More Of The Mayor’s Magical Musings

“To be a world class city, at least a North American world class city, we need an NFL team.”

— Councillor Doug Ford, older, allegedly smarter brother of Mayor Rob Ford.

If there’s another statement that would better reveal this administration’s horrifying ignorance about what makes a city vibrant, livable, “world class”, it would have to be grunted by a speaker who’s covered in their own feces. Assuming the mayor agrees with his brother’s view (a fair one to make, I think, given the cover of the newspaper the story appeared in), we bear witness to yet another dimension in the realm of the mayor’s magical thinking. You can cut taxes and not cut services. If you absolutely have to have public transit, subways are always better than any alternative. Professional sports franchise equals civic health.

Look down there at Detroit. After decades of on-field futility, their Lions showed signs of life this past season. Can recovery be far behind for the city?

It seems the mayor and his brother headed off to Chicago this weekend on a fact-finding mission to take in the NFC conference championship game. Because, it stands to reason, that if a world class city needs an NFL franchise, having a winning franchise will make a city even more world classier. Why, winning the Super Bowl just last year, turned every Hurricane Katrina induced disaster around for the city of New Orleans.

Hopefully while in The Windy City, the mayor and his brother managed to find time to take in some other sights outside of Soldier Field that contribute to Chicago’s vitality. Just down the lake from where they would’ve seen the Packers defeat the hometown Bears, there’s the Art Institute. A little further from AIC, there’s Millennium Park with its Frank Gehry Pritzker Pavilion, built on former industrial railroad land. It’s all part of a renovated waterfront that reclaimed the lake. A familiar sounding problem, Mayor Ford?

Or maybe the mayor and his brother rode around for a bit on the Chicago transit system, just to see how other cities of comparable size move their people around. Not being knowledgeable enough myself to know how it matches up to ours, I’ll assume neither is the mayor. It’d be nice to think that he took the opportunity to help enlighten himself further on the pressing issue of public transit.

And while they were at it, I wonder if the mayor and his brother sought the advice of anyone who could give them a hands-on account of how the privatization of parking in Chicago has worked out. Since his budget chief has mused publicly about the necessity of the city being in the parking business, the mayor certainly needs to take some time to weigh the issue fully to see if other places benefited from such a move. Some due diligence done on either side of a football game.

On the other hand, maybe this whole call for an NFL team was simply a dog whistle that only the mayor’s supporters could hear. After a week of sometimes bruising public consultations over the proposed budget where it became crystal clear that the mayor wouldn’t be able to maintain his campaign promise of holding the line on taxes without cutting services, they needed a diversionary tactic. Hey! Look over here! The NFL! Remember? The mayor loves football. Just like you and me.

As cynical as that would be, it’d still beat the mayor and his brother actually believing that having an NFL team in Toronto puts us on the road to world classiness. The simple-mindedness of that is a little too much to bear on a cold Monday morning after a weekend where the Raptors lost their 7th game in a row, the Leafs further mired themselves out of playoff contention and the Blue Jays traded away their center fielder in what was little more than a salary dump. By professional sports franchise standards, Toronto’s sitting on the corner of Shithole & Crack  Alley, smack dab in the middle of Nowhere’s Ville on a rail line that no longer stops here on its way to Classy Town.

abracadabraly submitted by Cityslikr

Another Thought on Toronto’s Governance

Just in case anyone thinks it’s Cityslikr who does all the heavy lifting/seminar going around this office, I too was in attendance at Tuesday’s Rethinking Toronto’s Governance session at U of T’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance. Simply because he doesn’t have a life and rushes home to immediately put fingertips to keyboard, doesn’t mean he’s the only one who has thoughts on the event. Some like to allow time for percolation and reflection before popping off. Coffee and thinking. Coffee and thinking.

One interesting angle from the session which my colleague did not touch upon was a statement Paul Bedford made about a visiting urban thinker to Toronto. (I don’t take notes. Check the IMFG website when the webcast is posted for exact details.) After a walk throughout the city, this particular individual told Mr. Bedford (and I’m paraphrasing here) that while Toronto was most definitely a city of neighbourhoods, there was no overall cohesive whole.

What?! But that’s the kind of city we are! A city of neighbourhoods. Please don’t call our identity into question.

It’s an interesting observation even if perhaps apocryphal, given how well it aligned with the gist of Mr. Bedford’s talk especially when taken with Kyle Rae’s view that council remains ward-centric and many citizens refuse to let go of ‘old’ Toronto (and Etobiocoke and North York et al) and embrace the amalgamated entirety. How do you build one city from six? Is it possible to unite around a place called Toronto when many of its components (Etobicoke and North York et al) resent and dislike the very name of it unless it precedes the words `Maple Leafs’?

The Board of Trade’s Richard Joy was pessimistic that it could be done. Saying that it was strictly his opinion and not that of the TOB and refusing to use the word ‘de-amalgamation’ (there are precedents for that sort of thing, ie Montreal), he did wonder if the megacity was a failed experiment. In a peculiar twist from that thought, he expressed more interest in a region wide approach to governance. 416 and 905. Big and small. Small and big.

These are interesting times, here in Toronto. Living in a city that isn’t comfortable in its own skin. Factional about urban planning. Jealous like siblings over how our resources are spent. And now preyed upon and exploited by mayoral candidates who campaign within the fault lines while vowing to lead us, followed, of course, by a disingenuously heart-felt I Love My City coda.

This divide we’re dealing with is, like the supposed red state-blue state division expounded upon endlessly in the U.S., what I think is called a heuristic technique. (At least I hope so because the other word that comes to mind is `hirsute’ and that puts a different spin on the matter, entirely.) I’m quoting E. Barbara Phillips here, heuristic: “a model, assumption or device that is not necessarily scientifically true but is a useful tool to aid in the discovery of new relationships.”

Or perhaps in the case of our mayoral campaign, a model, assumption or device not necessarily scientifically true but useful to divide and conquer.

Are there differences between the downtown core and the inner suburbs? No doubt. Some are desirable; the unique cogs that make up this thing we call diversity. But what about those differences that are less positive? Can they be overcome? Well, that’s the 11.6 billion dollar question. They certainly can’t be if whatever inequities and imbalances do exist aren’t addressed directly by those wanting to be our next mayor instead of being used as a wedge to drive the two solitudes further apart merely for electoral gain.

If we can’t outgrow this largely mental divide — that there’s a war on cars, that downtown elites are dining on caviar harvested from the sweat of toil of hardworking suburban regular Joes, that Scarberians only want to be left alone to sit in their underwear eating BBQ on their John Deeres – we should just call it a day, cut our losses and go our separate ways. After asking permission from the province, of course. It isn’t possible to coalesce into a more unified entity when our fledgling leaders endeavour to lead by promoting disharmony.

That’s what we call a lack of vision, and the absolute last thing Toronto can endure at this juncture in its existence. We need to see what it is that makes us one city. Those commonalities unique to this place that differentiates us not from each other but from other places, other cities, other regions. The civic glue holding Toronto together in good times and bad.

Is there any aside from following professional sports teams that suck? If not, well then, these municipal elections amount to little more than futile exercises that occur every four years, serving only to get everyone’s hackles up before we all retreat back into our 44 little enclaves, telling each other to stay the hell off our lawn.

neighbourly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

We Don’t Know Hockey But Know Somebody Who Does

(Just in case you’re getting tired of hearing the same old nat-nat-nattering from these quarters, we thought it’d be good to change it up a bit today. So, ladies and gentlemen, we bring you a guest commentator…)

*  *  *

This week in Eye Weekly, Shawn Micallef wrote a perspicacious open letter to George Smitherman, urging the Toronto mayoral candidate to be more like Wendel Clark than Tie Domi. Although I am not a Maple Leaf fan, I’ve watched the team for decades and inevitably started wondering what Leafs our former mayors most resemble:

* David Crombie = Ted Kennedy

Okay, I never saw Kennedy play—I’m not that old—but many hockey historians consider him the greatest Leaf ever. Captain for eight years, “Teeder” helped the team win the Stanley Cup five times and was the last Leaf to win the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. Mayor from 1972 to 1978, Crombie led a reform council that left a legacy the city has coasted on for decades. We still remember him fondly as Toronto’s Tiny Perfect Mayor.

* John Sewell = Frank Mahovlich

A big, supremely talented player, the Big M helped the Leafs win the Stanley Cup four times. And yet, management mistreated him and fans booed him. Sewell had been a smart and scrappy activist alderman, but after he had the temerity to suggest Toronto cops were anything less than tops, he lasted just one term as a bike-riding, rights-defending mayor. Pearls before swine, I guess.

* Art Eggleton = Inge Hammerstrom

An ineffectual player, Hammerstrom could, according to owner Harold Ballard, “go into the corners with eggs in his pockets and not break one of them.” Eggleton was equally ineffectual. Unfortunately, he lasted longer as mayor than the Swedish winger lasted as a Leaf—and a lot of things broke in Toronto while he was in office.

The Other Swede

* June Rowlands = Tie Domi

A classic NHL goon, Domi served as Leaf enforcer. Rowlands ran for mayor on a law and order platform, but is best remembered for banning the Barenaked Ladies, an innocuous Scarborough pop group, from performing at Nathan Phillips Square. While both Domi and Rowlands were embarrassing, the big difference between the two was that Domi was, inexplicably, wildly popular in Toronto.

* Barbara Hall = Mats Sundin

The only Swedish player to score 500 NHL goals, the talented Sundin was a rare likable player on a team full of unlikable ones (Tie Domi, Darcy Tucker, Shayne Corson). Hall was mayor during Premier Mike Harris’s war on the city. Like Sundin, she served with class during a difficult era.

* Mel Lastman = Tiger Williams

A notorious bad boy, Williams remains the NHL’s all-time penalty leader. Some hockey fans thought he was a goof; others found him entertaining. Ditto for Lastman.

* David Miller = David Keon

When I was a kid, the hockey magazines I devoured regularly referred to the small, skillful Keon as “pound for pound the best player in the NHL.” Although he was one of the greatest players to ever don a Leaf sweater, his relationship with the team eventually soured and he split. As mayor, Miller had smarts, skill and vision—and was equally underappreciated. But many of the mayor’s supporters have a nagging suspicion that, like Keon, who won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player, the mayor would have been even more effective if he’d had Gordie Howe’s elbows.

skates strapped on-edly submitted by Tim Falconer, author of Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile