A Mayor In Major Minor

October 2, 2012

Today marks the start of what is, I believe, the 4000th city council meeting Mayor Rob Ford has presided over since taking office back in 2010. (I use the mayor’s own arithmetical tools to arrive at that number.) Looking through the meeting’s agenda the thing that immediately jumps out at me is the complete and utter lack of positive input coming from the mayor and his Executive Committee. It’s almost as if he’s mayor in title only.

Where are the major initiatives? The bold going-forwards that will set out directions to deal with the city’s pressing problems? Mayor Ford? Oh right. It’s high school football season.

Anyone else? Councillor Ford? Deputy Mayor? QB Mammoliti? Anyone, anyone? Bueller?

Instead, this is what’s shaping up to be the defining moment of this week’s council meeting. “When Toronto city council kicks off its fall session this week,” Kelly Grant wrote in the Globe and Mail yesterday, “Mayor Rob Ford will have a real shot at a real win on a real issue. If the mayor’s allies succeed in postponing or reversing a plastic-bag ban that Mr. Ford has derided as ‘outright stupid,’ he will have something to celebrate after this summer’s gaffes.”

That, folks, is what you call setting the bar really, really low.

Reversing a vote which was the result of a vote that should’ve never happened in the first place as the key to rebuilding Mayor Ford’s relevance? Halting a ban on single-use plastic bags after successfully nixing the 5 cent fee that had been imposed and which many major retailers still charge can really be classified as ‘a real win on a real issue’? What next, maestro? Watch as our mayor drinks a glass of water while his dummy talks.

Read a list of the examples Mayor Ford will cite as his administration’s major accomplishments to date – cutting councillors’ office budgets, removing the VRT, contracting out waste collection, getting the TTC deemed an essential service, setting city workers’ contracts and avoiding any threat of a strike for 4 years – a pattern emerges. Under the guise of restoring fiscal sanity and respecting the taxpayers, it’s all been about cutting, reducing, eliminating. Getting government out of the business of governing.

I Cut, Therefore I Am.

Of course, none of this comes as much of surprise to anyone who watched Rob Ford during the decade he spent as a city councillor or crunched the numbers he casually tossed around as part of his mayoral election campaign platform. However else he tried to couch it in terms palatable enough to lure a plurality of Toronto voters to back him in 2010, it was always just about less. Less government. Less spending. Less taxes.

Then he ran smack dab into the hard, cold reality of municipal governance as set out in KPMG’s Core Services Review. It wasn’t really all that gravy laden down at City Hall. Efficiencies could be found certainly but nowhere near enough to offset the loss in revenues that Mayor Ford demanded in tax cuts and freezes. No matter how many different ways you tried to do the math, the answer was always the same.

Now comes the report from the outgoing Deputy City Manager and CFO, Cam Weldon, outlining a transit funding strategy. Requested in March by city council, it is chock full of ideas on revenue generation to pay for the massive investment in public transit that the city and region must undertake, and undertake ASAP. ‘Revenue generation’ you say? You mean, taxes!

Yep. It’s going to take a whole lot more than reversing the plastic bag ban for Mayor Ford to become relevant again. Transit is but the tip of the iceberg of infrastructure investment cities are facing. Ducking your head and clutching your wallet is no longer a viable option. More is the new less, and being the mayor of small things won’t be worth one lousy nickel.

generously submitted by Cityslikr


Transit School

October 1, 2012

We attended class on Friday about the state of transit in Toronto and the GTHA and submitted our final report on it today in the Torontoist. You should totally check it out by clicking on this link.

studiously submitted by Cityslikr


A Night At The Opera

May 22, 2010

Sitting watching Bizet’s Carmen at Beijing’s National Grand Theater on our last night here in China, my mind wanders over a few things as this amazing trip draws to a close. For one, why am I at an opera? It’s not even the Beijing Opera which is what I thought it was going to be when Urban Sophisticat said he’d secured us a couple tickets to the opera. We are in Beijing after all. If not now, when?

Otherwise, this is just opera opera and I fucking hate opera. There, I said it. It is nothing more than an elitist art form that has long since outlived any purpose whatsoever other than serving to build grand edifices like the one we’re sitting in, listening to Bizet’s Carmen. Oh for chrissakes, Don José, run, run!! The woman is nothing but trouble!

The National Grand Theater or, the Egg as it has been dubbed, sits just east of Tian’an Men Square, behind the Soviet style Great Hall of the People. Designed by French architect, Paul Andreu, this wonder is yet another example of the architectural boldness we have witnessed in China. While Beijing is somewhat more subdued than Shanghai, it certainly hasn’t shirked from embracing modernity when the opportunity has presented itself. In a matter of minutes, pedestrians can stroll through a 15th-century, Ming dynasty gate into an alarmingly open space lined with mid-20th Brutalist buildings before turning the corner to find themselves staring directly into the sci-fi future.

China seems undaunted by its 5000+ years of history, at least architecturally speaking. Instead of being weighted down by centuries of tradition, China today has little trouble obliterating whatever it perceives to be standing in the way of its progress. It is not an approach I embrace wholeheartedly to be sure. In this mad dash to assume a spot at the head table, lives and communities have been completely overturned and not everyone is sharing equally in the country’s dizzying growth spurt.

Still, I could go for a pinch of the Chinese gusto, their dispassionate disregard for the past when it becomes a hindrance. China remains a conservative country in many ways, especially politically and socially. Yet in others it is bold in facing the future. We, on the other hand, think of ourselves as progressive and forward looking while displaying all the attributes of cringing, cowering, unbending obdurates. (No, that isn’t an actual noun but I like the sound of it so I’m going to use it in a willful rejection of convention. See how easy that was?)

If they need to modernize their transit system, they modernize their transit system. Us? We fuss and fart, wring our hands and gnash our teeth. We can’t afford it, we mewl. What about the businesses that’ll be affected if we tear up the streets? Drivers are going to be so pissed off at more delays, detours and congestion. Change is difficult. Outcomes aren’t always predictable. But there are points in history when standing pat is no longer an option.

And right now we are quaking and quavering in the face of necessary change, clinging to tried and untrue ideas and philosophies in the vain hope of ineffectually staving off the inevitable. Maybe we were nothing but the luckiest nation on earth, chasing off the original inhabitants just in time for the resource boom that rocketed us into the modern age. Our number came up and we cashed in.

That’s all about to change, however. Only those that recognize that fact and act accordingly will prosper and thrive. Tradition and history strengthen us as long as we recognize that neither is immutable. What once worked is no guarantee of future success. Sometimes throwing the baby out with the bathwater becomes an absolute necessity if the infant is actually the devil’s spawn.

The fat lady has begun to sing. In fact, it feels like she’s been caterwauling for some time now. As tempting as it might be, we ignore her aria at our peril. Time to step up and move forward. China is showing us that it’s possible.

prophetically submitted by Cityslikr