Where Have You Been?

April 26, 2012

“Time to talk about taking on the Fords” was the headline in a National Post article written by Chris Selley yesterday. “Three times this week,” it opened, “City Hall poured gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers.” He then outlined those three examples: the Metrolinx approval of council’s decision to go ahead with 4 LRT lines, the chief medical officer’s recommendation to lower speed limits in the city and the growing talk of looking at road tolls.

On top of which, Mr. Selley suggests later in the piece that in taking over control of outsourcing practices, city council “…added a weapon to the Mayor’s arsenal.”

There seems to be some inconsistencies in this argument.

For starters, city council has moved beyond talking about taking on the Fords. They’re already doing it by rolling back proposed cuts in the 2012 operating budget, successfully defending the Portlands from Councillor Doug’s incursion, reversing new fees for sports fields along with the examples above. The mayor’s self-proclaimed mandate continues to be challenged.

But to Mr. Selley this is pouring ‘gasoline on Ford Nation’s smouldering embers’, intimating that by defying the mayor council is only succeeding in making him stronger. (With a nod to @HULKMAYOR) DON’T MAKE FORD NATION ANGRY! YOU WON’T LIKE FORD NATION WHEN THEY’RE ANGRY!

This argument grates. It pops up every time the mayor suffers a setback. A wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth and the wailing of, but we’re just giving him a re-election platform.

What?!

And the alternative? To sit back, let him run rampant, implementing the worst of his policy ideas? When it all goes to shit, we then step up and say, see? We told you so? Then start picking up the pieces.

That’s certainly not what Mr. Selley’s suggesting. He believes the mayor’s opponents need to take control of the narrative and contest the fallacious assertions Team Ford continues to make. Like the St. Clair “disaster” and its mutant spawn, St. Clair-ization of the city with the building of LRTs. Agreed and I think that’s already under way with the work John Lorinc and others have been doing exploring St. Clair Avenue post its St. Clairizing.

“When it comes to subways and LRTs specifically,” Selley writes, “someone needs figure out how to make staying the course look sexy.”

That’s kind of a tall order and perhaps a little bit of overkill. While I know the mayor has pledged to make it a campaign issue and the likes of the Toronto Star’s Royson James worries that the timing of the Sheppard LRT’s commencement of construction in 2014 could be manna from heaven for Mayor Ford’s re-election bid, I’d really like to see him try and run with that frankly. Already having put off the timetable by 18 months with his declaring Transit City dead does he really think promising further delays is going to be a winner for him?

The statement issued from his office yesterday in response to the Metrolinx decision to proceed with LRTs suggests the mayor isn’t looking to go to the mat for a Sheppard subway. It attempts to put the matter fully into the province’s lap, saying that the focus for the TTC should now be solely on “…delivering operational and customer service excellence — and not on capital infrastructure planning and construction.” The mayor’s continued ‘push for subways to form the backbone of Toronto’s future plans for rapid transit expansion’ is vague enough to open the possibility of talk for something as out there as the downtown relief line. Subways are subways, right?

Inadvertently, Mayor Ford has triggered a transit discussion this city has not had this openly in decades. Very few people now disagree that we have fallen woefully behind, to the growing detriment of commuters and businesses alike. A Spacing-Environics poll last week suggested an eye-poppingly large number of the GTA are more than willing to consider a regional sales tax dedicated to building transit.

That’s a tax increase, folks. The polar opposite of what then candidate for mayor Rob Ford ran successfully on in 2010. All the talk of evil taxes now seems to be little more than pissing in the wind, a naked appeal to a narrowing base of support.

So the mayor and his brother want to recreate the conditions that got them elected some 18 months ago? Good luck with that. Like they say, you can’t push toothpaste back into its tube. The agenda has changed, the discussion advanced. Fighting yesterday’s war seldom leads to victory today.

That’s not to say I’m writing the mayor off as one and done. Mr. Selley’s correct in pointing out that then Councillor Rob Ford was severely underestimated. The anger he helped foment and then champion was surprising and misunderstood. He will be helped by the power of incumbency.

But 2014 will be a different political landscape, one the mayor will have contributed to having altered. Last time out, his main rival, George Smitherman, forged the anti-City Hall mindset that Ford ran away with. Every subsequent move Smitherman made to differentiate himself from Ford only seemed to reinforce the argument that Toronto’s government was out of control in every conceivable way. The only main candidate defending the status quo, Joe Pantalone, was simply a bad campaigner. His arguments were closer to the truth but he just couldn’t effectively deliver that message.

It’s hard to imagine how that dynamic will be recreated for the mayor to exploit. Council has already established itself as a viable counter-balance to the worst instincts of the mayor. There is a working majority consensus on most of the important issues the city faces. Whoever rises up from that to take on Mayor Ford in 2014 will be the type of formidable candidate he didn’t face in 2010.

Chris Selley doesn’t seem to realize that and is writing from a few steps behind what’s happening on the ground now.

up to speedly submitted by Cityslikr


Carcentrism Is Not The Natural State

April 25, 2012

The distant din of battle coming can be heard. A clash of cultures is in the offing. Weary warriors once more strap on their chest plates, pick up their shields and lances in preparation. The war on the car, nay, the crusade on the car again has begun.

Toronto’s chief of medical officer of health, Dr. David McKeown, has put forth a recommendation to lower speed limits in Toronto, 30 km/h on residential streets and 40 km/h on the main streets, down from the 60-40 km/h range the city now allows. Them’s fighting words to car advocates, protectors of the status quo.

“Slow and Stupid,” the Toronto Sun front page kvetched. Underneath the headline, the photo suggested if such insanity came to pass, we’d be knocked back to 19th-century modes of transportation. Speed=modernity.

“As a general rule, especially on major arterial roadways, I think the speed limit is appropriate,” Public Works and Infrastructure Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong told the Sun’s Don Peat. “It seems the medical officer of health is spitballing 30 km/h, if we were to take him at his word, because it reduces accidents. Why don’t we reduce it to 20 km/h or 10 km/h? Why don’t we all walk? In which other major city do you have 30 km/h as the standard speed limit?”

A quick look on Wikipedia shows that on residential streets, many states in America utilize 15-40 mph speed limits (24-64 km/h range). So, in fact Dr. McKeown’s suggestions aren’t that out of line crazy. At least, not socializing hot dog crazy.

As for reducing speeds to 10, 20 km/h or, heaven forbid, walking even, yes councillor, why not? Where is it written cars, trucks and other private vehicles must, must, must be allowed to drive at a speed that makes them a grievous threat to anyone else using the roads in any other manner? I know the mayor, back in the days when he was a councillor, let it be known that roads were built for busses, cars and trucks. But such Fordian Urbanism is hardly universally accepted.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not that coincidentally) an Atlantic Cities article made the rounds yesterday, The Invention of Jaywalking. In it, author of the book Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City, Peter Norton, asserts cars weren’t immediately granted primacy of the roads upon their appearance a century ago. In fact, many of the same fights that are being waged currently echo the ones fought back in the day.

“Streets back then were vibrant places with a multitude of users and uses” (Can you say ‘complete streets?) “When the automobile first showed up, Norton says, it was seen as an intruder and a menace. Editorial cartoons regularly depicted the Grim Reaper behind the wheel. That image persisted well into the 1920s.”

An ‘intruder’ and a ‘menace’ and those behind the wheel were held responsible for any death and destruction their machine might cause. “Norton explains that in the automobile’s earliest years, the principles of common law applied to crashes. In the case of a collision, the larger, heavier vehicle was deemed to be at fault. The responsibility for crashes always lay with the driver.”

“The perjury of a murderer,” a 1923 editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch thundered about any driver trying to weasel out of responsibility for the carnage inflicted by their automobile. And this, nearly a century before there was any talk of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Where is such righteous indignation these days?

According to Norton, the turning point came in 1925 when the city of Cincinnati moved to bring in a law capping car speeds at 25 km/h. Seeing that as a threat to the marketability of the automobile, auto clubs and dealerships fought back, brining in car manufacturers from Detroit and eventually beating back the speed cap initiative and “…promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of ‘jaywalking’ — a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 — was enshrined in law.”

And we now bear witness to how that’s all played out. Unsustainable cities and communities built and designed for private vehicle use. Public transit relegated to 2nd-class citizenship. Almost no accountability demanded from drivers who destroy property, kill and maim other interlopers on the roads, sucking up vast public resources while they’re at it, freeloading teat-suckers to use the parlance of our times.

But ask drivers to slow the fuck down? Out of the question. An untenable imposition. A declaration of war.

“My heart bleeds for them when I hear someone’s got killed but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

The modern drivers’ creed. My space, my rules. Trespassers beware. There is a license to kill.

It didn’t used to be that way. The idea of complete streets, roads as a shared public space where all modes of traffic share equally, is not a new one, not some airy-fairy, kooky leftwing war on the car. It’s had a much longer history. Cars, in fact, are the intruders and interlopers. Their ascendancy was the result of politicking rather than “… some inevitable organic process.”

There is no natural right of the automobile and their owners and operators. Such a privileged status and pre-eminence on our roads gained through in the trenches PR campaigns and vigilant lobbying. What’s now been termed a war on the car actually began as war on people, public spaces, communities, cities. Car owners are not the victims in this. They are the perpetrators and should be dealt with accordingly.

retributively submitted by Cityslikr


C Is For ‘Conservative Country Mouse’

April 24, 2012

Hardly equipped to wade into the fallout of last night’s Alberta election except to say that both pollsters and more right wing types from the ‘Calgary School’ and on the interwebs must be feeling a little glum today.

“In Alberta yesterday, voters were given a choice between Principled Conservatism and Unprincipled Conservatism,” The Clown At Midnight wrote. “And Unprincipled Conservatism – populism — won the day. Boy, did they ever win the day…We can stop pretending that just because our views are principled, people will share them.”

The day before the election, University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins established what exactly was at stake on a segment of the CBC’s Sunday Edition. “This is the big question right now. What do Albertans want? Do they want to be true conservatives on the right or are Albertans actually drifting to the left?”

Apparently a majority of Albertans aren’t principled or true enough conservatives for some. But I’ll leave them to battle that one out.

What did jump out at me, though, from a city perspective was a glaring urban-rural/moderate-right wing divide. Once again, cities proved to be the righter wing’s Waterloo. The Wildrose Party won only two ridings in Calgary and none Edmonton. Since more than half the Albertan provincial seats are located in those two places, that’s a mountain the party’s going to have to scale at least partially if they ever want to form the government.

Which isn’t really the strong suit of the more hardcore conservative ideologues. Cities and true, principled conservatives seem to go together like oil and water, birds of different feathers or, in terms that a Wildrose supporter might understand, the Hatfields and McCoys. They don’t quite get us. They scare us.

At the federal level, Conservatives were able to pick off enough suburban ridings especially here around Toronto to form their majority government. What did we get in return? A pedestrian tunnel to our second, smaller airport. How about a national transit strategy? Yeah, no. We’re not that close.

Conservative city love (CCL) has traditionally never really been a thing. All those great unwashed huddled there, causing trouble back in the olden days. Now, joined by champagne sipping socialists demanding we scale back car use and pay $9 for free trade coffee. What’s with these people? Cities are just somewhere you go to work and get the hell out of at 5pm.

While it may be politically advantageous at this point to exploit those antiquated divisions, it’s simply becoming bad policy, and not just at the local levels, but provincially and federally as well. Senior levels of government neglect of public transit is threatening the economic well being of the region, the province and country. A ‘national tragedy’ according to Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. A little overwrought perhaps but certainly a national crisis.

“Gridlock and congestion impede our mobility and productivity on a daily basis,” claims the not unconservative Toronto Board of Trade. Red Tory John Tory and the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance are spearheading a regional transportation initiative. “Making it easier to move people, goods and services across the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area is critical to our region’s economic, social and environmental prosperity.” “We have far outgrown our existing transportation infrastructure, which is not meeting the current or future needs of our growing region. This outdated system is hampering our ability to realize the rich potential of our region.”

Cities matter. Overwhelmingly, Canadians are living in cities. To ignore that fact and use outmoded electoral distribution to subvert the changing demographics is ultimately undercutting the country’s future.

It also may be self-defeating in the long run for politicians who exploit it.

In our review of Tim Falconer’s book, Drive, way back when, (an aside here: come out to the launch of his latest book next Monday. There will be drinking involved.) we excitedly noted one of the conclusions he came to after driving his way across the good ol’ U.S. of A.  “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism.”

We become more liberal, shall we say?

If that’s so, politicians continue to ignore us, defy us, demonize us at their peril. As more and more voters get wise to city ways, it will pay fewer political dividends to cast them as the enemy within. Just ask the Wildrose Party today.

urbanely submitted by Cityslikr


Creating A City Hall Potboiler

April 23, 2012

You know, I’m not going to lie. Having no functioning mayor in place really makes for tough writing at this end. I’ve been trying to experiment with my colleague’s suggestion here yesterday not to write about Mayor Ford if he isn’t doing anything worth writing about and, wow, it all just kind of grinds to a halt. I got zip. Zilch. Nada.

It’s like fucking August around here. Except for the weather.

If this keeps up, I’m going to have to start writing about provincial politics or something.

I have to totally agree with Councillor Doug Ford who said on the radio yesterday that governments don’t create jobs but the conditions for job. When the mayor stops working, my job becomes that much more difficult. The conditions just aren’t right for me to write. And it’s all Mayor Ford’s fault!

As the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat reported on Saturday, a group of the more centrist councillors are planning to meet this week in order “…to hash out what issues they want city council to tackle next.” Ranging from TTC Chair Karen Stintz to TCHC task force chair Ana Bailão (an average of 52.5% on the Matt Elliott Ford For Toronto Ford Nation scale), the sit down seems intended to combat the inertia that settles in at City Hall with Mayor Ford’s abdication of authority. “Councillor Colle says agendas are pretty light at City Hall lately,” Peat tweeted, “nine items on four committee agendas.”

Have you seen this man?

I would imagine their first big challenge is going to be finding the mayor. They’re probably going to have to use the city’s new graffiti app as a way to entice him out from his secret location and ambush him as he’s water cannoning some defaced wall. Hey, Your Worship. We’ve got some ideas we could possibly talk about at the next council or committee meeting. What do you think?

I know there’s no official path of tossing or impeaching a badly/under-performing mayor from office but there has to be some sort of expiry date. One of those clauses that stipulate if your account has been dormant for a specified period of time, it gets closed up. If Mayor Ford doesn’t actually perform something mayoral in that given time, he’s asked to pack his things up and move on.

Not too long ago, I jokingly opined that if the mayor can’t turn this thing around and starts to approach the 2014 election with dim prospects of re-election, he might pack it in early. Claiming health reasons brought on entirely by left wing animosity and perfidy (my words not his), he will officially leave office. He’ll do it when the weather turns miserable in order to spend the winter in Florida.

Which totally explains his brother-councillor’s behaviour of late!

In covering the mayor’s radio show (which, natch, the mayor missed yesterday) Open File TO’s David Hains expresses unease with Councillor Ford’s references to his brother’s KFCgate. “1:22: Doug calls out his sick and absent brother Rob, saying that he might be in front of some KFC right now.” “2:13: Doug invites Angel to meet with the mayor, saying that he meets with anyone and everyone. Angel takes him up on the offer, and Doug adds that if he brings some KFC he can jump the line to meet Rob.”

This after the councillor joked about taping his brother’s mouth shut and feeding him through a straw to stop him from eating fast food. Don’t worry, buddy. I got your back. As the mayor flails on the weight loss gimmick Doug dreamed up, his own flesh and blood gleefully mocks him. I can joke. I’m family.

It’s only the latest in a growing list of examples where older brother councillor undermines younger brother mayor. The Portlands. The Sheppard Subway. All taxes are evil.

You know what I think? I think Councillor Ford is Gaslighting his brother. Driving Rob crazy, making his life as mayor completely unbearable until he runs, screaming from office. Come 2014, Councillor Ford rides the sympathy ticket into the election, vowing revenge and retribution on all those who persecuted his baby brother from public life. This Ford is Ford tough. Doug Ford for Mayor in 2014!

Ahh, such behind the scenes intrigue and machinations. Municipal mystery fiction at its finest. I don’t like it anymore than you do but you can’t blame a guy for filling in the blanks left in the void of a mayoral absence.

 — hackily submitted by Cityslikr


Who Wouldn’t Want A Casino?

April 17, 2012

I joked about this on the Twitter last week. Probably wasn’t the first one. Definitely not the last.

But now it seems to deserve more than the 140 character treatment as, zombie-like, it’s an idea, a dumb idea, a highly unoriginal idea that just won’t die. A waterfront casino cash cow. Ching-ching!

It reminds me of one of my favourite movie lines from one of my favourite 80s movie, Prizzi’s Honor. “If Marxie Heller’s so fucking smart, how come he’s so fucking dead?”

If a casino’s so fucking smart, how come suburban councillors are so fucking dead set against having one in their ward? Never does a council or committee meeting go by when we don’t hear the whine from the likes of councillor Mammoliti or Nunziata or Ford about how downtown gets everything and the suburbs get stiffed. Hey, folks. Here’s your chance. Step right up and claim your casino.

Remember The Great Sheppard Subway Struggle of 2012? Sure you do. Scarborough councillors Ainslie, Berardinetti, Crawford, Del Grande, Kelly and Thompson all demanded that Scarborough residents get what downtown had, subways not no stinkin’ streetcars. They weren’t second class citizens. They deserved first class transit.

Well, where  are they all now? You want something downtown doesn’t have? Here, take the casino. Please. There’s some waterfront out there in your neck of the woods, isn’t there? Stick the casino there, why don’t you.

That's NIMBY not GUMBY

I heard Budget Chief Del Grande on the news this morning, suggesting that the old city of Toronto’s inability to say no is a source of the city’s money woes. Well, here you go, Mr. Budget Chief. Downtown’s finally saying no to a casino. Maybe Ward 39 would like to take it off our hands.

For the casinos biggest supporters, it’s a really good idea in someone else’s ward.

Just like transit planning. As John McGrath wrote about the commissioner of Los Angeles transit, Richard Katz’s seminar yesterday, “…everyone wants a transit solution that other people use.” Or development planning. John tweeted from today’s Toronto-East York Community Council meeting (he’s everywhere, that John McGrath): Councillor [Pam] McConnell, speaking for every deputant against height ever: “This is a beautiful design, for somewhere else.”

Everybody wants the upside — Yeah, whatever. That’s for another post — of a casino, the benefits but none of the headaches. Parking and congestion. Down-and-out gamblers. A Jeff Foxworthy crowd streaming out into the streets, looking for a post-show nosh at a Cracker Barrel.

If I wanted a fucking casino in my neighbourhood, I’d move fucking downtown!

It’s almost as if these councillors all know a casino is little more than a dog and pony show, it’s not really going to contribute much to city’s bottom line but it’s a great way to stick to downtowners. Ohhh, they’re gonna hate this! Like they did tearing up the Jarvis bike lanes, de-fancifying the Fort York bridge and making threatening noises about the Portlands.

In his Metro article today, Matt Elliott pointed out that one of the mayoral campaign platforms of Rob Ford was to give “…more power to local community councils to make neighbourhood decisions.” Instead, we’ve seen a whole lot of imposing their will upon others by Team Ford. Might I suggest that for some of the more vocal, pushy ones, they take a little more time to tend to their own garden, gussy up their own respective wards. That way, perhaps, in the future we won’t have to listen to their bellyaching, complaining how they never get anything.

How about starting with a casino?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

generously submitted by Cityslikr