You know the difference between someone who’s been around the block a time or two and somebody still standing on the curb, waiting for the light to change so they can cross the street? After a couple key events here in Toronto this week, the second person in the scenario claps their hands together enthusiastically and thinks — really, really thinks — that this could happen in Toronto. The other one, the more grizzled, beaten down fellow? All he’s thinking is that he really needs to figure out a way to move to New York City.
Earlier this week, former New York City transportation commissioner and overseer of, I don’t know, 17,000 miles of new bike lanes in 4 months, Janette Sadik-Khan was in town, giving a couple talks, promoting her new book, Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution. The audience squeed in delight at her tales of transformation throughout North America’s largest city. To paraphrase her rephrasing, “If they can remake it there, we can remake it anywhere.”
Is that so?
At Toronto City Hall, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee laboured through what should’ve been a breezy debate on a proposal to put in a bike lane pilot project along a 2.5 kilometre strip of Bloor Street west. How is that possible, you ask? Let me try explaining it for you with popular cultural references you’re familiar with.
There are city councillors, many holding key positions within the current administration, who are like those puffy old clients Larry Tate brings in for ad man Darrin Stephens to pitch ideas at to sell their products. They look on while smoking, in disbelief at what they view to be the young man’s crazy, magical thinking. (And it just might be because Darrin’s wife, Samantha, is a witch!)
What? Never heard of Bewitched? It was hilarious! Darrin’s mother-in-law, Endora, who disapproved of her daughter’s “mixed-marriage” to a mortal, could never get his name right. Derwood? Dustin. Dustbin? Comedic gold.
Still nothing? OK. Update. Bewitched = Mad Men. Darrin Stephens = Don Draper. Samantha Stephens = Better Draper. Larry Tate = Roger Sterling. Clients = Clients.
The point I’m trying to make here is that we’ve moved from the stale, toxic air of the Ford era to that musty dankness that hits you when you walk into a grandparent’s room to discover they’ve been dead for a couple days. … What do you mean that’s never happened to you? In my day, that was a rite of passage!
Mayor John Tory just doesn’t get it. I don’t think he truly grasps the challenges (and opportunities, don’t forget the opportunities) cities like Toronto are facing and what needs to be done to address them. He says words. He mouths the right sounds. Yet, nothing about his actions indicate he has an understanding or inclination of the way forward. Certainly, nobody he’s appointed to positions of power strike you as agents of change. Not his deputy mayor. Not his budget chief. Not his chair of Public Works.
When Ms. Sadik-Khan joined the Bloomberg administration, the mayor there had a detailed agenda on moving the city into the 21st-century. PlaNYC, it was called.
The document that Mayor Bloomberg and Team Camelot under Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff (pronounced “Plan-Y-C”) was the first real inventory of the city’s collective resources, assets, and deficiencies. It systematically reverse-engineered the city to accommodate expected population growth, amortizing the costs of investments over decades instead of election cycles, and looked at the impact of growth on health, the environment, and quality of life. From 2000 to 2005 alone, New York City’s population grew by 200,000 people.
To address the increase demands on the city, PlaNYC returned to a central theme: density is New York’s destiny, and city planning must leverage that strength to enhance mobility and the quality of city life and avoid sprawl. Successful urban density isn’t simply a matter of tall buildings stacked next to one another. City residents require both space and privacy, green space and open sky, breathing room and room to run. How cities deliver their services must be organized in ways that can be maintained over decades without depleting their coffers or making neighbourhoods and the environment inhospitable.
So, you see why I’m something of a skeptic when it comes to thinking he’s up to the task of transforming Toronto in any positive, 2016 way? After nearly 18 months in office, what issues has he enthusiastically grabbed and run with? Keeping the Gardiner East expressway elevated and expediting road construction. And racoon proof green bins.
Talk about “a change-based urbanism”, as Ms. Sadik-Khan does in Streetfight, and very little of what our mayor is doing right now suggests he gets the concept or, if he does, is at all comfortable with it. He was elected to change the mayor. Changing the city isn’t really part of his constitution.
There was so much excitement around Janette Sadik-Khan’s visit to our city — it seemed to tap into all the anticipation, frustration, and hope that Torontonians hold for the future of our streets. But armed with new copies of her book, Toronto is now ready to win the streetfight.
This is one Claire Nelischer, writing at the Ryerson City Building Institute blog. God bless, Ms. Nelischer, and her clearly young beating heart, full of hope and optimism. Some of Toronto may be ready for a streetfight, some are engaged in it already. Unfortunately, the elected leadership at City Hall is, once more, proving to be on the wrong side of that fight.
— crustily submitted by Cityslikr