Russ Ford's Blog

Strengthening Our City Through Its Neighbourhoods

We are now just nine months away from a city election.  There are about thirty people now running for mayor, or at least their names will appear on the ballot.  Many others are just waiting while some are crafting their slogans, a five or so word phrase that they believe will resonate with voters. 

Such trite expressions are great to chant at rallies but really do little else.  We need less of that and more discussion around the future of our city.  At the heart of that discussion has to be the future of our communities.

Toronto's success is through the strength of its neighbourhoods which is now being eroded. That is a big part of what the debate over speech and language services is about.  Where do we house the locus of power- in the communities or at city hall. Amalgamation lead to the massive centralizing of decisions within city bureaucracy. If we truly believe in civic engagement we must find ways to reverse this trend. 

Development issues for example should have a process whereby the public can have meaningful participation. Public consultation should not be post facto.

We need to look at the structure of government for the purpose of creating mechanisms for greater community control.  For example,  why not have real not advisory boards at our parks and recreation facilities so local residents can have a real say in the programs that are offered.

Why not go further on planning and actually formalize a role for residents in planning. In Manhattan they have community planning boards that have real authority over what gets built and what does not. 

Create a transit system that links our communities together and provides adequate service for all. In other words no more subways.  They are poor value for our dollar.  It simply costs too much for the number of people served.  How will the residents of outlying areas like Rexdale and the Lakeshore benefit from subway expansion? Well they won't.  If the subway money was devoted to LRTs more would be served and  people in  Rexdale and the Lakeshore could actually get to work in a reasonable amount of time.

Commit to supporting community based organizations. Enough with the annual deputations at budget committee just to get a cost of living increase. Community organizations not only provide services for those in need, they also serve to create community  They also serve to promote citizen engagement, a foundation piece of our democracy.

Eliminate barriers to access like user fees in parks and recreation facilities.  Why have facilities that many cannot access because of the cost of participation. 

It is simply not that expensive to enable us to provide accessible recreation. We need to stop lamenting about youth issues in the city and actual do something to support them

Stop beating up on your staff, they too live in our community.
The contracting out of city services like garbage collection is coming back up for discussion and politicians will imply that they are going to save you oodles of money by contracting out. 

I like money in my pocket as much as the next guy but I cannot get too excited about the $0.00456567 cents I will get back from this exercise 

It really isn't hard to go after cleaners and garbage collectors. They are at the bottom rung already. And who can object to taking the lowest  paid city staff and giving their jobs to people who will be even be paid less in the private sector. Yes let's put more people on the poverty line. 

Well I object. The problems associated with service delivery is not due to staffing issues. It is because of management or more preciously, over management.

That is the root problem. That is how we end up with a 201  page RFP.  That is how we end up considering selling Vincent Massey even though 180 children get child care there.  There cannot be critical thinking if we live under a slavish regard for administrative rules. 

So here is an idea. Why don't we take a look at how many people we employ who directly provide service to the public. Then let's figure out how many people are paid to oversee the work of the people providing the direct service.  Then flip it on its head.  Get more providing service and less overseeing those providing the service. 

Not only would we get better service but city staff would be liberated to do their jobs in the way they would like to do them

Why do you think there has been such a huge brain drain from city hall especially in the last four years  It is because city staff can and have moved to the private sector for more money and get the autonomy to properly do their jobs. 

Is less oversight more risky?  Of course it is but risk is a part of life for any organization. Accept that and fix it when it happens. Don't create a new set of rules, policy and procedures every time something screws up. 

Politicians telling us they are  acting in our best interests by axing garbage collectors  or cleaners are really just diverting our attention away from the real issue of our declining neighborhoods.

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