You Don’t Say

May 13, 2016

If there were gold medals handed out for stating the obvious, I would nominate Dr. Frank Clayton of Ryerson University’s Centre for Urban Research and Land Development for his not in the least bit surprising blog post, youdontsayDid You Know: Travel Times for City of Toronto Commuters on Average are 60% Longer by Subway than by Car? As friend of our site, John McGrath responded: “Trying to figure out for whom this is news.” Gee willikers, Dr. Clayton. I guess that’s why so many people choose to drive, huh?

Turns out, if you build and redesign a city to maximize car travel, to put the private automobile at the top of your transportation hierarchy, make it near impossible not to need one in some parts of that city, lo and behold, people will tend to drive because it’s the most convenient way to get around. Or, to paraphrase Dr. Clayton, it’s faster and easier to drive than take public transit. We are, after all, rational actors, making rational choices, as we make our way through our daily lives.

Isn’t that how the saying goes?

What I don’t understand, though, is the point of Dr. Clayton’s post.

Why is this important? As Professor Haider explains it in a 2014 blog post, environmentalists and transit enthusiasts routinely overstate the benefits of public transit by claiming more public transit will reduce congestion or travel times, which he states is a myth.

Oh oh, I thought. Professor Murtaza Haider? That Professor Haider?2plus2

Doesn’t this whole argument rest on whose travel times you are measuring? Professor Haider himself writes in the Globe and Mail article Dr. Clayton cites that increased investments in public transit “will reduce travel times by public transit.” So, how is it a ‘myth’ to claim that more public transit investment will reduce public transit travel times?

That it would still be more convenient and quicker to take a car? You don’t transform a transportation system that’s been in place for 70 or 80 years overnight. In almost every part of Toronto and the GTHA, driving remains the best bet to get to where you’re going because that’s exactly what’s designed to happen. Streets and roads built and operated to best accommodate car travel to the detriment of all other users, pedestrians, cyclists, even public transit. Never a lane given over to a bus or streetcar or bicycles uncontested by those seeing such advances as an infringement on the movement of private automobiles. drivingPublic transit wants fast and convenient? Build it underground.

What articles like this one from Dr. Frank Clayton (and almost everything transit-related by Professor Murtaza Haider) smack of is a defense of the transportation status quo. A majority of commuters drive, driving makes for faster commute times, therefore, we must ensure that we do not threaten that delicate balance by offering up more viable mobility options where currently there are none.

It is simply a hand-fisted reading of a very narrow data set that makes no differentiation between the quality of commuting modes, not to mention within the same modes themselves, using time as the sole measurement. You think the experience of driving to work for 45 minutes is comparable to a drive of 10 minutes? Perhaps a 45 minute bus ride where you’re watching last night’s episode of the Daily Show puts you in a better frame of mind when you get to your job than a half-hour grind behind the wheel. sowhatAnd if time and convenience is what we’re aiming for, shouldn’t we be plowing a whole lot more money and resources into cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in the city of Toronto where the commute time is just over 17 minutes, the quickest way to work by far?

Dr. Frank Clayton seems content to tell us where we are without much of an explanation why or even if it’s a place we want to be. I’m not sure what purpose it serves aside from confirming what pretty much anybody who travels around the GTA already knows too well. Cars are king. Long live the king.

m’ehly submitted by Cityslikr


Fablication

April 3, 2013

fablication

Last week Ivor Tossell wrote about the then latest brouhaha — it was nearly 5 days ago, plenty of time for even newer brouhahas — swirling around our mayor, Rob Ford. In the article, Mr. Tossell summarized the mayor’s approach to the truth, governing and reality.

This is Rob Ford’s truth. The facts will be decided not by reality, but by the people, on election day… It’s a schoolyard view of the world, in which truth flows from popularity and power. He’s used it to run his administration like a radio phone-in show, talking to just one crowd with a mix of pandering and fabulism…

Fabulism.fablication5

What a fantastic word to describe what we’ve been living through for the past three years since Rob Ford became a serious contender for the office of mayor. Fabulism. Fabulist.

Might I offer up a new word for general usage, especially in honour Ivor Tossell’s own contribution to the political lexicon in Toronto, Uncompetence.

The word* is: Fablication.

The generation of a world where whatever you say, if you’re the right thinking kind of person, is treated as hard, cold fact. Where a statement can contradict a previous statement and both statements can still be taken seriously. Fablication creates a magical place that emphasizes simple-mindedness not simplicity. fablication2Where rigour is not de rigueur.

Rob Ford’s fantasy political world is nothing but pure fablication. In it, there are never any negative consequences to your actions. Government has a spending problem not a revenue problem, and any extra dough that might be needed to build a subway (and subways only because streetcars are the root cause of traffic congestion) will flow effusively from a potent combination of a casino and the private sector.

Who wouldn’t want to live in such a land of enchantment?

In the 2010 municipal election, 47% of Toronto voters believed such a locale actually existed. All you needed was to stop a mythical gravy train and hop aboard a boat load of respect for the taxpayer. No fuss, no bother. Only those suffering from an engorged sense of entitlement and just the mildest sense of irony would feel any pain. fablication1Those symptoms largely inflicted denizens living in the old city of Toronto and in East York.

Even today, a solid chunk of those supporters continue to clap their hands in the hopes of keeping that dream alive, encouraging Mayor Ford to further dig in his heels. And he does. As Metrolinx ratchets up the real world conversation about viable revenue options to fund a long overdue transit expansion and the city’s chief planner chairs a roundtable, the Next Generation Suburbs, the mayor talks about graffiti and fake vomits (with accompanying video track) at the idea of new taxes and tolls.

Surely we can build more transit by cutting further finding efficiencies, rolling back public sector wages and benefits, stopping boondoggles. Where the hell do all the gas taxes go? asks a former PC MPP, apparently with a straight face. Stop demanding money, folks. We can just fablicate new transit.

Fablication built Ford Nation.

Listen to it in action every Sunday between 1 and 3 p.m. on 1010 Talk Radio. fablication4Or, for a quick hit, read David Hains’ synopsis of the show. (Check out 2:32 in Monday’s post for what I’m talking about when I talk about fablication.)

While the mayor is a very good practitioner of fablication, his brother is a master.

Witness Councillor Ford’s performance last week at Ryerson’s inappropriately named Law, Business, Politics – The Real World class. (Don’t know if it’s just my internet connection but the video is very, very choppy.) It was an hour and a half of outright fablication, punctuated by moments of actual serious discussion from co-panellist, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam.

You see, the duly elected councillor is not a politician. He’s a businessman. He and his brother-mayor (elected with the largest mandate in Canadian history [≈ 1’10”] and the most accessible politician in the country, in North America who fields 80-90 phone calls a day and doesn’t spend his time behind a big desk, talking to bureaucrats [≈ 54.30”]) have already saved the taxpayers of Toronto a billion dollars [≈ 57.30”]. fablication3When the councillor hosts visitors to the city, he’s always having to answer the same question. “What is there to do in Toronto, Doug?” [1’1”]. So that’s why we need to build a casino because, while the councillor doesn’t want to throw around wild numbers, he will anyway. Build a casino on city owned property and that’s $30 million in tax revenues, plus $30 million in a land lease agreement and we’re only getting started. Which is why we don’t taxes to build subways, folks. Casino revenue and the private sector who will tunnel across the city for us [1’17”]. apparently, in order to help alleviate our congestion woes.

And on and on it goes in the view of a fablicuist. (Trying on new words to see how they fit). Strawberry fields for-ever.

Why make up a word when there’s already one that might fit the bill? Fabulism. Fabulist. Fabler.

In the traditional definition, fables are supposed to have a meaning, an ‘edifying or cautionary point’. There’s nothing edifying or cautionary in fablication. Fablication is all about self-interest. fablication6Opinion, especially of the uniformed type, passes for truth. Facts are figments of a fablicateur’s imagination. Anything goes, in the world of fablication. Up is down. Black is white. Everything’s relative. The truth is somewhere in the middle. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.

Fablication is the tool used by those on the wrong side of every issue. It is the creation of a reality unencumbered by the necessity to adhere to any notion of the truth. It’s undemanding, free-floating, amorphous and subject to change at a moment’s notice. Eventually a fablicated world will collapse into itself, but the key for everyone living outside its bubble is to limit the damage inflicted before it does.

* as far as I know ‘fablication’ was first coined by Catherine Soplet

studiously submitted by Cityslikr


Architecture Of A Debate

August 31, 2010

Seated in a packed Great Hall on the 3rd floor of the St. Lawrence Hall last night awaiting the most recent mayoral debate, this one hosted by Heritage Toronto, I took in the (mercifully) air-conditioned magnificence of the room. Its salmon coloured walls… or were they pink? Hard to tell in the dim light cast by the gas-powered chandelier and wall sconces. Is that what they’re called, sconces?

Politics runs deep in this building, having hosted the likes of John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, George Brown and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Maybe tonight we’d witness a politician rising to the occasion to match the august surroundings. A breakout performance that would signal a turnaround in the so-far dreary race. One has to maintain hope in such possibilities if one doesn’t want to become totally disillusioned with the process.

After two hours, it was obvious nothing of the sort was going to happen but… but… Let me say this as we head humidly toward Labour Day, the unofficial end of summer and beginning of the campaign’s witching hour where carriages turn into pumpkins and us Prince Charmings run around in a desperate attempt to find someone who fits into the glass slipper. George Smitherman looks as if he’s getting into fighting form.

There were flashes during the debate where, for the first since he declared his intentions to run for mayor, we actually caught glimpses of humanity in George rather than a political machine. Hey, I found myself thinking a couple of times last night, the man actually likes this city he wants to lead. Maybe City Hall isn’t just a stepping stone for him on his way to a higher profile political gig. Who knows how much smoother the campaign trail might’ve been had he embraced a more conciliatory stance toward the current governance of this city from the get-go instead of joining the chorus of blind ragers looking to do nothing more than stir-up a pool of discontent with loud bellowing.

Smitherman was primed and ready for a healthy debate, having released his 5-point Heritage Plan earlier in the day. He came across as one-step ahead of everyone else on stage (football fields ahead in some cases), weaving policy talk in with personal anecdotes of living a heritage related life, not always seamlessly but more often than not effectively. His response to the question about the disparity between heritage preservation in the downtown core versus the suburbs, slyly extended an olive branch to the suburbs with his vow to empower community councils to deal with such matters. There was the odd political swipe, left and right, here and there. He also expressed a surprising antagonism to the idea of putting a Toronto museum into the old City Hall building ‘sometime in the future’ after the courts had been moved elsewhere which seemed an unnecessary shout-out to the fiscal conservatives surrounding him.

Still, to our eyes, it was Smitherman’s strongest debate performance to date and should make Team Rob Ford look down from measuring for new curtains in the Mayor’s office (paid for entirely by Rob Ford, of course) and realize that it may take more than name-calling and scandal mongering to put their candidate into office. For his part, Mr. Ford once again looked out-of-place and ill at ease addressing one of them downtown, elitist crowds. Although he did zero to help his cause like, maybe, brush up on the topic at hand a little. He seems pathologically unable to veer from his script and eventually drew derisive groans, mocking laughter and the odd heckle as he refused to answer many of the questions asked of all the debaters, and drifted off onto inane non sequiturs and pat responses.

It’s almost painful to witness over the course of 2 hours. Almost. To the point where I wonder why he participates in these particular debates at all. Then I remember this is primo campaign strategy. The laughing and jeering has nothing to do with Rob Ford being ill-informed and thick-headed and all about the smug, condescending downtowners who’ll get theirs when Rob Ford becomes mayor. So far, it’s been working for him but they may have to add to the repertoire if Smitherman continues to perform like he did last night.

As for the others?

Rocco Rossi, despite his campaign team shake up over the weekend, remains almost as single-mindedly fixated on a ‘single money for value’ issue as Ford although he’s added another neo-conservative trick to his… wherever you add a trick. A trick bag? Voter Recall which has done wonders for places like California. Rossi just seemed louder than he usually does but did pronounce his love of the city’s ravines. Loudly.

Joe Pantalone was performing in front of a supportive crowd and, as usual, had nice moments especially when he responded to a question of ‘cultural landscapes’. But he seems unable to deliver a sustained performance over the course of an entire debate, lapsing back into soft platitudes when he doesn’t appear all that interested in the topic. He’s also developed an annoying tic of punching a single point relentlessly from the morning’s strategy meeting. Last night? The Fort York bicentennial, coming up in 2012. Again and again. Yeah, we get it, Joe. Fort York = Heritage.

Once more, Sarah Thomson appeared out of her depth, saying little more than ‘let’s preserve old buildings’. How can a candidate (aside from Rob Ford) seem continually surprised and caught off-guard at a debate on Heritage by questions about, well, heritage? Last night might represent the weakest we’ve seen Ms. Thomson.

For the second time we watched Rocco Achampong take a spot alongside the front running candidates and are now convinced that it should be his last. While chalking up his underwhelming performance at June’s Better Ballots debate to a case of nerves, once again last night he displayed a knack for not delivering a succinct point in his allotted time. Ever. There’s no focus to his campaign and as a candidate, he seems torn between two instincts: a fiscal conservatism and social liberalism. They seem at war with one another and render him conflicted and ineffective. It’s time to turn over the one measly chair to another outsider candidate.

Debate moderator, former Chief City Planner of Toronto and professor of City Planning at U of T and Ryerson, Paul Bedford, closed out the debate saying that cities need to grow on purpose not by accident and implored all those in the Great Hall to go out and “make passionate love to the city”. Well, we didn’t see a lot of that on display from the candidates but it was interesting and more than a little heartening to watch George Smitherman’s iciness toward it begin to thaw, just a little. With it not even Labour Day yet, we may be seeing signs of the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr