More Of The Mayor’s Magical Musings

January 24, 2011

“To be a world class city, at least a North American world class city, we need an NFL team.”

— Councillor Doug Ford, older, allegedly smarter brother of Mayor Rob Ford.

If there’s another statement that would better reveal this administration’s horrifying ignorance about what makes a city vibrant, livable, “world class”, it would have to be grunted by a speaker who’s covered in their own feces. Assuming the mayor agrees with his brother’s view (a fair one to make, I think, given the cover of the newspaper the story appeared in), we bear witness to yet another dimension in the realm of the mayor’s magical thinking. You can cut taxes and not cut services. If you absolutely have to have public transit, subways are always better than any alternative. Professional sports franchise equals civic health.

Look down there at Detroit. After decades of on-field futility, their Lions showed signs of life this past season. Can recovery be far behind for the city?

It seems the mayor and his brother headed off to Chicago this weekend on a fact-finding mission to take in the NFC conference championship game. Because, it stands to reason, that if a world class city needs an NFL franchise, having a winning franchise will make a city even more world classier. Why, winning the Super Bowl just last year, turned every Hurricane Katrina induced disaster around for the city of New Orleans.

Hopefully while in The Windy City, the mayor and his brother managed to find time to take in some other sights outside of Soldier Field that contribute to Chicago’s vitality. Just down the lake from where they would’ve seen the Packers defeat the hometown Bears, there’s the Art Institute. A little further from AIC, there’s Millennium Park with its Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion, built on former industrial railroad land. It’s all part of a renovated waterfront that reclaimed the lake. A familiar sounding problem, Mayor Ford?

Or maybe the mayor and his brother rode around for a bit on the Chicago transit system, just to see how other cities of comparable size move their people around. Not being knowledgeable enough myself to know how it matches up to ours, I’ll assume neither is the mayor. It’d be nice to think that he took the opportunity to help enlighten himself further on the pressing issue of public transit.

And while they were at it, I wonder if the mayor and his brother sought the advice of anyone who could give them a hands-on account of how the privatization of parking in Chicago has worked out. Since his budget chief has mused publicly about the necessity of the city being in the parking business, the mayor certainly needs to take some time to weigh the issue fully to see if other places benefited from such a move. Some due diligence done on either side of a football game.

On the other hand, maybe this whole call for an NFL team was simply a dog whistle that only the mayor’s supporters could hear. After a week of sometimes bruising public consultations over the proposed budget where it became crystal clear that the mayor wouldn’t be able to maintain his campaign promise of holding the line on taxes without cutting services, they needed a diversionary tactic. Hey! Look over here! The NFL! Remember? The mayor loves football. Just like you and me.

As cynical as that would be, it’d still beat the mayor and his brother actually believing that having an NFL team in Toronto puts us on the road to world classiness. The simple-mindedness of that is a little too much to bear on a cold Monday morning after a weekend where the Raptors lost their 7th game in a row, the Leafs further mired themselves out of playoff contention and the Blue Jays traded away their center fielder in what was little more than a salary dump. By professional sports franchise standards, Toronto’s sitting on the corner of Shithole & Crack  Alley, smack dab in the middle of Nowhere’s Ville on a rail line that no longer stops here on its way to Classy Town.

abracadabraly submitted by Cityslikr


ExTreme Makeover: New Orleans

November 20, 2010

Its [New Orleans) frauds and farces represent some of American’s worst excesses and affronts. But, day by day, year by year, New Orleans also conjures moments of artistic clarity and urban transcendence that are the best that Americans as a people can hope for. That is, if we who bare witness to them are not too jaded, too spent, too stupid to recognize them for what they are.

— Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), Treme.

I’d hardly think to offer a thoughtful analysis of the city of New Orleans after a quick jaunt there that left me less full of insight than it did life threatening fatty foods and rum induced bleary-eyed incoherence. But its future fate is something anyone interested in urban affairs should watch with keen interest. The dynamics that once made the city a cultural touchstone – race, economics, an international port of call – are currently undergoing highly charged changes that are either necessary for its survival as a vital, forward looking city or nothing short of an ethno-class cleansing. Or do such divisions have to be so starkly drawn?

The worry to some is that, post-Katrina, New Orleans simply becomes a gentrified tourist destination. A Cajun Orlando where the world comes to party like they’re all still college undergrads and watch the inhabitants perform nothing but past glories. Play When the Saints Go Marching In again while I eat a bag of beignets, will you? Museum New Orleans, monument to past glories.

There’s little room for innovation or adaptation within that framework. New Orleans as it was not how it could be. If you’re not part of that (re)vision then there’s no place for you in the new New Orleans. Play music. Wait tables. Deal blackjack. Hail taxicabs. If you don’t want to be part of that, well, there are other cities in other parts of the country that you can move to. Here, the past is the future. Minus, of course, the unsavoury, unpleasant bits.

That’s all too harsh and in no way so black and white. But it is a struggle that we should all be aware of, not just in New Orleans, but wherever we live. How do we embrace those things that made our homes, neighbourhoods, communities livable, vital and, in some cases, great without smothering them or not allowing for new ideas and approaches to help bring about necessary improvements to all our lives? Building on the past instead of plaster casting it and elevating it on a pedestal to be gazed upon but not touched.

Or maybe that’s just the whisky sours talking.

almost soberly submitted by Cityslikr


… We Took A Little Trip…

November 18, 2010

Sure. Like it’s never happened to you.

Sitting in your favourite Cajun watering hole eating establishment, knocking back a few whisky sours hush puppies and blackened chicken livers, talking about how long it’s been since you visited New Orleans.

Fired our guns but the British kep' a-comin'...

Way before Katrina. Maybe even as long as 10 years ago. Quite possibly longer. 1998 rings a bell…

A few more whisky sours piquant shrimp and some corn bread, and the next thing you know, two days have passed and you’re still drinking whisky sours but now at the Maple Leaf Tavern on Oak Street, listening to the regular Tuesday sound of the Rebirth Brass Band. Bourbon makes folks do strange, sometimes fantastical things. Teleportation is not even out of the question.

It is hopping on a Tuesday night here in New Orleans, at least in this particular bar, out near what they call the Riverbend district of town. The same can not be said for the rest of the city. To these very inexpert Big Easy eyes, the place feels quiet. Maybe it’s a pre-Thanksgiving lull with everyone hunkering down for a final work push before the holiday kicks in. But the guy I share a cab back to Canal Street with who went to college here back in the day and is in town visiting for a conference, tells me he’s never seen the city this dead. It’s kind of spooky, he says. And not the good kind of spooky New Orleans is notorious (and loved) for.

The place has been hit hard during the course of the past five years. Hurricane Katrina and governments’ woeful response might’ve been a mortal blow to lesser cities. BP’s gulf oil spill (and another tepid reaction on governments’ part) further sullied the entire region’s reputation. Not to mention the vicious global economic downturn over the past 2 years, as was pointed out to me yesterday on a sunny a.m. in Jackson Square by a really, really drunk local while I stuffed my face full of beinets, oj and coffee. Tourist destinations take it especially hard on the chin when a country’s wallets tighten.

So New Orleans endures. Its inhabitants hang on (Louisiana like much of the Dixie south is not known for having much of a social safety net) and hope that the worst is over. What else can nature or man throw at it? Besides, it is 23-degrees Celsius on this mid-November day. I’m heading over to see if I can find Brennan’s, a restaurant that gives wine suggestions with your choice of breakfast entrées. How could any day that starts out like that turn out badly?

Eventually, however, I will have to figure out if I ever got around to checking myself into a hotel and, if so, where. So far I’ve found nothing on my person that resembles a room key or card. Without that and a corresponding checkout date, I’ll be hard pressed to know when it was I planned on returning home. Despite all the recent adversity visited upon it, there are worse places than New Orleans to be stranded and discombobulated.

gumboly submitted by Cityslikr

 


A Treme View

July 10, 2010

“No TV reviews!” our fearless leader shouted as he headed off for the weekend.

“This is a political blog!” he continued yelling on his way down the stairs. “There’s no place for pop culture on a political blog!” His belief is you can’t do both and do both well. “Just read NOW magazine if you don’t believe me.” (Not an opinion shared by everyone around the office.)

But now he’s gone and left me in charge. It’s kind of like tossing your kid the keys to the liquor cabinet as you leave town for the weekend with the warning, And no drinking. (As if your parents never did that.) I know I shouldn’t but it’s almost like a dare. Besides he can’t ground me although there have been times he’s tried.

While away recently up in the wilderness, I seized the opportunity to watch the entire first season of David Simon’s Treme on my hosts’ extremely large HD TV. I was a huge fan of his earlier masterpiece, The Wire, and probably overstayed my welcome in my drive to watch all 10 episode of his latest effort. But it was worth the risk of not ever getting invited back again. Otherwise I was going to have to wait until the show came out on DVD and would have to impose on someone else who owned a DVD player.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Treme follows a diverse cast of characters (a Simon show trademark), from the upper crust who view the disaster as an opportunity to “reshape” the city down through those who have lost everything but their lives. It is a city at the proverbial crossroads, much of its past washed away — some of it storied, some of it checkered — when the levees broke and facing an uncertain future, caught in a stranglehold of competing visions. The old New Orleans versus the new New Orleans.

I bring this up not to show off my skills as a reviewer, for none do I possess outside of I like it, I like it, I don’t like it (and isn’t one Rob Salem enough, frankly?) It is the politics at work in Treme that I think is interesting and more than a little relevant. Not that I’m in any way trying to equate Toronto’s recent troubles with Hurricane Katrina but there are some interesting parallels.

An outside force beyond the city’s control blows into town and inflicts great damage, both physically and psychologically. In its aftermath, there is a scramble to be the first and loudest to deny responsibility. Victims are criminally mistreated. Those charged to protect and defend, do neither. Once a sense of normalcy returns, there’s the slow realization that nothing’s going to be the same again.

There is a feeling that for those who live in a city, whether its New Orleans or Toronto, events happen in which they have no say. Key decisions that will affect their lives are made without any input asked from them. Cities deal with the consequences and results of actions taken at a distance.

That’s the reality of politics at the municipal level regardless, it seems, where that municipality is. We elect clowns, do-gooders, politicians of the noblest intentions as our local representatives and ultimately it doesn’t matter. They have no role beyond carrying out the marching orders from those who have seized the true levers of power through a historical process that has remained frozen in amber, impervious to the imperatives of change and adaptation.

You’re doin’ a heckava job, Brownie.

A statement of obliviousness and indifference that resonates far beyond the boundaries of Orleans parish.

reviewedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat