Muscular Urban Agenda

February 15, 2011

The success of our cities in Canada is the success of our nation. And as such, it is time for us to embrace a new muscular urban agenda in this country. To allow our cities the resources, the powers and the authorities that they need in order to do the work we must do everyday for the citizens who live within our boundaries…It’s time to talk about cities. It’s time to really talk about how we make sure that cities have the resources they need to provide the services that Canadians need every single day, every single hour of every single day. And it’s time for us to understand that this 3rd order of government, this order of government that doesn’t exist in the Constitution, is actually the order of government that is most important to our citizens’ lives every single day.

~

Toronto does not have a revenue problem. Toronto has a spending problem.

I promised myself I would not compare Calgary’s mayor with ours. I swore I wouldn’t. Crossed my heart, pointed to god… but… it’s… so… hard. Nenshi’s so… articulate …so informed… so positive… Rob Ford… has… kidney stones.

Muscular Urban Agenda!

(Yes. Did it.)

There are two kinds of people, I believe, in both the political and non-political arenas. On one side you’ve got city folk. On the other, let’s call them I-don’t-care-as-long-as-there’s-a-Homesense-and-a-Jack Astors type. It’s not so much about where you live as it is what you think about where you live. You can live in a city and not be a city folk (see Ford, Rob). You can not live in a city and be a city folk although that seems doubtful. City folks tend to live in cities because they like living in cities. Non-city folks live in cities because they have to and don’t spend much time thinking about the whys-and-wherefores of their urban situation.

By most estimates city folks and non-city folks living in cities make up nearly 80% of the Canadian population. In fact, in and around 45% of us live in urban centres with populatons of 500,000 or more and it’s a percentage that isn’t shrinking. Many city folk like Mayor Nenshi think this is a force that needs to be reckoned with, its ranking elevated beyond mere governmental errand boy and coffee fetcher (I said ‘fetcher’) to that of managing partner.

Our former mayor, David Miller, thought along similar lines but by the time the tax revolters and various other non-city folk chased him from office, his demands for fairer treatment at the hands of what we refer to as senior levels of government were dismissed as nothing short of undignified begging. Much was made during the election campaign to replace him of how the city had to stop going cap in hand to the province or the feds, looking for handouts simply because we couldn’t put our financial house in order. Toronto didn’t have a revenue problem, we were told again and again. Toronto had a spending problem.

Oh, but lookee over there. Mayor Nenshi totes the Milleresque sentiments and the well-heeled audience in attendance at the city’s Canadian Club ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and applaud him heartily. The same Canadian Club, incidentally, that couldn’t be bothered to go hear David Miller give a farewell speech in the waning days of his mayoralty. I guess the difference is, Mayor Miller taxed many of the club members. Mayor Nenshi didn’t.

It’s all well and good to clap and cheer the concept of increased resources, powers and authority for municipalities. It’s another thing entirely to willingly subject yourself to them. Increased resources, powers and authority almost always mean the ability to tax and we here in Toronto, given such resources, powers and authority with the City of Toronto Act in 2006, seemed far from willing. In fact, we rewarded those who promised to do the exact opposite with our votes.

Gone, vehicle registration tax and millions of dollars of revenue (i.e. resource, power and authority) with it. Let’s freeze our property taxes while we’re at it. Millions more dollars of resources, powers and authority done away with. Next year, we’re eyeing you Land Transfer Tax.

We can’t demand more responsibility if we refuse to exercise the small amount we’ve already been given. Opting not to use the powers of taxation at your disposal and choosing instead to hack away at the services and infrastructure that elevate a city beyond simply the place you live to the place where you thrive and flourish, that’s not only short-sighted and detrimental, it’s the height of folly and reckless governance. It is the opposite of a muscular urban agenda. It’s flabby anti-urban abuse. True city folk would take no part in that. Nor would they stand by idly and watch it happen.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr


Post Mortem and Analysis

October 28, 2010

On the theory that there is much to talk about re: results of Toronto’s October 25 municipal election, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has assembled its crack team of observers to dissect what happened, why and what’s next. This week, well, we just said. They’ll discuss the outcome of Monday’s election.

Cityslikr (heretoforth, CS): Well, the verdict’s in. Rob Ford won and everyone who didn’t vote for him is to blame. Especially hipster urbanites who never took him seriously and spent the entire campaign mocking, ridiculing and denigrating him and those supporting him. We didn’t get the anger.

Acaphlegmic (heretoforth ACA): Truer words have never been spoken. Which is why I’ve decided to go live amongst them.

CS: What? Live amongst whom?

ACA: There you go, getting all elitist. Whom! Amongst people who say ‘who’ not ‘whom’.

US (heretoforth US): But are still OK with the word ‘amongst’.

CS: What do you mean you’re going to live amongst them?

ACA: We can’t understand a people or empathize with them until we’ve seen through their eyes, walked a mile in their shoes. So I am venturing forth to live amongst them. To observe them. To understand what motivates them. To truly get under their skin in order to grasp their hopes, their dreams.

CS: So you’re like what? Margaret Mead of the inner suburbs?

US: Try Dian Fossey.

ACA: See? That’s just what everyone’s talking about. Mocking. Ridiculing. Denigration.

CS: But I don’t get what you mean, ‘live amongst them’. You going to hang out at the Jack Astors at Sherway Gardens?

ACA: There it is again. The mocking and ridicule. They don’t just shop, you know.

US: Yeah. They have to take regular breaks to fill up their Hummers and SUVs.

ACA: Mock away, my friend, mock away but you better start getting used to the fact that you’re in the minority now and start acting accordingly.

CS: Technically that’s not true. Ford did only get 47% of the vote which is why [turns to look directly into pretend camera] you should support RaBIT, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. To start making every vote count.

ACA: Cling to that little pipe dream all you want, buddy. Me? I’m going to where the real action is. Larry’s garage.

[inserting very prominent … here to signify a monstrously large pause in the conversation. A really big one.]

CS: Who’s Larry?

ACA: Larry. You met him Monday night here, drinking. We got to talking afterwards. His son, Larry Jr., just got married, and he and the wife are moving into the trailer that’s parked in the driveway. So, Larry-pere offered me the garage. You should see this place! It’s not a garage. It’s like a 2nd home. All decked out. Like this 140” plasma screen TV. Ping pong table. Bar. You name it. A sound system like you would not believe! 4 speakers, maybe 8. I don’t know. Speakers all over the place. I have not listened to that much Foghat since… I don’t know… June of ’77, maybe.

CS: And you’re going to live there. In Larry’s garage.

ACA: You betcha! Live there and observe. Eat the food they eat. Play the games they play. Learn what it is that’s important to them. Rob Ford knows. I should too.

US: So you’re embracing your inner mullet?

CS: (to US) And you? No, wait. Let me guess. You’re moving to Calgary.

US: Well, hey. They took a bold step into the future. We fearfully clung onto… some misguided view of the past. Where we paid no taxes and there was no traffic congestion.

CS: Which brings up something that struck me about the election. There’s all this talk about the downtown-suburb divide, the angry car driving, backyard BBQing Ford supporters versus us effete bike riding, latte loving urbanistas. Yet right here, smack dab in the downtown core, we had three open council seats, none of which were filled with what you’d call new, forward thinking, vibrant Nenshites. Ward 19 went stolidly status quo, replacing old time moderate lefty Pantalone with old time moderate lefty Mike Layton, ignoring a much more interesting progressive candidate in Karen Sun. Ward 18 went hardcore centrist Ana Bailão. Ward 17 and Cesar Palacio—

US: Palacio didn’t retire, did he?

CS: Didn’t he? How could you tell? They had this dynamite challenger, Jonah Schein, but went with their tried and true non-entity incumbent relic.

ACA: What’s your point? I gotta cut out soon. There’s some sort of… sporting event everybody’s getting together to watch at Larry’s.

CS: My point is, maybe this city’s not nearly the outpost of progressive politics we downtown elites would like to think it is. We live in this little bubble, dreaming of bike lanes, complete streets and being just like Portland when, in fact, we’re nothing more than another small minded North American burg concerned only with paying as little as we can and getting as much as we want. Rob Ford as our mayor shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not the anomaly. David Miller is. He was the outlier. Ford’s just a regression to the mean.

US: Nice. Regression to the mean. Works on a couple levels, too.

ACA: Blah, blah, blah. You guys just don’t get it! There’s nothing to analyze here. Nothing to deconstruct. People are just pissed off. End of story. Rob Ford gets it because he’s pissed off too. Guaranteed!

CS: No, we get the whole anger bit. What we don’t understand is how Rob Ford is going to help in any way to deal with it. What in his platform will help lessen the anger.

ACA: Wh-wh-wh-what are you talking about? Rob Ford isn’t going to lessen the anger. The last thing he wants to do is assuage the resentment.

US: You might want to curtail the use of words like ‘assuage’ with Larry’s crowd.

ACA: Right. The last thing Rob Ford wants to do is the dumb word for assuage the resentment. Without resentment, he’s just another self-interested politician wrapping his own narrow concerns into a populist package.

US: Exactly. And what are we doing in the face of that? Caving in and taking the blame. We got out-politicked, no question. That’s what we should be examining now not shouldering the blame for the perceived grievances of 47% of the population who refused to engage in an honest discussion about the real problems this city has to deal with. We spent very little time here, writing about Ford’s appearance or operatically sized personal failings. We kept asking, over and over again, how his policies on public transit and cutting spending were going to help address the city’s problems. The response? Wrapping themselves in a cloak of victimhood like pouty teenagers. Stop picking on me. You don’t understand. The guy’s not even sworn into office yet and he’s already backtracking on one big doozey of a campaign nose stretcher about replacing streetcars with buses, claiming he never said that, his opponents said he did. Then he gives a babblingly incoherent radio interview and calls it a smear campaign, so he can withdraw further into the safe cocoon of sympathetic press coverage at the Toronto Sun, National Post and AM talk radio. We’ve seen this movie before, guys. Remember. George W. Bush.

CS: Yep. I think we can now officially stop looking south at the Americans and smugly laughing at who they elect into office. Or their eating habits. Did you see where Canada broke the record for sales of KFC’s Double Down?

ACA: (standing) Are we done here? I really don’t want to miss the first quarter… or half of the… thing.

CS: Godspeed to Larry’s garage. Godspeed us all to a Larry’s garage somewhere.

ACA: I’ll be in touch. Under an alias. Send you my serial exposé of the Ford movement.

CS: Stay safe, Serpico.

(Rolling up his collar, Acaphlegmic skulks from the office.)

CS: So, the battle for hearts and minds has just begun.

US: Fuck that. I’m traveling to the Continent. Rent out my house and follow in the steps of Byron, Shelley, Keats. They want elite? (Pulls out his pipe) I’ll give them elite.

CS: No, don’t. You’ve already set off the smoke detector once.

US: I disconnected it.

CS: It stinks. Don’t.

(Urban Sophisticat puffs away at the pipe, trying to get it to stay lit. Eventually a smoke detector goes off in the distance.)

CS: This is going to be a long 4 years.

submitted by Cityslikr