Posts Tagged: core service review


25
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “Why don’t you admit that there is no gravy train?” asks Julie Beddoes

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Julie Beddoes

Occupation: She’s a writer and is an active member of the Gooderham & Worts Neighbourhood Association in the Distillery District.

Political History: None noted, aside from some involvement in planning discussions relating to waterfront development.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 104; Actual Speaker No.: 84

Note: Julie’s defence of the Waterfront secretariat and the work performed but the City’s planning department is very much worth considering. These are things that are critically important to the future of our city but that importance is often lost amidst fears of losing more tangible things like library branches or bus routes.


24
Aug 11

Toronto: “I am not one of the usual suspects,” says Christopher Salmond

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Christopher Salmond

Occupation: He’s a 70-year-old crossing guard who works in East York.

Political History: None noted, though he is a former City of Toronto employee, working as the Managing Director of the East York General Radio Emergency Service.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 86; Actual Speaker No.: 108

Note: Stay until the end, when Christopher reveals that he sometimes wishes he had a rocket-propelled grenade to use against drivers who run through his crossing. To which one councillor chimes in: “that’d be a real war on the car.”


23
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “Stop pitting the suburbs and downtown against each other,” says Michael Binetti

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Michael Binetti

Occupation: Recent graduate of the Ryerson University School of Urban & Regional planning

Political History: A Scarborough resident, he was vocal in his opposition to the round of cuts to bus service we saw this past winter.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 58; Actual Speaker No.: 55

Note: Binetti does a great job both using sarcasm and pointing out some serious errors in the KPMG report relating to transit.


22
Aug 11

…Only Outlaws Will Have Panhandles: How The Sun got it wrong on poverty & panhandling

Produced for a 2008 study, this map shows the major panhandling locations downtown. The larger balloons indicate the presence of three or more panhandlers.

The venerable Toronto Sun is on the warpath. Their enemy is — and has been for more than a week now — the act of panhandling. First, they declared the practice one of the three things Mayor Rob Ford must deal with this year, along with eliminating the nickel charge for plastic bags and slapping a licence on cyclists. They then followed that up with almost a dozen articles and columns calling for an immediate and effective end to panhandling. Their preferred method? New laws. Policing. Cracking down.

All this comes despite a complete absence of statistical support and the fact that the city’s hired consultants — you remember them: they said we should consider cutting everything — actually advocate providing more resources to the homelessness program implemented under former mayor David Miller.

As if millions of voices suddenly cried out

No other newspaper in the city is as effective at marshalling their writers around one singular cause. The Sun brought out a parade of reporters and columnists to give their two cents on the matter, with no one deviating from the editorial line. Joe Warmington declared panhandling a “scourge” and did some back-of-the-envelope math showing that, apparently, some panhandlers in Toronto earn more than $40,000 per year. “Robbers,” he called them, hiding behind politicians who “love the homeless and use them as pawns to advance a socialist agenda.”

The parade went on: Sue-Ann Levy declared that it’s “time for action on panhandlers” and quoted a resident who claimed that “shopping on Queen Street in the Beach is like running the gauntlet in a ghetto” due to an onslaught of panhandlers. Ian Robertson had a story about beggars and their “tricks”, making the whole thing sound a bit Tolkienish. Terry Davidson was actually given an assignment to go out and panhandle himself for a while, and report back on what it’s like.

A Thursday editorial was most emphatic: “Solving this crisis begins with making it illegal to live on our streets, period. No excuses.” The same editorial, bizarrely, goes on to advocate treatment programs for homeless people but also seems to condemn the thought of spending more money on such programs.

It’s an impressive display of uniformity, but what’s most notably is what’s missing from all the invective and calls for a law-and-order approach is the answer to two questions:

  1. Has there been a documented increase in the number of panhandlers or homeless people in the last few years?
  2. Has there been a documented increase in the number of complaints about panhandlers from residents or businesses?

You’d think answering these questions is where journalists would start, but the Toronto Sun — maybe in the interest of efficiency — simply skipped the statistic-gathering step and barrelled onward.

Which is too bad, actually, because the City actually put together a rather comprehensive study on panhandling in 2008. It’s well-worth reading, and includes useful things like facts and numbers. (They also produced a map, as above.)

For example: per the study, most panhandlers make about $20 to $25 per day, or about $3.57 an hour. Eighty percent of panhandlers surveyed indicated that they would like to quit panhandling. The biggest barrier they face, according to more than three-quarters of respondents, is a lack of permanent housing. (Contrary to a popular stereotype, the study finds no real evidence for a class of panhandler that is either employed or employable and has permanent private housing.)

But wait, there’s more: business operators in the downtown study area “did not believe the police were the best response” to panhandling. More generally, the report noted that police blitzes of panhandlers in other urban areas ”does not seem to necessarily impact panhandling behaviour on a City wide level, though they may curtail the activity in a particular area for a period of time.”

The study was part of a pilot project that saw city social workers — under the Streets to Homes banner — connect with panhandlers. The workers identified more than 100 panhandlers who had access to some form of housing and provided them links to community agencies and other services so they could collect provincial benefits, establish a treatment program for addiction or mental illness, and find employment and/or improved housing.

And I know, this all sounds like silly bleeding-heart liberal stuff that just coddles people and doesn’t produce results, but the numbers are there: after a mere twelve week pilot, more than two-thirds of the panhandlers involved in the program were no longer panhandling. You can read some case studies as part of Appendix C of the report.

Social services programs are the only way to effectively address any panhandling problem, because panhandling is — almost always — a symptom of poverty. We cannot make poverty illegal, nor can we make it disappear. We have to deal with it.

The Gravy Question

But isn’t Toronto’s “Streets to Homes” program just part of the big, ineffective gravy train? Isn’t this just useless bureaucracy? I don’t think so. Since it launched in 2005, Streets to Homes has found permanent housing for more than 3,000 people who were previously living on the streets. Most remain housed for more than a year, which is a substantive achievement when you consider the issues — addiction; mental illness; disability — that lead to poverty and homelessness in the first place.

But, hell, don’t take my word for it. Let’s look to KPMG, who recently put together a big fat whale of a study that essentially put all of the city’s social and cultural services on the table as potential cuts. All, that is, except for Streets to Homes. In fact, on page 48 of their report to the Community Development & Recreation Committee, KPMG actually advocates providing more resources for that program.

It is, as far as I can tell, the only place these consultants have put forth a consideration for more program spending to reduce other service costs.

Panhandling and — more critically — poverty are major issues facing our city, but all the data seems to indicate that Toronto does have an effective strategy in place that could, given more resources, continue to limit the number of people living on the street. It’s unfortunate that the Toronto Sun seems to have missed that and has instead run headline after headline trying to get us to join the cause for police action on homelessness.

We shouldn’t listen. No matter how much they beg.

The KPMG consideration on Streets to Homes

The KPMG consideration on Streets to Homes


22
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “I was hoping you’d be better, but you’re worse,” says Dave Meslin

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Dave Meslin (websitetwitter)

Occupation: He’s involved in so much stuff I’m not even going to try to make a list.

Political History: He’s a veteran of the municipal politics scene, with a long history of supporting cycling issues. His current major push is for voting reform. Meslin made a sincere effort to work collaboratively with the Ford administration after the election. The move earned him some level of derision from other left-leaning types across the city.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 264; Actual Speaker No.: 151

Note: Pay close attention to 4:45, a sequence of events in which Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday interjects to make a (joking?) reference to former mayor David Miler, calling him a dictator. Rob Ford chuckles and begins to say something about the election, then ignores Councillor Adam Vaughan’s request to stop the timer. He then cuts things off.


19
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “Trying to defend impossible campaign promises is getting kind of lame,” rhymes Brian Cauley

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Brian Cauley (website, twitter)

Occupation: Audio producer at Soundframe

Political History: None noted.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 175; Actual Speaker No.: 124

Note: Yes, this deputation rhymes.


18
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “I couldn’t just stand by and watch the city get dismantled,” says Amy Casipullai

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Amy Casipullai

Occupation: Senior Policy & Communication Coordinator at the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants

Political History: Her occupation is political-ish, I suppose, though it’s worth noting that OCASI does not receive money under Toronto’s Community Partnership & Investment Program

Scheduled Speaker No.: 152; Actual Speaker No.: 114

Note: I love the way Amy ends with “I don’t think we can let you do that.” Nicely delivered.


17
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “It is much easier to destroy something than it is to rebuild it,” says Miroslav Wagner

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Miroslav Wagner

Occupation: Unspecified; Has Potential in Professional Parable-Writing.

Political History: Former member of the Toronto Public Spaces Committee, if that counts.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 89; Actual Speaker No.: 76

Note: The full text of Miroslav’s story is available as part of Torontoist’s as-it-happens recap of the meeting.


16
Aug 11

Toronto Spoke: “If you want to fix a complex problem, have a clear plan,” says Sean Meagher

Beginning at 9:30 a.m. and extending through to the next morning, the City of Toronto’s Executive Committee — led by Mayor Rob Ford — heard more than one hundred and fifty deputations from a diverse group of citizens. In a sincere bid to ensure that the passion, insight and creativity displayed over the course of that epic meeting is not forgotten, Ford For Toronto will be posting a deputation video every weekday for the month of August.

Deputant: Sean Meagher (websitetwitter)

Occupation: President of Public Interest Strategy & Communications

Political History: Worked as Councillor Pam McConnell’s EA about a decade ago.

Scheduled Speaker No.: 317; Actual Speaker No.: 166

Note: Keep watching to the end, as Meagher displays a very strong grasp on the city’s budget in an exchange with Councillor Gord Perks. Had Council planned for this year’s shortfall in last year’s budget, he says, “we’d have the least challenging deficit we’ve seen in almost a decade.” So there’s that.


15
Aug 11

Listening to Toronto: On bikes, roads & sidewalks

In part two of my look at the raw data from the City’s Core Service Review survey — since dismissed as irrelevant by members of Rob Ford’s executive committee — I take a look at issues relating to the city’s thoroughfares, which includes bikes, roads and sidewalks. Before you read this, you may want to go back and read the previous instalment on transit.

Respondent 2-505 is a 65-year-old cycling advocate who “who couldn’t ride a bike to save my life.” Responding to the City of Toronto survey which served as the opening salvo in the still-continuing Core Service Review process, the senior writes, “from what I can see out my window every day, bikes make sense and cars don’t.”

“Cyclists know the routes and the neighbourhoods they traverse,” the response continues. “But people in cars just can’t WAIT to get somewhere.The more encouragement Toronto gives to cycling — the better.”

“Bike Lanes — this will make everything better.”

Our 65-year-old cycling-advocate-who-does-not-cycle serves as a good indication of the overwhelming message behind the raw data report, which was put together using a crude keyword search by City staff: the people who responded to this survey are passionate about the need for better cycling infrastructure in this city. Of the 154 pages included in this specific report — which primarily deals with “roads, sidewalks & traffic services” and not specifically cycling –, a call for more bike lanes appears on approximately 108 of them.

Most responses are short. 1-520 writes that the “City is too car-centric and doesn’t have enough bike lanes or pedestrian areas.” 1-28 says we “need to add bike lanes on major roads.” 2-47 writes, “Mr. Ford may hate cycling for some bizarre reason, but the fact is that gas prices are rising, more people are poor, and they still need to get around.”

2-314 is even more blunt. “Bike lanes,” they say. “This will make everything better.” Some are willing to shout about the issue, like 4-181, who tells us what we need: “BIKE LANES BIKE LANES BIKE LANES BIKE LANES!!!!! BIKE LANES! – you must implement them.”

“License bikes, or get rid of bike lanes.”

There is, of course, a minority voice that seems strongly opposed to cycling infrastructure. Respondent 2-450 implores the city to “please ban bicycle rides during rush hours, they are putting everyone in danger.” 2-405 believes that our problem is that we have “too many unused bike lanes, especially in winter — bike lanes should be seasonal.” 2-319 calls cyclists “psychotic” where 2-8 is a bit more reasonable, rationalizing that “we don’t need any more bike lanes in Etobicoke or Scarborough, just as much as we don’t need big box stores in the downtown core.”

There’s a small contingent voices in the responses beating the drum for a bicycle licensing system. 4-196 suggests that we “Have all cyclists pay registration fee and have a license so traffic violations can be enforced.”

On traffic: “This city is choking on itself.”

I’ll make two observations on the overarching attitude toward traffic — and by that I mostly mean automobile — congestion in this city. The first is that damn near everyone feels like it is a major problem that needs to be addressed immediately. The second is that some are very reluctant to embrace the obvious solutions to the problem, which would include things like road pricing and infrastructure for alternative forms of transportation.

Respondent 1-47 calls for “more efficient roads.” 2-37 points out that “Our geography and climate demand the use of automobiles,” and so “we should be more tolerant and prepared for the increasing number of vehicles on the roads.” Some respondents are overly fixated on the traffic conditions on one specific roadway, with people naming congestion on the Don Valley Expressway, the Gardiner Expressway, Kingston Road and the Allen Expressway as their top priorities facing this city.

2-434 is a blunt as can be: “Keep traffic flowing — WITHOUT TOLLS.”

Making Jane Jacobs roll over a few times, more highways are actually proposed: 2-84 says there are a “lack of highways” in Toronto. 2-323 calls for a “second expressway” like the DVP on the west side of the city, connecting Highway 400 with downtown. 4-145 says extending the Allen Expressway to the Gardiner — that is, reviving the Spadina Expressway project — would “rejuvenate traffic movement.” 2-378 wants the City to explore either making all lanes flow in one direction on the DVP during rush hour. Either that, or “building UP, and having a two tiered roadway.”

“Driving is a privilege, not a right — treat it as such.”

By my estimation, there is a strong support for road pricing throughout the responses. 4-65 says it’s time for “Toll Roads! Toll Roads! Toll Roads!” 1-1218 suggests that “to help alleviate the problems … consider bringing in tolls on DVP and other major roads.” 1-441 also links the solution to traffic congestion with toll roads, asking if it’s “time for some sort of user pays fee?”

If there’s a strong ideological divide within the document, it’s not presented as a battle between those who support road pricing and those who absolutely oppose it. The latter is a fringe minority. What would seem to divide people instead is whether we should institute road pricing for all users or just for drivers who don’t live and pay taxes in Toronto.

2-418 sums up that view: “905 citizens are not contributing to the city even though they use our roads, GO, etc. They should be paying road tolls to help the city maintain good quality roads.”

“A parking ticket should not be $30 – this is too high.”

Issues relating to parking — and the lack of it, and how expensive it is — were the only thing to give me pause when I first reviewed this report. People are passionate about their parking. While some advocate rising parking fees, putting a tax on all parking spots, or selling the Toronto Parking Authority, many are convinced the city has a major parking problem.

Respondent 1-1375 names “expensive parking costs” as one of the most important issues facing our city. 1-1447 says we need “more publicly funding parking spaces” and “less privately owned ones.” 1-1506 says we must “decrease fees for public parking!” Respondent 2-304 calls the city’s current parking enforcement nothing but “legalized theft”, saying that the, “parking authority is out of control. This has nothing to do with parking and everything to do with legally looting people.”

“You talk of roads. What about the pedestrians?”

Pedestrians are the often overlooked and underrepresented user of Toronto’s roadways, but they do chime in here. 3-90 says we must “be friendly to pedestrians, make their lives better!”

In addition, there is widespread agreement that the city must get its act together when it comes to the coordination of road work. 1-237 says that one of the biggest challenges the city is facing is a “shabby public realm with no coordination of utility work and sidewalk/street repair.” Hundreds of other responses echo that sentiment.

But some, of course, have more specific concerns. States 1-520: “There is way too much dog shit on Toronto sidewalks.”

I think we can all agree with that sentiment too.