Sometimes Division Is Easier Than Addition

Let’s presume for presumption’s sake that this thing known as Ford Nation actually exists. monolithA monolith of unwavering support for Mayor Rob Ford that will not, cannot be moved regardless of his performance both on and off the political field. Toronto’s 40%ers; my mayor, right or wrong.

Linking to a Toronto Life piece from Philip Preville that informed us Ford Nation might not be what we think it is – spoiler alert: it’s the poors and new Canadians – a discussion sprang up, beginning with the assertion that progressives in this city have lost the ability to speak for the ‘working class’. That sounded a little too pat, if not a little patronizing. Who are we to speak for anyone? Shouldn’t that be ‘speak to’?

Besides, using anything Mr. Preville writes about this city as some sort of springboard to further debate is dubious. As has been written here previously, we aren’t particularly overwhelmed by his take on things here in Toronto. In fact, just this past May, he wrote in Slate of Our Highly Effective Idiot. “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is crass, offensive, and may smoke crack. He is also a pretty good mayor,” reads the sub-headline. Hey. idon'tknowaboutthatThe guy may be a dim bulb but he got the $60 vehicle registration tax revoked. That oughta count for something, right? Right?

Not surprisingly, the gist of Preville’s take on Ford Nation was put under the microscope and found, if not wanting, at least not entirely sufficient an explanation. Patrick Cain did some of the magic mapwork he does so well and found a very intriguing result.

“It’s complicated (these things always are) but some maps I’ve been working with recently show an eerily precise relationship between the age of a Toronto neighbourhood and its level of support for Ford in 2010, a pattern stronger than anything related to income.”

*  *  *

“The maps tend to support the idea that there is a fundamental difference in civic culture between the walkable neighbourhoods of the prewar period and the car-centred ones that came after, and that in electoral terms the difference can be more important than income.”

It’s complicated… these things always are…

Ford Nation is not just this thing or that thing. If that were the case, it’d be so much simpler to engage with them, complicatedspeak to their single-minded concern of inclusion or security. Just like the mayor does.

Mr. Cain’s analysis points to a much deeper, more complicated pattern for engagement and discourse. We’re talking a sense of place. Of course, that includes elements of income and ethnicity. But there’s far more to it than that. A fundamental difference in civic culture, Cain writes. You know what that sounds like? The War on the Car. Downtown Elites. Don Cherry versus Jane Jacobs.

If Mayor Ford has shown us little else, he’s very ably proven that it’s far easier to exploit the inherent divisions in fundamental differences in civic culture for political gain than it is to attempt to bridge them. Railing against change mainlines directly into our status quo bias. No matter how rough things may be right now, there’s a certain comfort to its familiarity, its being known to us. Any positive aspects to change are purely speculative and don’t tend to happen overnight.urbansuburban

What we in non-Ford Nation need to really appreciate is that we’re demanding much more change to the civic culture from those in the inner suburbs than we are having to face ourselves. As hesitant as I am to give in to broad generalizations, I foray into that territory to suggest many of us living in those higher density, public transit friendly, more walkable neighbourhoods Mr. Cain describes as not part of Ford Nation, have sought those kind of places out. We can either afford them or have made the tough choices necessary in order to live there because that’s the lifestyle we want.

That’s not to say that everyone living in the car-centric, wide lot, single-family developments of the inner suburbs would rather be a downtowner if they could. It’s just that the lifestyle that was promised when these neighbourhoods grew, of unlimited space and resources, is no longer feasible. understandjpgOr at least, no longer feasible at the costs we’re currently paying.

As a city, we are demanding big changes from our inner suburbs, less dependence on private vehicles, higher density. There’s going to be resistance. It’s only natural.

We just have to get better at justifying our reasons, for laying out the benefits that will come with these changes. To show how we’re all in this together and that none of this should be seen as some highly competitive, zero-sum game.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. But we do ourselves no favours by pretending there’s a simple solution to our complex situation.

hopefully not condescendingly submitted by Cityslikr

The Death of Toronto in Toronto Life

I’m sneaking this one while Cityslikr is distracted watching Caddyshack. Again. (“So what? So let’s dance!” Cue Journey.)

He wanted no part of the brief brouhaha caused by Philip Preville’s ‘The New Surburbanites’ article in the September issue of Toronto Life. “Doesn’t deserve any more attention,” he told me. “Been suitably slapped upside the head and tossed to the curb far better than any of us could do here. Now shut up. I’m watching Caddyshack.” (“You got a pool up there, right?” “A pool.. pond. The pond would be good for you.”)

He’s right. Edward Keenan wrote a standalone piece at The Grid that is so good, you don’t even have to read the article he takes to task. Same can be said for Bert Archer over at the Toronto Standard. There’s really no need to sully such terrific writing by wasting your time with the source material.

But I did. And all I can say is: Who the fuck are these people?

Not the ones who packed up and headed out of town. To each his own, I say. The lure of small towns may be great for some. Nothing wrong with that although I couldn’t keep the whistling tune to the Andy Griffith Show from my head when reading Mr. Preville’s glowing, there’s-only-a-lack-of-a-critical-mass-of-good-restaurants-that-keeps-us-from-pure-perfection description of places like Peterborough, Cobourg, Dundas and Creemore. Not too boastful there, Philip and Toronto Life, or they won’t be small towns very much longer.

No, what I didn’t recognize was the version of Toronto the article presented (yes, congestion is bad) and the residents dwelling within. The ones who find children an imposition. The cocktail party goers, partaking in genteel adult conversation. All so ‘…busy and overwhelmed…with six o’clock meetings and pinging Black Berrys’ that they forget to pick up their kids at daycare.

Maybe Philip Preville didn’t need to get out of the city. Maybe he just needed to find himself a better circle of friends.

I’m always leery of any argument put forward that relies almost exclusively on vilifying the opposing view. We didn’t want to leave Toronto. Toronto forced us to leave. Toronto left us. We didn’t leave Toronto. I gave you my heart, Toronto. My blood, sweat and tears. And what did you give me in return? Love, marriage, children, a well-paying profession that enabled me to make enough money to go tell you to fuck yourself. (Cue Monty Python’s The Life of Brian. “What have the Romans ever done for us?”)

It’s all about justifying a decision made by presenting it as something foisted upon you. There was no alternative. Rather, the choice to stay put became untenable because the Toronto I once knew and loved was no more. Sure, I could’ve stayed and tried to change that but what about the kids? Think of the children. And apparently, according to one ex-Torontonian, for a kid to truly be a kid, he needs to throw rocks not hang around libraries and restaurants. Another did not know? The only people who will continue ‘living the downtown life’ are educated, well-off ‘arts professionals and university proofs’. Yeah, Preville really needed to get out more.

It all seems a little self-fulfilling if you read Toronto Life regularly and look back at previous articles Mr. Preville’s written for it. Especially good is his Hall of Shame in the January 2008 issue (h/t @goldsbie), a fine example of the mindless screeds that greased the rails for former Mayor Miller’s exit and paved the way into office for Rob Ford. There it was. David Miller should stop squawking for more money from other levels of government and start standing up to the greedy unions who take every last penny we do have. It’s that easy.

Such political simple-mindedness seems to have taken root at Toronto Life if the Editor’s Letters from Sarah Fulford are any indication. We talked about that here last September. A month or so before the municipal election, Ms. Fulford summed up what had gone wrong with Toronto: in 2003 we elected an Ivy League educated mayor. End stop.

She’s back at it again in the Exodus To The Burbs issue. “Not that I’m in favour of bulldozing neighbourhoods to make room for highways. But it would have been nice if at some point in the last 40 years we had implemented a workable transportation plan for Southern Ontario. In my view, the legacy of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement is this: grand municipal plans are not welcome here.”

Not welcome here by whom, Sarah? Is the city of Toronto now responsible for coming up with a transportation plan for Southern Ontario? Without a strong regional level of government, that’s really the job for Queen’s Park, isn’t it? And once upon a time, we were all ready to go with an Eglinton subway but the kibosh was put on that, not by the vestiges of the Stop the Spadina Expressway movement, but by, that’s right, Queen’s Park. I’d say Waterfront Toronto is quietly going about their business of devising, if not a grand, a pretty darn good municipal plan.

If Sarah Fulford is so despondent about the direction Toronto has been heading and is singularly incapable of discovering the real root causes of our present malaise, maybe it’s time she followed Philip Preville’s lead and buy herself a nice house in a small town somewhere. Jettison her high-flying life as a magazine editor and open up a quaint coffee shop or second-hand bookstore. She certainly doesn’t seem prepared to help pitch in and help out here in any meaningful way.

Evidently, a common trait in some folks over at Toronto Life. When Preville describes himself and his ‘inner asshole’ in the article, he admits to being part of the problem that he now decries. “All my life I’ve been an upbeat person, but when I navigate the city I do it with a frown. I cut people off in my car, and on foot as I go through the TTC turnstile. I jaywalk. I litter.”

He litters? Really?! Who does that?

But you have to understand. It’s not really him littering or cutting people off or jaywalking — as we all know, no one jaywalks in great, livable cities. The city makes him do it. Maybe if we work really hard to fix things around here, smooth out the rough edges and return Toronto to its glory days of Philip Preville’s youth, we could entice him back to the downtown fold, a better man, a better citzen.

Until such time, and with Philip Preville and his ‘inner asshole’ now gone, making things right here in Toronto is one less asshole easier. (Cue ‘I’m Alright’.)

Logginsly submitted by Urban Sophisticat