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Shabby Public Realm

Grimace

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But Tewder was specifically complaining that "every last cent" is going to the poor, and it is wasteful, and the result is that we do not have nice streets, so everyone loses. This was the specific post that was getting high praise and to which I was responding. I appreciate he was being hyperbolic to a degree, but the sentiment was there, so I was hyperbolic in return.

There are substantial improvements in streetscape going on in this City. Roncy is greatly improved, as is a good stretch of Dundas West. Bloor of course (though paid by BIA), St. Clair with the streetcar, there are plans for Yonge Street and John Street. These should continue but when allocating finite resources I would not say, like Tewder was clearly saying, that I'd reduce the amount we're spending to support low income residents and re-allocate it to nice sidewalks. I certainly agree that our parks could be kept better, and would support higher property taxes to deal with such things, but I'm pretty sure Tewder was not suggesting higher taxes.
 

condovo

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Are you suggesting we should take this 18% of the City's tax dollars and stop providing public housing, stop providing public health, stop providing children's services, and provide no assistance to the unemployed in finding work,
Precisely what I'm suggesting. The city has no business providing such services. That's the job of the province and the feds.

and instead improve our streetscapes?
And this is the job of the city.

Here, folks, is the essence of why our public realm looks like crap.
 
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gristle

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Well, as neither the feds nor the province are planning to pick these items up, the discussion is, uh, academic. So we will have to look for other sources of improving the public realm.
 

Tewder

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But Tewder was specifically complaining that "every last cent" is going to the poor, and it is wasteful, and the result is that we do not have nice streets, so everyone loses. This was the specific post that was getting high praise and to which I was responding. I appreciate he was being hyperbolic to a degree, but the sentiment was there, so I was hyperbolic in return.

There are substantial improvements in streetscape going on in this City. Roncy is greatly improved, as is a good stretch of Dundas West. Bloor of course (though paid by BIA), St. Clair with the streetcar, there are plans for Yonge Street and John Street. These should continue but when allocating finite resources I would not say, like Tewder was clearly saying, that I'd reduce the amount we're spending to support low income residents and re-allocate it to nice sidewalks. I certainly agree that our parks could be kept better, and would support higher property taxes to deal with such things, but I'm pretty sure Tewder was not suggesting higher taxes.
Wow, I think you need to go back and reread the exchange in question from the start. I in no way took the position you claim.

... but, thanks for proving my point yet again. The twisted perception that civic spending on anything other than social programs or essential services is wasteful, nigh on ethically obscene, runs deep in Toronto. It is engrained within the ethos in a way you simply do not see in other cities.
 

Roy G Biv

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You have to remember that Toronto spends money on things that are probably subsidized by state and national governments in other cities (moreso in Europe). But yeah, there is no vision.

The cheapness of Toronto extends to private developments as well. Generally, developers are greedy, money-first bankers who’s only priority is profit. For this reason, general contractors almost always award tenders to the lowest bid. In fact, the GCs are often given incentives for every dollar they come in under the budget. This is the culture of development. It is completely value-based. In the end, the buyers and city suffers.
 

Tewder

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It's sort of a vicious circle really in that if the market demanded better, developers would have to provide better. As it is, the developers are not that much different than the civic leaders in that they are getting away with lower standards in the absence of any will - popular, political or market - for better.
 

RichA

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About a year ago, I saw a bus at Eglinton and Yonge shear off its passenger side mirror on a pole that was inches from the roadway...
 

Tewder

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My god this all sounds so negative. There are definitely some improvements happening, right? We can do waaaaaay better though, and should. Improvements to the public realm would edify the community in so many ways.
 

Grimace

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Wow, I think you need to go back and reread the exchange in question from the start. I in no way took the position you claim.

... but, thanks for proving my point yet again. The twisted perception that civic spending on anything other than social programs or essential services is wasteful, nigh on ethically obscene, runs deep in Toronto. It is engrained within the ethos in a way you simply do not see in other cities.
Then I don't really know what your position is. It seems condovo read your post the same way I did, and heartily endorsed that view.

In any event, I never suggested that civic spending on things other than social programs or essential services is wasteful. But it is all about priorities. If we want to spend more on the public realm, where does the money come from? I read your post to be saying that it should come from programs for low income residents. We can debate the City budget all day. What I would disagree with is the suggestion that Torontonians in general are somehow more slovenly and more content to be slovenly than other North American cities. Toronto's residential areas are filled with involved citizens and resident groups that are very focused on development in their areas and the maintenance of their local roads and parks.

I have lived in other Cities. Some big US cities with lots of tourism (NY, Chicago) may spend more on key tourist areas but are far more likely to abandon other areas. There was a great study done when I lived in NY on how many broken subway turnstiles there were in low income areas of NY in comparison to the better parts of Manhattan. Calgary spends a much higher percentage of its budget on parks and recreation than Toronto (which includes park maintenance) and in my view keeps its parks much nicer than we do. But it also has a quarter of Toronto's density, far newer infrastructure, far fewer transit pressures, and a different funding model.

I would like to see a way to spend more on our parks. We have some beautiful parks that are either not well maintained or have terrible facilities in them -- Centre Island, High Park, Beaches, etc. I could see myself voting for someone who proposed a 0.5% increase in my property taxes (or whatever) to pay for park and streetscape improvements. I participate in park fundraising for our little community park, but like most could do more. But I can't sit here and tell you what from the City budget should be cut to pay for that if it won't be through increased taxes, and I can't say that this is more important than improving transit or public housing.

All that said, there are lots of improvements!

1. St. Clair ROW and streetscape
2. Roncesvalle
3. Dundas West
4. Bloor
5. The entire West Donlands
6. The Yonge Street Plan
7. The John Street Plan
8. The Queen's Quay Plan
9. The Eglinton Plan

I could go on. Look, if this is all about hydro poles, yes, I would like to bury hydro poles (though as long as we have them, I don't see why we shouldn't post on them). I have no idea how much that would cost, and Toronto Hydro just got shafted at the OEB for trying to improve transmission in the City.
 

RC8

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Years and years of neglect are just beginning to be corrected in this past decade.

Toronto's affair with modernism and the relative abandonment of the downtown core (and the car culture it created) in the 60s and 70s explain most of it.

It is still Toronto's affair with modernism that means the revitalization is happening at a relatively slow pace. Everything needs design contests and artists' involvement.
 

Tewder

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In any event, I never suggested that civic spending on things other than social programs or essential services is wasteful.
... well then I guess I'm missing your point as well, but by bringing the homeless into this discussion you and others are implicitly saying it's an either/or choice. In other words by choosing to plant an extra tree we are choosing that somebody will go without food.


If we want to spend more on the public realm, where does the money come from? I read your post to be saying that it should come from programs for low income residents.
Please show me where I suggested that we should take money 'away' from anybody. As you yourself said, it's about priorities. We should indeed be funding social programs because we are a compassionate society, but we should also be uplifting, edifying and upkeeping our collective space. It is our home and the state we keep it in says a lot about our values and our level of self respect... and this isn't a Ford Nation/Gravy Tain issue either because the situation predates Ford by decades, and for all the 'City Beautiful' rhetoric Miller didn't achieve much more across his mandates.


We can debate the City budget all day. What I would disagree with is the suggestion that Torontonians in general are somehow more slovenly and more content to be slovenly than other North American cities.
I would beg to differ. Unfortunately the evidence would seem to support my point of view over yours.

I have lived in other Cities. Some big US cities with lots of tourism (NY, Chicago) may spend more on key tourist areas but are far more likely to abandon other areas.
Again, it's about priorities, right? Given limited budgets you can't beautify or upkeep everything but this doesn't mean we shouldn't do anything. It's not an all or nothing choice, in my opinion.

... and do you consider the entire central city of Chicago to be merely a 'key tourist area'? The Loop, the waterfront and many neighbourhoods are impeccably maintained but if not these areas, where? They are the main shared spaces of the city, as well as the face of Chicago to the world. Ditto, New York... and ditto many far smaller urban centres like Minneapolis that don't get many tourists and that don't have the level of economic diversity that Toronto or Chicago have.

There was a great study done when I lived in NY on how many broken subway turnstiles there were in low income areas of NY in comparison to the better parts of Manhattan. Calgary spends a much higher percentage of its budget on parks and recreation than Toronto (which includes park maintenance) and in my view keeps its parks much nicer than we do. But it also has a quarter of Toronto's density, far newer infrastructure, far fewer transit pressures, and a different funding model.
There's just always an excuse for why we don't do better (we're too big, we're too small, we have too many people, not enough, etc, etc) but the common denominator is that other cities make their situation work, we don't.

I would like to see a way to spend more on our parks. We have some beautiful parks that are either not well maintained or have terrible facilities in them -- Centre Island, High Park, Beaches, etc. I could see myself voting for someone who proposed a 0.5% increase in my property taxes (or whatever) to pay for park and streetscape improvements.
... but why should those additional funds go to beautification and upkeep when there are still hungry people out there and needs for transit, and so on? Get my drift?...


All that said, there are lots of improvements!

1. St. Clair ROW and streetscape
2. Roncesvalle
3. Dundas West
4. Bloor
5. The entire West Donlands
6. The Yonge Street Plan
7. The John Street Plan
8. The Queen's Quay Plan
9. The Eglinton Plan
Absolutely, and I've said as much myself.

In fact, I don't even necessarily think it's about the 'grandiose' schemes (though they're nice). This is Toronto, after all. Baby steps like burying wires, making fountains work, greening our streets, cleaning gum-stained sidewalks, maintaining parks and so on and so on would make such a huge difference.
 

pman

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In fact, I don't even necessarily think it's about the 'grandiose' schemes (though they're nice). This is Toronto, after all. Baby steps like burying wires, making fountains work, greening our streets, cleaning gum-stained sidewalks, maintaining parks and so on and so on would make such a huge difference.
I totally agree Toronto has to think of its public realm in terms of baby steps. For one thing, a lot of people even on this forum appear to think that Toronto's pubic realm is just fine, or unimportant, or ironic, or that it's not worth spending any extra money on as long as one homeless person remains. And a really distressing number of posters on UT don't seem to get that Toronto is really in a league of its own in terms of shabbiness and crap public design, when the comparison is with major cities in Australia, the US and Europe. If this is what UT posters think, imagine what Ford Nation's views must be.

But maybe, for we are Torontonians, there are a few productive things we can do on the cheap. For example, forcing utilities to really coordinate their work (which I guess in Toronto terms would be more like the Apollo project than a baby step), then properly repaving the streets and sidewalks afterwards, with no utility cuts allowed for a preset period. Or burying hydro wires as a matter of routine when the entire street and sidewalk are dug down to the dirt, as was the case recently on Dundas west of Bathurst (the wires stayed up). Or planting sidewalk trees only when there's a reasonable likelihood they'll have enough rootbed space and sufficient water to survive. Or forcing Toronto Hydro to have no more than two poles within a 3 metre radius. I think a lot of this might even be just about imposing simple design standards where obviously none exist now.

So here's a question for the people who care about this issue: What is to be done? Many of us seem to agree on the problem, but complaining on UT posts has precisely zero impact on the real world. What can we actually do to generate modest, achievable improvement?
 

neubilder

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Dont' forget the de-poled Junction which looks great!

I thought something was missing last time I was up there!

I'm going to get slaughtered for this, but I liked the ramshackle appearance of the Junction with ladder topped poles and wires everywhere. If there was a neighbourhood that could wear it well, it was the Junction.
 

TrickyRicky

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The general reaction to my post illustrates it's precise point. The point being that what you do is all that matters on this issue. What our leaders do or what your taxes do is irrelevent. How do you treat the public realm? Where were you at your condo board meeting campaigning for improving the street level character of your complex / neighbourhood meeting / local BIA AGM meeting / City Hall / dedicating your time / dedicating your money / etc.?

Why your personal private space matters is that your influence can only spread from the projection of your internal private world into the public realm. All the public realm is is a collective projection of your personal space into common space. If your personal space is not well maintained and well invested in, if your internal character is not well maintained and well invested in, neither will the public realm around you be. That is your personal responsibility, no others. If you don't have your stuff together you cannot effectively contribute to the commons. This is a fundamental issue. If you did the dishes last night is a core fundamental issue on the topic we are speaking about. If you can't appreciate this or believe that it is someone elses job or that you pay someone else to take care of this, than ultimately you need to ask yourself am I participating in one of the fundamental human behaviours? (Wishing something for nothing)
 

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