A Parking Pass

April 4, 2013

Sixteen years after amalgamation, city council took a big step toward by-law harmonization yesterday which, while as boring as it might sound, is an important milestone. Not everyone was happy about the outcome and, certainly, everything isn’t now all ironed out. ballonanimalQuirks remain. (Seriously? Rooming houses still can only be built in certain parts of the city? Seriously?) But hey. What city doesn’t have its quirky by-laws? I hear tell of some places where buskers aren’t allowed to give children balloon animals.

As expected, it wasn’t a quick and easy debate. Change never is quick or easy. What did surprise me, and that surprise is all on me because, well, how could I not see it coming, was that the biggest subject of debate on the issue of by-law harmonization involved parking.

Nothing highlights just how car-centric this city still actually is than the passion displayed for parking. Where, how much of it and keeping the cost absolutely negligible were all matters of very intense discussion on the council floor. parkinglot1Parking as some sort of  inalienable right bestowed upon anyone as soon as they purchase an automobile.

I’ll believe Councillor Josh Matlow when he says his motion to maintain free visitor parking at all multi-residential and apartment buildings comes from a place of protecting tenants’ rights. That there’s a time for the bigger discussion on parking but yesterday wasn’t it. And he may believe that I referred to his motion as ‘parking pandering’ only because I like to take shots.

But the fact is that there’s no such thing as free parking and we really need to stop pretending there is. It is not an amenity to be used as a bargaining chip. We all pay in some way for tenants to have free visitor’s parking, for “free” parking of any kind. parkinglotAnd if Councillor Matlow and the 34 other councillors who voted in favour of his motion think I’m being hyperbolic, might I suggest they take some time and read through Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking. (Or, here’s a 20 page paper on the subject from the professor.) Part II, section 3, Getting the Parking Right, in Jeff Speck’s Walkable City is also a very good primer on the subject.

The emphasis on cheap, plentiful parking warps our ability to properly plan a healthier, more liveable city. Any notion of “free” parking encourages people to drive to destinations that have it. It maintains the private automobile’s top notch in our transportation hierarchy and continues to push every other mode of transit to second, third and fourth class status. Don’t believe me? parkinglot2At your next dinner party, express the view that public transit should be a free amenity for everybody. Gauge the feedback you get in comparison to stating the opinion drivers really ought to be paying more of their fair share for parking.

Any positive efforts a councillor makes in the direction of furthering public transit or cycling or walking is simply undone by their insistence on maintaining the illusion of free or cheap parking. Rationalize it all you want, cower in the face of voter-driver wrath but it only stalls the realistic conversation we need to have. You can have a vibrant, dynamic city, full of all sorts of ways to get around or you can have oodles of “free” parking for anyone and everyone who asks. You just can’t have both.

scoldingly submitted by Cityslikr


Shrug Off A Thug

February 20, 2013

You have to give Mayor Ford marks for honesty. When asked about the recent spike in shootings of young men in Toronto, he said, “If I had an answer for (gun violence), I’d implement it.” shrugAnd then, “We’re trying everything we can and I just don’t have a magic answer right now and if I did, like I said, I’d be the first one to use it…I’m trying my very, very best and I don’t know really what else I can do.”

He’s right in some ways. Crime is a multi-level governmental problem. As the mayor of the city, his jurisdiction is limited. It’s not as if he can just grab the assailants by the scruff the neck and force them to play football. homersimpsonOr deport them from the city.

He can’t deport them, right?

Besides, former mayor David Miller reacted to a spate of shootings during the infamous Summer of the Gun under his watch, and for what? Seven years on and people are still getting shot and killed. Trying is the first step to failure, as Homer Simpson said. So aside from rolling back initiatives and programs of your predecessor, a mayor can only do so much.

Proaction starts with the same three letters as progressive and a fiscally conservative minded politician like Rob Ford has no time for either concept. There’s only one answer to deal with each and every problem society faces. Cut taxes, cut government and let the free market create jobs and opportunities. hediditFailing that, lock up all criminals and throw away the key.

Looking for any other kind of response from him is futile. He knows no other approach. His lingering appeal lies in the simplicity he brings to even the most complex of problems.

He’s not alone.

Watching Councillor Mike Del Grande at yesterday’s Police Services Board meeting, the same kind of thinking was on display. In response to Eglinton-Lawrence MPP Mike Colle’s deputation [page 9] about the unsolved murders of over 50 men from the Somali community in Alberta and Ontario over the past decade, the recently installed board member intoned the dark spectre of ‘drugs’. “…[news]papers seem to report drug-related causes leading to young people’s deaths”, Councillor Del Grande suggested. As if, unsolved murders, sure. But if we’re talking ‘drug-related causes’, what are you going to do?

Reap what you sow and all that. Just how Jesus would’ve reacted, casting the first stone at any and all sinners. nothingtobedoneOr at least, cast aspersions to absolve yourself of any responsibility.

It’s a collective shrug of indifference from our council’s conservatives. If flat lining spending can’t solve a problem then that problem is simply intractable. Nothing to be done. Certainly talking for five or six hours at council over something like Councillor Josh Matlow’s Taking Action on the Roots of Youth Violence motion won’t solve a thing especially if it leads to any sort of thug hugging.

So stop looking to our mayor and his fellow conservative colleagues to deal with stuff, folks. They’re in over their heads. If they can’t slash and burn their way to a solution, they’re at a loss how to respond. Expect anything more and you simply haven’t been listening to what they’ve been telling us.

matter of factly submitted by Cityslikr


Advised: Radio Silence

June 12, 2012

So when does any publicity become bad publicity?

The thought came to me while listening to Sunday’s The City radio show with Mayor Rob Ford and Councillor Doug Ford. “Well, you’re married to the Pollack,” brother Dougie said to Rob during their conversation about the Euro Cup. “A term of affection,” the mayor said later, responding to his brother’s apology for using the term which he claimed not to know was derogatory. All would be forgiven in Fordland later over polish sausages and pierogies watching some soccer at the mayor’s house.

Would that be the case, however, outside the family circle?

With The City, Mayor Ford has been given an even bigger bully pulpit than the already impressive one the mayor of Canada’s biggest city inherently possesses. Every week he gets to expound on his political views, his council pet peeves and his one true passion, sports. Except for the last topic, he goes largely unchallenged, tolerating little dissent from any callers who have the temerity to chime in with opposing opinions and filling the guest list with like-minded councillor colleagues.

Why, for example, after last week’s bizarre plastic bag debate at council, didn’t the mayor invite the culprit behind the ban motion, Councillor David Shiner, on to the show to have a further debate on the issue? Maybe he did and the councillor declined. Who knows? But surely one of the 24 councillors the mayor named who voted in favour of the ban was willing to come on the show to discuss the matter.

Instead we got plastic bag loving and part time Ford foe, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby phoning it in. This, despite the fact, as my colleague Cityslikr pointed out to me, Councillor Lindsay Luby was the real impetus behind the ban when she brought up Seattle as a city that does not charge anything for plastic bags, having been there recently, shopping. You’re right, councillor. Seattle no longer charges for plastic bags, its bid to do so overturned on an election proposition. So as of July 1st, the city will ban plastic bags outright. Councillor Shiner saw that memo passed around council chambers during the debate and ran with it.

Ooops. No matter. The councillor and brothers Ford prattled on, talking up all the benefits of plastic bags and fielding calls from listeners who felt the same.

In the show’s previous iteration, originally helmed by Councillor Josh Matlow, there was an actual attempt to discuss municipal matters from the basic left-right dynamic with the host in the role as the moderate centre. Sure, the set-up was a little cutesy but it brought a substantive dialogue to City Hall proceedings in a much more inclusive way than its bastard offspring. The City versus The City as seen through the Ford brothers’ eyes.

And it is a very narrow, skewed perspective, one that includes ethnic slurs as family nicknames, it seems. If the idea behind getting the Fords a wider audience through a 2 hour, weekly radio show was to circumvent the other, less friendly forms of media in town and get their message out there, unfiltered, the negative repercussions to such increased exposure were probably never fully considered. In the hands of a truly media savvy public figure, there might not be much of a downside but to the gaffe prone, like our mayor and his even gaffier happy brother?

Maybe the constant reminder of just how ill-informed the mayor is on almost every subject outside of sports serves to shore up the basest of his base. He’s just one of us! Maybe the regular placing of a foot in the mouth endears them to those who don’t care for the slick, knowledge based type of politician. As a then councillor, Rob Ford’s regular appearances on AM640’s The John Oakley Show show established his brand and helped develop an audience that followed him to the polls on his quest to be mayor. Maybe Team Ford hopes to keep that loyalty alive and kicking through to 2014.

But is it possible to have too much of a bad thing? While little quirks of character might be endearing in small doses, serving them up in weekly helpings could eventually get tiresome even to the most devoted of fans. “Did he really just say that?” is the response radio shock jocks aim for but is it the sort of result a mayor of Toronto seeks? Despite the emphasis during Sunday’s show on the plastic bag ban and subways, subways, subways, what lingers is The Polock, and brother Doug’s search for an appropriately WASPy soccer team to root for.

Yep folks, them thar’s our mayors, warts and all.

It’s hard to believe that such a continued assault on common sense and common decency can be parlayed into a winning re-election formula. These personality tics often do work when a candidate campaigns as an outsider but after 4 years of being the most powerful elected official in Toronto? It suggests a failure to grow into your role and can only remind voters that they may have miscalculated when they cast a ballot for you the first time around.

wonderingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Scenes From A Life With Cars

May 25, 2012

Three car themed vignettes today, all crashing to one inevitable conclusion which I won’t spell out directly, leaving it up to the reader to arrive at on their own. Hopefully, it will give the post an art house film feel.

Yesterday the McGuinty government announced a $1 billion eastward extension of the 407 highway, sounding as if it were some revolutionary act of patriotism. “Our intention is to ensure that this is a people’s highway, owned by the people, tolls are set by the people, service standards set by the people and the revenues that are generated are returned to the people.” And this road, this getter of the people from point A to point B, shall be known from this time forth as the Volksroute!

I don’t have the information at hand to judge if this is a good use of money or not. At least they’re tolling it, so drivers will be paying more for the pleasure of using it. As to a new highway ‘tackling congestion’ as the CBC site claims? There’s little evidence to prove such a case. Google the question do more roads reduce question and judge for yourself. What jumped out at me was this point in link #3 from a U of T study: For interstate highways in the densest parts of metropolitan areas we find that vkt [Vehicle Kilometers Traveled] increases in exact proportion to highways.

I only wish that our premier would embrace the building of public transit with the same kind of grassroots gusto he has for the 407. His support of Metrolinx and its Big Move has been what we might call mercurial. An initial enthusiasm perpetually dampened by an eye on the bottom line. One could argue that, along with the David Miller administration’s failure to really get out and sell the idea of Transit City to the people who would benefit from it most, the Liberal’s quick trigger finger in reducing funding for it in the face of the economic crisis of 2009 made the plan seem, if not expendable, at least elastic to those intent on doing it harm.

Public transit, it seems, is for downtown elites. Highways are for the real meat-and-potatoes, drive-through Tim Horton’s salt-of-the-earthers.

[Cue awkward segue.. A traffic jam as far as the eye can see, under a menacing sun cutting through a smog filled sky. The sound of blaring horns slowly fades into those of hockey sticks on pavement; angry shouts of drivers are replaced by the gleeful peels of joy from kids playing road hockey. The scene of traffic congestion dissolves to a leafy neighbourhood street, curiously devoid of any cars. Only children, boys and girls, all races and creeds, together playing road hockey.]

It seems Councillor Josh Matlow’s quixotic quest to end the city’s ban on ball hockey has come to a stultifyingly bureaucratic end. Too much red tape for many of his colleagues although the idea and its demise provided plenty of opportunity for hockey related puns. So there’s that.

I got no particular dog in this hunt nor do I blame the councillor for pulling the plug in the face of what seemed to be certain defeat certainly at the committee level. Is this an issue you’d waste political capital on? It’s the source of the alleged bureaucracy that grates.

As explained on the councillor’s site, the determination for allowable road hockey would be based on the level of car use. “The street would have to have a speed limit of 40 km/h or less, 1,000 or fewer vehicles passing per day, an average gap between vehicles of one minute or more, and sightlines sufficient to allow vehicles to stop before crashing into the goalie.” In other words, kids, streets are for cars. Sharing is entirely up to them. Maybe if you ask nicely and there’s not too much red tape involved…

Think I’m just being petulant? Read Confession of a former engineer. It seems road/street design runs contrary to how many of us think a proper neighbourhood/community should flow. 1) Traffic speed 2) Traffic volume 3) Safety 4) Cost versus 1) Safety 2) Cost 3) Traffic volume 4) Traffic speed. It’s a car’s world, man. We’re just allowed to live in. Unless we get in their way, of course.

This sense of entitlement defines our 3rd car tale. (Oooo. Seamless transition. Well done.) And it’s a story that actually happened to me. So it has a more gritty, hand held, verité feel.

Earlier this week I picked up an Autoshare car for a couple hours. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do drive occasionally. As a reminder why I fucking hate it so much. And to pick up items that are too big to fit in my bike baskets.

Chores and loathing finished, I returned the vehicle only to find someone parked in the spot. Right in front of a sign clearly indicating it was reserved 24 hours a day, each and every day. No parking. Yes, that includes you, dickhead.

This ought to be interesting I thought, never having encountered such a problem before. With no other place in sight to leave the car, I honked the horn a couple times, thinking that the driver might be within earshot, knowing they were illegally parked. Nothing.

So I called Autoshare, hoping that the solution would be to throw the anchors out right behind the motherfucker and force him to call Autoshare and explain why he thought it OK to park his car wherever the hell he wanted. Unfortunately, no. I was advised to find a place wherever I could in the area, leave it there and let them know the location.

“You’re going to call and have the jagoff towed though?” I asked. “Right?”

Apparently, no. That’s not a thing Autoshare does. It’s more live and let live. Inconvenience rather than enforcement.

I did find a place not far away. But as I finished up I caught a glimpse of a meter guy, walking along a street, writing out tickets. So I raced to find him and point out a certain transgression.

“Excuse me, sir. If you’re looking to fill your quota, some asshole” — yes I do swear this much in real life especially when a car’s involved – “just parked his car in my Autoshare spot. Come on. Follow me. I’ll show you.”

But what do you know? Apparently, this was not an infraction he could ticket. “It’s sort of like private property,” he tried to explain. Unless someone working for Autoshare showed up to complain, his hands were tied.

Shaking my head, I headed home. Unless Autoshare came and moved the car I’d parked from the street in a couple hours or so, it would get ticketed. Ultimately I’d bear the cost in some indirect form or another, as a member of the organization. Some piece of shit would walk away, his wallet none the lighter. Just another freeloading car driver.

THE END

[An addendum: after showing this to a couple test audiences, I was informed that 71% didn’t get it, didn’t see how the three stories were related, failed to understand the point. Some voice-over narration was needed. Don’t worry. It’ll be removed for the director’s cut edition.]

OK, SO NOT THE END

Cars kill cities. Cars kill communities.

NOW, IT’S THE END

auterly submitted by Cityslikr


No Girls Allowed

May 24, 2012

Can I tell you something?

Sitting in the audience at last night’s decidedly un-sausagefest panel discussion, The Comments Section, brought to fruition by the relatively new to the scene Women in Toronto Politics group (#WiTOpoli), I found myself feeling very much the bystander… bysitter? My Blackberry deliberately stuffed into my back pocket, it wasn’t a discussion for me to participate in. I came to listen.

Not owing to any sense of condescending chivalry or politeness but, frankly, it mostly had to do with my surprise this conversation even needed to be aired. The talk wasn’t directly about the obstinately immoveable low numbers of women actively pursuing a career in politics although that problem certainly bubbled below the surface of much of what was being said. The evening’s main topic was the low percentage of women finding space to have their views on  municipal politics heard, clogged up as it is by those of us possessing penises. (No, that word didn’t come up. I just used it because I don’t get to very often especially in its plural form.)

Come on, I thought to myself. We’re talking about the wide open world of social media here, the Twitter and Facebook, the blog-o-sphere. Why, even I, an outsider to the world of local Toronto politics, just sat down and started to read, watch and write about it, and two and a half years later, here I am, having reached, well, not dizzying heights but I’ve made a name for myself. I mean, Councillor Josh Matlow knows who I am and, apparently, he doesn’t care for my work.

This is as democratic as it gets, ladies. Meritocracy rules. If you can’t make it here, you won’t make it anywhere.

Of course, in the microcosm that is Toronto politics, we now have a mayor, the scion of wealth and privilege casting himself as the underdog during his successful campaign run, the down-to-earth feller who just wanted to be mayor so he could look out for the little guy. (No, not that one. The actual little guy. I mean, I think that’s what he meant.)

If a rich and, arguably, the whitest of white guys can winningly embrace the mantel of the triumphant outsider, what room does that leave for those who are actually on the outside? Guy claiming to be powerless railing against a guy in power. Sort of a variation on cock blocking. Keep it down a bit, girls. Can’t you see we’re fighting amongst ourselves here?

The hyper-testosterone driven aggressiveness of the current administration probably also contributes greatly to the boys’ clubbiness of the political atmosphere. From the get-go, the language and attitude has been confrontational, regularly descending into little more than a pissing match between supporters and opponents. With a War always going on about something or other, it’s hard not to see a men’s game at play.

Now I’m not crazy for the… a-hem… a-hem… broad gender generalizations. I know as many outspoken and feisty women who like a good knock `em down and drag `em out debate as I do soft-spoken and reticent men. So I wouldn’t say that the tenor of the political discourse in Toronto has kept some women on the sidelines. But perhaps the tone has.

I’ve been referred to nastily in various ways over the course of my time at TOpoli. Never, however, has my gender been attacked. You fucking guy doesn’t quite have the same personal sting as you fucking bitch. Too many times have I seen gender become an issue in the heated debates that flame up on social media sites. Gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity.

All problems with which Mayor Ford has stumbled over during his 12 years in public office. So it’s not taking a big leap to suggest his attitude has fostered an antagonistic straight white male mindset into our politics. More malignantly, an aggrieved antagonistic straight white male mindset that lashes out at any demand to think more inclusively.

And his female troubles are especially pronounced. His Executive Committee is heavily male dominated. One of the two females on it, Councillor Jaye Robinson, has announced she’s stepping down at the end of the year and, if she’s not replaced by another women – it’s difficult to see who’d willing step into her spot at this point of time – there will be one woman on the committee.

Not only that, but in the last election the Ford campaign targeted a number of sitting councillors for defeat, three of whom were women. Councillors Maria Augimeri, Gloria Lindsay Luby and former councillor Suzan Hall who they did help unseat and replace with a Ford friendly face Vincent Crisanti. That would be Mister Vincent Crisanti.

I think it’s safe to say that Ford Nation is not terribly female friendly. While that hopefully will inspire some pushback activism, it also creates, I would imagine, something of a hostile work environment for those women willing to step into the fray. It’s one thing to dedicate time and effort into a cause with the expectations of a spirited and vigorous debate but another thing altogether to find ugliness lurking under every bridge you cross.

It would be foolish, however, for me to lay the blame solely at the feet of the Ford administration for the barriers women are feeling in getting heard around these parts. By not recognizing them myself, I help keep the obstacles in place. Even this post I write hesitatingly for fear of appropriating their terrain and horning in on the action Women in Toronto Politics are attempting to generate.

But I do believe there’s plenty of space at the table for new players, lots of ground still to be tilled. Regardless of who’s in the mayor’s office, Toronto is facing problems and opportunities that cannot be solved or taken advantage of using old methods of thinking or ways of seeing things. Putting new wine into new wineskins and all that.

So if you’re out there, reading this, wondering if it’s worth the effort. From my protected harbour of white maleness, let me assure you it is. And I offer you space here if you want to test the waters, see how it feels or just simply want to get something off your chest and have nowhere else to do so at the moment. It is a humble offer, no remuneration and not tons of eyeballs but it is a friendly place. It is a start in the right direction.

manly submitted by Cityslikr