Capital Report III

May 29, 2014

washingtondc

Clearly Pierre L’Enfant set about designing the layout of this nation’s capital in the late 18th-century with cyclists in mind. Take it from someone who has made his way around Washington by all sorts of modes, biking in D.C. is the way to go.

When the city introduced its bike share program back in the fall of 2010, it did so with a certain degree of gusto. It now has more than 300 stations and 2500+ bikes in use. Compare that with Toronto’s BIXI or whatever it’s called now and its 80 stations and a 1000 bikes. While a far cry for the Velib in Paris (1230 stations, 14,000+ bikes), finding a place to grab and drop off a ride is relatively easy. Even during a busy Memorial Day long weekend, we found ourselves bikeless only on a couple of occasions and not for very long.

capitalbikeshare

And, oh the places I have seen by bike this week! Neighbourhoods and off the beaten track sites that might have otherwise remained unseen. Would I have hopped onto the Metro to go see the grave of John Philip Sousa buried in the Congressional Cemetery? No. But by bike? Why not. Who knows the places we might discover along the way? The ‘Historic Capital Hill’ neighbourhood, in fact.

The city is still catching up in terms of bike lanes. There are a fair amount but you get no sense of a network yet. Yet. The big difference between riding here and in Toronto is the politeness of the drivers. Maybe it’s all that southern hospitality but drivers don’t really seem to mind sharing the road with cyclists.

Washington on foot is an undertaking. Pleasant to walk but there are significant distances between monuments and museums. Travelling by Metro is fast but you can miss some of the more quiet asides.

jpsousa

Biking in D.C. is the way to go. You might almost call it, capital! (But you wouldn’t because that’s British and people are still touchy about having their White House burned down.)

pip-piply submitted Cityslikr


Capital Report II

May 27, 2014

washingtondc

Aspirational.

It’s difficult comparing the actual centre of the universe to the in its mind only version (although I have yet to meet that mythical being who really locates Toronto at that point in their cosmology). Washington embraces its capital-ness with gusto. This is what we’re about, folks. This is US.

Yes. The hypocrisy at its core is not lost on me. Thomas “All Men Are Created Equal” Jefferson was a slave owner. The grinding poverty existing mere blocks from the White House. Miles and miles of museums dedicated to science and knowledge in a country filled by climate change skeptics and creationists.

Still.

Aspiration.

Washington flaunts its ideals even if it doesn’t always live by them.

mlkmonument

While I’ll leave it to Americans to wrassle with the implications of that, I still love visiting the city those ideals built. There’s always the possibility some of them may rub off.

hopefully submitted  by Cityslikr


Shut Up And Just Look Pretty

April 13, 2011

Of the many symbols the city of Washington D.C. represents, the one that should resonate most with those of us living in big cities throughout North America is that of a helpless lack of local self-determination. While the situation in DC is much more extreme, having neither full voting representation at the federal level (except for 3 votes in the electoral college) or a state mechanism to stand up for it on a national stage, it reflects a city’s lowly place in the political hierarchy. “Creatures of the province” we are in Toronto and elsewhere in Ontario, Washington is a Constitutional article, proclaimed into existence from the perceived necessity to provide a secure site for all three branches of the federal government. A compromised location where it is not because that’s where the people were but because it’s where north met south.

An 18th-century administrative outpost without its own from of governance until it was bestowed upon them in 1973. Even with that, however, the city operates entirely at the behest of Congress which still maintains control over its budget and has the final say on any and all matters. Like many of its urban counterparts, the social demands made upon Washington DC are many and the resources to meet them are few.

Grand edifices are built (and, man oh man, does DC have some grand edifices) but many of the city’s residents live a little less grandly. They are not the visiting members of Congress’s concern. Why would they be? None live here so aren’t in any way accountable to those who do.

Severely under-represented at the federal as it, DC is often used as a bargaining chip, tossed as red meat to the usually antagonistic, anti-urban sensibilities of the Republican party when the fair-weather Democrats feel they have bigger fish to fry. As happened last week during the budget showdown. To secure a deal, the President allegedly gave over certain aspects of the city’s social policy like access to abortion and needle-exchange to the Republicans in order to secure wider funding for Planned Parenthood.This led to Tuesday’s arrest of DC Mayor Vincent Gray and 6 councillors who were protesting the move and their lack of say in the matter.

“Is DC the president’s to give?” was a question asked at Monday’s protest.

Good question, and one any resident of a city groaning under the combined weight of neglect and unequal fiscal transference might rightfully ask. Outside of the John A. Wilson building where the DC mayor and council do their work, in between demands for voting rights and outright statehood for DC, a digital banner calculates the amount of federal tax the district’s residents have paid this year. Over one billion dollars. Without having any say in how it’s spent. That’s one of the sparks that ignited the American Revolution, wasn’t it?

It’s the nature of a country’s relationship with its cities, too. Where the majority of its citizens live. Where the majority of the wealth is generated. Where the majority of opportunities lie. And yet, cities continued to be M.I.A. in the halls of power. Even during an election campaign, with all 3 of the leaders of Canada’s biggest national parties holding ridings in two of the country’s 3 largest municipalities, you’d think there’d be more talk about city building. A national transit strategy. Housing. Immigration.

Yet all is eerily silent on that front which, sadly, may be sound electoral strategy since our system does not truly indicate the actual urban demographic that we’ve become. But it’s nothing short of foolhardy when it comes to governing. Badly functioning cities inevitably lead to badly functioning societies.

Of course, we can keep saying that until we’re blue in the face. (Seriously, we can.) The sentiment just keeps falling on deaf ears. Perhaps, deep down, regardless of where they come from, politicians of all stripes just wish that cities could be more like Washington, DC. Seen but not heard.

plaintiffly submitted by Cityslikr


D.C. Photo Album

April 12, 2011

Yesterday Washington DC mayor Vincent Gray, six councillors and over 30 others were arrested (no, not for doing crack) protesting restrictions that will be imposed on the city with the budget deal struck last week that averted a federal government shutdown. It is the oldest of American traditions, agitating against taxation without representation. Moreover, it represents the problem facing most urban centres throughout North America. Senior levels of government playing political football with municipalities. A more detailed post on that to follow but first…

Photos of our trip!

A little Canadiana along the way to the Capital

Taken from the top balcony of the Newseum, a relatively new site in DC, situated beside the Canadian Embassy on Pennslyvania Avenue. A building dedicated to the quaint notions of the positive contribution made by the field and journalism and the importance of free speech. Crazy, eh?

A bike sharing program, Capital Bikeshare, is up and going in DC. While I wouldn’t say bike lanes are everywhere on city streets, where they are is pretty cool.

Imagine the 1st green president, with a bone to pick with congress, jumps on his bike share bike and rides straight up to the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue right to Capital Hill.

Hotel Harrington. Home of the Kitcheteria. What the hell’s a ‘Kitcheteria’? Part cafeteria, part ironic embrace of cheese?

And finally, who doesn’t love lion cubs?

Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals alike can agree on at least this one thing. Those cubs are adorable!

swooningly submitted by Cityslikr


D.C. In The Springtime

April 9, 2011

Urgent business summons us to the nation’s capital. Not our nation. The one below us.

Urgent business in Washington, D.C.? You!? Who are you trying to kid?

Well, my friends. It’s the final weekend of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the Nationals have a home stand against the Phillies starting Tuesday and if this whole government shutdown thingie actually happens, I may be able to slip into the Smithsonian when no one’s watching, and get myself Fonzie’s leather jacket that I’ve had my eye on for about 30 years or so. How’s that for urgent?

Besides, D.C. is one of my favourite… oh, sorry… favorite cities despite the fact that it’s in America. It has the historic grandeur of some of Europe’s finest capitals. I have stood, humbled into awe, in front of the Vietnam and FDR memorials, mourning the loss of the cherished principles that served as their inspiration.

D.C. also has some of my favourite watering holes as well as one of the best places to observe our primate brethren in captivity. (Don’t hate us because we still go to zoos.) I also love the D.C. metro. As strong a symbol as there is about what you can do when a federal level of government gets involved in public transit.

So we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke will be dark a few days, maybe squeezing in a post before our return next week. We may take to the Twitter if we have a mind to. You don’t know.

To the Potomac!

Jimmy Stewartly 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