Be Better, Angels

June 18, 2014

Let me run one of those chicken or egg questions by you. What comes first? chickenoreggBad political representation or a preference for bad political representation?

Now, I know the second half of that makes no sense. Who would prefer bad political representation if they had an alternative? But I have to tell you. Sitting through yesterday’s Etobicoke York Community Council meeting and watching councillors Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti go through their paces, two long serving local politicians (I know Doug Ford’s a first timer but let’s think of him as the Ford brand extension), you have to wonder. Who keeps putting the likes of these two back into office?

At issue was, to an outside observer at least, a seemingly benign new development proposal along a western stretch of Eglinton Avenue. badpoliticianSixty-eight, three story townhouse units built on the intended route of the new Eglinton crosstown LRT, phase 2. Not entirely surprising, really. Even plans for a new rapid transit corridor tend to encourage new, denser development. At least, that’s how the theory goes.

Councillors Ford, Mammoliti and many of the people in the filled to capacity plus overflow rooms were having none of it. An outrage! A threat to their way of life! Another example of downtowners inflicting their new urbanism on the unsuspecting residents of Etobicoke!

More traffic chaos!!

Both Ford and Mammoliti took the opportunity to deride and denigrate the very concept of the LRT or, more specifically, its above-groundness. They filled the air in the room with misinformation and misdirection. demagogueCouncillor Ford’s main target was Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, the local councillor for the development, and her support of the LRT. Councillor Mammoliti? Well, he was just making noise in order to be heard. I rant, therefore I am.

Now it might not be all that disconcerting if they were just a couple stray mutts, snapping and yapping in an attempt to mark out some territory. Sadly, much of the public who got up to speak encouraged the outburst, feeding it and into it with their angry deputations and demands that everything remain just as it is. How dare you try to change the composition of our neighbourhood. We bought a home and settled here in the belief that it would stay the same forever.

I exaggerate for effect. It wasn’t quite that unreasonable. I am happy to report that more than a few in attendance were clearly appalled at the tone of the proceedings, shocked by the sniping and full on frontal attacks between councillors. angryvotersThat said, the vibe in the room over these plans was pitchfork-y. You will build this development and LRT over our cold, dead bodies, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie.

Perhaps that is the key to understanding the enduring presence of piss poor political representation in the system. Angry matters. Angry gets heard. Angry gets indulged. Angry is easy.

It’s easy to incite. It’s easy to maintain. It is easier to make people angry than it is to inspire them.

Thus, the always present demagogue in our midst.bullhorn

Councillors Ford and Mammoliti are the dark angels in our political process. They prey upon our deep-seated fear of change. They paint pictures of chaos and disaster, assuring us that will be the inevitable result if we take a different approach or alter things from the way they are now. Only they can protect us and our way of life from the future. Sure, things might be bad now, they could be better. But they also could be worse, folks. The devil(s) you know are preferable to the ones you don’t, and all that.

The likes of Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti appeal to our very worst instincts. Unfortunately, those tend to be our easiest to access instincts too. We are perpetually vulnerable to attack from lazy, dyspeptic and ill-informed politicians who honestly believe themselves to be the standard bearers for the status quo. goodangelbadangelLooking out for the little guy, am I right?

As long as we continue to leave that flank open to them, they will take it. That’s all they’ve got. They know no other way. The Fords and the Mammolitis (and the Minnan-Wongs and Nunziatas) will continue to represent us until we push back against their brand of divisive fear-mongering. Until we stop being a little less like we are and a little more like we should be.

angelically submitted Cityslikr


Laundry List

November 20, 2013

A variation on the old joke about violence in hockey.

hockeybrawl

The other day I went to watch the Rob Ford Shit Show Spectacle and a council meeting broke out! Ayy-Oooo!

Despite all the oxygen they sucked from council chambers and spotlight hogging they managed, the Ford Brothers’ attempt to derail city council from going about its normal business categorically failed. Sure, it got lost in the crack-and-lies fueled shuffle. Representation at an OMB hearing isn’t as sexy as a mayor and his thuggish councillor-brother baiting the gallery crowd but much of municipal governance seldom is. Getting the roads paved is dreary work but somebody’s got to do it.

Take a minute and a gander through the agenda of last week’s non-special council meeting. todolistI didn’t count all the items and motions but there had to be a billion, give or take. There was social housing. New, stricter smoking by-laws. An appointment to fill a Budget Committee vacancy and restructure the board of directors for Build Toronto. The environmental assessment for a proposed Bloor-Dupont bikeway was re-started after being abandoned last year. You want diversity in the ranks of the Fire Department? City council wants to look into that too.

And on and on the list goes, for the better part of three days, when it could be squeezed in around mayoral grandstanding and obstruction.

Then after the council meeting finally finished up on Monday, councillors broke out into their four respective community councils to meet yesterday where they all dealt with a combined 207 items, give or take a billion. You want fence exemptions? Etobicoke-York Community Council’ll give you fence exemptions. Zoning by-law amendments? Scarborough Community Council can deliver what you’re looking for. North York Community Council’s got all that and a front yard parking appeal to boot. gettingdowntobusinessOf course, where downtown gets everything, members of the Toronto-East York Community Council received a visit from world-renown architect Frank Gehry for one of the 90 items on their docket.

Today, members of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, among other items, set forth on a comprehensive downtown transportation operations study to consider ways to reduce congestion in parts of the core area. This afternoon, the TTC commission will resume its meeting that was interrupted on Monday by the mayor’s stuff. Among other things, the commission will consider raising transit fares once again to fill the TTC’s funding gap. Tomorrow, the Planning and Growth Management Committee will met to discuss amendments to the city’s Official Plan while the Government Management Committee goes about its business including property expropriation for the Yonge-University-Spadina subway expansion.

Oh yeah, and about the budget process that’s going public next week.

You get the drift here.

Life goes on with or without Mayor Ford. And let’s face it. Most of these items were either too expensive or complex for him to have ever understood or cared much about. ignorethekrazykatThe more prosaic matters? Your fence exemptions and front yard parking pads? He’d simply want to sort out with a phone or house call. Probably both. It’s always good to put a face to the name on your potential voters’ list.

The mayor can’t stop the forward motion of the city, no matter how big a hissy fit he has. He can slow it down, toss sand in the gears like he displayed on Friday by holding every item he could get his hands on, and drag them out with questions to the staff and making blowhole speeches. If it becomes too problematic, council may have to take more drastic measures and approach the province about stepping in and removing the mayor from the premises.

But until such time, it’s probably best just to avoid spending too much time on the expected mayoral antics. They really won’t matter much in the scheme of the city’s operations. It’s hard to avert your eyes from a car crash but eventually you have to or you wind up veering off the road.

advisingly submitted by Cityslikr


Endorsing Chris Stockwell

October 2, 2013

For me the really interesting aspect of yesterday’s Etobicoke-York Community Council’s nomination process starstruckfor its preferred candidate to replace Doug Holyday as city councillor for Ward 3 was just how predictable it all was. Much is made of how name recognition plays a major factor in voting at the municipal level. Well, it seems even our elected representatives are more than a little star struck when it comes to making their selections.

In the end it was all about the names. Chris Stockwell. John Nunziata. Even Agnes Potts, for those watching Etobicoke politics over the last 20 years, had a certain name recognition as a former school board trustee and pre-amalgamation councillor.

It makes sense. Savvy political operators take 5 minutes to wow the crowd with a rousing stump speech, outlining all the positive ways they will contribute to the community they’ve been appointed to represent. unimpressiveWhat’s a neophyte outsider to do in the face of that?

Yet, aside from Ms. Potts who stressed her work in the community over the time she spent as an elected official, the frontrunners fizzled at the mic. Never mind the forgettable performances of non-pols like Holyday’s choice, Peter Leon, or the Ford blessed Ross Vaughan. John Nunziata did little more than read off his CV and pledge not to run in Ward 3 in next year’s general election.

The community council’s eventual nominee, Chris Stockwell, was hardly more inspired. In what amounted to an extended shrug, Stockwell said, “I’m simply coming here saying, if you want someone who can hit the ground running and knows how politics works, I’m available.”

Certainly there’s something to that. With barely over a year left in the term, all a complete newcomer to City Hall would be able to accomplish is keeping their head above the water, what with the rope learning they’d be doing. shrugA place holder in every sense of the word.

But aside from his experience — over 20 years in fact, first as an Etobicoke city councillor, then a Metro councillor before moving on to Queen’s Park — there was little talk from Stockwell about stepping forward as a public service. When asked why he wanted the job, his response? After 10 years as a private citizen, he ‘missed it’.

You’d think that kind of statement alone would disqualify him in the eyes of someone like Councillor Doug Ford who hates career politicians. Just another fat cat coming for one last slurp at the trough. Where’s your business sense, Stockwell? Your talk of Lean Six Sigma?

But Councillor Ford had other things on his mind during this whole process.

Along with his mayor-brother and newly re-allied Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, the councillor was still smarting from the grave injustice done to them Ward 3 by city council in voting against a by-election to replace Holyday. suspiciousLeftists at City Hall were just itching to further deny them Ward 3 their rightful representation and were all probably gathering together in their coven, looking to impose their will on them Ward 3 with a downtown pinko elite cyclist appointee.

So deep was their suspicion that Councillor Mammoliti tried pushing through a referral motion until they could secure a guarantee that the Etobicoke-York Community Council’s decision would be supreme. Much of the motion was ruled out of order by city staff and the Ford Brothers reluctantly agreed that they had to push on with council’s July mandate in selecting a replacement, regardless of the ultimate will of the people to have a by-election. It was just yet another sad example of how downtown was sticking it to the suburbs.

Nothing would serve this narrative better than if council ignored the recommendation of Etobicoke-York Community Council and appointed someone other than Chris Stockwell as the new Ward 3 councillor. dareyouA narrative, coincidentally, the Fords seem to be pushing a lot in the run up to next year’s election campaign. For 4 years, Mayor Ford has been trying to serve the folks of Toronto to the best of his abilities but city council just keeps getting in the way. Not appointing Chris Stockwell would be a perfect illustration of this and give the mayor plenty of ammunition.

And who better to get the downtown lefties’ collective backs up than a former muckie-muck in the Mike Harris government that killed the Eglinton subway and forced amalgamation on Toronto? My guess is, the Ford faction didn’t give a shit about Stockwell’s qualifications or the reasons he wanted the gig. He provided the best opportunity for council to do their bidding and appoint someone else.

Which it shouldn’t, of course. If precedent has it that city council essentially rubber stamps a community council’s choice for appointment, that’s what should happen next week with Chris Stockwell. Not only for the crass reasons of denying Mayor Ford his perfect talking points going forward but because this particular by-election/appointment situation was highly contentious, its outcome rife with questions and concerns of Ward 3 residents as merely after-thoughts in the battle between the mayor and council. chrisstockwell1This won’t be the last time an appointment process will occur. Council should endeavour to keep it as orderly and grounded in rules as possible.

Besides, I think it’ll be interesting to see Stockwell in action again. By all accounts he was as funny and engaging as he was pugnacious. It’s not as if he can be any more right-leaning and mayor-friendly than the man he would be replacing. It’ll be fun watching someone who was part of the team that created so many of the problems this city faces now try and chip in with some solutions.

positively submitted by Cityslikr


A Tale Of 2 Community Councils

June 19, 2013

The downtown versus suburbs pissing match flared up again this week, ignited by the usual suspects, councillors Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti, pissingmatchover the redevelopment of a northern portion of St. Lawrence Market.

“When it comes to the downtown part of the city, it freaks me out,” Councillor Mammoliti spouted, “it freaks me out that everybody can find money to be able to do these things when the rest of us are told no.”

“We’re going out and we’re spending (a) disproportionate amount of money downtown all the time,” Councillor Ford mouthed. “Etobicoke North we get crumbs,” the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat quotes the councillor saying, “people out in Scarborough get crumbs.”

It’s a very easy political fight to pick. All appearances would back the councillors’ claims up. crumbsAttending the North York Community Council meeting yesterday, it was wrapped up before lunch. On its agenda were some 56 items, accompanied by about 10 deputations from the public.

This allowed for enough time to get back downtown to City Hall and take in the Toronto-East York Community Council meeting when it resumed after lunch. Its agenda included 128 items with over 20 deputations for one item alone. (For the record, the Scarborough Community Council meeting dealt with 37 items and the Etobicoke-York Community Council, which both councillors Ford and Mammoliti are part of, had 52 items before it.) If you’re counting along at home, the 3 suburban community councils had just 17 more items combined than their downtown counterpart.

Certainly the Toronto-East York Community Council represents significantly more of the city’s population than the other three, with just under 1/3 of the entire population of Toronto. And without question, it’s the area of town getting the lion’s share of the development, what with the business core within the boundaries while sitting on a good chunk of the waterfront. pieceofthepieThis is where a majority of the action’s at, baby.

But that somehow this translates into receiving a disproportionate piece of the total budget pie? The claim never really comes with any concrete proof or reliable sources. It’s cache comes purely through the repetitive chant not any actual facts.

We’ve written a few times about the study commissioned back in the day by Councillor Norm Kelly, Fair Share Scarborough. Ostensibly it set out to see if Scarborough was getting its fair share of city services under amalgamation. Turns out there was no solid proof Scarborough was either getting ripped off or making out like bandits in the situation. A wash, let’s call it.

Nothing since that study has surfaced to prove otherwise.

Yet that doesn’t stop the likes of Doug Ford or Giorgio Mammoliti (Councillor Frances Nunziata is also a avid proponent of the divisive tactic) from trying to make political hay out of it.

Oh, but what about all that Section 37 money the downtown gets and the suburbs see nothing of? The slush fund. The dirty bribe money. section37moneyWhy does it only go to the wards where the development is?

“Distribute the money equally to all the boroughs not just downtown all the time,” Councillor Ford demanded.

Fair’s fair, right? All for one and one for all, yeah? We’re all in this together.

Except for the development part of the equation.

Seems the likes of Councillor Ford is all for section 37 funds as long as the development that provides it goes elsewhere in the city.

Next time the councillor from Ward 2 Etobicoke whines about his share of section 37 funds ask him about Humbertown.

 “We’re all in consensus, we’re going to kill this thing.”

So spoke Councillor Ford at a public meeting about a proposed development in his neck of the woods.

It seems that you can suck and blow at the same time.crybabies

There are many residents of this city who can rightfully claim that they are being left out of the politics, the planning, the development of Toronto. Their claim is legitimate. But politicians like Doug Ford and Giorgio Mammoliti are simply piggybacking on that grievance, attempting to leverage it for political gain. They’re looking for others to do the heavy-lifting of governance and city-building while they just squawk away noisily in their little corners of the city.

submitted by Cityslikr


Change Isn’t Always Worse Than The Alternative

May 16, 2013

You know what the scariest word in English just might be? No, not anesthetist. pickawordThat’s the hardest word in English to pronounce but not the scariest. Unless, of course, you’re going in for surgery imminently.

Change.

That’s the scariest word.

People are averse – averse? adverse? averse? Again, tricky words. Not necessarily scary ones — to change. Even those most likely to benefit from a particular change are reticent.. reticent? hesitant? I’ve clearly thrown myself off here. Pick a word and run with it.

Change ain’t easy.

Our penchant is to view change warily, assuming it’s always going to be for the worse. This despite the fact that we are where we are, doing what we’re doing in relative comfort because of change and our ability to adapt to it. adaptchangeI mean, we could still be creatures flopping around in mucky goo, trying to figure how to breathe oxygen in through these things called lungs not gills.

This is not to say all change is beneficial and that we should simply embrace any new fad that comes our way. Change for change’s sake and other interior decorating maxims. I need a change, while usually indicating a desire to move in a positive direction, doesn’t automatically signal improvement. It could be a phrase uttered by a guy in a bar who’s been drinking rye-and-cokes all afternoon and he just wants to change to, I don’t know, rum-and-cokes.

It’s not about blind acceptance but the moderating measured space between that and an open hostility to any notion of change.

Speaking out against the proposed First Capital Realty development for the Humbertown strip mall on Tuesday, Mayor Ford clearly falls in the latter camp.

“Time equals change,” the mayor said in his speech at Tuesday’s Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting, “we have to move on but…” But what? Gradually? In a thoughtful manner? Earlier on in his speech the mayor stated that “we have to maintain these strip malls in Etobicoke”. So we have to move on to what?

We Have To Move On But is the trademark phrase of the bonafide, heels-dug-in intransigent. Frankly, Etobicoke seems to be populated by such types. Look at their representation at City Hall currently. driveinrestaurantFrom the Fords to councillors Doug Holyday and Gloria Lindsay Luby, part of a historical lineage of obstructionist and obdurate municipal politicians fighting tooth and nail against the slow march of time’s encroachment into their neighbourhoods and pocketbooks.

Read Jamie Bradburn’s Historicist piece last week in Torontoist about the city’s west end politicians battling the building of a subway in the late 1950s. All the way to the Supreme Court! ‘Bamboozled’ is a familiar phrase to modern ears, a kissing cousin to boondoggle, and one used in reference to subway plans. “I am afraid these taxes [to fund subway construction] will tie people up so tightly it will make them move out of here,” said Long Branch Reeve, Marie Curtis, “the same as some of us moved from the city.”

“Don’t be misled by visionaries who would lead you to believe they see things the rest of us don’t,” decried York Reeve Chris Tonks.

That’s not an unreasonable statement if you’re talking about visionaries touting contact with occupants not named Hatfield of interplanetary crafts. overmydeadbodyBut it was 1958. Subways weren’t some new fangled technology about to be foisted upon an unsuspecting population. Cities had been building them for about century by that time. It was a question of figuring out how to pay for an established mode of public transit and putting it in the right place.

Intensification runs along a similar line of thinking.

Sprawl is no longer sustainable. These kinds of strip malls Humbertown represents are relics of a past that was guided by the idea of unlimited space and cheap fuels to get us to these far flung places. As a form of land use, they no longer make sense.

Defenders of the status quo proclaim that this isn’t downtown Toronto we’re talking about, but Etobicoke. But this isn’t Etobicoke we’re talking about, not the one of 40, 50 years ago in its leafy-streeted isolation from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Now a fully functioning inner suburb, its quaint dreams of a pleasant village life located miles and miles past the outer suburbs to the west and north that push it closer to the downtown many of the residents are trying to keep at a distance.

I don’t think it a coincidence this heavy resistance to such change comes from the mayor’s own backyard. I think it’s a sentiment deeply rooted in the notion of Ford Nation. leftbehindThe city of Toronto has been undergoing demographic, cultural and economic shifts, accelerated by amalgamation. None of it particularly easy or cheap. But the face of the city is going to change with or without our participation. Probably not for the better if we simply choose to stand on the sidelines hoping it all passes us by without altering and costing us too much.

In 2010, a plurality of Torontonians, a healthy majority of those living in the inner suburbs and experiencing some of the biggest changes, decided to stand pat and with fingers crossed wait things out. Rearranging the furniture and painting the walls instead of undertaking a major renovation. Hopefully, no one gets too attached to the colour of the room.

adaptedly submitted by Cityslikr


Mayor Nimby

May 15, 2013

For three years now, ever since then-councillor Rob Ford announced his run for mayor, we’ve been clubbed over the head with the urban-suburban divide.fordnation The narrative of downtown elites hoarding all the goodness that is living in Toronto, leaving their suburban counterparts with nothing more than the crumbs and scraps. Get out of your cars so we can have bike lanes! No subways for you! Your taxes spent on us.

Rob Ford rode such resentment into office, and the continued suburban support maintains his not impossible chances for re-election next year. He is the self-proclaimed champion of the little guy in places like Scarborough, basing his entire transit policy around getting a new subway out there. Nobody rails about and profits from deriding the self-satisfied, special interest insularity of downtowners like the mayor and the rest of Team Ford.

An accusation I’ve tried to take to heart. Get out there, learn what makes these suburban types tick, their likes, dislikes, their pet peeves, their pet causes. haughtyTry and find out why they’re so mad at us and how politicians like Mayor Ford so easily tap into that vein of anger.

The latest leg of that journey outside of my south of Bloor/west of the Don Valley comfort zone took me to the Scarborough Civic Centre yesterday for their monthly Community Council meeting. Here you can see the local councillors and their constituents at work far from the spotlight of City Hall, not dwelling on the Us-versus-Them but instead focusing on pure Scarborough time (or North York or Etobicoke-York or Toronto-East York time depending on which community council meeting you’re attending). Community council concentrates on the minutiae of local governance.

As the agenda for the Scarborough meeting showed, this is the time spent adjudicating neighbours’ fence heights, debating the need for a stop sign or traffic lights, the removal of tree from private property, parking, always parking. toilIt isn’t glorious or sexy. Just the nuts and bolts of the political process at the municipal level.

Perhaps the most charged item I witnessed yesterday was over the fate of the wading pool just outside of the civic centre. Apparently it was a community hub for the forty years of the building’s existence but last summer the This Is Not A Wading Pool sign went up due to the lack of funding to pay for a lifeguard. Scarborough councillors set out to try and rectify that situation.

Most of the time, big ticket, highly contentious, city wide items don’t dominate community council meetings. A casino, tall tower complex or the island airport runway expansion rarely find their way to be debated at North York or Scarborough community councils. The majority of those end up for discussion at Toronto-East York community council.

And Etobicoke-York, apparently.

For the last two months the west-end community council has had to conduct additional meeting time to deal with the public reaction to two developments that are being proposed in their catchment area. In April, there was an evening session at the Etobicoke Civic Centre over the proposed waterfront development in Ward 6, Mimico 20/20. nonono1And yesterday for six hours, the public came out to express their unanimous opposition to First Capital Realty’s intention to convert the Humbertown shopping plaza into a mixed up residential-commercial space.

This one was a biggie. As David Hains writes in the Grid, it was held in a 3,200 seat church on the Queensway, was broadcast on TV and streamed online and brought out much of the media as well as the big gun politicians like the mayor and his councillor-brother. (As a member of the Etobicoke-York community council, it’s not unusual that Councillor Ford was in attendance although, it is worth noting that he was absent for the Mimico meeting last month, choosing instead to attend a provincial Progressive Conservative fundraiser.)

Now, I don’t know if the Humbertown development is a good one or not. Certainly the community’s concerns over the increase in traffic caught my attention. It didn’t strike me as the disaster-in-waiting almost every speaker to person claimed it would turn out to be. villagesquireThere are voices living in the area that even think it’s a positive thing for the area.

What I will tell you, however, is that I didn’t care for the tone I heard from the development’s opponents. Like many who spoke out against the Mimico 20/20 plans, we were told the Humber Valley neighbourhood was like a village wrapped inside a big city. A place for families to thrive and grow, away from big city concerns. People were born in Humber Valley. They went to school in Humber Valley. They got married in Humber Valley. They have children of their own who they want to raise in the same Humber Valley they grew up in.

After a couple hours of this, I couldn’t help but think if these people really wanted the village life, they should maybe move to an actual village. Somewhere, I don’t know, in Amish country. Or maybe on the edge of the moors in south-west England. A village village.

Not a pretend one of their imagination, situated 1500 metres from a major east-west subway line. No, what these people want is to enjoy all the amenities a big city offers while keeping the messier aspects like intensification and underground parking (really, underground parking) at bay. usversusthemThis is a wealthy enclave with the time and resources which, as my friend Paisley Rae said, should not determine the outcome of the civic process, trying to keep the 21st-century from their front door.

And the real kicker is that these are our populist mayor and brother’s people not the poor schlubs having to endure a cold winters rid on the Scarborough SRT or even those living further north in Etobicoke, up in Rexdale. This development is right in both the Fords’ backyards and the little guys they’re looking out for are those who can afford to hire their own architect to draw up alternate plans and find the concept of shopping on a second floor inconceivable. I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve invented a moving staircase in which to ascend us to ladies wear.

“We cannot let these developers come in and bully us,” said the mayor who’s all in pushing a waterfront casino. He vowed to fight the Humbertown development ‘tooth and nail’. “Let’s go to the board (Ontario Municipal Board),” he urged if First Capital Realty didn’t back down, presumably with money from the city he often tries to stop at council when other communities faced with unwanted development face appeals at the OMB. Everything Mayor Ford purports to be got completely turned on its head with his strident opposition to the Humbertown development.

Not in my backyard.humbertown

The fact is, Mayor Ford doesn’t really represent the aspirations or alienation of suburban Toronto. At least not those of the hard-working little guys in large portions of Scarborough or Etobicoke. It’s a very select few he will go to the mat for, the ones who essentially live in his own neighbourhood. The overwhelming majority of suburban residents are nothing more than votes to him.

nimbly submitted by Cityslikr


Where It All Starts

April 14, 2013

Etobicoke York Community Council.

You know, if we could ever convince enough people that involvement in matters of city planning, revenue generation or affordable housing was as important to them as their neighbour’s fence and available parking, fenceheightswe would have a very actively engaged citizenry.

It is amazing (and I use the word in all its non-pejorative meaning) the dedication residents display to matters that directly affect them. People want to be heard. They will put in great effort and care, and set aside personal fear of public speaking to step forward and have their say. It’s not always eloquent. Some of it is definitely self-serving. But it’s usually passionate and heartfelt.

Messy, messy, beautiful democracy at work.

Based on a geographic area of the city, the Etobicoke York Community Council’s responsibilities include making recommendations and decisions on local planning and development, as well as neighbourhood matters including traffic plans and parking regulations. Community Councils reports to City Council but they also have final decision-making power on certain items, such as fence by-law exemptions and appointments to local boards and Business Improvement Areas. 

Etobicoke York is one of four community councils, the others being North York, Scarborough and Toronto East York. micromanage1And while I wondered if fence exemptions were specific to Etobicoke York, apparently that’s not the case. (Click here and type in ‘Fence Exemptions’.) We are a city united in fence exemptions, amalgamated in hedgerow heights.

I won’t lie. There were times early on in the meeting when I wondered if, given the current council structure, councillors should really be adjudicating over many of the picayune matters that crop up at community councils. Bigger fish to fry and all that. Surely there must be a more productive way to sort out what seemed to be personal grievances.

But then, an item sprung up, after the fence exemptions had been dealt with, that made me reconsider my condescending thoughts.

On the face of it, another seemingly routine matter. Traffic light placement. Essentially, the city was replacing a pedestrian controlled crosswalk with traffic lights but the discussion evolved into whether simply moving the crosswalk 300 metres east would make more sense. This then precipitated a much bigger conversation about traffic flow and pedestrian patterns. Some of the nuts and bolts of urban planning.

Here was a local resident, getting actual face time with elected officials to express his views on how traffic should move in his neighbourhood. trafficplanThe politicians were able to see how rules, regulations and by-laws might be affecting residents, and to ensure some flexibility in the enforcement stemming from those rules, regulations and by-laws. City staff aren’t supposed to interpret or adaptively implement rules. At community council, councillors can. A face is put to a decision.

Of course, not all the business that comes up at community council meetings is of the micro-local kind. The three more suburban community councils are noted for their brevity in comparison to the Toronto East York Community Council which traditionally spends additional time on wider ranging issues like tall building development and bigger commercial matters (not to mention it is the most populous of the community councils). It’s not unusual for a councillor sitting on, say, the North York Community Council to wrap up business there and get downtown to City Hall to take in the remainder of the Toronto East York Community Council.

But on Tuesday, the downtown came westside as I’m sure nobody’s ever said before. civicengagementNot only did members of the EYCC fight to get their meeting done by lunch, most of them came back for a rare evening session where the 7 year planning process for the Mimico 20/20 development was having another public airing. Some 150 members of the public came out to hear and give 3+ hours of deputations about what was shaping up to be a major reformation of the Ward 6 lakefront neighbourhood.

This was the whole ball of wax. The Official Plan. A Secondary Plan. Revitalization. Intensification. Mobility. Affordability. The big daddy of fence extensions, you might say. The local councillor, Mark Grimes, seems genuine in his desire to try to give a more liveable shape to the wall of high rise condos moving west from the core along the water. But questions remain — big, city altering questions – how best to do that.

Remarkably, in the face of such substantive change, the general tone of the deputations was one of willing accommodation. civicengagement1Yes, there was a contingent of NIMBYism. Those who cherished the view of the lake from their front porch or who wanted to maintain the feel of a small town in the midst of the big city. One deputant brought forth a proposal to build everything on stilts to enable everyone easy access to the lake. But they were in the minority.

Most spoke eloquently, ardently and knowledgeably about the proposal. It wasn’t perfect to anyone in the room for sure. Yet, as an outsider, it seemed like progress toward an acceptable solution was happening. Members of the community council voted to defer a decision for a couple months in order to try and hammer out further solutions. There were no angry outbursts as the audience filed out of the room nearly 4 hours after the meeting started.

The democratic process in action. Community council as the burning gears of civic participation. Voting is just the beginning. Engagement puts meat on the bones. Maybe it all starts with fence exemptions.

fencebuilding

fence-buildingly submitted by Cityslikr