A Blatant Disregard

The plan, before taking down the ‘Goes Hollywood’ banner, was to write up some sort of insightful synopsis of this past winter spent in Los Angeles and the U.S. southwest. Aspringdancelmost 3 months spent blithely paying little to no heed to the weather, aside from constantly thinking, It’s quite nice out today, isn’t it? Oh! Look! Flowers!

There was going to be more edge to it, of course. Hopefully, with some depth of perception and originality, touching upon something that no one had ever noticed or written about Los Angeles before. Warren Zevon would figure prominently in the post.

But, as happens, actual, real time events, in the here and now, put scupper to my intentions. Los Angeles and Warren Zevon would have to wait. There were more immediate, pressing matters to expound upon.

I will say this, though, about Los Angeles. Despite enormous strides in the last 20 years to get out from under the deadweight of automobile dependency, it is still a car town. Far and away, from almost anywhere in the city, if you have the means, it is easier and faster to get to where you’re going and back, driving. lafreeway2Regardless of all those photographs showing unremitting gridlock, freeways jammed as far as the eye can see, carmageddon, day in and day out, you’ll still arrive at your destination sooner in your car than any other form of transport.

While this is true also for many parts of Toronto and the GTA region, it felt, at least to this downtowner’s mind, that we weren’t as far gone down that path road of car-centricity as a place like L.A. The incline wasn’t going to be as steep a climb to pull our collective selves back up and out from under it. Despite the eruptions of exuberant transportation irrationality like we have witnessed recently, sanity on the file didn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility. Enough smart people with enough decision-making clout knew what had to be done. The only question was how to best go about doing it.

And then came black freaky Friday, and frankly, all bets are off.

Ontario is widening the four-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 from Hurontario Street to the Credit River in Mississauga from six to 12 lanes.

What in the holy hell?! Widening a fucking highway!? From 6 to 12 lanes?!?! In the GTA!?!?! Who’s authorized this??

From the Office of the Premier.

Of Ontario, I presume. Not the premier of Fuckity Fuck Fuck Stan. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s gobsmacked babble.)

Unbelievable.

You don’t increase road space to relieve congestion. hahahanoYou increase road space to give the impression you’re relieving congestion. That’s just basic transportation planning 101. Unless you’re Wendell Cox or Randal O’Toole. Or, unless it’s 1954. (Or the governor of Illinois, it seems.)

This is so wrong-headed and standing in defiance of every smart growth, green belt measure that this government is purported to support, it defies comprehension. Think that’s just me, some anti-car zealot railing? Listen to the mayor of Houston, something of a sprawl town itself, give a speech to the Texas Transportation Commission.

 If there’s one message that I’d like to convey, it’s that we’re seeing clear evidence that the transportation strategies that the Houston region has looked to in the past are increasingly inadequate to sustain regional growth.

This example [Katy freeway, Interstate 10] , and many others in Houston and around the state, have clearly demonstrated that the traditional strategy of adding capacity, especially single occupant vehicle capacity on the periphery of our urban areas, exacerbates urban congestion problems. These types of projects are not creating the kind of vibrant, economically strong cities that we all desire.

The Katy freeway (as explained here in Streetsblog), “A Monument To Texas Transportation Futility”, was expanded from 8 lanes to a staggering 23 – 23 lanes! – with a result, seemingly, to be increased car travel times along it. katyAlmost immediately. Let me italicise that for you. Increased car travel times.

This should come as no surprise to anyone. Provide more road space, more people will use it to drive. Rinse and repeat.

Last Thursday, I attended the Students Retrofit the Suburbs event where planning students from Ryerson’s City Building Institute presented, well, plans for 3 spots in the suburban areas in and around Toronto that had been ravaged by the single-use built form design footprint used to accommodate car use, and car use only. One of the panelists asked them how they would deal with the community pushback and resistance that inevitably crops up when fundamental change is proposed in their neighbourhoods. Good question.

An even bigger one, however, is how to deal with political intransigence in the face of necessary change. A knowing, willful disregard for hard truths and expert advice from our elected officials who should be showing leadership, and making decisions about the future rather than simply trying to maintain the past. notlisteningDon’t think that’s the case? Then why did the premier’s office try and slip this news by everyone with a Friday morning announcement?

They knew. They know. They just don’t care about anything except for the long term health of their party.

When the press release surfaced, our friend John McGrath tweeted, “24 lane-kilometres of highway and the government just pays for it, no muss no fuss. 26 lane-klilometres of LRT along Sheppard East? haha no.” We are all familiar with the torturous pace and process of building transit in the GTA. The drawing and redrawing and drawing again of lines on maps, accompanied, of course, by the game of pass the buck when it comes to who pays for it. But when it comes to building roads? Everybody can’t open the public purse quick enough to throw money around without so much as a second thought. $81 million on this particular project.

The kicker is, the Liberal government is the urban party at Queen’s Park right now. That’s how they patched together another majority in 2014. The city vote. They’ll get no fight from the opposition on this. yougetacarJust like they got no fight from them on the Subway Champions banner the Liberals waved during the by and general elections in Scarborough. As long as highways are widened, road capacity is added, infrastructure money thrown around in their neck of the woods, everyone will agree that widening highways is a proper and wise use of scarce public dollars.

Facts be damned. Reality get stuffed.

That’s not governance. It’s pure and utter negligence.

unhappy returningly submitted by Cityslikr

Democracy By The Square Foot

As summer cools and fall looms, the options report for Toronto’s ward boundary review begins to sink into focus. (I’ve written – dare I say it? – voluminously about it . Most recently here.) wardboundaryreviewoptionsreportJust now, I am struck by a thought.

Should city council be the ultimate decider on this? How wards get reconfigured may have, will have, a direct impact on more than a few sitting councillors. It’s difficult not to see something of a conflict of interest inherent in this process.

It’s a horse that’s already left the barn, obviously, but you can see the optics of even the most well-meaning councillor being called into question, read it in the comments section of any news story about the issue. No politician will decide to get rid of their own job! Less pigs at the trough not more! The Jays are going to fold just like they usually do! Oh, yeah. And I hate politicians!!

Such a specter of negative public perception will most definitely hang over the proceedings. The consulting group responsible for conducting the public meetings, writing the reports and making the recommendations have taken the two most contentious and illusorily logical options off the table. Simply cutting the ward numbers in half elicited little, if loud, public support. thumbthescaleAligning ward boundaries with the new federal ridings failed to address the voter disparity, the democratic deficit that served as the ultimate reason for reworking our ward boundaries.

This doesn’t mean city council can’t revive them. Staff and expert reports are rarely treated as sacrosanct especially if they get in the way of politics. It would be naïve of anyone to think politics won’t play a part, a significant part, in this when all is said and done.

One political angle has already emerged. It emerged early on in the first round of public consultations and popped back up in a CBC article a couple days ago. “Residents of towers [high rise apartments and condo buildings, I guess] rarely interact with their councillor,” Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre councillor John Campbell said. apartmenttower“Most interaction we have I would say are residents calling about property issues. They are homeowners.”

Homeowners. Property issues.

In response on the Twitter, John McGrath made a very interesting and telling point. “Almost everywhere, municipal government is about and for single-family homeowners, with everyone else shoehorned in where necessary.” Councillor Campell’s mistake was just saying out loud what is true but nobody wants to talk about.

Homeowners. Taxpayers. Hardworking taxpayers.

In response to my rather pointed, shall we say, social media queries at the councillor about his comment, he informed me that in Ward 4 there are 14,000 homes versus 6,000 apartments, roughly a 70:30 ratio. densityandsprawlYet his office only gets 5% of calls from apartment/condo residents requiring work of some sort from him. Thus, to his mind, “equal distribution [of residents/ward] will not provide equitable representation.”

Setting aside the fact that on the city’s website, the Ward 4 profile (according to the 2011 census) has it that just under 47% of households are technically considered “apartment buildings”, a significantly different ratio than the councillor stated, Councillor Campbell seems to be equating representation at City Hall with how much work he is called upon to do for a resident. Homeowners demand more. So homeowners’ votes should count for more.

Or something.

Perhaps a more generous interpretation would be that, in Councillor Campbell’s view, an uneven distribution of residents per ward is warranted since different built forms demand different levels of work for councillors. If your ward is dominated by apartment towers, full of residents making fewer demands because, apparently,towers apartment dwellers are more content than those forced to mow their own lawns and shovel their own sidewalks, that councillor can not serve more of them.

“Capacity to represent” is certainly one of the considerations being factored in to the ward boundary equation but should hardly be the sole determinant in calculating full “effective representation” the report is striving toward. It’s the customer service aspect of serving as a city councillor, the crowd pleaser. Surely, there’s more to the job of being a city councillor than completing work orders, isn’t there?

If some of Toronto’s residents aren’t engaged with City Hall, maybe it’s because they haven’t figured out they can or why they should even bother. Shouldn’t at least one aspect of this “capacity to represent” be about proactive engagement by our local representatives? suburbs50sIf Councillor Campbell is only hearing from a very small section of Ward 4 residents living in apartment buildings, maybe he ought to wonder why rather than conclude, It’s all good.

As difficult as it might be to believe, given the last 5 years or so around these parts, civic engagement isn’t only about airing out our grievances. There should be a much more positive exchange. Of ideas and opinions rather than just complaints.

There’s also a bigger political question at play here. While certainly Toronto’s population and development growth isn’t concentrated just in the older legacy part of the city, people are moving in and moving on up in the southern part of Etobicoke, along the lake just under Ward 4, as well us up north in Willowdale and the northeastern part of Scarborough, there can be little denying that a critical mass are heading to a few wards right smack dab downtown. More people could translate into more wards in that area. shutthedoorIt would stand to reason and only be fair if we have even a passing interest in “voter parity” or the old rep-by-pop saw.

Such a demographic and democratic shift could well threaten to upset the ruling coalition of suburban council votes that has been a mainstay in Toronto since amalgamation, and even under the previous Metro form of governance when the population had migrated from the core of the city. Power shifts to where the people are, and I’m not just talking geographically. The reign of traditional ‘homeowners’, as Councillor Campbell defines them, detached, single-family houses, living the Cleaver lifestyle, is under threat. There’s no room anymore in Toronto. What there is now is all there will ever be.

In order to resist such change councillors like John Campbell, and Scarborough throwback, Jim Karygiannis who voiced similar flippant disregard during the first round of public meetings for those deemed not to be real homeowners, will have to work to diminish non-homeowners’ status as residents of this city. viewPeople living in apartments and condo towers have their own building management at their beck and call, the local councillor from Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt opined. Granting them equal representation at City Hall would be just unfair.

Democracy by the square foot, in other words. Nothing new, of course. But we need to call it what it is.

size mattersly submitted by Cityslikr

Shame On Us

“There are two kinds of statistics. The kind you look up and the kind you make up,” read city councillor, Michelle Berardinetti, during a press conference co-conducted yesterday with the city’s budget chief, Gary Crawford, to advocate for Mayor John Tory’s “hybrid” plan for the Gardiner east.sellingfear

The statement was made during a melange of words being said where the councillor contended that maintaining the elevated expressway was the best course of action, environmentally-wise, to battle carbon emissions. Idling cars, stuck all up in traffic created by the removal of the 1.7 kilometre eastern most stretch of the Gardiner, spewing their noxious fumes into the air. Don’t believe Councillor Berardinetti? Just look it up.

If you did, you’d discover that, according to a city staff report, replacing the elevated bit of the expressway with an at-grade 6 lane roadway would actually reduce carbon emissions by 12% over keeping things pretty much as they are now. So, kind of the exact opposite of the councillor’s assertion. But hey. She did warn us. Some stats you just make up.

Once more, we are left with the question that overhangs almost every one of the Tory administration’s decisions. Why? oppositeWhat are they thinking? What’s the end game here?

The stridency with which the mayor has pursued his preferred option on the Gardiner question, full as it is with obfuscation and blatant dishonesty, remains startling. In the face of mounting evidence against it and very, very soft support for it, he has chosen to side with the likes of the Canadian Automobile Association and its campaign of misinformation. When allies and friends publicly advise him to go in another direction, Mayor Tory brushes them aside. “I have to stand here in 2015 as the Mayor of Toronto.”

I know better.

Sound familiar?

Obstinancy and willful disregard of information that runs contrary to your opinions doesn’t always come dressed up in an ill-fitting suit with the smell of booze on its breath. notlisteningThat kind of small-mindedness gets easy to work around. With this mayor, it’s far more difficult. You think, but he seems so reasonable.

And believe me, Mayor Tory really wants you to think that. He tells us that’s the case every chance he gets. Sensible. Reasonable. Practical. He’s read stuff. Lots of stuff. He has an informed opinion that should be treated equally to that of the professionals who are standing in opposition to him. Let’s just disagree to disagree, shall we. Respectfully. Mayor Tory’s got a city to run.

Because his predecessor took such obvious pride in his anti-intellectual, going with the gut instincts, it was easy to dismiss him. Confronted with someone who assures us he’s put a lot of thought into issues and policy – he’s up early every morning, reading a stack of reports, in case you’ve forgotten – we pause, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt. He does seem… How did he put it again? Sensible. Reasonable. Practical. Maybe there’s some merit in what he’s telling us.falseadvertising

If there was merit, Mayor Tory and his surrogates on council wouldn’t be resorting to what Councillor Berardinetti called ‘made up statistics’ and outright fabrications. “Reminder that objectively good policy ideas generally don’t need lots and lots of lies told about them.” The Globe and Mail’s Transportation reporter, Oliver Moore, pointed out that a claim being made by the pro-elevated expressway group, Don’t Cut Me Off, was “simply not true.” In [the] Gardiner East debate,” the Torontoist’s co-editor David Hains wrote, “one side is consistently disingenuous or wrong.”

That’s the side Mayor Tory insists on standing with. Toronto’s just endured 4 years of that kind of obdurate truculence and disregard of sound counsel and best practices. John Tory was supposed to be different. He heralded a return to reasonable, sound, boring governance. Too many of us bought it.

Fool me once…

shamefully submitted by Cityslikr