Who’s Got The Wheel?

December 8, 2015

Yesterday, after the provincial government floated their rather tepid and, perhaps even, cosmetically driven tolls proposal, the following observation was floated on Twitter:

“We have government leaders who have no idea how an urban economy works. And most of this country is part of an urban economy.”

We are now a 21st-century, urban nation with a leadership class still firmly entrenched in the (generously) mid-20th-century. As former NYC Department of Transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan put it last week, “when you push on the status quo, it pushes back at you.” rolltherock1Or, as our old favourites The Libertines once sang: “…the boy kicked out at the world/the world kicked back alot fuckin’ harder now.”

We have a new federal government that might get it, they might understand the needs of cities, cities making up this urban nation. But, legislatively, Ottawa’s a long way from the ground. Whatever largesse and/or expertise the feds have to offer will inevitably come filtered through provincial and local distortions. So what if we get enhanced federal money for transit infrastructure if it goes to building Mayor Tory’s SmartTrack or the provincially backed and city council approved Scarborough subway? Good money after bad and all that.

Later yesterday, Queen’s Park released a report from the David Crombie led Advisory Panel looking at and making recommendations for the provincial government’s 4 growth plans for the Greater Golden Horseshoe region. The region’s been growing, grown significantly since the end of World War II, and will continue growing significantly over the next 25 years. The population looks to almost double in that time, from 9 million to nearly 13.5 million. Here’s the concern, and some of what the 4 growth plans were brought in to combat:

The extent of settlement has also grown. For example, between 1971 and 2006, the region’s urban footprint more than doubled. Much of the recent urban growth has been in the form of low-density, car-dependent suburbs, providing many residents with affordable, single-detached homes. However, this form of development, often known as urban sprawl, has resulted in loss of farmland, traffic congestion, deteriorating air and water quality, impacts on human health, and the loss of green space, habitats and biodiversity. The changing climate and increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events create additional pressures on the region’s communities, agricultural production, infrastructure and natural systems.

The Advisory Panel’s recommendations are unsurprising, really. Encouraging intensification through use of “existing urban areas” (while protecting employment lands), greater public transit-based initiatives “to support complete communities” and “greater integration of infrastructure planning with land use planning”, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. rolltherock3We already know this. None of it is particularly new or noteworthy. I guess it’s worthwhile to repeat and underline these ideas of healthy growth but still…

How many Advisory Panels have we had, telling us the things we have to do to improve this region’s quality of life as it continues to grow? I mean, if Anne Golden had a nickel for every panel she’s chaired to advise government policy, she’d have, what? A dime? Fifteen cents?

Remember her last outing, as chair of the provincially appointed Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel? Yeah, it took 3 months to make 20 recommendations for raising revenue to fund the Big Move, leaning heavily on increased gas taxes while rejecting tolls in the short term as “too difficult to implement”. That was 2 years ago. The provincial government’s response to date? Its weak sauce toll announcement yesterday.

The fundamental problem with all these panels is that they tend to come back after studying a policy issue with recommendations that challenge the status quo. Complete communities? What’ll happen to my backyard? Pay for using the roads?! I already pay more than my fair share! I deserve a subway! Subways, subways, subways!!

Pushback from the status quo. Leaders with their ears to the ground can only hear the stamping of feet. Politicians love the word ‘change’ on their campaign signs but blanch in the face of bringing it about, all those red, outraged faces to contend with? rolltherock6Where angels fear to tread, amirite?

Sure, things are bad now but what if these changes you’re talking about makes things worse? Nothing’s 100% guaranteed. Despite all data, information and examples to the contrary, from where I’m standing, the grass over there doesn’t look all that much greener.

Our propensity to fearfully embrace what-we-know so tightly makes for an uphill battle to enact the changes we need. The grade’s made steeper still when our elected officials not only fail to directly address this tentativeness but, in fact, give in to it for even just the slightest step forward. That’s why for every bid our government’s pitch for increased public transit funding and investment, we see assurances of road and highway expansion. Despite working at cross purposes, to attempt to even slightly modify the status quo, we must show that the status quo won’t change that much.

Speaking at Simon Fraser University just a month or so after submitting the report and recommendations of the Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel, Anne Golden talked about a government’s need for trust from the public in order to pursue new measures like revenue generation for transit building. rolltherock‘Tax grab’ is an almost immediate reaction from a skeptical public, digging in their heels further against any sort of change. There has to be buy in based on a belief that it’s not only going to be money well spent but be beneficial to everyone. What’s in it for me?

When you have a reputation of not spending money wisely which the Liberal government at Queen’s Park has certainly earned, or when your transit plans appear to be politically motivated and easily subject to the whims of parochialism – Hello, Scarborough subway! – public trust is in even shorter supply. Resistance to change grows stronger.

You can point all you want to places that have turned the corner, embraced changed and a new approach to mobility and city building. Look! New York’s doing it! Don’t you want to be like New York? You always want to be like New York! But we look around closer to home and see what all needs to be done, what we’ve done so far and conclude such change is beyond our reach. The Sheppard subway remains a glaring white elephant with the Union-Pearson Express set to join it. We can’t even muster the will to clear road space for our busiest transit routes like the Finch bus or King streetcar. rolltherock4How on earth can we expect to meet the challenges of the 21st-century?

I’m sure plenty of our government leaders are well aware of how a modern urban economy works. What they don’t know is how to convince enough of us that we need to move in that direction. Too many flinch at the slightest sign of resistance, retreat in the face of loud, blustery noises.

It’d be great to leave off on that note. Place the blame elsewhere and carry on, absolved. But, you know, that old saw nags, a variation on getting the leadership we deserve. Not enough of us have been pushed from our comfort zone. Things are bad but they’re not that bad. They could always be worse.

Until such time, when enough of us conclude that, in fact, it is that bad (never an easily determined point on the scale), we’ll hum and haw, rail at the ineffectualness of our elected officials and uncaring bureaucracy, wonder about why we’re not those other places, doing exceptional, exciting things and hope that it won’t be too late to make those changes we were urged to make years, decades earlier.

rolltherock5

rocknrollingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Vision Of Toronto From The 50s

June 2, 2015

As the Gardiner east debate makes its way to city council chambers next week, I find myself increasingly obsessed with this video. From 2013, let’s call it CivicAction John Tory.

Thoughtful, reasonable, sensible John Tory. The John Tory progressive-leaning voters, scared shitless at the prospect of another Ford mayoralty, were assured was their only real alternative to stop that from happening. See? Lookit CivicAction John Tory. He’s progressive. Enough.

The CivicAction John Tory former mayor David Crombie endorsed late in the campaign last year.

“I am here just to underline one really strong reason why we need John Tory and that is that this city, city council need to be brought together,” Crombie told the press on the last weekend before election day.

Whatever happened to that CivicAction John Tory, many are now wondering just 6 months into his first term in office.polishedturd

Non-CivicAction John Tory was against removing the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway before CivicAction John Tory was in favour of it. Now again, non-CivicAction Mayor John Tory is against it.

A person should be allowed to change their mind. Even multiple times, as evidence and details emerge or adjust. Most reasonable people would do so, you’d hope. Previous opinions or stances were held based on the best accessible information.

Non-CivicAction Mayor Tory misses no opportunity to assure us he is reasonable and sensible. He reads all the reports, all of them, some going back even a decade. It’s all about evidence-based decision-making, he informs us.

Yet, here he is, “tragically wrong,” according to Crombie, poised to push city council into making a terrible mistake with the so-called “hybrid” option on the Gardiner east. Why? How has he arrived at such a position?wolfinsheepsclothing

My safest bet is that CivicAction John Tory was never an actual thing. It was all a put-on, a PR exercise to give the man a coating of progressiveness. John Tory was always and continues to be a.m. talk radio show host John Tory. A Bill Davis-touting, Mike Harris-doing Tory.

In the face of overwhelming and increasing expert support for removing the section of the Gardiner east of Jarvis Street, Mayor Tory stands defiant. They’ve got their opinion and I have mine. Let’s agree to disagree. He is the mayor of Toronto in 2015, making decisions about the future based on numbers and thinking firmly entrenched in the past.

CivicAction John Tory fooled just enough voters in Toronto into thinking he was something he wasn’t to enable Mayor John Tory to be who he always planned on being. The real John Tory. The John Tory David Crombie endorsed. The John Tory David Crombie is left scratching his head at, hoping against hope, isn’t the real John Tory. All evidence to the contrary.

ruefully submitted by Cityslikr


The Emptiness of Empty Protests

April 26, 2013

Those must have been heady political days in the late-60s, early-70s, here in Toronto. stopthespadinaA citizens group forms to stop the move to pave neighbourhoods and put up an expressway. It coalesces into a bunch of reform-minded politicians who take control of City Hall and run it for the next decade or so.

The dream of grassroots activists everywhere!

Faint echoes of such a movement occurred in 2003, with David Miller’s broom representative of sweeping out the cronyism and incompetence that had consumed the Mel Lastman administration. But truthfully, that really only resonated at the mayoral level. The make up of council did not change that much. Thirty incumbents were re-elected. Only four defeated. And of the two new faces entering City Hall, Mike Del Grande and Karen Stintz, would hardly be considered Millerites.

No. The real descendant of the David Crombie-John Sewell municipal populist movement would have to be – gulp! – fordnationRob Ford. Yes, Rob Ford, dammit. In 2010, not only did he handily win the office of mayor, thumping the outgoing Deputy Mayor in the process, but five incumbents are tossed including the speaker, Sandra Bussin, a couple more are scared into submission with squeaker victories in their respective wards and a majority of the nine other rookie councillors initially falling in line to support the new mayor’s mandate.

Ford Nation, folks. Brimming full of respect for the taxpayers and come to stop the gravy train at City Hall. It’s what a grassroots insurgency looks like in the 21st-century.

But it seems in the intervening 40 years or so between the Crombie-Ford eras the protest portion of populism’s DNA has subsumed the reformist urge. noWhile David Crombie’s CivicAction Party began as a protest against the proposal to bring the Spadina Expressway downtown, it grew into something that actually governed the city.

Now into its third year in power, the Ford Administration shows no similar ability or inclination even. Governing is what professional politicians do. One-note outraged howls of protest are for the self-proclaimed amateurs.

Take a gander at Councillor Doug (Imma Businessman Not A Politician Folks) Ford’s op-ed on proposed transit funding today here and here and here. Or just read one. It’s the same thing spread over three of the city’s four dailies. Go figure.

Or let me summarize for you if you’re pressed for time.

No. No, no, no. No, no, no, no. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo. No. Uh-uh. Nope. No, no, no. Not on my watch. Over my dead body. NoNoNoNoNoNoNoNoNo.

Not a word about alternatives. No other options offered up. johnnystrablerYou’d think with all that free press at his disposal, the councillor might use the opportunity to lay out a transit plan that has been lacking for the three years since his brother announced his intentions to run for mayor. A plan?! We don’t need no stinkin’ plan!!

We just say no.

Name an initiative Team Ford has put forth that hasn’t been about cutting or dismantling.

It’s never about building. Theirs is a protest of destruction not construction. The anti-tax foundation on which Ford Nation is built extends to anti-everything. They took the ‘pro’ out of protest. Let’s call it the antitest.

I thought about labelling this movement the Johnny Strablers after Marlon Brando’s character in The Wild One. “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” Mildred asks. “Whaddya got?” Johnny answers.

But there’s too much retro-cool in that. stubbornThe Ford brothers might take it as a compliment.

So I’ll go further back, into the 19th-century, and the nativist Know-Nothing political party. Ford Nation shares quite a bit in common with them but it’s not a perfect fit. So let’s dub them the No-Nothing party. You want new transit? No. Need to open additional shelter beds? No. Hey, Mayor Ford. You going to march in this year’s Pride Parade? No.

Don’t get me wrong. They’re all for brand new shiny stuff if you convince them it won’t cost the city a dime. A casino? You betcha. Jets flying into the island airport? Okey-dokey. But any talk of reaching into our pockets and contributing to the broader public commons? No.

This is the inevitable outcome of protest built on pure negativity. We voted for someone with a long list of what’s wrong but an empty column of how to fix it. Opposition with no solutions is just opposition. Nothing gets done. Everything grinds to a halt.

strutsandfretsIt’s a situation any parent will immediately recognize. We are living through a two year old’s temper tantrum.

feet stampingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Bold And The Beautiful

October 13, 2011

It’s difficult to reconcile being in a room full of articulate, passionate and fully engaged Torontonians for about 6 hours or so and the state this city finds itself in currently. I mean, if we’re facing such seemingly intractable and menacing issues, why aren’t some of these people in charge? After all, they can’t be that busy. Here they were, taking an afternoon to talk to the likes of us.

So it was yesterday as I sat in attendance in the Baillie Court auditorium at the AGO for a symposium, Imagine Toronto, that kicked off the launch of The Toronto Project followed by a Walrus sponsored debate, Be It Resolved That Toronto Will Never Be Beautiful. The room was packed with bright stars both on and off the stage, exchanging ideas, expressing hope (guarded), concern (sincere), outrage (very, very palpable). David Crombie moderated the afternoon session that featured 10 takes on the essence of Toronto, past, present and future. There was author-professor-philosopher Mark Kingwell. From the Maytree Foundation, Ratna Omidvar. Author-editor-stroller, Shawn Micallef. CivicAction‘s Naki Osutei. Rahul Bhardwaj talked about Toronto’s worrisome Vital Signs but remained surprisingly upbeat. Architect Wayne Kuwabara. Visual artist Shary Boyle tore up the place, beseeching the audience to imagine a Toronto that embraced itself and its artists proudly rather than half-heartedly. Writer-activist Dave Meslin called for more community, grassroots engagement in our political process.

That was all before the evening’s entertainment had begun.

One crossover between the day’s two meeting of minds was journalist John Lorinc. His cover article for the November issue of The Walrus magazine, Where Toronto Went Wrong, has been the talk of the town since it came out and was the cornerstone of both gatherings. No, folks. Things didn’t suddenly go south when Rob Ford became mayor. Even the enforced amalgamation foisted upon us by the Harris government and the subsequent downloading and bailing of responsibilities by Queen’s Park cannot be pointed to as the only culprit although it certainly served as a key role in how things are playing out here presently. Weaving a historical overview, Lorinc writes about how for every positive step the city leaders and their provincial overlords took, such as the creation of a two-tier system of regional governance with the formation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954, there were two steps back like, well, the undoing of Metropolitan Toronto in 1998. (Amalgamation didn’t have to include the elimination of the metro level of government.)

My take on the whys and hows Toronto ‘lost its groove’ can be distilled in two points Mr. Lorinc makes in his article.  “Unfortunately, Toronto’s history is filled with examples of high-minded plans for open spaces that were crushed by its deep-seated disinclination to invest in the public realm.” Four paragraphs later he writes, “Such not-so-benign neglect, borne of a culture of stinginess, has been a long-standing element of Toronto’s DNA.”

Our leaders have suffered from a severe aversion to boldness, masked in an embrace of parsimoniousness calling itself fiscal prudence. Not only have we allowed them to conduct their business in such a fashion, we’ve encouraged it, demanding low taxes before civic amenities. ‘Need-to-haves’ over ‘nice-to-haves’ to use Mayor Ford’s words.

A ‘stinginess’ with money infecting a ‘stinginess’ of spirit. No to a Yonge Street subway in 1912 because of its price tag, repeated some 80 years later when Mike Harris buried the hole already dug for an Eglinton Avenue subway. The costs too rich for our blood that would haunt and saddle future generations with a significantly higher amount of money needed to think big on matters of transit. A history of here and now closed-mindedness and fistedness.

Remember a few months back when Councillor David Shiner killed plans for the Fort York bridge because he thought it ‘too fancy’? A miserliness of thinking handed down from his mother, Esther Shiner, Spadiner Shiner, who led the charge to extend the Spadina Expressway from where it had been stopped in its tracks at Lawrence Avenue down to Eglinton Avenue. The so-called Davis Ditch which, among other proposals was one from Buckminster Fuller that feature a mixed use development atop the Spadina subway extension. Instead, we got Allen Road. Anyone who’s ever tried to negotiate that intersection on foot, bike or even a car knows the price we paid for that.

We have inherited a short-sightedness in terms of money that never seems capable of taking in the bigger picture. A deficit of boldness that always means passing the buck, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes, oftentimes, a penny saved is not a penny earned. It’s just responsibility deferred.

To be bold means more than strictly adhering to the bottom line. Down the road, money you think you’ve saved just accrues, collecting interest that will have to be paid by someone else. Not doing something because it seems unaffordable now may seem noble and conscientious and shows Respect For The Taxpayer but in many cases, when it comes to building a sustainable, liveable, just city, is nothing more than a refusal to govern. It isn’t even caretaking. It’s obstructionism. Politicians priding themselves in that would do us all a favour and step out of the way. As I witnessed yesterday, there’s plenty of people ready to offer up solutions and ideas to get Toronto back on the right track.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Waterfront Waterloo

September 15, 2011

It’s far too early to write off the Ford administration. So early that I really, really wanted to write, It’s way too early to write off the Ford administration. But I really, really detest that adverbial use of the word. You sound like a teenager. Or sportscaster.

More formally, reports of the Ford administration’s death are greatly exaggerated. Premature ejection from the seat of power. I think what we’re witnessing is a wheel coming off their ride, maybe two. It’s broken, just not beyond repair.

For the first time probably since Rob Ford announced his intentions to run for mayor back in March of 2010, he has lost his ironclad grip on the narrative. Reality is no longer bending to his will. Facts pile up, making it increasingly difficult for Team Ford to frame the debate to their advantage. The story they’ve spun to great success so far is crumbling, the scaffolding upon which it was built, too flimsy to bear the weight. Thin air and pixie dust prove to be fickle, unstable elements.

This often times happens when a protest movement assumes the reins of power. As anyone who’s ever taken an improv class knows, the easier option is always to say no. It also leads to the least interesting outcome.

A protest movement coalescing around a faulty premise is especially prone to an early flame-out. The mayor campaigned against out of control spending, waste and gravy. Turns out he may’ve been exaggerating just a smidge. Even outside consultants, KPMG, couldn’t uncover much of the stuff. Certainly nowhere near the amount the mayor removed from the city’s revenue stream by axing the VRT and freezing property taxes.

So cuts became efficiencies became nice to haves. The plain speakin’, tells it like it is, looking out for the little guy persona that the mayor had expertly cultivated begins to lose its populist sheen. The more he tries to plug the holes in his story, the more he starts to sound like a seasoned insider. Macbeth like, he’s now knee deep in the blood from the corpses of lies he’s had to kill in a vain attempt to stop them from turning on him.

Oddly, it’s the waterfront, an issue the mayor barely expressed any interest in while campaigning that seems to have caught him most effectively with a shot to the chin. Perhaps he and his brother made their move too soon when Doug started calling Waterfront Toronto unflattering names back in the spring. It left ample time and space for its advocates and defenders to mount their defense. And these weren’t the usual suspects that Team Ford could easily dismiss. The downtown elite. The left wing kooks and unionists. The statistically invalid.

No, these were players. Urban planners. Respected academics. Richard Florida is set to break his silence about governance in his adopted home town in defence of Waterfront Toronto. David Crombie. David Fucking Crombie.

So strong has the pushback been, the barricades so robustly manned, that once mute and pliable allies are now emerging from their hovels to speak out against the mayor’s plan. Councillor Peter Milczyn did so meekly, referring to the Ford waterfront idea as ‘a visionary exercise’ that, unfortunately, ‘blew up in our faces’. Councillor Jaye Robinson was much more forceful, stating outright her confidence in Waterfront Toronto and that she would not be supporting the mayor when this item goes to council next week for a vote.

A close vote, Councillor Robinson predicts, but frankly, I don’t think it’s going to come to that. This is not the hill Mayor Ford is willing to die on nor will he want to see his brother hung out to dry on a losing end of an issue he was so front-and-centre on. No, before council gets to knock this one out of the park, it will be amended to the point of meaninglessness, tossed under the bus of further staff review and committee study where it will die a quiet, unnoticed death.

The mayor has bigger fish to fry and is now stepping into the fall of our growing discontent, the haunting spectre of budget battles looming, weakened by a terrible, terrible summer. But it is early still. Much political capital has been expended yet the mayor has powerful tools at his disposal. In fact, if he plays this right and can back off gracefully, be seen to concede and bow to the will of public support, it could ultimately help him continue to push his agenda through. See? I listened. I made concessions. I’m a reasonable guy. I can play along nicely with others. What are you going to do for me now?

It could happen although that doesn’t seem to be part of the mayor’s constitution, to admit he was wrong and to backtrack. Instead he will probably attempt to change the channel, lumber forward having learned almost nothing from this set back. This administration does not blink, we’ve been warned.

What the mayor’s opponents need to take away from this show of democratic muscle is that it’s not simply enough to stand up to the mayor and say no. There needs to be a plan in place to counter each and every one of his ill-advised proposals. Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Mayor Ford has succeeded in sucking all the air out of the room. It is now a race to fill it back up again. By virtue of the powers of his office, the mayor still has a leg up against his competition. The self-inflicted wound he’s just administered, though, has hobbled him and added a new bounce into his challengers’ step.

elbaly submitted by Cityslikr


Ferris Wheel Of Fortune

September 11, 2011

(Repurposing of our Wednesday post over at Torontoist, with bad grammar and possibly poor spelling reinserted from an earlier draft.)

* * *

As the battle begins over a new vision for Toronto’s waterfront, the Fort Sumter shot fired by Councilllor Doug Ford’s commercial heavy, where’s everybody going to shop by the lake dream, what it all comes down to is a fight over the public realm. The Ford’s have no taste for such a thing, might not even understand what it means. Those who have been in on the process since Waterfront Toronto’s inception more than a decade ago believe it should be the driving force behind the development.

Invest in the public realm, and private investment is sure to follow. That’s the view of former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford. Meanwhile, if you put the private sector before the public realm, you get Queen’s Quay. Now adjunct professor of city planning at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, and senior associate at the Canadian Urban Institute, Bedford came to City Hall yesterday to speak before council’s Executive Committee, which was meeting to discuss the mayor’s new plan for the Port Lands.

This idea, of investment in the public realm coming first, lies at the centre of the current flood control plan. (The Port Lands surround the mouth of the Don River, which like all rivers can sometimes overflow its banks. Flood protection measures must be implemented before any building on the surrounding land can occur.) Team Ford says that there’s no money in place to fund it. Ipso facto, they go on, let’s hit up the private sector– their go-to answer for almost everything. In return for a sweetheart deal on any nearby land, said private sector would, maintain the Fords, happily build the needed infrastructure. Just like they’re lining up to do for the Sheppard subway line. (Cough, cough. Cough, cough.)

Conversely, those who favour investment in the public realm before selling to developers argue that if the public sector builds the flood control infrastructure, the nearby land will increase greatly in value, and the City won’t have to unload properties at a cut rate price. This means more money flowing into government coffers to help offset infrastructure costs. (This is the exact opposite of the argument the Ford administration made about their proposed Sheppard subway line. Of course, they are now having to go to the province, cap in hand, to ask for some seed money to get things rolling. Cough, cough. Cough, cough.)

Never mind the fact that some might argue that it’s the role of government to build infrastructure and not to leave such a vital component for a healthy society to the vagaries of the market place. Some might argue. Unless, like the Fords and their neo-con herd of sheep on the Executive Committee, you believe the less a role government plays, the better. End stop.

Mayoral brother Doug Ford’s disregard of the public realm is such that he couldn’t be bothered to stick around after the entirely predictable Power Point (and not at all jaw-dropping) presentation of this new proposal and defend his vision to just one or two of the 30 or so deputants who were there to stand up for the current plan. Instead he took to the friendlier environs of a media interview/infomercial to take on “ferris wheel hypocrites.” (You heard it here first, folks.) This allowed the councillor to get out ahead of the sense of dismay and alarm that was building amongst the deputants and crowd at his half-baked, half-cocked waterfront plan in Committee Room 1.

Whatever it is going on in their noggins seems to be completely contrary to the actual facts on the ground. If Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting showed us anything, it’s that whoever is behind this move to blow up ten years of planning and replace it with something slapped together under the cover of darkness has no idea what is actually going on on our waterfront. Or if they do, they don’t want their supporters who they’ll need to push this thing through council to know.

They tell us that nothing’s going on down there. (There is.) They claim that the whole entirety of Waterfront Toronto is the biggest boondoggle they’ve ever seen. (It isn’t. In fact, it isn’t a boondoggle at all. Don’t believe me? Ask a real life, honest to God conservative, former mayor David Crombie. Or even a less than honest to God conservative, federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty.) They say the cupboard’s bare and there’s no money anywhere to proceed any further. (Wrong, wrong, wrong.) All of it wrong.

It’s almost as if they can’t stand to see government in action actually succeed. To have to admit that a slow, deliberate, inclusive, democratic process is able to create something special that this city can truly be proud of. That the so-called public realm not only needs to be nourished but if it isn’t, everything else becomes simply a crass, sterile money grab.

Yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting did not show us two competing waterfront visions. What it revealed was two competing visions of urban planning. One, which deputant after deputant advocated for and defended, is a strong, vibrant public realm as the basis for strong, vibrant communities, neighbourhoods and cities. A fundamental belief that planning must involve engaging the wider community at every step of the process just as Waterfront Toronto has done. The dreary, time consuming aspect of public consultation that gives the appearance of `nothing being done’ to those who hold citizens’ views as little more than an afterthought. Those who see planning as nothing more than grand announcements with little substance and much ad hockery. A desiccated public realm, picked clean and sucked dry by those needing and looking for a quick buck.

It’s city building versus city exploiting. The first isn’t always pretty but the second masks its ugliness behind bright lights and shiny baubles until it’s too late for us to get a good look at it.

repeatedly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayoral Endorsement III

October 24, 2010

My Endorsement For Mayor: HiMY SYeD.

He calls himself The Peoples’ Mayor. It is not empty campaign rhetoric. As Mr. SYeD correctly points out, this race has been all about things. Tax cuts, subways and gravy trains. Where are the people?

Semantics, you say? A little, perhaps. But our front running candidates have all been talking about what they are going to do for people, to people. HiMY SYeD talks about what he’ll do with people. Civic engagement sits at the very core of his campaign. While Mr. Smitherman has attempted to buttress his left flank by rolling out the likes of John Sewell and David Crombie as his emissaries on the local democracy front, HiMY SYeD represents the very essence of it. Inclusion isn’t something he’ll seek to do as mayor, a single plank in his policy platform. Inclusion is the engine that drives his candidacy.

The sad irony of that is just how excluded Mr. SYeD has been during the course of this campaign. No bigger travesty manifested itself over the last 10 months than how independent voices – not just HiMY SYeD – were so summarily and systematically shut out. Well into the proceedings, with a majority of Torontonians expressing immense discontent with the gang of 6, then 5, then 4, then 3 candidates on offer to them, no one with the power to do so thought to address those concerns. Not anyone in the mainstream media who could’ve simply said (after a quick look at Mr. SYeD’s campaign material), what the hell, let’s try this one on for size. Instead they held onto the term ‘fringe’ right to the bitter end. Not any of the front running candidates who could’ve flashed a sign of selflessness to the electorate by demanding a seat at their debate table for HiMY SYeD. Choosing their self-interest above the interests of the general public, and letting us know in a not very subtle manner exactly the kind of mayor they will be.

Mario Cuomo, a leading candidate of ours in the Best President of the United States Who Never Was race, said “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Well, HiMY SYeD was our bard in campaign 2010. In a wave of turgid, uninspiring, squalid, vacuous words, he spoke to us, no… dare I say it? Fan by brow. I do declare we find ourselves becoming a little flushed… sang to us in beautiful, elevated language, with his vision of empowerment and hope.

Because of HiMY SYeD I now know about a place called Curitiba, Brazil and its former mayor, Jaime Lerner. Curitiba was a city facing much more dire problems than Toronto is (or will even come close to having to face regardless of Monday’s election outcome) with much fewer resources to deal with them. But with the guiding hand of Jaime Lerner the city transformed itself into a modern urban centre, brimming with innovative ideas on public transit and sustainability.

Because of HiMY SYeD I now know about a man named Jeb Brugmann and his book, Welcome to the Urban Revolution. I now know how little I really do know about how cities function, develop and grow (and somewhat depressingly, I realize just how little many of our candidates running for municipal government know about new urban ideas as well). But I also now know that there are many smart and original thinkers and activists, contributing mightily to the public discourse. HiMY SYeD is one of those people.

Most importantly, because of HiMY SYeD I have not grown disenchanted or disillusioned about the political process or prospects here in Toronto despite overwhelming proof and evidence that I have every right to be one or both of those things. Witnessing his resilient spirit and indefatigable sense of civic duty in the face of shameful inattention and even hostile disregard on the part of serious opinion makers, buoys me with hope and resolve. In this campaign, the battle for the heart, soul and mind of Toronto has been rancorous, divisive and not a little disheartening. Unless the unexpected happens on election day, it certainly doesn’t promise to be any less so as we settle back down into trying to build a better city.

I want to be part of that because I know HiMY SYeD will continue to soldier on and contribute to the ever evolving urban fabric of Toronto regardless of the outcome on Monday.

The lunatic ravings of a cock-eyed optimist, blind to the realities on the ground? Nope. I’ve thought long and hard about this and am fully cognizant of the repercussions of my decision. While I always vote in the hopes of casting my ballot for the winning candidate, that urge must be tempered with the fundamental reason we participate in the democratic process in the first place. To publicly declare what kind of city (province, country) we want to live in. Let it to be known here and now that the kind of Toronto I want to be part of is one where HiMY SYeD is mayor.

My heart tells me it’s a vote for 2010 but my head says 2014 and the future. But the future will actually come much sooner than that. October 26th, to be precise. When we wake up to see what we’ve created and a majority of us won’t be at all pleased. The work to make it right will begin immediately. HiMY SYeD will be there, on the frontlines to battle back those forces who will be bent upon, will believe they have a mandate to pull apart everything that has been accomplished over the last 7 years.

That’s a fight I want to be a part of and which is why I, Cityslikr, am endorsing HiMY SYeD for mayor of Toronto.

endorsingly submitted by Cityslikr