wheels. Monorails. Shopping malls.

You know, a place where people would actually want to go to visit and not some high concept, artsy-fartsy park.

With those plans shot down and the first leg pulled out from under the Ford mayoralty, I immediately thought, so what are these guys up to now? What plans had they hatched that were under threat by the slow but steady march of redevelopment by WaterfrontTO? sugarbeach2What were there wanting to build down there?

Of course, at this point, that may be over-thinking things, giving the boys way too much credit. Perhaps Christopher Hume last week summed it up best when he took exception to Councillor Minnan-Wong’s tirade about WaterfrontTO. “The problem is Minnan-Wong’s Toronto is dull, sterile and cheap,” Hume wrote.

Like the Fords, the councillor’s view of the public realm extends only as far as the roads he drives on. You want green space? It’s called a backyard. With a lawn. The suburbs like those his Don Mills ward is located in were intended to do away with the need for the public realm. Public realm? That’s what we have malls for.

I don’t want to get all high-falutin and world class city-ish here but truly great cities are measured by their public spaces. Think London, Paris, Barcelona, Washington DC, New York, Vancouver and what immediately comes to mind? notredameI’ll let you fill in the blanks but chances are it’s all about public spaces.

“That’s all well and good but do we really need all those fancy gargoyles around the place?” asks the medieval French version of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong when looking at the plans for Notre Dame.

But Toronto’s no London, Paris, Barcelona, etc., etc. We’re Toronto. We don’t do public space. We keep our taxes low.

What’s really annoying about all this is, these so-called fiscal conservatives cluck, cluck, cluck over $12,000 umbrellas and $500,000 rocks while steadfastly ignoring the fact that, according to Mr. Hume, projects like Sugar Beach have contributed to bringing some $2.6 billion in private investment to the waterfront. The public sector, working with the private sector, to enhance the quality of life for residents of Toronto. Just like Councillor Ford is always on about.texaschainsawmassacre

Maybe that’s what’s really stuck in their collective craws. The very idea that government can work, that government can actually contribute to the well-being of the city it’s in place to serve. Sure, it might cost some money but it isn’t always about a zero sum equation. We can have roads and beautiful parks too!

Or maybe, it’s all just about crass, retail, low rent politics. As has been stated many times by many people during the course of this administration, it’s about the cost of everything and the value of nothing. A sad reflection of the penurious imagination too many of us bring to table when talking about Toronto.

sow’s ear-ly submitted by Cityslikr


Death By Carcentricity

December 12, 2013

There’s a building at the top of the street. It’s a nice building, mostly office, I think. I’ve never been inside. thumbsup2My guess is, it’s a converted warehouse or maybe light industrial something something.

It gives off a good vibe as a place I’d be happy going to and working in everyday. Easy to get to too. A couple streetcar route stops within a two minute walk, another maybe four minutes. There’s a subway stop about fifteen minutes by foot in one direction and a second, I don’t know, twenty minutes the other way?

A downtown elitist’s dream location.

Earlier this fall, the tiny front piece of land underwent what I assumed to be some landscaping work. The yard was dug up, a pile of bricky flagstone material brought in. Gussying up the curb appeal, I imagined.

Well, wouldn’t you know it. Instead what the place got was a parking pad. A parking pad where a Range Rover now sits, no less. Pushed aside, now unusable in its current position is a 6 bike parking stand that used to be where the car’s now parked. uponblocksMaybe there’s another spot planned for it but it certainly isn’t going to be sharing the space with an SUV.

I don’t know why this bugs me as much as it does – Oh! Did I tell you? There are also two pay parking lots, one outside and the other underground, just steps from the building? No wait. I do know why it bugs me.

Who the fuck would do this, aside from some jag off Range Rover driver. Oh yeah. I forgot. There’s another street level parking lot a minute’s walk behind the building.

But no. Somebody’s got to have parking right in front of the building. Just hillybillying up the streetscape. Why? Because car. If you own one, drive one, it is an inalienable right to park it as close to where you’re going as possible. Otherwise, you might as well be taking public transit.

It all just comes on the heels of the news that the city’s at a 10 year high for pedestrian fatalities, currently sitting at 38, I think it still is. deathrace2000(42 if you throw in the 4 dead cyclists.) And according to Christopher Hume, 70% of the pedestrians were in the right when they were run over and killed.

The first impulse always, of course, is to blame the weather, the change of seasons, not enough brightly coloured apparel. As our mayor once said back in his councillor days when talking about cyclists being killed, at the end of day, well, swimming with sharks, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. The roads were meant for cars.

This overweening sense of entitlement continues, I’d hazard a guess, at least in part because of this administration’s victimization of car drivers and its embrace of the fanciful notion of some War on the Car. Yeah! We’re tired of being told we have to share the roads! You heard the mayor. As a matter of fact, we do own the road.

A walk along College Street yesterday, at 3 intersections, I’m finding myself either having to stop or speed up my pace because cars turning right or left have just pushed aggressively into my space at a perfectly legal crossing. asamatteroffactMove it! Move it! Move it! I’ve got places to go!

“The lights are just not adjusted for seniors,” says 92 year old Howard Cable. “They’re adjusted for traffic.”

Sorry, Mr. Cable. Our roads (and front yards), our entire transportation system is adjusted for vehicular traffic. Until we change that priority, we all just have to accept the risks of venturing outside if you’re not behind the wheel of a car. Sometimes you’ll make it safely across the street. Sometimes you won’t.

But remember, even the hardest of hearts will bleed for you if you don’t.

mournfully submitted by Cityslikr


Days Of Sue-Ann Supreme

November 23, 2012

In future days, will this be the face of the Toronto Sun?

DEVILITATOR

One might argue it already is but I’m referring specifically to the paper’s former editorial page editor, Rob Granatstein’s thoughts on the most recent cuts to Sun Media’s newspaper chain.

The cuts have crushed the local newsrooms. When the latest victims of downsizing are gone, Toronto will be down to three general assignment news reporters, according to people in that newsroom, unless staff is reassigned. That’s flat out ridiculous. The Sun will rely even more on its columnists to generate the news going forward. [Bolding ours.]

The Sun. Columnists. Generating news.

Information flowing forth, free of context, full of personal opinion. News from top down not bottom up.

This isn’t just about it being the Toronto Sun. Any newspaper working with a skeleton crew of reporters and teetering precariously with op-ed writers isn’t a newspaper. It’s, well, an organ of opinion, both informed and otherwise.

It would be just like… All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. Only with inkier fingers.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be able to do whatever it is I do without piggy backing on the work of Daniel Dale, David Rider, Robyn Doolittle, Kelly Grant, Elizabeth Church, Don Peat and a handful of other reporters who tirelessly dig up the dirt and parse information on Toronto politics on a seeming 24 hour, 7 day schedule. I’d hazard a guess neither could the bigger names a couple paragraphs up. The less reporting that gets done, the more, what would you call it?, PRing happens?

Picture Toronto, with the discourse only consisting of the views from the likes of Sue-Ann Levy, Joe Warmington, Royson James, Christopher Hume, Rosie DiManno, Chris Selley, Matt Gurney, Christie Blatchford, Marcus Gee, Margaret Wente?

“Columnists have found themselves out of jobs because they were too agreeable to those in power,” says Granatstein in this week’s Grid profile of Ms. Levy, “and it makes for weak reading. Wearing the Ford colours has hurt Sue-Ann…That means she struggles to get the other side of the story sometimes. People don’t feel she gives them a fair shake.”

While at the moment this may be a bigger bind for Sue-Ann because she’s in so deep with Team Ford, this can be a ditch all opinion writers must fight not to steer into. I’m sure the Star’s Christopher Hume has problems gaining access to the mayor and his staff. His colleague, Royson James, could hardly be considered an honest broker back in the day with the Miller administration. Remember his one-man, moralistic crusade to de-rail Adam Giambrone’s mayoral bid?

But that’s not really why we read columnists, is it? For impartiality or objectivity? We’re looking for opinions. Hopefully ones based on at least a semblance of reason and reality but we certainly don’t view their words as gospel or final on any given topic. Their purpose really is to either make our blood boil or confirm our biases.

Newspapers stressing op-eds over real reporting are nothing more than modern versions of olde thyme pamphleteering. And, if I do say so myself, that’s kind of our bailiwick, over here on the interwebs. We need newspapers to remain newspapers. Otherwise, we’ll all just be making shit up to push forward our agendas, unchecked and unsupported.

opinionatedly submitted by Cityslikr