Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Civic menaces

Last night, at a meeting in north-west Toronto, at a school near highway 400 and Jane Street, community police officers encouraged the community to use their parks and other public spaces. When people assert their right to use a park, they said, the drug dealers and hoodlums find another place. They don't like the light and they don't like traffic and they don't like having ordinary people going about their lawful affairs near them.

Meanwhile, closer to the south end of Jane Street, near Jane and Dundas, the neighbourhood I live in has had four murders in the past three weeks. The police suspect three of these killings have some relation to gangs and drugs. One of them probably involved mistaken identity. The most recent murder victim in the area, a fourteen-year-old, attended my kid's school last year. Two of these killings took place within half a kilometre of where two friends of ours live. At the same time, a park near the south end of Jane Street, once alive in the mornings, now stands largely deserted. But the people who use this particular park don't fear drug gangs much. People have avoided the park because the authorities have it up. They have the place under high-profile surveillance. This does not reassure people in the area, because the authorities here have a target other than drug gangs or child killers in mind: dog walkers. City bureaucrats, apparently intent on their annual spring meddle, have sent by-law officers to crack down on off-leash pets. The park, once home to dozens of people in the morning, now stands deserted. Intrusive signs have sprung up, ordering people to keep dogs on leash and on the paths.

The police, who have to deal with actual crime, want Toronto communities to claim their public spaces. The city bureaucracy sends exactly the opposite message: these spaces belong to us, not you, we will decide how they get used, the neighbourhood has no voice, and we will punish anyone who violates the ukase from downtown. This has put the neighbourhood on edge. Nobody seems to know where this impulse to disrupt the informal mechanisms of our community came from, we don't know how to deal with it, and we don't know how to resolve it. We just know that where a pleasant morning activity that did more than most other things to help people get to know their neighbours used to happen, now we have high-profile surveillance (men in black trucks lurking and taking pictures) and an empty park.

Needless to say, I completely agree with the real police: we have no better way of preventing gang activity than building involved communities. But when city bureaucrats insist that only their regulations matter, that the hundred informal relationships that make a community work do not matter, they make this process far more difficult. More than that, they foster an attitude that pits the city as a whole against the local needs of neighbourhoods. When I first came here, I stood up for a policy designed to improve the environment for the city, the policy of intensive development in areas near subway stations so that people would not need cars. I got called "Judas" for it. I have begun to see where this NIMBY impulse comes from. If those who claim to represent the "city as a whole" regularly meddle and disrespect the informal mechanisms that keep Toronto's neighbourhoods civil, why exactly should anyone, support measures designed to benefit parts of the city we don't live in?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Environmental fairness

The Globe and Mail quotes Cameron Doerksen, an analyst with Versant Partners Inc., as saying that because of competition from Porter Airlines, "WestJet... has actually cut back on capacity relative to two years ago." Capacity, in this case, means flights. Because of the establishment of Porter Airlines, fewer jets fly out of Pearson International Airport. Those of us who supported Porter on the grounds of environmental fairness, in the hope that traffic coming out of Toronto City Centre Airport might offer some relief to the people of Rexdale and Malton, who bear the vast majority of the environmental problems coming out of Toronto's use of air travel, may have seen the beginning of that change.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Running of the Pugs!

Every year, the Toronto Pug rescue organization holds an event called "the running of the pugs" to celebrate the joys and amusements of living with the noble pug. This video shows the 2009 running of the pugs. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

If the dry cleaner asks...

about those bite marks on the seat of Mayor Miller's trousers, he can tell them that his most fervent, and most demanding batch of supporters, Community AIR, ran out of patience with him. Again. The waterfront lobby claims they have never yet "gone public" with their frustration with Mr. Miller; that depends on what they mean by going public. Representatives from Community AIR have certainly seldom hesitated to make their desires known to the mayor and the city. And the limits of the mayor's ability to deliver have seldom failed to frustrate them.

Three stubborn facts continue to obstruct the members and supporters of Community AIR, and they remain stubbornly tone-deaf in their approach to these facts. First, the environmental effects of air traffic raise regional issues, and affect people in other cities beside Toronto. And that matters, because Mayor Miller will find it much harder to get support for initiatives such as regional transit if he has alienated cities on all sides of Toronto. The members of Community AIR can claim, as they did in their latest leaflet, that the aviation activities they find intolerable on the waterfront "belong" at Pearson International Airport. Community AIR, of course, has the freedom to claim that the aviation belongs at Pearson, and that the environmental effects of aviation belong in the ears and lungs of the people in Rexdale and Malton. But Mr. Miller has to get along with the politicians who represent the voters in Rexdale and Malton, as well as North Pickering, where the GTAA wants to build an airport. Community AIR can dismiss these people and their interests; the Mayor of Toronto, not so much.

Secondly, most of the airport lands belong to Transport Canada, precisely because in Canada we depend on our transportation system for our country's economic and political health. More even than most nations, we cannot do without a system of transport that includes aviation. And while Toronto City Centre Airport can only play a minor role in the passenger transport system, reliever airports, including Toronto City Centre, typically play a much more prominent role in the medical transport system, And Toronto City Centre Airport handles, on average, ten medical flights a day. Transport Canada has no intention of ignoring the needs of those ten flights, nor will they hand the city title to the airport property for nothing.

Community AIR has one thing right: their rhetoric helped make Toronto City Centre Airport an issue that David Miller rode to victory in the Mayor's race, over at least two candidates who would, in my opinion, have done a much better job of governing. But overheated claims do not stand the test of time very well. The jet fleets pictured on David Miller's election posters in 2003 never materialized. His promise to cancel the bridge to the airport cost a great deal more than a twoonie to keep, and now, as Toronto weathers a severe recession, the success of Porter and Bombardier's Q-400 turbo-prop offers one of the few industrial good news stories we have. For a few years, the rhetoric of David Miller and his waterfront supporters captured public imagination, but Bob Deluce provided actual jobs, actual service, and some very deft branding.

But the issue does not simply involve promotion or jobs. Community AIR and their supporters have made a great many contentious claims over the years, and a good number of them have not come true. Consider the claim, made by Community AIR in the 2003 election, that Deluce Turboprops might take the Don Valley VFR corridor to go north of the city. It didn't happen. Or consider the oft-repeated argument that travelling in a Deluce turbo-prop causes more environmental harm than driving a hummer. By my calculations, based on the published fuel consumption figures for various cars, and on the published fuel load and range figures for the Q-400, flying on a Q-400 releases just slightly more greenhouse gasses than driving a car with average fuel economy, less than driving a light truck or SUV, and very considerably less than driving a hummer. Rhetoric may attract public attention, but to keep it, you have to meet actual needs, and make environmental trade-offs that make sense.

Still, Community AIR had so much to do with the election of our current mayor, and enough people have expressed frustration with our current mayor over taxes and services, that Community AIR might hurt him by withdrawing their support. But who, and how, how do they intend to replace him? As far as I know, Community AIR does not have a bull-pen full of Mayoral candidates with great hair. And the arbiters of taste in Toronto have take to gushing over Bob Deluce. By continuing to insist on maximal demands, Community AIR and its supporters have set themselves up for a very likely failure.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Abuse on a schedule...

Every spring, someone vents their rage at cyclists for violating the laws, both the actual traffic laws (red lights, stop signs) and the laws that exist only in their own minds (the ones that forbid us from filtering through stopped traffic because the sight of cheeky cyclists passing them annoys some motorists).

This spring, I find myself wondering if the papers that publish this nonsense might want, at long last, to move on. If the resentment some drivers feel at cyclists qualified as news once, it really doesn't any more. And reading the endless, dreary repetitions of the same set of grievances, I have to wonder if the papers might try to promote peaceful coexistence rather than fan the flames of resentment every year.