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The Suburban Restoration

By Fred Bethune on Wednesday December 8, 2010 11:54 AM

I normally try to keep my Canadian politics references to a minimum. The working assumption is that people need an update on Canadian politics about as much as they need an update on their co-worker's digestive issues. With that in mind, I think that SMBIVA might still get a kick out of Toronto's new mayor.

Rob Ford is a rich kid who never actually graduated university or worked any sort of real job in his life. As far as I know, his only non-political job was as a volunteer high school football coach -- a position he gained in return for a donation of $20,000 to equip the team. He has been arrested for DUI and possession of marijuana. He's an unapologetic fat-ass. He behaves like a child during council sessions, and has to be warned repeatedly about swearing and other bizarre behaviour. He's basically Tommy Boy, and he just won Toronto's mayoral race in a landslide.

This election has exposed a rift in Toronto between the leftist downtown core, which voted for Anybody But Ford, and the conservative suburbs, where Ford dominated. As might be expected, the downtown elite have taken the news hard. Richard Florida is inconsolable. I'm told that he has been in seclusion since election night and is subsisting solely on tom yum broth. Naomi Klein has been spotted on the Mink Mile, splurge-buying Hermes scarves. To add insult to injury, Ford gave his scheduled victory interview to CBC Radio (the equivalent of NPR) while coaching a football game, and part way through told the host "I gotta let you go", as if dealing with a telemarketer.

Right about now, I'm sure that MJS is out there somewhere asking "Is there actually any downside to this Rob Ford character?" Well, let this be a lesson in "first they came for the vegan improv troupes..." to you, Father Smith:

That's right. Rob Ford is here to end the War on Cars, put those goddamn pain in the ass cyclists in their place (on the sidewalk), and eliminate the bike lanes. This was actually a key plank in Ford's platform, and arguably his defining issue. Toronto has recently set up some bike lanes, taxed motor vehicles to pay for transit infrastructure, and undertaken a variety of other greenish initiatives. Now we are getting the blowback.

If there is one thing that the suburbanites here hate more than anything -- more than bureaucrats, more than fancy pants professors, more than the immigrants, more than the gays, more than the feminists -- it is the "fucking bike nazis". Oh, the rage. Never mind the fact that most of the suburbanites rarely come downtown more than once a week. Apparently the inconvenience of having to yield to a cyclist on a crowded street is enough to engender a lifetime of frothing hatred. Now that their man is in City Hall, the horizon looks quite bleak for cyclists in the GTA.

Perhaps I'm being overly dour. Could Ford pull a bait and switch on his base? There's at least one promising sign. Despite using homophobic, underhanded tactics against his rival during the campaign, Ford selected Canada's most famous homosexual to give a speech at his inauguration ceremony:

Comments (22)

Actually, he makes a good point about separating the bikes from the motorized traffic. This has been happening for years in Amsterdam, where I live; separate bike paths. Only in a few places where the sidewalk is too narrow to afford a separate lane for bikes do you find the "white lines" in the road he refers to.


Yes, but trust me, he has absolutely no intention of widening the sidewalks or establishing separate bike lanes. His regard for cyclist safety is pure concern trollery.

Doesn't "never actually graduated university" recommend him?

Al Schumann:


In his case it's a warning signal. He acquired the socialization and brute mentality without needing all the operant conditioning it usually takes to turn normal people into monsters.


I hadn't thought of that, but you could take it either way.

I was just throwing it in there to lead into this bit:

"Is there actually any downside to this Rob Ford character?"

Jack is right about the sense in which I meant it, but I think that Al is right in terms of the actual take away from this little factoid.


As a regular reader and Torontonian, first let me say: more posts on Canadian politics, please.

I'm not sure what to think of Ford's brazen racism, homophobia and contempt for anyone outside of his conservative suburban commuter constituency. I thought his CBC radio interview was sort of refreshing -- the only way his message could have been clearer is if he had simply picked up the phone and said, "Fuck you and your liberal listeners -- the suburbanites are in charge now, bitches".

Conflict resolved. Wealth and privilege socialized him into a monster. He didn't need to pay academia to remove his soul for him.

"Moe ture istss" Heh.

Where I live that word is pronounced:

Mot'r'istz or Motahwrists.

Al Schumann:

I can see his wingnut appeal in the videos. He's good at shocking the liberal bourgeoisie. The manic aggression makes him perfect for suburban commuter populism. Personality disorders and bigotry are important to his core constituents, but I doubt he'll last long. The suburbanites are going to expect him to deliver on things other than shocking liberals. What good is terrorizing the cyclists when your SUV is destroyed by potholes?

He's truly loathsome, but if he physically attacks Michael Ignatief, I'll consider him a hero.

I second Picador's motion. Big issues, particularly labor, are cross-border concerns.


It's conventional wisdom that "suburban capture" is a good thing for cities, but there's clearly another side to that coin. Maybe we'd be better off in NYC if we sold Staten Island to New Jersey?

But then, maybe better a clown than a technocrat. Mike Bloomberg has built lots of bike lanes, but he's also put Bill Gates Cathie Black in charge of our kids' lives.

Maybe on balance, the best bike infrastructure is a buffoon in city hall, and lots and lots of cyclists taking over the streets. I've always taken a dim view of bike lanes.


I knew that you wouldn't be able to resist Rob Ford's charms.

I'm surprised about the bike lanes, though. Why don't you like them?

Brian M:

We've had the bike lane debate before, but I will only note that bicycle lanes are pointless in dense urban neighborhoods where traffic is not really free flowing. (i.e...a Columbus Avenue in San Fran, for instance). In a suburbia, with four lanes of large SUV traffic moving at 45-55 mph? I'll take whatever I can get, even if the white lines are silly, I still want a little separation.

Which makes his viewpoint even more idiotic.


What Brian said, more or less. Highways and suburban roads, okay. Urban streets, often worse than useless. As often as not, they put you in the Door Zone. Then they're frequently blocked by cop cars, double-parkers, buses, delivery trucks, and you have to veer out into traffic. You're better off riding in a straight line. Finally, they're a ghetto. Drivers expect you to stay in them, whether they're useful or safe or not, and even to stay off of streets that don't have them.

They're really a classic technocrat/liberal approach to problem solving -- make a rule and paint a stripe. Common law (e.g. the concept of assault) and common public space (where everybody is entitled to be) and common sense (the person with the dangerous instrumentality has the onus to avoid hurting anybody; it's not the potential victim's responsibility to dodge the bullet) seem to me a much better approach.


Hmm.. those two options are not mutually exclusive, though, are they?

The way I view bike lanes is just as a means of providing some breathing room for cyclists. I'm all for riding in the regular flow of traffic, but most cyclisst opt for the side of the road. Even if it's not a totally safe area, I'd still say that it's better than not having one at all. In both cases you still have at least the same legal protection, probably more in the case with bike lanes.

You're going to be in the door zone anyway a lot of the time, and even though it's a crime to door-prize someone, it's still going to happen, so why not give the cyclists a bit more room to manoeuvre?

Suburban capture is indeed a double-edged sword. Here in the vastly over-rated Portland, Oregon, the public transit system is owned by "Metro," not the City proper. Last month, the burbs crushed the ballot initiative to acquire new buses for the first time in a generation.

Makes one long to start building walls and toll booths at town's edge and prepare for the future with the burbs as acknowledged enemies.


Being an old mediaevalist from 'way back, I love the Walled City idea. The only problem in the US is that cities have no autonomy -- state legislatures hold all the strings. It's much worse than the Middle Ages, when cities had royal charters and could tell the local robber baron to fuck off.

Is it that bad in Canada? Are cities the stepchildren of the provincial legislatures?


I'm not really sure. I'm guessing that Canadian cities are just as hamstrung, if not more.

The jurisdiction works a bit differently than in the United States. From what I understand, Canadian cities have a lot less autonomy in education for one thing. Education, health care, roads, and natural resources are all provincial jurisdiction, so hospital wait times, class sizes and oil royalties would be a provincial matter.

I should know more about how the revenue sharing works. I do know that there are transfer payments between the federal, provincial and municipal level. The lower levels complain about having their funding reduced while being expected to deliver the same services, and therefore having to take the heat for cuts that were dictated from above.


Another Canadian reader here.

In Canada, municipalities are creatures of the provinces. Some provinces have dabbled in forced mergers in metro areas. The Quebec gov't tried to do it with Montreal, but then backtracked.

In British Columbia, there is a "Metro Vancouver" super-administration but it mostly only handles transportation issues. When it makes long-term plans, the province may still override and impose different plans.

The current BC Liberal provincial gov't is pro-suburban and is widening highways, adding bridges, etc. But the Vancouver city gov't is adding bikelanes. I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with our own version of Rob Ford, because a lot of affluent people in Vancouver like driving their luxury SUV's even more than they like preening themselves over their own green-ness.

Anybody with thoughts about the new Calgary mayor?

One more thing:

"He's truly loathsome, but if he physically attacks Michael Ignatieff, I'll consider him a hero."

Iggy spittin' chiclets? That's one "liberal intervention" I could support.


"Anybody with thoughts about the new Calgary mayor?"

My impression of Calgary and southern Alberta from my last visit is that the conservatism there doesn't live up to the hype. I'm not sure if the older generation is just dying off or what, but I was expecting a lot less cosmopolitanism and more overt conservatism. I guess that when you have that much money and that many people pouring into a city, it naturally gets more liberal.


walled city ???

father indulges his seff
the sprawl ring amounted to liberation
from an oppressive density
to wage smurfs
did it deliver them to yet other devils ??

of course !!!!!

plays no exit better then most

but the exodus was no trail of tears

the 16-17th century new england struggle
over habitude patterns is instructive here i think

Brian M:

op does have a point.

As much as I hate the pastel sweep of little boxes...dank walk up cold water flats with rats in the alleys...???

I know some of you are just fine with grim East German high rises and the concrete jungle. Most people...absent a dictatorship of the leftist intellectuals focing the ...err, proletariate, forcing the issue, don't agree. fetish power of the single family home (cue the music) aside.


Lewis Mumford was correct, I think, when he wrote that the desire for suburban life was valid (a patch of garden, some privacy and elbow-room, access to fresher air and natural light, and at least the illusion of one's own tiny castle), but the building of vast suburbs became self-defeating.

I think many of the entries on Nathan Lewis' site are good discussion. It's mostly not original stuff, but it's concise and well-illustrated:


(Yeah, he's a gold bug and thinks that fancy clothes are important, but I think that Lewis urban criticism has value in its own right).


It's possible to have highrise development that retains a human scale. The Collingwood neighbourhood in Vancouver is a good recent Canadian example (awfully long URL follows):


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