Time To Rave Not Rage

March 3, 2014

Point 10. At last.

happycity(Points 1-5 here. Points 6, 7, 8 & 9, here, here, here & here.)

“…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.rave

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.

igotnothingCharles Montgomery referred to the former mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa’s urban vision and city-building as a ‘grand experiment’ requiring ‘even grander rhetoric’.

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. communityTo 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. rollupyoursleeves1Candidates 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.”elainebenesdance

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


Everybody Get Happy

November 28, 2013

Early on in Charles Montgomery’s Happy City (page 6 to be exact), happycitythe author quotes former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa, speaking at the 2006 World Urban Forum:

“If we defined our success just in terms of income per capita, we would have to accept ourselves as second or third-rate societies – as a bunch of losers,” he said. No, the city needed a new goal. Peñalosa promised neither a car in every garage nor a socialist revolution. His promise was simple. He was going to make Bogotans happier.

“And what are our needs for happiness?” he asked. “We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”

Over the past 3+ years, there has been plenty of head-scratching and analysis over and of this thing that has been labelled Ford Nation. Much of it has been very good (most recently from Naheed Mustafa in The Atlantic – h/t @GerardDiTrolio for the link and Marco Chown Oved in The Toronto Star – h/t @CTBNFG for that link).

But if I may be so bold, allow me to put it all under one big umbrella, using Enrique Peñalosa’s words. fordnation“We need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”

Being part of Ford Nation, from a political standpoint, could be viewed as an exercise in inclusion. For the first time in at least seven years, if not since amalgamation, hundreds of thousands of residents, mainly in the surrounding former suburban municipalities of Toronto, felt there was somewhere they had a voice, exerted some power. Rob Ford was their mayor. David Miller was our mayor. It was their turn now. Equality.

Never mind, for the moment, that many of the policies Team Ford would pursue once in power ran contrary to some of the issues that exacerbated the sense of isolation and exclusion, i.e. cutbacks in programs and services, reductions in public transit. Pocketbook politics are strong. For over 3 decades now, conservatives have sold us a bill of goods that more money in our pockets was all we needed to make our lives better. longwaitforabus1It’s a tough rhetorical nut to crack. To paraphrase a wise politico, sometimes that elderly lady has to start wondering why her bus taking her to church on a Sunday morning now comes every half hour when it used to be only 15 minutes before you can convince her that freezing property taxes does have an effect aside from simply saving a bit of pocket change.

Ford Nation is the face of people wanting in, wanting to be heard if not wanting to directly participate in the civic life of the city where they live.

It’s not enough to simply tsk, tsk, tsk, rant in an alleyway and slap our foreheads in wonder at how these people can support a guy who’s clearly not acting in their best interests. Ford Nation is a vehicle for both a collective frustration and, I hope and think, a demand for inclusion in the decision making of this city. scoldForget the reckless driver who’s behind the wheel. That’s ultimately unimportant. It’s the vehicle we need to take notice of.

If we’re truly concerned about the direction our city’s going, of the well-being of all its residents, we have to recognize what the members of Ford Nation saw back in 2010. The status quo is not working. We need to figure out why that is and how to go about trying to address it.

That calls for a positive reassessment not finger-wagging, blame-naming and nay-saying. We need a bus load of ideas, big and small, with a wide open door policy where anybody who wants to, contributes. Point the thing in the direction we want to go, along the surest route we think will get us there, aware that there’s always going to be detours ahead, and invite everybody who’s interested aboard.

It’s time we started talking about what we want from the city we live in not with everything we don’t like about it. Can’t, won’t, no no no, is the language of division and exclusion. Here’s what I’d like to see. magicbusHow about you? is the way we talk when we’re seeking other opinions, when we want to be inclusive, when we actually care what other people think, even those we think we know better than.

Toronto won’t work unless it works for everybody. There’s no easy fix for that. Consensus building is the only way forward to that goal. True consensus can only happen when everyone’s voice is heard and treated equally. That’s where solutions start.

happily submitted by Cityslikr