Category Archives: Community Organising

If a billboard falls in a forest… Part 1

[note: this is cross-posted on the spacing wire]

Bathurst and Davenport cross each other just below the steep shoreline of ancient Lake Iroquois. The intersection is lush with greenery and steeped in history.

On one corner lies the TTC Hillcrest Yards, where our streetcars have been repaired and rebuilt for ninety years. A recent makeover has transformed the landscape adding new shrubs, trees, interlocking brick and public benches to the corner.

TTC yard_WIDE

Across the street is a public park, the home of Toronto’s historic Tollkeeper’s Cottage museum.

tollkeepers park

Just steps away you’ll find the Wychwood Park neighbourhood, a former artists’ colony and the first residential zone in Ontario to be granted heritage status. Walking north on Bathurst, you’ll find yourself in a picturesque Toronto scene with large trees leaning across both sides of the wide street casting a broken leafy shadow on the streetcar tracks below.

And then suddenly, like one musical instrument terribly out of tune with the rest of the band, something sharply interrupts the thick green grove of trees. Steel structures protrude from the maple branches, inserting two massive commercial billboards into the scene.

two_billboards

Someone might ask themselves “Who would possibly allow billboards like this to get a sign permit?”. It turns out the answer might be: nobody would, and nobody did. In fact, I have been told by City Staff that they do not have any records of permits for these signs. This is not an isolated scenario.  It’s quite possible that dozens of billboards across Toronto, if not hundreds, are illegal signs without any proper permits.

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‘Empower LA’ research tour • DAY ONE

Empower tour

I’m in Los Angeles, spending an entire week with the Department of Neighbourhood Empowerment.  I’ll be posting updates each day!

Four years ago, I was researching innovative methods of citizen engagement for the upcoming Fourth Wall exhibit, hosted at the Urban Space Gallery.

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 10.03.26 AMI stumbled upon a group in Los Angeles called the Department of Neighbourhood Empowerment.  It sounded too good to be true: a city-funded program that promotes public participation in government and coordinates 90 autonomous locally elected Neighbourhood Councils.

Four years later, I decided that I needed to see it for myself!  So I’m here in LA for one week, embedded at the Department as a foreign researcher/admirer.

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Two Neighbourhood Fence Removals: West & East!

Before_After_smaller

Hey folks,

The Downtown De-Fence Project is at it again, and we need your brawn to help us out!

No experience required.  Bring a pair of pliers, if you have any.  (Available at Dollarama)

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De-Fence • Sunday June 16

Each time we take down a fence, we liberate a lawn, and our hearts.

Open neighbourhoods say “hi“.  Fences say “go away“.

Learn more about the Downtown De-Fence Project, and then join us on Sunday!!

Neighbourhood Fence Removal
Sunday June 16, 2pm
50 Campbell Ave
Facebook RSVP.

“I’m a geek, you’re a geek” • RaBIT on TV

Paikin_TV

This week, I had the privilege of spending some time with Steve Paikin, and talking about the merits of municipal ranked ballots and runoff voting.

Watch here.

Thanks for your support

UPDATE (June 2013) • Sometimes you just have know when to walk away.  Despite the positive update I posted in April (below), the situation at Fair Vote has gotten worse and I’ve decided to quit the organisation after seven years of volunteering.  I’m working with an amazing team of people to start a new national campaign for proportional government, called Unlock Democracy.

I’m not gonna go into details here, because we don’t need to air dirty laundry (and there is a LOT of dirty laundry here), but I’ll just mention four major turning points for me:

• The only group that actively campaigned against the RaBIT campaign, was Fair Vote Canada.  I’ve never seen a movement so committed to shooting itself in the foot, and attacking its own peers.

• The Toronto Chapter Executive didn’t hold a single meeting for an entire year.  Then they organised a rigged election for the 2013 Executive, by rejecting all the candidates they didn’t like.

• A recent meeting of the National Council ended with two young members in tears, after being verbally attacked by another member.  Sadly, this type of bullying and harassment has been happening for years.

• I reached out to one of the key members of the National Council, and offered to sit down over lunch or coffee to discuss the situation.  The offer was repeatedly turned down.  If people aren’t prepared to talk, then there is little possibility to build consensus.

For these reasons  – and hundreds more – I’m done.  I wish Fair Vote the best of luck.  There are some really good people working there, including the Executive Director Wayne Smith and the current President Doug Bailie.

But you gotta know when to fold ‘em.  And I’m folding. The movement is big enough for two groups, and hopefully we can all work together at some point.

UPDATE  (April 2013) • Good news, in regards to this story.  The National Council of Fair Vote Canada has voted to reinstate Desmond Cole and Katherine Skene on the Toronto Chapter Executive. Also, they have accepted the nominations (previously rejected) for National Council, for Sarah Lambert, Gautam Lamba, and others.

There is also now a comprehensive agreement in place that allows both RaBIT and Fair Vote to work collaboratively.

I want to personally thank Jim Harris who has been working tirelessly to forge a consensus and encourage a healthy dialogue and required compromise on all sides. He is truly a master of mediation.

As someone who is a committed volunteer for both RaBIT and Fair Vote, I’m thrilled to see everyone on the same page. Thanks Jim, and also thanks to our Executive Director, Wayne Smith. And thanks to all members of National Council who supported this positive step forward.

Now, let’s get to work. If you support proportional representation, and you’re not a member of Fair Vote… join today! It’s only $10:

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Original post:

Sarah_banned

Thanks for your support

A couple of weeks ago, three members of Fair Vote Canada were expelled from their elected positions on the Toronto Chapter Executive (myself, Desmond Cole and Katherine Skene).  One week later, three members were told that their nominations for the Fair Vote National Council had been rejected (Sarah Lambert, Gautam Lamba and Katherine) – simply because they had volunteered with an external group.

Des_expelledI’ve been involved with community organising for 15 years.  I’ve volunteered for dozens of groups in Toronto, I’ve been employed by about 15 non-profits, I’ve served as a Director on boards such as the Mayworks Arts Festival, and I’ve been a member of two political parties.  I’ve seen my share of conflict.  But in all that time, I can say that I’ve never experienced this kind of exclusionary, top-down, anti-democratic behaviour.  It’s stunning, and the worst part is that it’s happening within an organisation called “Fair Vote”.

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Attack of the Three-Storey Podium!

Have you ever wondered how your neighbourhood would look with a brand new three-storey podium?  I have.  I think it would look really weird.  I have serious concerns about the practicality of such a podium, the inevitable noise pollution, and the lack of integration with the surrounding architecture – not to mention a complete lack of retail space.

podium_street

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An Evening with Mike and Friends • Tues Nov 27

I’ve always had trouble with partisanship.  In 2006, I was labelled a ‘promiscuous endorser‘ by NOW magazine for endorsing Adam Vaughn, Helen Kennedy and Desmond Cole – who were all running against each other. I thought each one of them would each make a fantastic City Councillor.

In my teenage years I was a young Liberal.  In my twenties I was a New Democrat.  For most of my thirties I’ve been multipartisan, or as I prefer to call it, ‘transpartisan': transcending the notion of politics as a team sport and working towards less polarisation and more collaboration.

The prefix ‘trans’ is often used to describe a bridge between two places, or something that unites many things together (ie: the Trans-Canada Highway).

And so it is, on November 27th my highway will be taking an exit at the “Third Annual Evening with Mike and Friends“.  Mike who, you ask?  Mike Schreiner.  Mike Schreiner WHO, you ask?  Mike Schreiner – the leader of the Ontario Green Party, and you’re not to blame if you have never heard of him.  Mike is an articulate and inspiring leader, but he suffers under the weight of a political system that discriminates against new voices:

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My mom: Chief Director of Customer Service

With all the talk about increasing “customer service” in Toronto, you would think that our own City Hall would have a couple of full-time receptionists who can help people find their way.  In fact, you would think that in a city of 2.5 million people, our City Hall would have three or four receptionists! Hey, why not even go a step further?  We often hear that we should run the city “like a business”.  Well, the smartest businesses are the ones that have swarms of customer service reps and ‘greeters’ who are readily available to offer assistance.

But here at City Hall we have one part-time receptionist on duty, sitting behind an enormous desk.  Often, her chair sits empty and there is simply a sign that says:

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Salt in the Wound • Jarvis and the City’s bike budget

Over the last year, I’ve written extensively about the pending removal of the Jarvis bike lanes.  There are so many reasons why Council should back down on this plan: reasons related to safety, fair process, wasted dollars, and community support for Complete Streets.

Now, we can add another reason.  Not only is the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes a colossal waste of money (the lanes are brand new) – but guess where the money is coming from?  I’ve been able to confirm with the City that the money to REMOVE the lanes is being pulled directly out of the limited budget the City has to INSTALL bike lanes!  So not only are cyclists losing a major bike lane, serving 1000+ cyclists during rush hour, … but we’re seeing our own capital budget reduced at the same time.

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