Only when humans are again permitted to build authentic urbanism -- those cities, towns, and villages that nurture us by their comforts and delights -- will we cease the despoiling of Nature by escaping to sprawl.
- Andrés Duany, 'Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream'
I think of Rob Ford as a powder keg, masquerading as a beer keg. At first glance, he appears populist, pleasing, inexpensive, and easygoing, and then you realize that he is elitist, divisive, and explosive. (To see Rob Ford's behaviour on City Council, here is the 'Rob Ford's Maturity' youtube video which is going viral.) As former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson warns, the city risks "handing over the office of greatest local influence on the basis of anger and reaction, not that of responsible, thoughtful and mature policy." Rob Ford has led a negative campaign against City Hall, and when people have been made afraid of the future, they fall back by default on conservative posturing, blinding them to socially innovative solutions. As George Smitherman seethed, "The City of Toronto's motto is diversity is our strength. If Rob Ford is elected mayor, the first thing that will need to be done is change the motto."
Transit is by far and away the thorniest, and most important, issue in this mayoral race. Rob Ford's transit plan includes getting rid of streetcars, building suburban bicycle lanes, and extending the Sheppard subway line. By "stopping the war on cars" for his supporters, Ford has created skepticism toward Transit City's European-style Light Rail Transit system, without offering any viable alternatives. As Chris Bilton noted in Eye Weekly:
"Ford's focus on road repairs is admirable, but refuses to acknowledge that the reason we need to repair the Gardiner and the DVP is because they are used daily by 905ers whose taxes do not pay for Toronto's road maintenance. And then there's Ford's totally worthless bike plan, which boasts 100km of off-road biking trails -- mainly through the northernmost parts of North York and the far reaches of suburban Toronto -- most of which would be completely useless to anyone trying to commute into the downtown core. Ford doesn't seem to understand that cyclist commuters reduce traffic congestion (and transit congestion for that matter) and will ride on Toronto streets whether or not there are bike lanes. Trying to relegate cycling to a weekend pastime is not only delusional, but would make congestion worse.
Ford's slash and burn spending on transit initiatives will increase traffic congestion, air pollution, and road rage through urban sprawl, and benefit no one, while damaging everyone's health and Toronto's future economic prosperity. In addition, he is attempting to turn back the clock on Mayor Miller's legacy, Transit City, which forms the basis of network for the entire GTA, and democratizes accessibility for those who are underserved to have access to Toronto without relying on cars. Rob Ford's plan to extend the Sheppard Line has not been approved by the federal and provincial governments; Transit City has been, and is already being constructed, so the subway extension is an election promise impossible to meet.
Downtown, Ford will sell off bicycle lanes to SUVs, in a time of peak oil, when the rest of the world, including China, is building electric transit networks to espouse the principles of New Urbanism: Renewable Energy + Electric Transportation + Walkable Urbanism = Livable Cities. China, by the way, has canceled their contract with General Motors for the Hummer, knowing they would clog its arteries. China knows it does not want another 10-day traffic jam; Ford would be encouraging just that in Toronto.
I live in a triangle of three parks, Sorauren, MacGregor and Dufferin Grove, in Ward 18, part of Davenport Riding -- recently singled out as 'a riding to watch' in all of the upcoming elections. Friday night suppers in Dufferin Grove are a magnet for first and second generation immigrants, designers, tradespeople, professors, those of many different genders, and priority youth -- a neo-urban hippy community. This riding also has the largest growing immigrant population, and some of the greatest poverty, in Canada. We have had our growing pains, but my community believes in a bicycle lanes, farmer's markets, and a Do-it-Yourself culture, values which are a throwback to the Depression Era when each purchase was carefully considered, and household items were repurposed, reused, and shared through a network of neighbours. Parks are essential to the Davenport Riding. As Toronto becomes ever more crowded, they ensure equitable access to play for those who live in crowded conditions. Downtown parks are what make my urban life tolerable, and have stopped my flight to the suburbs.
One day, while watching the neighbourhood children make human pyramids in Dufferin Grove, a fridge magnet was thrust under my nose. I looked up and found it attached to Rob Ford. "Vote for me," he said imperiously. I said "Not a chance, Rob. You know nothing about urban planning and environmentalism, the two things that matter most to this community."
"Call my office," was his reply, and he stumbled off, with his three younger, identical acolytes in tow, like a lion stalking prey. As he approached a grazing herd of neo-urban hippies, they swiftly fled from his pack, loping like antelopes across the plains. I still wake up in the wee hours of the morning, giggling at this sight, until the seriousness of the upcoming mayoral election kicks in. I am afraid for the park system if Rob Ford is elected, and with very good reason, because the Toronto Islands are at stake as well. I love this park, and their beaches, and they are my most treasured part of Toronto.
The Toronto Islands attract 12 million visitors, including international tourists, a year to the waterfront. Ford's decision to sit down with Porter Airline's Rob Deluce to discuss how to continue to expand the Toronto City Center Airport will jeopardize the right of those who love to picnic on the Toronto Islands- those who cannot afford to flee the smoggy heat of the city. Aircraft flying directly above the Islands, and Lake Ontario, bring international security risks, noise and air pollution directly into the city center, and by increasing traffic above this park, will detract from this green oasis. This constant air traffic will drop thousands upon thousands of tonnes of jet fuel into the Great Lakes, our drinking water. This water supply is not guaranteed to be our stable resource, as it is losing 1.4 million Olympic swimming pools of water annually. Particulate matter that goes up as smog, comes down as water pollution.
For the first time in Toronto's history, young children, who attend primary school near this airport, are getting asthma. Privileging the expansion of a short haul airport over less affluent citizens to enjoy the parks, schools or west end playgrounds, is a really an elitist position by Ford, as it assumes that people he represents own cottages, or do not live downtown. Toronto already has Pearson International Airport, Pearson, and the TCCA is really only for those who do not live on the waterfront, or in the west end of the city, and do not care about either, for the sake of a couple of minutes' convenience in travel time. An unsustainable transit structure would be in play as proposed by Ford -- cars battling bikes, and TCCA short haul flights prioritized over electric rail infrastructure on the Georgetown corridor. An electric, rather than diesel, Air Rail Link to Pearson would put downtown Toronto back into play on the world stage, rather than polluting the waterfront and west end, and every other mayoral candidate has signed a pledge to support the Clean Train Coalition, with the exception of Ford.
To build his Canadian version of the Tea Party, Rob Ford wants to get rid of 22 out of 44 councillors, and is actively canvassing rightwing councillors to support his candidacy. It would be to his benefit to fire those progressive councillors who oppose his bombastic style and supported Mayor Miller, and pad council seats with allies, so that he can impose his decisions without opposition. I think one of the ways to stop this juggernaut race by Rob Ford is to carefully elect a Toronto City Council who will voice our right to environmental protection through New Urban principles, so that Rob Ford's slash and burn transit and social service policies do not gain traction.
A significant number of Torontonians are not decided in their mayoral or councillor votes -- I know that I am not -- and I think that we have to come together as one Toronto, and start deciding on our mayoral and council candidates together as a united voice that loves this city, and wants it to prosper, rather than to be caught in a stalemate of consensus, and traffic gridlock, over the next four years. We need to elect a Mayor of Toronto, and City Council, who can predict the necessity for change, with enough foresight to ensure that Transit City is in place so that our city is resilient in this age of peak oil. It is not enough to say, as I witnessed Rob Ford say during a CP24 debate, "that we do not want 1 million more people in Toronto... we can barely take care of the people we have already." Population growth is inevitable, and his simple response is not good enough.
Curiously, the majority of Torontonians polled would vote for Mayor Miller once again if he were to run, so who are we going to choose to support Transit City, a green economy, social innovation and arts and culture? Who loves the City of Toronto, beyond personal gain, and who will defend us from unbridled growth, driven by the suburbs? I would say Joe Pantalone, with his 30 years of experience, but is to give Joe Pants a vote to take away a vote from George Smitherman, who appears to be the only real contender against Rob Ford? It gives me profound sadness to think strategically -- I saw how quickly Joe Pantalone fought and won the redesign of an underground version of the Strachan Bridge from Metrolinx, and I think that we have spent so much time talking about Ford that we have ignored the magic powers of the feisty Small Wonder. Of all the mayoral candidates, I truly believe Joe Pantalone cares for Toronto the most.
However, in this time of crisis, I think we are forced to carefully band together to ensure that progressive city councillors are in the majority so that Rob Ford will be unable to hold dominion within City Hall. The Mayor is only one vote, and although he sets the tenor of City Hall, Ford will forced to reach consensus if we elect councillors who will contest his environmentally retrogressive bylaws, although as Councillor Ford, this has been nigh impossible for him to do. We need to unite soon so that we have a fighting chance to have our downtown voice heard. It is up to us, as those who want to breathe, live, walk and ride our bikes safely in this city to determine how we are going to vote as a block, for both councillors and mayor, so Ford does not divide the left down the middle to take the far right.
To this end, I ask all those in agreement check out these sites, and join Facebook campaigns, so that we can work together as a unified, downtown vote, and decide what to do:
Watch 'Facts not Fury' -- a video counterargument to Ford's negative campaigning.
... and on Facebook.
... and on Facebook.
... and on Facebook.
An election is a terrible thing to waste. Otherwise, four years of Rob Ford may drive people like me, a proud, leftwing, latte-swilling, arts and culture loving, downtown greening, smog-reducing, neo-urban hippie from my natural urban habit, and force me to flee to the ever-expanding suburbs to get my taxes' worth of clean living. We need to be One Toronto, and to come together now.
Co-curator and contributing blogger for The Real G8/G20, Elizabeth Littlejohn blogs at Railroaded by Metrolinx, where the full version of this article can be read. As a member of the Clean Train Coalition, she advocates for clean, sustainable, electric transit, to democratize transit in the Greater Toronto Area, and believes in the progressive principles of New Urbanism.
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