A Higher Bar

April 20, 2016

Here’s what bugs me about Mayor Tory’s reaction to the proposed Bloor Street bike lane pilot project that’s heading to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee for debate next week? The wet blanket act. getsmygoatYou know, well, if we have to…

The mayor’s not ‘averse to a pilot project’. He’s not excited about it either. He couldn’t be less enthusiastic, if the CityNews video is anything to go by. Instead, he’s using his bully pulpit to dampen any sort of expectations about it.

And suspicious of the whole enterprise? Let’s make sure this “pilot project” isn’t such in name only. Mayor Toy demands that “an honest effort to objectively find out, after you’ve done it, the impact” on all “stakeholders”. These are the words of someone who thinks cycling advocates are trying to pull a fast one on him. Get those plastic bollards go up, they can never be brought down again. It’s a done deal. Game over.

“Big decisions we end up making”, the mayor intones, and we “cannot make them in a cavalier manner or politically correct manner.”

Really?

Says the guy who full-throatedly pushed to keep the Gardiner East expressway elevated, ignoring and even mocking staff opinion that it would be best (suspiciousand least expensive) to tear it down and replace it with an at-grade boulevard. Cavalier, much? Hundreds of millions of dollars, unnecessarily spent to maintain a burdensome piece of legacy infrastructure that will be with us for decades to come. And his eyes narrow at a summertime bike lane pilot project?

Is it any wonder then, one of the bike lane proponents, Councillor Joe Cressy goes on Metro Morning, sounding as if he’s a coach guiding his team into a do-or-die, sudden-death championship game? “If we fail, then we fail with cycling infrastructure throughout the city.” Holy crap! What? The very future of cycling in Toronto, it seems, hinges on the outcome of this bike lane pilot project.

During the interview, Councillor Cressy expressed confidence that, in the end, the Bloor bike lanes would confirm what most every other example of de-emphasizing automobile use around the world has shown. It’s better for business. More people come. More people linger. More people shop. suspiciousIt’s pretty much been the case for 50 years now.

“But we’re not going to trust those studies that have been done,” Councillor Cressy said.

Of course we’re not. Because we’re Toronto, after all. The exception to every and all rules and studies of urbanism. Terra incognita. Unless it’s for cars, the wheel must be re-invented again and again here.

I get, grudgingly, the status quo has home court advantage in these matters. Change is always scary. Can could be for the worse.

But it’s not like this strip of Bloor Street couldn’t do with a little nudge, a little boost of freshness. I’ve lived in the area for years now and I wouldn’t call it vibrant. With a few exceptions, there’s a regular turnover of retail. Walking isn’t terrible but it isn’t particularly pleasant either. You bike through it not to it.

Mayor Tory should be cheerleading for the possibility of a positive transformation of a major piece of public space instead of working the refs to secure the outcome he wants to see. clearthebarIf a reconfigured street works here, why not extend it westward, out towards High Park and beyond, east out along the Danforth? With the exception of the newly spruced up Yorkville segment, from Avenue to Yonge Street (and I’d suggest that ain’t perfect either), most of this run of road could do with a 21st-century makeover.

Unfortunately, given his lukewarm… what’s the opposite of embrace?… of this tiny pilot project, the concept runs contrary to the mayor’s preconceived notions of how a city operates. Mess with cars and drivers, you’re messing with a — if not successful — an established formula. A formula he’s comfortable with, accustomed to.

And as he’s exhibiting over and over again, Mayor Tory is not one who seems at all comfortable operating outside of his comfort zone.

dampeningly submitted by Cityslikr


Can’t Or Won’t?

January 11, 2016

During a budget Twitter discussion last week, Torontoist’s David Hains boiled the process down to 140 characters.

(If you want it in greater detail, I cannot encourage you enough to read his property tax analysis from a couple years ago.)

In essence, for a couple key reasons, the keyest being municipalities, unlike their provinical and federal counterparts, cannot run annual operating deficits. Their books must balance. A dollar amount is chosen — This is what we’re going to spend this year! — and you then walk back to where the money comes from. pickanumberProperty taxes make up a large portion of that revenue, in and around 40% usually, so to get 40% of x dollars, the property tax rate has to be y.

More or less.

For a mayor, their administration or the city council to determine what that property tax rate is going to be ahead of spending projections essentially subverts the process. Mayor Tory’s campaign pledge to keep property tax at or below the rate of inflation, and then claiming a public mandate for that after winning office, is simply saying there’s only going to be this much money regardless of needs or other promises and improvements made. You want something new, a service enhanced, some shiny bauble or other nice-to-have? You have to cut something or somewhere else. mathAn ‘offset’, as they say in order to not state the word ‘cut’.

This is especially true since the mayor and his team are refusing to even discuss other sources of revenue. Aside from selling off assets  like Toronto Hydro and city-owned parking spaces, that is, or increasing user fees or squeezing more pencils and training costs from the city. Today on Metro Morning, the budget chair, Councillor Gary Crawford crowed over the possibility of finding an additional $5 million in savings by an exhaustive line-by-line search through office expenses. $5 million in the face of an identified $67 million shortfall in funding for promises and requests already made by Mayor Tory and city council.

By a pre-emptive determination of what the property tax rate will be, thus fixing 39% of the operating budget in place, Mayor Tory is stating just how much he is willing to spend on the city. gotyourbackThis and only this amount. Any addition must be matched by a subtraction. Or found through efficencies, 10s, 100s of millions of dollars paid for by chump change belt tightening.

Two years ago, John Tory picked an arbitrary number he thought would help get him elected mayor of Toronto. It was a number that represented his political well-being not the well-being of the city he wanted to lead. By refusing to budge (much) from that number, and digging his heels in like his predecessor had, Mayor Tory is showing exactly whose interest he’s really looking out for.

frankly submitted by Cityslikr


2016 Budget Launch

December 16, 2015

So yesterday, led by the new city manager, Peter Wallace, staff delivered its 2016 Preliminary Budget presentation at a special meeting of the Budget Committee. My impressions? lookoverthatwayYou’ll have to find out here at Torontoist. While you’re at it, give a read to Neville Park and Sarah Niedoba and Catherine McIntyre. Rather hear words than read them? Brian Kelcey talks about the 2016 budget with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning.

While city staff seemed to be offering up the opportunity to finally have an adult conversation about the kind of city we want to have, and how we’re going to pay for that, early signs coming from the mayor’s office and the point people on his team are not encouraging. Budget Chair Gary Crawford pushed a paper clip motion at committee to see if they can find enough coins under the cushions at City Hall to pay for various initiatives. “Council can make investments and still keep increases at [the] rate of inflation,” Crawford insisted at a press conference after the budget presentation. No, it can’t. That’s pure budgetary fiction.

Councillor Justin Di Ciano, a member of the budget committee, perhaps summed up this approach best and emptiest when he essentially strung together meaningless words and spun a meaningless anecdote for 2 minutes, absolutely devoid of any substance, and echoing Mayor Tory’s campaign chant of ‘prudence’. These people, the mayor’s people, are zealously determined not to have any sort of serious conversation about the direction the city has to go.

The reality on the ground may have other ideas. Mayor Tory (and other so-called ‘fiscal conservatives’ on city council) may have finally painted themselves into too tight a corner. Things cost money. That money has to come from somewhere. Empty rhetoric has been tapped dry. Big investments and ever shrinking revenue sources simply don’t add up.

Councillor Gord Perks begins the conversation this city needs to start having.

ominously submitted by Cityslikr


The Divine Right To Drive

November 2, 2015

We now return you to our regular scheduled programming…testpattern

With the conclusion of baseball’s post-season last night, it’s back to my normal television viewing pattern which consists of largely of DVRing, Netflixxing and disappointment shaded avoidance. I mean, really? Storage Wars?!

Sports, in general, baseball specifically, is the only time that I spend watching TV in the traditional manner any more. That is, with unfiltered commercial breaks. Sure, I will take to muting them, using them for a bathroom break or to simply stretch my legs. I mean, come on. That first week of October, there were 4 games a day!

Still, baseball broadcasts are when I am really subject to television advertisements, and I can only conclude one thing: televised professional sports exist merely to maintain our automobile industry. carad3How many car ads can they fit into one commercial break? A lot, let’s just say.

And like every other form of advertising, car commercials in no way reflect real life, do not in the least represent any sort of the reality of car ownership. In the ads, a lone automobile contends with the elements of nature. A shiny private vehicle transforms a dreary life into one of white teeth and daring do. A luxurious ride provides escape and calm from the horrors and blight of the modern world.

Your car is different than their car. Your car, in no way, contributes to the grind of your daily commute. Your car is a haven. Your car is not traffic. Their car is.

None of this is a revelation to any of you. Neither is it, I know, at all novel or a new thought. Mark it with a big ol’ shrug and a Well, d’uh.

I bring it up because this morning a group called the Ecofiscal Commission (“Practical solutions for growing prosperity”) released a report calling for a more sensible approach to road pricing in some of Canada’s largest cities. carad2Matt Galloway spoke to one of the report’s authors on Metro Morning today. Matt Elliot took a ride with another one of the authors. In the Globe and Mail, Oliver Moore wrote an article on the report. Tess Kalinowski did the same for the Toronto Star.

In short, we’re talking tolls. We can’t sort out our mobility woes until we start properly charging drivers more fairly for their use of the roads, especially our urban expressways. This is important for any number of reasons, none more so, perhaps, than providing ammunition in the perpetual debate over whether or not drivers already pay more than their share. Gas taxes, and all that. They don’t.

I also bring up the subject of car commercials, the glut of them and their lack of grounding in reality, because one day last week 16 pedestrians were struck down by cars in the GTA. Sixteen! In one day! Ten more than the average daily pedestrian-automobile number of collisions. Six! A day!

The Toronto Police Services responds by announcing a Pedestrian Safety blitz this week, complete with this video:

While we’re told that there’s a 50/50 split in responsibility between drivers and pedestrians for “accidents” that occur between them, this is all about pedestrians taking full responsibility. Be Prepared. Be Seen. Be Safe. “Cross the street as if your life depends on it,” the nice police officer tells us.

Nary a word about drivers driving as if their lives depend on it, as if somebody else’s life depends on it. carad1Why aren’t we instructed to operate our motorized vehicles as if there’s always the possibility that a 4 year-old child could pop out onto the road out of the blue? Why don’t we demand drivers drive to accommodate the most vulnerable of us who they share the road with? Why is it that in 2015 we still behave as if roads are the sole domain of automobiles and the rest of us have to ask nicely and behave properly in order to share the space with them? Even though pedestrians (and cyclists and skateboarders and rollerbladers) pay disproportionately for them?

The most obvious answer to those questions is that that’s just the way it is, the way it’s been for 70 years or so. In the hierarchy of transportation modes, the car is king. Change is slow, the status quo bias strong.

It is a mindset reinforced every time we turn on the TV. carad5With every car commercial we watch, with the freedom of the open road, blowing through our hair, with the high end, Bang & Olufsen sound system blasting out our favourite tuneage, with the rich Corinthian leather (not even a real thing) that cocoons us from the stop and go, years off our lives traffic we find ourselves in every time we get behind the wheel, no report on road pricing is going to convince us to pay more for our right to drive our cars, to persuade us to share the roads more equitably, to assuage our unrelenting and misplaced rage at being stuck behind a streetcar. Television promises drivers unfettered access anywhere and everywhere they want to go, no money down, don’t pay until next year.

Reason and rational thought have nothing to do with it. Driving is a singular experience. Normal rules don’t apply.

rationally submitted by Cityslikr


Standing Strong For The Status Quo

September 28, 2015

There are days when my rational and sane side win out, when my contempt and general misanthropy wane, taking a back seat and making me, I think, a moderately agreeable person. It rarely occurs without a battle. sunnydispositiononarainydayI don’t enjoy taking the dim view but whoever said that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile couldn’t have been fully on top of either human psychology or physiology.

Reasonable me wants to believe Mayor John Tory is more concerned, is more of an advocate for addressing Toronto’s affordable housing crisis (as part of a broader anti-poverty strategy) than was his predecessor, Rob Ford. That should be a no-brainer, right? I mean, no sooner had Ford assumed the mayor’s office than he started making noise about selling off Toronto Community Housing stock and letting the private sector deal with the mess. There were few social programs he didn’t deem to be akin to thug hugging.

Mayor Tory, on the other hand, has handpicked Councillor Pam McConnell to devise a poverty reduction strategy. Earlier this year he appointed Senator Art Eggleton to oversee the functioning of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and recommend ways to make it work better. Councillor Ana Bailão continues to focus on ways to deal with the Mount Everest backlog of TCHC state of good repairs. lookbusy1Just last week, the mayor pressed the ReSet button on an initiative to streamline the manner TCHC goes about fixing its housing stock.

So yeah, sane and rational me prevails, seeing Mayor Tory as a step in the right direction on the poverty and affordable housing fronts after the Ford years. Check that It Could Be Worse box.

But here comes disagreeable me to demand that it’d be really great to see the mayor speak and act as passionately and as often about poverty and affordable housing as he does on road repairs and car congestion. He’s pushing a $350 million agenda item at city council meeting this week to expedite work on the Gardiner expressway, reducing the construction timeline down 8 years, from 20 to 12. Just today, the mayor was defending an extra $3.4 million spent on a section of the Gardiner to shorten the repair completion date a few months.

Watch Mayor Tory vigorously champion the $350 million Gardiner rehabilitation expenditure at last week’s Executive Committee meeting on economic grounds (right near the end of the clip).

There is no mountain the mayor does not seem willing to move, no amount of money he will not spend to free drivers of congested traffic. Poverty and affordable housing? He’ll appoint people to make reports. He’ll tweak procurement practices. He’ll press senior levels of government to do their part.

That’s a whole lot better than showing up at buildings and handing out $20 bills but it’s hardly enough. It’s all well and good. It’s not Gardiner expressway rehabilitation level good, though.

This is where the sunny disposition, sane and rational me loses the upper hand on this discussion. No amount of reports or fiddling with the system is going to seriously address the problems at TCHC. Neither will they do much in dealing with poverty in Toronto, and the rise of David Hulchanski’s 3 cities within this city. Tblahblahblahhese are long simmering problems abandoned in any serious way by all 3 levels of governments for the better part of a generation now.

And Mayor Tory’s go-to move on the files? Not dissimilar from Rob Ford’s when he was mayor. Ask/cajole/plead with/shame the provincial and federal governments to pitch in and do their part. Try, and try again. Only this time, it’ll be different because… because… because… ?

Is this the face of a provincial government that looks as if it’s willing to open up its coffers to a municipal ask/demand from Toronto?

The Ontario government is trying to squeeze millions of dollars out of the City of Toronto by appealing the property-tax assessments on several provincial properties – including the Legislature Building at Queen’s Park and the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance.

During the Executive Committee debate over the Gardiner expressway rehabilitation item, it was pointed out that in order to access federal government infrastructure money the project had to use a P3 process. Sure, you can have some money. But always with strings attached. Always.

Mayor Tory hopes to tap into some of that federal infrastructure cash to help with the $2.6 billion repair backlog at TCHC. Another wish that comes, presumably, with strings attached. If we’re lucky.

This is where I can fight off the contempt and discontent no longer. Our mayor seems unprepared, unwilling or unable to challenge this status quo. He talks and talks and talks around it, expresses occasional dissatisfaction with it but in the end, he bows down before it. fingerscrossedWith an eye on the polls, acting on those things which churn with possible voter anger and ballot retribution, he prioritizes his agenda accordingly. Thus, we find ourselves flush with $350 million to speed up repairs on the Gardiner but improvements to living conditions at the TCHC remain dependent on successful asks from senior levels of government.

The poors and their poverty aren’t traditionally big vote getters. That’s simply the undeniable status quo. Mayor Tory isn’t big on challenging the status quo.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


A Catalyst For Real Change

September 18, 2015

This will be the last thing I say about the 2024 Olympic bid, now non-bid.

Honest.crossmyheart

I’m as tired of it as you are.

Honest.

On Tuesday, prior to Mayor Tory officially confirming what everyone unofficially already knew, Matt Galloway hosted a segment on Metro Morning with two opposing views on the city-building merits of hosting the Olympic games. Supporting the idea was Rahul Bhardwaj, CEO and President of Toronto Foundation, an organization promoting “the Art of Wise Giving” and connecting “philanthropy to community needs and opportunities” (according to the group’s website). He was also the VP of Toronto’s last Olympic bid, back in 2008.

I’ve seen Mr. Bhardwaj talk at a couple of events over the past few years, heard him interviewed on the radio. He always struck me as somebody I’d like to see in public office. impressedThoughtful, enthusiastic, articulate, a welcome addition to any legislative body, in my humble opinion.

So I listened intently to his arguments about what hosting the Olympics could do for Toronto. Since it was pretty clear that wouldn’t be happening this time around, no looming deadline hanging over the discussion, it didn’t feel all so loaded and contentious. Now, with years of planning ahead at our disposal, was the time to have this conversation.

He sang a familiar refrain. Hosting the Olympics would act as a “catalyst for the things this city needs,” he told Galloway. The Olympics presented “an opportunity to focus scare resources” at all levels of government on building things like transit and other infrastructure, affordable housing, create jobs.

“World class cities, that’s what they do,” he said. Yeah. He went there.

“We all have to take risks. We all have to innovate.” Failure to do so spoke “to a lack of confidence”, ambition even. spielTo not bid on the Olympics represented a “missed opportunity,” according to Bhardwaj.

Aside from the ‘world class city’, lack of confidence nonsense, I found fault with little Mr. Bhardwaj said. Toronto certainly has a long list of need-to-haves in terms of both physical and social infrastructure. It doesn’t have the means to pay for them itself nor should it have to. The other levels of government, the senior levels of government have proven loath to contribute to any or all of these items fully or regularly. Offering up an opportunity to do so in a manner that allows them to be both self-aggrandizing while appearing to be province/nation building rather than specific city building might just be the ticket.

Risky, for sure, as all sorts of things have to fall into place for any sort of Olympic bid to succeed. Innovative though? I guess, if that means depending on a magic bullet solution that’s shown mixed results in other places that have hosted the Olympics. As Mr. Bhardwaj’s co-guest on the show, Dean Rivando, claimed, the 2012 games in London brought $7 billion in infrastructure with a $14 billion price tag in public money spent. vantageThat’s a pretty hefty middleman sum.

“Why do we need a circus like that [the Olympics] to build the things that we need in Toronto?” Galloway asked Bhardwaj.

Answering that question satisfactorily would be something truly innovative. City-builders like Rahul Bhardwaj should spend some of their city-building energy addressing the asymmetric governance structure which sees us funnelling most of our money the furthest away from where we need it and have it trickling back when it suits the federal and provincial governments’ interests. We’re like children who cut the neighbours’ lawns for extra cash in order to pay rent to our parents, and still have to beg them for an allowance, and when they give it to us, we’re told we have to use it to go buy them a pack of smokes. (Yeah, I’m of that vantage. Pun not typo.)

Bad analogies aside, we need innovative city leaders who don’t simply accept the status quo. I do not believe you can be an effective and useful city builder anymore unless at least some of your respective connections and social capital are utilised in the direction of confronting and combating the fundamental lack of fairness in how our governance model functions. puppetmasterWe have to figure out how, in the 21st-century, we shed our 19th-century skin.

By hosting the Olympics, Bhardwaj told Metro Morning listeners on Tuesday, “We can actually build a vision of this city.”

How about dedicating our efforts to building a city that isn’t dependent on other levels of government to do things it needs to do, a city that doesn’t have to beg and perform a song and dance in the hopes of propping up our crumbling infrastructure or housing its residents affordably or move them around from point A to point B quickly and efficiently? A vision of an independent city that makes the right decisions for the right reasons rather than because it has little alternative. That’s the vision of Toronto I’d like to see us pursuing.

for realzly submitted by Cityslikr


The Mayor Declares

September 15, 2015

It looks like now very few of us will ever learn why it was Mayor John Tory caught himself a case of Olympic fever and, for the last month or so, tried to spread the contagion city-wide. torontosignHolding a curious press conference on the roof of snack bar in Nathan Phillips Square (to afford a better camera angle on the PanAm/ParaPan Toronto sign, I guess) to announce his intention not to submit a commitment to bid letter for the 2024 summer games, the mayor cited most of the same reasons those opposing a possible bid had been trotting out since the idea popped up in the wake of the above mentioned PanAm/ParaPan games. Too short a time line to put together a proper bid. No committee in place to do so. A lack of support from the private sector, and by support, I mean money.

One reason he didn’t mention that I think should be pointed out here is the soft public support for a bid. Perhaps the veil of secrecy that surrounded the mayor’s consultative process during the last few weeks dampened any sort of chance at a last minute surge in pro-bid momentum. Who exactly was he talking to? puttingoutthefireWhile he claimed he’d been in conversation with, among other stakeholders, his council colleagues, Anthony Perruzza might beg to differ. In fact, he did just that yesterday on Metro Morning. The hush-hush, behind closed doors approach the mayor engaged in leading up to this decision generated more suspicion than enthusiasm.

Why Mayor Tory took to the podium to make this negative announcement remains something of a mystery to me. Wouldn’t a simple press release have sufficed, given he was saying no? I guess having beaten the bushes to scare up some semblance of interest in hosting the Olympics, words on page might’ve seemed like the coward’s way out. Nope. Step up. Claim the decision as your own.

Which, arguably, has been something of the intent and optics of all this from the outset. The mayor as the authoritative voice, the buck stops with him guy. City council as merely an afterthought, a rubber stamp on mayoral decisions.

None of this is true but you wouldn’t know that from how the entire will he-or-won’t he bid on the Olympics played out. bigcheese1Mayor Tory’s face was all over the push, his words treated as official statements. He brushed aside calls for a special meeting to ensure full council input into the decision, to make the ultimate decision which it inevitably had to do to go forward. This was his decision, the mayor wanted you to think, his alone to make.

Today’s press conference was also an opportunity for Mayor Tory to show everybody he was not rash. He was reasonable, prudent and whatever else he wants you to think he is that isn’t rash. And all that stuff he told you we needed the Olympics for in order to build? Transit and other major infrastructure needs. Affordable housing. Poverty reduction. Yeah well, not necessarily. The other levels of government need to get onboard, helping out with that. Toronto is the country’s biggest city, an important economic engine. When Toronto thrives, the country thrives.

Exactly where we were before all this talk of an Olympic bid to spur senior government action on such vital municipal issues. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess. Hey. It was worth a shot. Except that it wasn’t, as it turns out, as Mayor Tory announced today.startfinish

During the press conference, Mayor Tory took a not so subtle swipe at the previous administration, stating an Olympic bid was no ferris wheel. He was no Doug Ford, impetuously redesigning a decade’s worth of planning on the waterfront, with elaborate renderings of amusement park rides and monorails. No, if you’re going to indulge in spectacle, go big. How about an 80,000 seat stadium on the waterfront! Now that would garner us some serious infrastructure. It would have to, right?

So Mayor Tory gets applauded today for his wise and pragmatic decision not to pursue a course of action he himself had encouraged and championed for the entire last part of the summer. Not only encouraged and championed but fluffed with his talk of the September 15th deadline being simply a letter of interest in possibly bidding when, in fact, as he admitted at the podium today, it was a commitment to bid. slowclapI guess it took him all this time to finally get around to reading the not so fine print in the IOC’s bid process documents.

Oh well. It could’ve been worse. The mayor could’ve made the wrong decision today. A decision city council would’ve had to clean up afterwards.

That, I think, earns him a slow clap for prudently and reasonably making a decision on a bid for the 2024 Olympics that was never his to make in the first place and shouldn’t even have been entertained at this late stage in the game.

Well done.

decisively submitted by Cityslikr