Category Archives: I Have Too Much Time on my Hands

Ottawa unveils new design for development signs

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

Ottawa_New_sign
We often lament the lack of citizen engagement in our cities. But the blame shouldn’t be directed solely at residents, but rather at the municipal bureaucracies that often make it difficult for citizens to become engaged or informed.

A great example is our public development notices. Their purpose is allegedly to inform citizens and solicit participation, but they accomplish neither. They are designed so poorly, and filled with so much alienating jargon, they only serve to further disengage and alienate the average person.

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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!

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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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The Lauder Avenue Conservation Area and Botanical Gardens

jungle_horizontal
There’s an abandoned house on my street.  According to my neighbours, it’s been empty for about ten years.  The front yard has grown into a jungle of weeds, some of them extending more than six feet high, and the City has posted violation notices on the front door.  Weed violations:

notice

Many people view it as an eye-sore, a neglected mess.  But it occurred to me recently that the property is really nothing less than a naturalised habitat!  Rather than fretting about the abandoned property, why not embrace it as a neighbourhood treasure?  So I made my own sign and posted it on the yard.  Voila!! Continue reading

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.

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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Op-ed: Transit funding and beer


Here’s my latest op-ed, about how we can build financial support for transit expansion, by celebrating the shovels (and machines) that are already in the ground.

(Cross-posted from the Star, March 1)

(Also, here’s a great follow-up from TTC Chair Karen Stintz, March 5)

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Toronto STAR: Building support for Toronto transit expansion

After years of political bickering and setbacks, there seems to be a renewed sense of optimism about public transit in Toronto. Major outreach campaigns have been launched across the region. Metrolinx recently hosted public roundtable discussions, Toronto City Hall has announced a transit consultation process and Civic Action is running a campaign asking commuters how they would spend an extra 32 minutes a day – if transit was more efficient. Each project has similar goals: to seek input on future transit planning and help build public support for new revenue sources required to implement the province’s regional transit plan, The Big Move.

The campaigns are clever and effective, but if we want to get people really excited about building transit perhaps there are lessons we can learn from an entirely different Big Move.

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Joyce Murray: A catalyst for cooperation

Something interesting is happening. In a political culture dominated by fierce partisanship, a growing number of people are talking about cooperation.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 5.23.04 PMDuring last year’s NDP leadership race, Nathan Cullen ran on a platform of cross-party electoral cooperation.  He didn’t win the race, but he attracted (and boosted) the support, energy and enthusiasm of a growing movement for a progressive alliance.

Now, the Liberal Party is having a leadership race, and they also have a candidate who’s preaching constructive cooperation.  Her name is Joyce Murray and when I heard about her campaign six weeks ago, I volunteered to organise her first public campaign event in Toronto.  The gathering was fun, positive, and attracted people from across the progressive spectrum.

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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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