Vernacular Of The Vine

March 2, 2016

guestcommentary

(With yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee’s unanimous vote of approval for the Hybrid #3 option to keep the Gardiner East expressway elevated, a timely post from our L.A. correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum)

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For some time now, I have been playing a game in my head whereby I compare the freeway system of L.A. to a system of vines in a vineyard. losangelesvineywardHow, for example, would a particular vineyard be helped if a little strategic pruning were done? Would the vines allow for a more effective transport of minerals and nutrients to the grapes? And how, analogously, would the city of Los Angeles be helped by a judicious pruning of its freeways? Would cars move more freely into our pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods? Is that a good thing? A bad thing? Some wine-growers like to stress their vines, but could that very stress lead to grape rage?

Okay, so the analogy isn’t exact. But this particular act of analogizing is not so far-fetched, because while we don’t usually think of L.A. as wine country, that’s exactly what it was for the first hundred-plus years of its existence, with the earliest vineyards being established in 1781 at the Mission de Los Angeles. At first they were planted primarily to the drought-resistant, low-acid Airen grape from La Mancha, in Spain. Soon they were joined by other vitis vinifera and spread throughout the area. cheonggyecheonMany vineyards were added in the early 1800s and the industry was well-established by the time the Forty-Niners hit northern California with a rapacious thirst for Los Angeles wine.

The vineyards, unfortunately, were torn up long ago, but palimpsests of that key period of L.A.’s wine history abound, from the random ubiquity of grapes growing in private gardens and backyards to the streets named after early L.A. winemakers like Vignes, Kohler, Wolfskill and Requena. And then there’s the world’s most iconic street corner, Hollywood and Vine, which marks the transition from a town tied to the land to a city hitched to the stars.

L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne had not dissimilar thoughts on “trimming” (his word) what he calls the “stub end of the 2 freeway as it bends south and west from Interstate 5 and dips into Silver Lake and Echo Park.” Upon reading the article I wanted to celebrate. cheonggyecheonafterI had been waiting for this moment in L.A. history, when the city would decide, or at least decide to decide, that it was time to start pruning.

The plan for the 2 freeway doesn’t call for tearing it down (or uprooting it, in the language of the vine), but for re-purposing it. Traffic lanes would be reduced and narrowed, and housing and storefronts would go up along its sides. A park would be built down the middle, which would connect to the L.A. River, where another park is currently being planned under the direction of Frank Gehry. There is even a notion to run a resurrected light rail through it, from Downtown to Glendale, summoning the memory of the Red Cars of two generations ago.

This all comes against the backdrop of other cities removing their urban highways, from the Embarcadero in San Francisco, to the Whitehurst Freeway in Washington,DC, to Harbor Drive in Portland to Cheonggyecheon in Seoul. Could L.A. join this illustrious list of cities? hollywoodandvineIt’s beyond imagination – and, most probably at this time, beyond the imagination of city leaders as well.

Mr. Hawthorne knows it won’t be easy. But even in the letters to the editor critical of his idea (which most of them were), one could sense that the status quo is to nobody’s liking. Being aware of that is a good first step. Los Angeles will surely not be able to support the number of vines (or cars) that it once did, but that shouldn’t prevent it from pruning, as well as uprooting, in order to save the vineyard.

vino veritasly submitted by Ned Teitelbaum


Another Gardiner East Rethink

September 8, 2015

Remember back, oh, I don’t know, 3 months ago, when city council had that prolonged, knock `em down, drag ‘em out battle over the fate of the Gardiner east expressway? goodoldaysThe great hybrid # 2 debate over a replacement option lots of people hated, few loved and Mayor Tory championed? Political capital spent all over the place, resulting in a close 24-21 vote that brought back memories of the Ford era with its downtown-suburban divisiveness and ultimate triumph of resentful emotionalism over sound, reasoned city building.

Well apparently, according to Jennifer Pagliario and David Rider at the Toronto Star, it all may have been for nought. Seems the mayor’s been working behind the scenes to reconfigure the design of the eastern portion of the Gardiner so that it more resembles the original hybrid option, one that city staff had rejected as technically unworkable which lead to the second hybrid proposal. Making this hybrid option 2.1? 1.2.1?

Setting aside the optics of Mayor Tory spending even more of his time out of the public eye doing city business, he’s also been quietly mulling over a 2024 Olympic bid during the summer months, you have to wonder what the hell all the fuss was about back in June? Why did the mayor come on so hard then on an issue he seems so willing to walk back on now? humptydumptyHe waded into the debate before listening to public feedback during deputations at a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, unequivocally planting his flag of support in the ground. He sniffed derisively at Gardiner teardown proponents as something akin to latte-sipping boulevardiers. He muzzled the city’s chief planner after she publicly disagreed with him on which option would be best.

And now he’s all willing to hunker down, even with his ‘opponents’, and bang out a compromise, a compromise that was pretty much on the table back in June?

Only someone unfamiliar with Toronto City Hall would be at all surprised that a major infrastructure project decision is undergoing reconsideration. It’s what we do. In this case it should be especially anticipated since the June vote in favour of the mayor’s option 2 jeopardized a number of other waterfront development plans, setting the city on a possible collision course with some deep-pocketed players.clumsy

None of this information is new or comes out of the blue. All of it was on the table in June. Mayor Tory brushed it aside, brusquely at times, digging in his heels and refusing to budge.

Now it’s all like, “They’ve done a lot of work to make something, as I was confident they could, much better than what appeared in some of the diagrams that took place…very significant improvement.”

As he “was confident they could.” Yet he still opted to pretty much go to war with colleagues and staff in some sort of pipe swinging, PR exercise. Power drunk gives way to sober second thought.

Ah well, at least he’s come to his senses, right? The other guy, the previous guy would’ve just hunkered down and fought any attempt to revisit the decision. Mayor Tory, after using the opportunity to prove who’s boss, quietly retreats to fix a boneheaded outcome that he had loudly pushed for months.headlesschicken

Progress!

I’ve given up attempting to divine tactics and motivations in how this mayor operates. It’s pretty much by the seat-of-his-pants, listening to the bad advice he’s getting or only getting bad advice. He played chief advocate for the wrong side of the Gardiner east debate out of pure political calculation. Somewhere deep in the backrooms he’s conducted his business in over the course of the last 3 months, he’s been forced to reckon with his misstep on this file, and not necessarily by his opponents on city council, I imagine. Like with the carding issue, Mayor Tory isn’t trying to do what is right or just. He’s simply following the bouncing political ball.

And now, with the Gardiner east, he’s had to go retrieve the ball he kicked into the bushes.

One of his opponents in this unnecessary fight the mayor picked, one of his appointed deputy mayors, Councillor Pam McConnell whose ward that section of expressway runs through, has obviously been part of the behind the scenes negotiations and has come to a slightly less glowing conclusion about the compromise. unimpressed“Maybe it’s something everyone can live with,” she effused, if that word meant the opposite of what it does. Maybe it’s something everyone can live with.

Which, I think, pretty much sums up John Tory’s time in the mayor’s office so far. Maybe something everyone can live with. Don’t expect or demand too much. Mistakes will get made. Gaffes will happen. Some stuff will get done too. Just not too much and certainly nothing particularly exciting or groundbreaking or visionary. Just enough that maybe everyone can live with.

still incredulously submitted by Cityslikr


The War On The Car: Who Are We Really Fighting For?

June 17, 2015

During the lead up to last week’s Gardiner expressway east debate and council decision, an interesting statistic was tweeted from Laurence Liu into my consciousness. buslineTaken from the 2011 Transportation Tomorrow survey, it gave a breakdown of morning commute time travel modes into Toronto’s downtown core from all 44 wards in the city. In a previous post, I pointed out that in Ward 2, Etobicoke North, the beating heart of Ford Nation, ground zero for the war on the car, only 22% of those making their way downtown in the morning actually drove. 77% of Rob Ford’s constituents commuting to the core in the a.m. relied on public transit.

Strange, eh? With such heavy transit dependence in his ward, you’d think the councillor would have different priorities. You’d think.

Stranger still, as I was looking over the table, I realized in my ward, Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, more people drive downtown to work in the morning than do those in Ward 2, 27%. crowdedbusThat’s right. In Ward 19 – as downtown a ward as you can get – more than a quarter of morning commuters to downtown jobs drive.

How is that possible?

Ward 19 is crammed full of transit options. Off the top of my head, 4 east-west and 1 north-south streetcar lines pass through it. There are three bus routes, I think. The Bloor-Danforth subway line. Ward 19 has some of the city’s best biking infrastructure in it.

And, I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that I could walk from the most north-westerly part of this ward to the very southeast corner of the official downtown core in around an hour or so with a stop for coffee.

Why on earth would anyone living in Ward 19 drive to their job in the downtown core?

The simplest explanation, I’d guess, is that they can.

Often times, this war on the car that’s been raging in the minds of too many city councillors is couched in terms of looking out for the little guy, as one of the battle’s prime warriors likes to say. crowdedbus1We can’t talk tolls and other forms of road pricing because, well, some people depend on their cars to get around the city. Should they be penalized for that? We must keep road capacity in order for people to get as quickly as possible between the 3 or 4 jobs to make ends meet

The automobile provides the life line to those who need it most, those hardworking taxpayers just looking to get ahead while spending as much quality time with their families.

Except that, owning and operating a car in this city is an expensive proposition although not as expensive as it should be, if gasoline was priced accordingly and the use of public space to park our cars charged properly. It would seem to me that car dependence is a burden on those struggling to get by not something to be encouraged. SeanMarshallMapWe do that by trying to make it easier to driver and short-changing the public transit system.

Sean Marshall created a map (which is what he does so well) from the table drawn up by Laurence Liu. Some of the heaviest transit use during morning commutes to downtown comes from the farthest reaches of the city. Northwest Etobicoke. North North York. Scarbourgh. Councillor Anthony Perruzza, who couldn’t make up his mind last week on what to do with the Gardiner east (None of the above) represents a ward in this city were only 15% of residents drive downtown to work. You might think that he’d take every opportunity to divert money into transit projects that would benefit the other 85% of his residents who rely on public transit.

Now overlay that map with any that David Hulchanski’s produced over the last little while. The ones showing Toronto’s growing income disparity, and the specific locations of low income neighbourhoods. Funny, eh? There appears to be some sort of relationship between income levels and transit use. DavidHulchanskiMapSpecifically, the less you make, the more you use transit.

So tell me again why we must be redirecting public resources to free up car traffic instead of investing every dollar we can get our hands on in public transit?

Some of the highest car use in morning commute times to downtown come from some of the more affluent spots in the city, spots, in some cases, better served by transit than the places with more transit users. “Fun TTS 2011 fact,” Laurence Liu tweeted, “of those who drive downtown during AM peak period, 64% live in households with 2 or more cars.” Two or more cars? That’s not dependence. It’s an addiction.

You’ll have to excuse my impatience then with those trying to espouse notions of equality and fairness when they push for increased spending on road infrastructure or tout the need to bury public transit in order to clear up the streets for cars. openroadThis isn’t about the little guy. It’s about an overweening sense of entitlement by those who can afford to make an active choice to drive in this city. My neighbours in Ward 19 with every amenity at their disposal to get around but they pick the most expensive one because they can afford it.

— automiserly submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s To You, Councillor Robinson

June 15, 2015

Last weekend, the weekend before last weekend actually, Councillor Jaye Robinson, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee chair, mrsrobinsonreached out over social media to ask to meet up ahead of the Gardiner east debate at city council to discuss the issue. I’d been jabbing at her, in the virtual sense, over the pro-“hybrid” stance she’d taken during a press conference a few days earlier. I wondered aloud how she could have rushed to the defence of waterfront development when Doug Ford had concocted his ferris wheels-and-monorail plan a few years back but was perfectly willing to plop a newly rebuilt expressway down to inflict similar damage on the area. She also, to my mind, was brushing aside well-researched evidence that suggested the traffic chaos “hybrid” supporters predicted would happen if the Gardiner came down wouldn’t happen.

So we met on Tuesday, the day before the city council meeting began for a very amiable 15 minutes. Councillor Robinson came across as deeply conflicted on the issue, trying to figure out a better solution than was on the table in front of her and colleagues to decide on. scratchmyheadWhy she had chosen to spend time chatting it out with me – whose tear the fucker down preference was up front and centre – remains something of a mystery. While my arrogance might suggest otherwise, I am fully aware of my limited reach and ever so slight standing in the local political scene. It struck me as strange the councillor would waste her time talking to some asshole with a blog.

Despite unhealthy outbursts of political naïvete that catch me by surprise, I had no illusions about the meeting. There was no way Councillor Robinson was going to change her mind, having so publicly come out in favour of Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” stance. Still, I thought, maybe, some compromise might be in the works, an attempt to perform a tactical retreat.

You can only imagine my disappointment, let’s call it, over the course of the following few days, watching as Councillor Robinson displayed little propensity toward any sort of compromise on the Gardiner east. When she spoke, she varied little from the “hybrid” hymnbook the mayor was preaching from, the one he used in a speech to the Empire Club, the speech the Torontoist referred to as “full Ford”, full of “at least 36 falsehoods or misleading statements”. whipWhen she wasn’t speaking, Councillor Robinson could be seen with a clipboard, conversing with the mayor’s staff and other councillors, presumably helping out to get the vote count right in favour of the “hybrid” option.

She did. The Gardiner east “hybrid” won out, narrowly, setting in motion a period of uncertainty that often times follows bad decisions. Are we really going to do this? Really? (I remain sceptical. But again, what the fuck do I know?)

Sitting here, a few days on, and I still can’t figure Jaye Robinson out. The cranks and the kooks you get. Vainglorious, idiotic and imbecilic. Dummies gonna be dum, am I right? You can only hope to minimize the damage they try to inflict.

But Councillor Robinson is different. She seems like she wants to do the right thing, to leap toward a more enlightened kind of governance, a better city. ignorefactsYet she can regularly be counted on to come down on the wrong side of important issues like the Gardiner.

And by the ‘wrong’ side, I don’t necessarily mean the ones I disagree with her on. I’m talking about the one like the Gardiner that defy facts, evidence and the future, settling for easy, mindless catch phrases like common sense. “Why have experts if politicians care little for their expertise?” Matt Elliott asks today. There was a deliberate attempt by the pro-“hybrid” council gang to muddy the waters of debate by disparaging and disbelieving city staff and other expert opinion, elevating lone voices of dissent to positions of authority far beyond the reality of the situation, to put opinion before thoughtful reasoning.

Gut feeling prevailed once again at City Hall. Councillor Jon Burnside revealed the height of the “hybrid” hypocrisy when he rose to speak in defence of it, saying that his heart wanted the boulevard but his head told him the “hybrid” was the way to go. thetruthThe fact is, very little thinking went into the “hybrid” argument. It was pure obedience to a mayor who had made his decision known well before the debate had truly begun. Again.

Life’s too short, I concluded over the weekend. Having been at this now for over 5 years, I find myself tired and bored covering the ins-and-outs of a city council that seems determined to work against the best interests of the city. This isn’t one mayor’s problem. It’s endemic to the institution itself, the people constantly returned to office to govern.

I don’t get paid to do what I do. (Most days I don’t think I deserve to be.) There are far better people doing a far better job than I could ever do. I’m contributing largely noise.

I’m not a city councillor. I don’t have to figure out how to deal with such monumental nonsense and duplicity on a daily basis. whyamidoingthisWhy keep inflicting it on myself?

The city works pretty well despite its ill-governance. Not everywhere certainly and not for everyone obviously. We could be, should be doing a whole lot better. It’s not for a lack of tools at our disposal. Just a lack of political will. The DenzilMinnanWongization of City Hall.

Where things work, how they work is an area I’d like to further examine. How do we build a better sense of public good, the public common? One of the aspects I’ve learned about municipal politics is the potential for affecting change is right there not somewhere in the vague distance. Although it doesn’t seem like it at times, your voice can be heard. todolist1We saw it just recently with Desmond Cole and the issue of police carding.

I’ve got a stack of books about yay-high, scattered in piles around the house. Books about cities, how they work, how they don’t work, how to fix those that don’t work, great cities, bad cities, cities on the move, cities bogged down in the past. I want to read those books, learn from them, write about them. I just keep letting myself get interrupted by the terrible goings-on at City Hall.

We also need to figure out a way to elect better local politicians. If it wasn’t obvious before, it should be now. It doesn’t happen magically as we learned last October. Deadweight is lying heavily on this city, crushing the breath of life out of it. This is something that can wait until 2018. Organizing must start now.

These are the things I want to explore and write about. The basic nuts and bolts of civic life. I’ve focused far too much on the… a-hem, a-hem… the nuts and dolts. (Thank you. Try the veal.)

Near the end of the Gardiner debate last Thursday, Councillor Robinson, in her role as chair of Public Works and Infrastructure, spoke last on the issue. Using that time, she introduced a series of motions that might offer some workable alternatives to the “hybrid” option as it currently stands. closingdoorWhy this didn’t happen at the beginning of the meeting, or days, weeks before the debate even went to council is the disheartening thing about all this for me.

It was about crass fucking politics, winning optics for the mayor. The exact opposite of good governance, of practical, sensible, common sense governance Mayor Tory is always trying to assure us he’s all about. It’s bullshit and, ultimately, impossible to continue watching without hollowing out your core a little.

Councillor Robinson could’ve taken a different path. She chose instead to play along with the game and diminish the process just a little bit more. I’m tired. I don’t want to write about Councillor Jaye Robinson anymore.

resignedly submitted by Cityslikr


Gardiner East Conclusion (Round ??)

June 12, 2015

“People had different sets of facts… but they were all facts.”

Mayor John Tory, after scoring a 24-21 city council victory, enabling him to push forward with some sort of hybrid option of the elevated Gardiner east expressway.

I just canx.

(It has returned.)

canx

numbly submitted by Cityslikr


Day 2 — Gardiner East

June 11, 2015

All signs point to a stumbling, bumbling, blustering, bullshitting, typical-in-Toronto absolutely incomplete victory at city council for Mayor John Tory’s Gardiner east “hybrid” option. pickacardWhich “hybrid”? Who knows? Staff will be directed to report back on ways to make the ‘not perfect’ “hybrid” the mayor’s been pitching a more not perfecter “hybrid” including last year’s original hybrid version that city staff has already determined unworkable.

Or as former councillor John Parker tweeted: “It’s a request for a modified hybrid if necessary but not necessarily a modified hybrid.”

But don’t you dare call the motion Mayor Tory tabled yesterday a referral. A referral would mean months of delay. The mayor’s motion will be reported on back to council probably in September. Just a couple, three months from now. There’s a distinction there if you have just the right eyes to see it with.

I hold tight to my belief no elevated Gardiner east “hybrid” of any sort will ever be built. All this last minute design wrangling, on the fly in the face of a decade or so of far more careful waterfront planning will stray so far from the terms of reference of the provincial environmental assessment that Queen’s Park will have little choice but to rein it back in to reality, miragetugging city council firmly from the 1950s into the 21st-century. Or a mountain of litigation from developers negatively impacted by the “hybrid” awaits to drag the proceedings to a standstill. Not for nothing did council go in camera for couple of hours to deal with that very situation.

But all that is beside the point. It’s always been beside the point. Securing any sort of perceived victory for any sort of “hybrid” version will give Mayor Tory bragging rights to being the true champion in the ongoing war against the car that’s been raging in this city. Who’s looking out for you, Mr. & Mrs. Automobile Driver? Mayor Tory, that’s who. Who spent an astounding amount of political capital this early in his first term to protect this city’s drivers from the nasty clutches or urbanists, latte-sippers and the blinding reality of the future? Mayor Tory, that’s who.

And don’t you forget it. Even if the Gardiner east is brought back down to earth, at-grade, by saner voices, don’t you forget Mayor Tory had your back.

focus

Mayor John Tory, 2018.

prognosticatingly submitted by Cityslikr


A Full Accounting Of Council

June 10, 2015

Here’s the thing.

No matter what happens at city council this week, it won’t be the last we hear about the Gardiner east. thisisntoverI think it was Brian Kelcey who said a week or so ago on Twitter that (and I’m paraphrasing here because I’m too lazy to go back and find the exact wording) no big decision is ever made in a city just once. Not just this city. Any city.

My gut tells me that even if Mayor Tory’s “hybrid” option wins the day, whatever day it gets voted on, we’ll never see it. There are too many obstacles in its way, out of city council’s hands, for it to remain… a-hem, a-hem… standing. A provincial EA. Federal involvement in the waterfront development. A keenly interested segment of the development community. David Crombie.

And for some members of council including the mayor, I think that might not be the worst outcome. Standing up for car drivers and having the right decision taken out of their hands by forces beyond their control would be a nice tidy narrative to have in their back pocket when any sort of final decision is made. whatareyouuptoI did what I could but, you know, my hands were tied.

While I would’ve thought a couple days ago the “hybrid” option was squeaking through, just yesterday loud and loopy voices began making tunneling sounds. Bury the whole thing! This threatens to take the council debate to the Fordian stratosphere of unpredictable madness that winds up banning cars from the downtown core. Let’s call it, Stage Jimmy K.

The tunnel strategy could quite simply be another take on establishing pro-car credibility. Nothing’s too good for you, Uncle Otto. Nobody loves you as much as I do. And then, once that gets blown out of the water by a whiff of, reality, let’s call it, the diggers will wind up in the “hybrid” camp, reluctant compromisers.

All hypotheticals and conjecture, of course. It’s not as if I haven’t been wildly off on my city council prognostications before. revealitselfLick here now for that grain of salt.

What I will say is, regardless of what happens with the Gardiner east debate, a fuller picture of our council make-up will fall into place. We’ll be able to ascertain just who seems prepared to face the future challenges of building and developing this city in a forward-thinking manner, differentiating themselves from those refusing to make decisions with any guide other than past measures. This is how it could be versus this is how it’s always been.

Good information to have in hand. A useful guide going forward to 2018.

judgingly submitted by Cityslikr