Point 10. At last.
“…a city is really just the sum of what people think about it. The city is a subjective thing.”
— Ricardo Montezuma, National University of Colombia
[Please note: I will be freely quoting from and riffing on — more than usual — Charles Montgomery’s Happy City. Most of these ideas aren’t my own. But that’s OK because, well, a city is a ‘shared project’.]
When all is said and done, after the political posturing and ideological framing is set, the issues neatly packaged and properly charted out, what we really should be looking for in our municipal candidates is their promise to make the city dance. Dance and sing or at least hum a jaunty tune.
We want a city that vibrates with life and activity. A place made up from communities built on optimism and aspiration not fear, anger and division. A city where people want to live not one where they have to live.
Now, this isn’t some airy-fairy, arty-farty, New Age-y, dream-weaving utopian wish. It is the end result of down and dirty, nitty gritty, hands-on toil and nose-to-the-grindstone hustle. It’s about relentless but positive civic-mindedness.
It incorporates all the previous points we’ve written on this. In fact, a city can’t dance without serious consideration of each and every one of them. A frank and honest discussion about taxation. Improved public transit, public spaces, public realm. A dependable business and work environment that provides opportunity for every resident. A keen eye on social justice. Increased civic engagement.
Let’s umbrella it all in under the idea of civic audacity.
Toronto has been severely lacking in either of those impulses lately. For 4 years now, all we’ve heard is about stripped down governance and need-to-have services and programs. You know what the gravy train is? The nice-to-haves that make a city dance and instill an inclusive sense of civic pride and belonging regardless of where your address happens to be.
Sadly, an argument could be made that kind of thinking and city-building vision was soundly rejected by Toronto voters in 2010. Pocket book issues won the day. We were busy looking after our nickels and dimes.
But I’d argue this.
There was no strong standard bearer for the Miller administration’s pro-Happy City brand of city-building. Joe Pantalone failed to enunciate exactly what they had been trying to do for the past 7 years. The others chose the easy and well-worn path of appealing to our worst instincts as city residents. Me, me, me. Mine, mine, mine.
More importantly, I believe the biggest mistake David Miller made during his time in office was to try and go it alone. To try and infuse a new civic sense in the city solely through City Hall not city streets. Inspire change with leadership but not necessarily wider public engagement. So when he stepped aside, there weren’t enough people to champion what his administration had accomplished.
The only way meaningful and long term change happens is with more hands on deck, with more people participating and pitching in, with wider and deeper civic engagement. We don’t need one heroic mayor to build us a new transit system or get our potholes fixed. Vote for me. Call me. And then, sit back and let me sort everything out.
You don’t make a city dance just by providing excellent customer service. You do it by encouraging and demanding persistent resident participation and civic engagement. Candidates seeking city council offices should first be asking voters what they want on their streets, in their neighbourhoods, their communities, their city. And then, offer up ways to make everyone an actual agent of the changes they want to see.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody,” Charles Montgomery quotes Jane Jacobs from her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
This election needs to be about more than simply building a voters’ and donors list, a team of volunteers or a winning margin. It has to be about building a civic movement full of people who, again to quote Charles Montgomery one final time today, are “… emboldened by the notion that anyone who cared enough could change the way the city worked.”
Such a movement doesn’t get started on the scrawny legs of what can’t be done or what isn’t possible. It’s encouraged by bold ideas and a strong sense of inclusiveness. If we’re living in a city together, we really should be working on it together.
You dance alone, you’re Elaine Benes. But if enough of us get up on our feet and start hopping up and down — we’re not talking ballroom dancing here — we’ll eventually have a rave on our hands. I think it’s time Toronto starts to rave.
— ecstatically submitted by Cityslikr