Spirit Of The Night

It was disheartening to hear of the two stabbing incidents that marred this weekend’s Nuit Blanche outburst of civic engagement. crashcarsThe most obvious reason is for the grief and pain such lethal altercations inflict on those involved both directly and indirectly. But it also cast a pall on the kind of self-controlled crowd control I witnessed during the festivities.

It was around midnight or so. We stopped to take in the installations at Nathan Phillips Square along the way, in particular Alain Declercq’s Crash Cars, two driverless cars going in figure 8 loops in the square’s empty wading pool (or de-iced skating rink, if that’s how your prefer to look at it). It was quite mesmerizing and a sizeable crowd had gathered around the cordoned off area.

Of course, the draw proved too enticing for some to pass up and folks started hopping the rails to make their way across the exhibit to the other side where they disappeared back into the crowd. blowoutofproportionIt was very orderly, one at a time, as most danced, hopped, twirled their way across the space, cheered on by the crowd. If anyone ventured too near the cars, they were programmed to shut off and stop running. No harm, no foul.

It could even be argued that it enhanced the exhibit with this harmless interactive participation.

Unfortunately, security didn’t see it that way. Each subsequent public appearance was treated as some sort of intrusion by an enemy combatant, chased down doggedly. Rather than just gently encourage people to be on their way and let the thing die out of its own accord, it became some sort of intense cat-and-mouse game. Almost a dare for people to make it safely across to the other side.

Then there was this one guy. Yes, there’s always just the one guy. He was about the third or fourth person to pop out and he tried to place an empty bottle on one of the cars. In the scurry/scuttle to get away, it crashed to the ground and broke. Not a catastrophic turn of events but it seemed to make the security detail especially determined to bring down this one.

Which it did, excessively, beyond any necessary force for such a minor infraction.scorchedearth

How have we arrived at such a point where the only response to perceived public transgressions is disproportionate violence? Regardless of how slight a breach might be, those in the roles of maintaining order and public peace serve as agents of escalation. Their interaction with those they are purportedly meant to protect is done with a heavy hand and not a light touch.

We’ve seen it our police in reaction to the G20 protests and more recently Sammy Yatim. But on this occasion, we’re talking yellow jacketed, unarmed security guards, I guess you’d call them. Actively inflaming a situation which, had it further boiled over, they’d have no ability to contain.

And for a moment it certainly looked as if that’s exactly what was going to happen. After the one gentlemen they’d actually got their hands on was aggressively subdued, thrown to the ground, roughed up and handcuffed, the crowd got a little surly. Some of the metal barricades were kicked over, there was a general surge that pressed forward. Lots of heated exchanges between people and security, demands that the man be let go. takethehighroadThings were very close to descending into an outright melee.

But it didn’t go that way.

It wasn’t because a squadron of police appeared, on horseback, wielding batons and pepper spray. I didn’t see one police officer while I was there. I’d like to think that the crowd’s better angels won out, gently backing away from further confrontation. It’s a lesson that those whose job it is to keep the peace would do very well to learn.

peacefully submitted by Cityslikr

Resist The Darkness

Sitting here in the quiet of the office, the Goldberg Variations playing soothingly, at least in part to help drown out the snoring of Acaphlegmic who’s crashed on the couch having just returned from what he thinks was last night’s Nuit Blanche. Who knows what passed as art to him on his peregrination throughout the city.

There is a truly autumnal feel outside today and a kind of grayness fills the sky that crushes any last hope we might have still been harbouring that summer is not yet over. The peaches I bought yesterday aren’t nearly as sweet as the apples were. This means it’s now time to get back to business, nose to the grindstone, flip-flops replaced by wingtips.

Conventional wisdom had it that once Labour Day was past us, the serious campaigning for City Hall would begin with people setting aside their Harlequin romances and picking up a newspaper. We’d see a determined focus descend upon the proceedings; all ant and no grasshopper. It’s go-time, laggards. No more messing about. We have a mayor to choose.

Maybe because we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been at it since the very beginning, way back on January 4th, but we’re just not feeling it. There’s no palpable sense of excitement or anticipation in the air. It’s much more like, dread and resignation. “Holy fuck. Do we really have to do this?”

The exception, of course, is over at the Rob Ford camp. They seem absolutely juiced about getting their guy elected mayor so that he can finally mete out some long overdue justice against all us downtown elite, tax and spenders. Yeah, it’s our turn, baby! You’re going to feel our rage. Positively negative, in other words. Building a brighter future through petty short-sightedness.

I’m sure there are those working for the other 3 “major” candidates who are just as passionate about their respective standard bearer but, frankly, at this stage it looks more defensive than anything. It’s in reaction to the Ford surge rather than proactive. Despite the glaring shortcomings of the front runner, neither Smitherman, Pantalone nor Rossi have been able to convince enough voters that they’ve got the goods to not only prevent a Ford win on October 25th but also ably lead this city in these trying times.

Leaving those of us still luxuriating on the gravy train with the dismal prospect of voting against someone not for them. There’s nothing upbeat or invigorating about that. It certainly doesn’t prime our pumps as we gaze anxiously into the future. At this point, things look as dreary as it does out our windows today. Damp. Dark. Dismal.

It’s also discordant (to continue my alliterative string). As we prep our plans to participate (can’t seem to help myself) in the actual Nuit Blanche, the energy and verve that will be out on the streets tonight runs contrary to everything we’re hearing from the front running mayoral candidates, save Joe Pantalone. Toronto is a city that feels like it just might finally be growing comfortable into its skin. Problems? Unquestionably. But I hazard a guess that they’re problems most cities around the world wish they only had.

So between now and election day, we need to take a moment to seriously consider whether we really want to vote for someone — under any circumstances – who thinks otherwise.

undisheartedly submitted by Cityslikr

Life On The Streets

Off the top of my head, this weekend saw the following list of events in, on and around the streets of Toronto: the Waterfront Marathon, Word on the Street, PS Kensington, a grand opening at the Evergreen Brickworks, Harvest Day at the Toronto Botanical Gardens, the last weekend home stand for the 2010 Blue Jays. And that’s just off the top of my head. Next weekend comes Nuit Blanche and Picnic at the Brickworks. That’s before I put any thought into it whatsoever.

City’s that are in the kind of dire, downward spiral shape as Toronto’s being depicted by four of its mayoral candidates seldom display the vibrancy on show this past weekend. They’re usually too busy dealing with matters of urban decay to put on a host of festivities. Or maybe Toronto’s simply whistling past the graveyard; playing and cavorting while the city burns. Rather than expend its energy and precious resources making whoopee, it should be concentrating on fixing the basics like streetlights and potholes. That whole Rudy Giuliani Broken Windows approach to city building.

False dichotomy aside, the question begs to be asked. When was the last time you came home from a place you’d never been before and that really caught your fancy, and the impression it made most on you was, the street surfaces were impeccable? That’s not to say infrastructure maintenance is unimportant. It’s just not the difference between merely a livable city and one that is exceptional.

In an interview last week, architect and author (Cities For People), Jan Gehl said, “The number one attraction in any city isn’t the buildings, the parks, the sculptures or the statues. It’s people.” What we witnessed and took part in here over the past weekend was gatherings of people. Thousands and thousands of people running, mingling with authors, drinking overpriced beer and eating overpriced pulled pork sandwiches. Together. We congregated at various locations throughout the city not only to enjoy the events but to be a part of them with others. That’s what happens in dynamic, lively cities.

So when Rob Ford pronounces that events like the Waterfront marathon should be moved from the streets and into parks for the sake of relieving traffic congestion, he displays a staggering, life-killing amount of ignorance about what makes cities actually work. Never mind that he seems preeningly boastful about not even knowing that the marathon was happening on Sunday – a suggestion to Councillor Ford? Maybe if you used some of your office expenses to keep your constituents updated with what’s going on around the city, you might learn a little something yourself – his knee-jerk pro-car stance reveals a mind utterly out of step with the trajectory of how 21st-century cities should be evolving. He is a 1950s man campaigning 60 years behind the times.

Ditto, all those candidates simply mimicking his regressive, throwback views. You’re floundering because you’re simply offering up a pale imitation of the real, Paleolithic deal. The city’s already outgrown your antiquated ideas of how to help it, build it. The people out on the streets, participating in all the things Toronto has to offer, are waiting for you to catch up.

chastizingly submitted by Cityslikr