Post Mortem and Analysis

October 28, 2010

On the theory that there is much to talk about re: results of Toronto’s October 25 municipal election, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke has assembled its crack team of observers to dissect what happened, why and what’s next. This week, well, we just said. They’ll discuss the outcome of Monday’s election.

Cityslikr (heretoforth, CS): Well, the verdict’s in. Rob Ford won and everyone who didn’t vote for him is to blame. Especially hipster urbanites who never took him seriously and spent the entire campaign mocking, ridiculing and denigrating him and those supporting him. We didn’t get the anger.

Acaphlegmic (heretoforth ACA): Truer words have never been spoken. Which is why I’ve decided to go live amongst them.

CS: What? Live amongst whom?

ACA: There you go, getting all elitist. Whom! Amongst people who say ‘who’ not ‘whom’.

US (heretoforth US): But are still OK with the word ‘amongst’.

CS: What do you mean you’re going to live amongst them?

ACA: We can’t understand a people or empathize with them until we’ve seen through their eyes, walked a mile in their shoes. So I am venturing forth to live amongst them. To observe them. To understand what motivates them. To truly get under their skin in order to grasp their hopes, their dreams.

CS: So you’re like what? Margaret Mead of the inner suburbs?

US: Try Dian Fossey.

ACA: See? That’s just what everyone’s talking about. Mocking. Ridiculing. Denigration.

CS: But I don’t get what you mean, ‘live amongst them’. You going to hang out at the Jack Astors at Sherway Gardens?

ACA: There it is again. The mocking and ridicule. They don’t just shop, you know.

US: Yeah. They have to take regular breaks to fill up their Hummers and SUVs.

ACA: Mock away, my friend, mock away but you better start getting used to the fact that you’re in the minority now and start acting accordingly.

CS: Technically that’s not true. Ford did only get 47% of the vote which is why [turns to look directly into pretend camera] you should support RaBIT, the Ranked Ballot Initiative of Toronto. To start making every vote count.

ACA: Cling to that little pipe dream all you want, buddy. Me? I’m going to where the real action is. Larry’s garage.

[inserting very prominent … here to signify a monstrously large pause in the conversation. A really big one.]

CS: Who’s Larry?

ACA: Larry. You met him Monday night here, drinking. We got to talking afterwards. His son, Larry Jr., just got married, and he and the wife are moving into the trailer that’s parked in the driveway. So, Larry-pere offered me the garage. You should see this place! It’s not a garage. It’s like a 2nd home. All decked out. Like this 140” plasma screen TV. Ping pong table. Bar. You name it. A sound system like you would not believe! 4 speakers, maybe 8. I don’t know. Speakers all over the place. I have not listened to that much Foghat since… I don’t know… June of ’77, maybe.

CS: And you’re going to live there. In Larry’s garage.

ACA: You betcha! Live there and observe. Eat the food they eat. Play the games they play. Learn what it is that’s important to them. Rob Ford knows. I should too.

US: So you’re embracing your inner mullet?

CS: (to US) And you? No, wait. Let me guess. You’re moving to Calgary.

US: Well, hey. They took a bold step into the future. We fearfully clung onto… some misguided view of the past. Where we paid no taxes and there was no traffic congestion.

CS: Which brings up something that struck me about the election. There’s all this talk about the downtown-suburb divide, the angry car driving, backyard BBQing Ford supporters versus us effete bike riding, latte loving urbanistas. Yet right here, smack dab in the downtown core, we had three open council seats, none of which were filled with what you’d call new, forward thinking, vibrant Nenshites. Ward 19 went stolidly status quo, replacing old time moderate lefty Pantalone with old time moderate lefty Mike Layton, ignoring a much more interesting progressive candidate in Karen Sun. Ward 18 went hardcore centrist Ana Bailão. Ward 17 and Cesar Palacio—

US: Palacio didn’t retire, did he?

CS: Didn’t he? How could you tell? They had this dynamite challenger, Jonah Schein, but went with their tried and true non-entity incumbent relic.

ACA: What’s your point? I gotta cut out soon. There’s some sort of… sporting event everybody’s getting together to watch at Larry’s.

CS: My point is, maybe this city’s not nearly the outpost of progressive politics we downtown elites would like to think it is. We live in this little bubble, dreaming of bike lanes, complete streets and being just like Portland when, in fact, we’re nothing more than another small minded North American burg concerned only with paying as little as we can and getting as much as we want. Rob Ford as our mayor shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s not the anomaly. David Miller is. He was the outlier. Ford’s just a regression to the mean.

US: Nice. Regression to the mean. Works on a couple levels, too.

ACA: Blah, blah, blah. You guys just don’t get it! There’s nothing to analyze here. Nothing to deconstruct. People are just pissed off. End of story. Rob Ford gets it because he’s pissed off too. Guaranteed!

CS: No, we get the whole anger bit. What we don’t understand is how Rob Ford is going to help in any way to deal with it. What in his platform will help lessen the anger.

ACA: Wh-wh-wh-what are you talking about? Rob Ford isn’t going to lessen the anger. The last thing he wants to do is assuage the resentment.

US: You might want to curtail the use of words like ‘assuage’ with Larry’s crowd.

ACA: Right. The last thing Rob Ford wants to do is the dumb word for assuage the resentment. Without resentment, he’s just another self-interested politician wrapping his own narrow concerns into a populist package.

US: Exactly. And what are we doing in the face of that? Caving in and taking the blame. We got out-politicked, no question. That’s what we should be examining now not shouldering the blame for the perceived grievances of 47% of the population who refused to engage in an honest discussion about the real problems this city has to deal with. We spent very little time here, writing about Ford’s appearance or operatically sized personal failings. We kept asking, over and over again, how his policies on public transit and cutting spending were going to help address the city’s problems. The response? Wrapping themselves in a cloak of victimhood like pouty teenagers. Stop picking on me. You don’t understand. The guy’s not even sworn into office yet and he’s already backtracking on one big doozey of a campaign nose stretcher about replacing streetcars with buses, claiming he never said that, his opponents said he did. Then he gives a babblingly incoherent radio interview and calls it a smear campaign, so he can withdraw further into the safe cocoon of sympathetic press coverage at the Toronto Sun, National Post and AM talk radio. We’ve seen this movie before, guys. Remember. George W. Bush.

CS: Yep. I think we can now officially stop looking south at the Americans and smugly laughing at who they elect into office. Or their eating habits. Did you see where Canada broke the record for sales of KFC’s Double Down?

ACA: (standing) Are we done here? I really don’t want to miss the first quarter… or half of the… thing.

CS: Godspeed to Larry’s garage. Godspeed us all to a Larry’s garage somewhere.

ACA: I’ll be in touch. Under an alias. Send you my serial exposé of the Ford movement.

CS: Stay safe, Serpico.

(Rolling up his collar, Acaphlegmic skulks from the office.)

CS: So, the battle for hearts and minds has just begun.

US: Fuck that. I’m traveling to the Continent. Rent out my house and follow in the steps of Byron, Shelley, Keats. They want elite? (Pulls out his pipe) I’ll give them elite.

CS: No, don’t. You’ve already set off the smoke detector once.

US: I disconnected it.

CS: It stinks. Don’t.

(Urban Sophisticat puffs away at the pipe, trying to get it to stay lit. Eventually a smoke detector goes off in the distance.)

CS: This is going to be a long 4 years.

submitted by Cityslikr


The President’s Man Goes Local

October 5, 2010

So Rahm Emanuel resigned his post as chief of staff to the most powerful position on the planet (after, that is, the top 5 places within the Chinese government structure) to run for the mayoralty of Chicago. This is a guy who served for three terms in the House of Representatives. He’s now running to be mayor of Chicago. A power broker inside the D.C. Beltway packs it in for what looks to be a rough ride of an election in the 3rd biggest city in America.

Does that strike anyone else as a step down a rung or two of the success ladder?

I mean, aren’t mayor positions simply consolation prizes for those without the goods to make it big at state/province or federal levels of government? It certainly seems to be the case here in Toronto during this particular campaign cycle. Also-rans and not-quite-good-enoughs battle it out for ultimate supremacy of this backwater burg we call home.

Yet, here’s arguably the meanest, nastiest and most successful backroom Democrat in recent memory heading out of Washington to try his luck running for the lowly position of mayor. Obviously it’s some sort of punishment being meted out for the crime of pushing President Obama too far to the middle. Yeah, thanks for all your help, Rahm. How be you just run along now and try your hand at local politics?

Or, maybe this is a case of an extremely motivated politician realizing just which way the wind is blowing, where the action really is. Cities are where it’s at, baby. In this globalized world of increasing urbanization that we’re living in, cities are assuming control of the agenda, the engine driving innovation, sustainability, diversification. What politician with an elevated sense of self-importance (one can posses that trait in a good way) wouldn’t want to be at the forefront of all that?

Gazillionaire Michael Bloomberg, touted as a possible independent candidate to run for the presidency of the United States, takes a pass, opting instead to stay as mayor of New York City. In Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa dabbled for a time in California state politics before moving into the municipal arena, first as a council member and then mayor. Portland Oregon mayor Sam Adams has burst onto the national scene as a leading advocate for building environmentally sound cities. So famous has he become that a beer has been named in his honour.

But over the course of Toronto’s dreary 9 month campaign so far, we’ve been told it’s just about filling potholes and fixing street lights. After 7 years of tentatively stepping toward the future, all we’re hearing now is what we can’t do, not what’s possible. Voters are cowering in the face of necessary and exciting change; their fears and worst instincts catered to by unimaginative candidates who seem oblivious to the shifting sands of where power is headed. We imperil our ability to adapt to what’s coming and thrive in the possibilities that will arise if we hand over the levers of power to someone incapable of seeing past nickels and dimes.

Rahm Emanuel seems to understand this. He’s angling to take the reins of a great but deeply troubled city. Much more troubled than even the worst case scenario being painted about Toronto by the hysterics contending for the mayor’s position. Chicago’s money woes are significantly worse than ours. Allegations of actual corruption and cronyism have stuck to some of the outgoing city officials. Crime is a significant problem there and not just a convenient bogeyman being shaken around in order to frighten voters.

Despite all of that, Rahm Emanuel wants to be the mayor of Chicago. There’s an element of flight, certainly, from an administration looking to take a hit in next month’s midterm elections. If it does happen, there’ll be plenty of fingers pointing at Emanuel as a prime architect of Obama’s fall from grace. But he could run toward a much more lucrative spot in the private sector, assuming such a thing exists anymore which also might explain the President’s low approval ratings.

Emanuel’s decision to follow in the footsteps of Richard M. Daley bespeaks of how important cities have become on the political landscape. Those accepting that new reality have begun to assume responsibility for proper future planning, at times defying upper levels of governments by setting more stringent environmental targets and broadening personal rights and freedoms. In the vacuum created by the divestment of powers by successive federal and provincial/state governments as a way to balance their books, forward thinking cities have assumed the responsibilities and set out on a course to not only remake themselves in a 21st-century fashion but the regions and countries that they are part of as well. Savvy politicians like Rahm Emanuel recognize that and are jumping at the chance to get involved.

It’s unfortunate Toronto has been hijacked by mayoral candidates more content to wallow in petty grievances and almost tribal hostility instead of generating ideas about how best to move into a future where cities will be at the forefront of policy decisions and societal change. If the next mayor doesn’t understand that and seize upon it, all the advantages we as a city have presently (and we have many) will be for naught. Our enviable position cannot be translated into expanded opportunity by merely filling potholes and fixing streetlights. We need to stop shying away from thinking bigger.

civically submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Minneapolis Cycle City USA

April 29, 2010

There must be some sort of mistake. A typo or something. This just can’t be possible.

Minneapolis named America’s best bike city.

Or maybe there’s a Minneapolis in some other state outside of Minnesota. California. Oregon. Arizona. You know, where they can ride their bikes all year round.

Because in Minnesota, man, you wouldn’t waste the time, money or effort to build and design a crackerjack bicycle system that people would use for just part of the year. I mean, that would be insane, an outrageous waste of taxpayers’ money, some sort of socialist plot to steal our cars from us.

That’s what we’re told up here in wintery Toronto when bike lane opponents have run out of other arguments. As recently as a couple weeks ago in a Toronto Sun editorial, huffing mightily in indignation about the proposed trial run of bike lanes on University Avenue this summer, we’re warned that “… council needs to remember that what may work for 12 weeks in the summer from July to September could prove to be a disaster in the dead of winter.

Not just unworkable, you understand, but a disaster.

Bike lanes are for more temperate climes. Vancouver. Portland (a previous winner of Best Bike City in America). Europe. You mean like balmy locals such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam? They don’t count. They’re European. They like biking because they’re effete, cheese-eating car haters.

We here in North America take to our bikes only recreationally and only when weather permits. Hardy means shivering in your car before the seats actually warm up. Nobody in their right minds would choose to bike in the winter which is why there’s usually only couriers out on the road between November and April.

Apparently, no one’s informed the people of Minneapolis about that. The city is strikingly similar to Toronto weather-wise, averaging slightly less than one degree colder in its daytime highs throughout the winter months with an almost identical amount of snowfall. Yet, there it is, the newly crowned America’s Best Biking City. Yes, they experience a drop off of bike commuting when the temperature plummets and snow falls, as much as 2/3s by an estimate a couple years ago. But this does not stop them from investing in, promoting and encouraging cyclists.

So, it’s not a question of can you create a positive biking culture in cities afflicted by inclement winter weather. Minneapolis proves that you can. It’s all about will you.

bipedally submitted by Urban Sophisticat