Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. "

I walk by the Christie Pits park sign pretty much every day, at least once. If you haven't noticed it before, it's on the North-West corner of the park. It's rather nice.

The first time I noticed that someone had vandalized the sign to say "Fake Bits Park" I laughed.

I thought it was funny because I assumed some kid did it and what kid decides to use the word 'bits'? Hilarious. That was months and months and months ago. This graffiti popped up long before Rob Ford became Mayor and started to bum rush "vandalism" and graffiti in Toronto.

Before Rob Ford's very first City Council address, I thought the sign was hilarious for awhile then (like all things that you see every single day in the city), I got sick of it. But I wasn't about to scrub that shit off myself so I just ignored it. I spend a lot of time in Christie Pits Park and a bit of graffiti on the sign doesn't really affect my enjoyment of it so, you know, whatever.

According to the new Graffiti Management Plan 2011, which the City adopted awhile ago, Mayor Ford's first inaugural address "targeted the need to clean up Toronto's streets and neighborhoods and reduce the amount of graffiti across the city." Ford wanted part of his legacy to be the cleaning up of our streets. Not the actual dirt on our streets, the cigarette butts, not the rats, the prolific pigeon that seems to shit on EVERYTHING, or the dog poop on the sidewalks. No, his legacy would be the eradication of evil graffiti. Because graffiti scares the Mayor. It really, really scares him.

Apparently the "presence of graffiti vandalism suggests disorder and lawlessness, generates the perception of increased crime, fear of gang activity, and diminishes buildings and streets." (I don't exactly know what "diminishes buildings and streets" means.. diminish the value? maybe that's a mistake..) . The Mayor doesn't want people thinking that Toronto is some kind of wild, criminal urban jungle. When he sees graffiti he sees the Los Angeles of BladeRunner or, worse, the parallel Universe from the Super Mario Brothers movie. He sees crime because he thinks people who tag are criminals, and he sees gang activity because he thinks criminals are all in gangs.

A lot of Mayors and City officials try to take on vandalism, and a lot of city residents report vandalism, and that will never change. The problem with what happened in Toronto(and what continues to happen), is that the attempt to clean up the streets became a 'shoot first, ask questions later' kind of thing. Mayor Ford sent out the armies of the City full force, handing out citations left and right, and assigning more fines than they have in a very long time.

In 2010 the city received 2,215 complaints about graffiti. After increasing enforcement, 4,338 notices have been issued--and the year isn't even close to being over yet.

He's a man of action! True to his word!

No, actually, he's an idiot. People ("criminals") never get busted tagging. You know who got fucked by Ford's war? Business owners. Property owners. According to the by law, once you are served with a notice to remove graffiti from your property, you have 72 hours to comply or received a fine/be billed for City removal.

The Queen West BIA(business improvement areas) has a contract with a Graffiti removal company that costs $36,000 a year--but the contract only covers the fronts of buildings and won't go higher than ten feet. Anything in the alleys or higher than ten feet is up to the property owner to clean up. Rob Sysak, the President of Queen W BIA told Council yesterday that the initial quote for a Queen W. alley clean up was $50'000 to start, and would run an additional $50'000 to keep it free of graffiti annually. That's a pretty steep price to pay for business owners(or property owners) who might not care about the graffiti or who might see it as something other than vandalism. Not everyone wants to see grey washed alleys and walls, but if you don't comply with your notice then you'll be billed irregardless.

I live in KoreaTown and the Korea Town BIA has put a lot of work into the neighborhood, including commissioning little murals on all of the cement planters along the street. How much money can businesses reasonably be expected to put into their neighborhoods? What happens when BIA's are continually undertaking beautification projects but are still being punished because someone tags their storefront? When Rob Ford declared his war on vandalism and talked about how much he respects taxpayers, did he consider the fact that making taxpayers pay extra for something they have no control over is kind of a dick move?

Going on a graffiti removal rampage because of your own personal conviction is one thing, but it's become obvious that the people Ford is apparently fighting for are the ones paying for his rampage. If business owners and property owners can be fined for not removing tags, does the same thing apply when they refuse to clean up pigeon shit? Or, when they don't install pigeon deterrents? For example: The Free Times Cafe has a serious problem with pigeons roosting above their sign. That sign is directly above their "patio", which means people who are sitting on the patio often get pooped on, have pigeons land on their chairs and tables, or have feathers fall into their food. So the owner of that property could get fined for not cleaning a tag from their cement wall, but not for allowing vermin to take over their food service area? My landlord has to power wash spray paint, but can get away with leaving an inch of bird crap on our windowsills? That's just wacky logic!

Other people get fucked by this graffiti garbage: Artists. Like it or not, a lot of people consider graffiti to be art. A lot of people who do graffiti are considered artists. Some of them don't even do it anonymously. So when the Mayor writes a blank cheque for graffiti removal, some people get a bit overzealous and start removing things they shouldn't-- like murals, that the city may or may not have paid for, without notifying anyone. The war on vandalism becomes an excuse to attack art that some people might not like, or art with messages that some people don't agree with.

Case in point, the train underpass on Dupont west of Landsdowne:

Artist Joel Richardson was paid to paint a mural on North wall of the underpass and he proceeded to paint one on the South wall as well. Two for One! You'd think that in a city of penny pinchers this would be appreciated. Not so. The mural on the South wall was grey washed in late May--but why? According to Elyse Parker, a director in the city's transportation services department, a resident complained about the mural because of its political nature. Parker told the Toronto Star that "there was some discussion that the mural referred to Stephen Harper" and the city "would not endorse any kind of mural with political messaging." That, along with the fact that the South wall mural was not commissioned by the city meant that they could just paint over it without notifying the community or the artist, or even the City Councillor(who did not support the removal of the mural, after the fact).

What? The city won't endorse any art with political messaging? Never mind the fact that the man in the mural wasn't modelled on Stephen Harper, even the hint that it might him spurs such a reactionary course of action? Since when are we not allowed to make political commentary about the Prime Minister? In a healthy city, a healthy society, there are a lot of opinions and they are all voiced and aired in public. Good art is critical. Quelling critical opinion is not a sign of a healthy democracy and erasing dissent really shouldn't be tolerated because there's a word for a system that disallows critique: it's called fascism.

Obviously, people weren't crazy about this new vandalism regime and people started complaining a lot which is why they adopted the new Graffiti Management Plan 2011 last month. Not a whole lot is different, except now they throw around "private-public" a lot and talk about how youths should be encouraged to graffiti only in specified areas and only city-approved graffiti art should remain. The main shift is that the new policy clearly defines that exceptions can be made for "street art", that there is a difference between murals and vandalism.
At the meeting in question, some pretty hilarious stuff happened:

  • One city councillor (de Baeremaeker) suggested that people don't take the Scarborough LRT because of unsightly graffiti. He also said that the mayor's graffiti program "may rival or surpass Mel Lastman's mooses" in encouraging public art(And no, this Councillor is not 75 years old).
  • Councillor Nunziata asked to be corrected if she was wrong, but wasn't most graffiti "gang related"?
  • The Crime Prevention Association of Toronto told Council that graffiti-ed areas are safe for "shooting up, committing prostitution" and that the first sign of a burgeoning vandal is a child doodling at school, that they must teach kids it is unacceptable to doodle. TO DOODLE.
  • The Plan requests that the Chief of Police prioritize the delivery of the new anti-graffiti education program throughout Toronto's schools.
The mooses? Doodling? Gangs? Who are these people running our city? They want to prioritize the delivery of anti-graffiti education programs in Toronto's schools? What about prioritizing actual education?!

These are exactly the problems with making a priority out of graffiti. How can the city justify attacking something that they obviously don't understand? How can the city be the one deciding what stays on the walls when some of them think the epitome of public art are those goddamned, hideous Moose? This war focuses on the wrong areas, it makes a big deal out of little problems, it criminalizes something that is barely criminal, it takes our focus off of actual issues, it's a waste of money, and it's all just for show. It's the worst of band-aid solutions.

To be fair, I think there are a few positive things that have come out of this whole mess: 1) it creates dialogue about city space and 2) it motivates people to react with more art. The above picture is of a wall re-"vandalized" after it was power washed by Ford himself during a photo-op.

The sign I walk by every day is a city sign, in a city park, and yet the city hasn't cleaned it. So what's this all about then**, if they aren't going to deal with the things that are right in front of their eyes? Mayor Ford, what's up with the graffiti war?

**to be fair, I tweeted about the sign in Christie Pits Park and my City Councillor--Mike Layton--tweeted back that it's been brought to the attention of Parks staff. However, that was about a month ago and as of this morning(July 11), the vandalism is still there. I also tweeted the sign to Mayor Ford's "official" account as well. No response.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Round Up, but not the kind that causes birth defects.

Torontonians woke up to an unsettling reality this morning: the Mayor is still refused to go to Pride, the House of Commons was still in session, the police admitted to some G20 mistakes, the Jarvis bike lane was gone(or, will be gone), and J. Crew announced plans for a store here(seriously, that was in the news).

All of these things paired with the dark, ominous clouds and rain make this one of the weirdest Fridays in recent memory.

Toronto Sun OpEd: Mayor Ford stands proud: "Indeed, we admire Ford for sticking to his guns on this issue, now that all the usual suspects who hate Ford and everything he stands for, no matter what he does, are trying to puff up this non-issue into a crisis."

I wonder which guns the Toronto Sun are referring to here? In reality, Ford is trying to make his neglect of Pride a non-issue, requiring no guns at all. It's just a matter of scheduling, according to him and his mama. So while we who "hate Ford and everything he stands for" are taking this opportunity to highlight some issues, Ford supporters seem to putting words in his mouth and making it seem like he stood on top of city hall and burnt the Pride flag while screaming that he'll die before we force him to partake in homo explosion. Pretending that he's taken a clear stance(a stand even), when he really hasn't, is no better than what they're accusing us of doing.

Next, the G20: It's funny that something like "Toronto police admit to making mistakes" would be a headline, but after last year's G20 mess it's about time they admitted to something--anything!!! And speaking of the G20, remember when Rob Ford was just a candidate for mayor and he said that the police were "too nice" during the G20 and then he became the mayor? Life really is stranger than fiction.

Speaking of strange, who could have guessed that the debate on back to work legislation for Canada Post would not only go through the night, but into the afternoon? With no signs of stopping? Back to work legislation is the worst, especially considering the lockout. Forcing unions back to work kind of goes against the entire idea of having a union--that sometimes people try to fuck with your rights and you should have some options to fight back and maintain or improve your situation. Back to work legislation is just plain lazy and it does irreparable damage to workers rights in this country. So, I like this all night debate.

I think it's great that the NDP is holding strong (proving some of us naysayers wrong), and they're probably having an easier time filling seats considering they have so many young MPs! Toss a couple of redbulls at those young 'uns, a few bags of chips, maybe a nintendo DS, and you've got yourself a debate! Besides it being interesting, I also like the idea of politicians actually working hard for their paycheques. The thought of Prime Minister Harper trying to steal a few hours of sleep on his office couch? Priceless. Also, it reminds me of the Parks and Recreation episode when Leslie filibusters her own meeting and reads the constituents a children's book. Watch and read the debate, live, on the CBC.

Onto bike lanes: the Jarvis bike lane issue is just silly. Removing a bike lane less than a year after it was installed is short sighted and hasty at best. Of course there should have been community involvement and of course the Councillor of that area should be an integral part of any decision made. I've used the Jarvis bike lane maybe three times, I actually really don't like taking it because it's covered in pot holes and by the time I reach my destination my teeth feel like they might fall out from rattling so much. But, that's a description of practically every bike lane in this city.

How much will it cost to actually remove this bike lane? Is it worth that cost? The lack of a physical bike lane doesn't actually stop cyclists from utilizing a road, so why go to the trouble of removing it? Why not spend the money and time that has now been (and will be) wasted and use it to fix some bike lanes that are in shitty condition. I'm obviously biased, my biggest fantasy is to have one major road running North/South and East/West that is entirely for cyclists, and I think that makes me a crazy lefty cyclist who doesn't stop at red lights.

Jake Tobin Garrett(Spacing) 'On the removal of bike lanes': "It’s almost as if Rob Ford is running around with big Wite-Out pen and gleefully erasing everything he can of the Miller years. Transit City? Check. Fort York Bridge? Check. Jarvis bike lanes? Check. It's important to note that in each one of those cancellations, Ford also forfeited any taxpayers money that had already been committed or spent on the projects. A strange way of respecting the taxpayer, indeed."

It certainly is a strange way of respecting tax payers or, rather, the vast army of taxpayers who are apparently "calling" Mayor Ford incessantly. He told the press: “Yeah, I want to get rid of the bike lanes on Jarvis,” Ford said. “I got a lot of people calling me — they want to get rid of them. I do what the taxpayers want me to do. They want them gone, so I’m going to try to get rid of them.”

Who are these people who seem to have the Mayor on speed dial? Could ONE person who called Rob Ford and asked, specifically, to have the Jarvis bike lane removed step forward--just to prove that you aren't some figment of his imagination?

Does that mean if a lot of taxpayers call Ford and ask him, or tell him, to attend a Pride event then he has to? Or does he only answer his banana phone?

in the spirit of openness: million dollar baby?

the author of this blog post is allegedly being sued for one million dollars:

i'm reproducing it here because a million dollars is worth some debate, right?

so debate it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why it does matter when the Mayor snubs Pride:

It might not come as a surprise to most of us, but at least it's official: Mayor Rob Ford will not be marching in or attending the Toronto Pride Parade this July 2nd. The major event, which is the culmination of a week's worth of events, conflicts with plans to go to his Muskoka cottage -- a tradition in his family for generations and generations.

When asked about his plans for the Canada Day weekend, Ford responded that he's been going to the cottage since he was a child: "Since I was a little boy, we always used to go up north to our cottage, and I’m carrying on the tradition that my father had.”

Fair enough. We all have family traditions that are important to us, that are priorities , and that we try to organize our hectic lives around but for most of us there comes a time when it becomes impossible and we have to (sadly) arrive late or even miss our favorite family festivities. It's a fact of life and, unfortunately for Mayor Ford, it's especially a fact of life for those in public positions who are paid with taxpayer dollars.

In today's National Post Barbara Kay wrote: "Good for Rob Ford. Canada Day is a day for all Canadians to celebrate their nation as a 38-million strong collective, not a small minority of people celebrating their sexuality. There are times when family trumps political work, and this is, or should be, unarguably one of them." (the article was lovingly accompanied by the photo on the right)

Well, okay. Interesting theory...? First of all, it's not a "small minority" of people. It's been estimated that participation in Pride events, and especially the parade, runs into the hundreds of thousands--a million even. That's comparable to the Caribana festival --or, rather, the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival -- and even if it was just a small minority of people? What then? It's okay to not endorse and support the event? Well, that's just silly Barbara. The fact is that Toronto Pride is a massive corporate event and it brings an insane amount of money into our fair city, money that isn't just queer money even : straight people also attend Pride events! That "small minority" IS celebrating but so are their straight friends, their straight parents and grandparents, their straight children, and their straight colleagues. That's called a "community" and Pride is a "community" event.

Secondly: Canada Day isn't an excuse. Does the Prime Minister always miss Canada Day celebrations? Do other elected officials get to say "oh, a national holiday? Naaaah, I have to go BBQ at the ol' cottage!" Being elected Mayor of a city like Toronto means that your old holiday schedule might have to change, be flexible. It's that lack of flexibility that is the real problem here, the reason why it IS important that Ford is choosing to miss the Parade. Huntsville is a three hour drive away. Leave your cottage in the a.m, come wave a bit and throw some candy into the crowd, take the boos with a grain of salt, then drive back to Huntsville in time to toss a few beers back and set off some fireworks with the family. People do it ALL of the time. He's not going to a cottage on a private island in the middle of the ocean, he's going to the Muskokas, which is practically still in Toronto.

Just because it's Canada Day weekend doesn't mean that his choice is an obvious one-- maybe if being with your family on Canada Day is so important politicians should lobby for airline discounts during that weekend, so those of us who are not from the GTA could actually go home for a change. If Barbara Kay thinks that being with family is the most important thing on Canada Day then I will gladly accept a ticket home on her behalf, because guess what-- some of us don't have the luxury of skipping work to go home, let alone cottages.

In the same vein, why didn't Rob Ford take St. Patrick's Day off? Or Easter? He marched in both of those parades. I didn't get upset that the Mayor marched in an Easter Parade, despite the fact that I am not a Catholic and that I have major issues with organized religion. The Catholic Church doesn't want me to have protected sex because it thinks I should be a vessel for babies, risk be damned. But hey, Ford may be Catholic and he has Catholic constituents, so I don't really care that he marched in that Parade because that's what the Mayor does.

It is precisely because it would be so easy for Ford to attend(and that it's kind of his job) that makes it ridiculous that he won't. David Miller and Mel Lastman both marched in Pride while they were Mayor of Toronto. Even Police Chief Bill Blair once marched in the Parade. If Ford doesn't want to be there, that's fine. Don't march. But some kind of official representation from the City of Toronto's highest office is certainly in order here, especially in this case. Why isn't the Mayor on the Program for the Pride Flag raising at City Hall on June 27th? Is he at the cottage that day as well? Of course not, because where he is isn't the point.

Let's not pretend that Rob Ford hasn't displayed homophobic tendencies(to put it lightly). When he was a councillor in Etobicoke he commented that “if you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won’t get AIDS, probably.” As mayor he was the only person who voted against restoring provincial funding for syphilis and HIV screening programs, he tried to defund Toronto Pride, and he doesn't support same sex-marriage rights.

Ford holds the same views on homosexuality and lgbtq rights as a lot of Conservative leaning politicians and people do, that's no secret. It isn't his homophobia or right wing politics that are at issue here, it's what he's planning on doing with them. That is why I agree with Councillor Wong-Tam who characterized the choice as a "missed opportunity... given the past historical remarks that he has made," an opportunity for him to "step forward" and begin to "make amends with the community." Whatever his own personal politics are, there IS hatred in this city. There are hate crimes, violence, and bullying perpetrated against homos (sorry po-mos, it's the truth). There are kids in high schools who aren't allowed to form gay-straight alliances, who aren't allowed to display rainbows, who KILL THEMSELVES from being bullied and called gay.

In Barbara Kay's article she declares that "Pride has no more legal and political ambitions to fill" because the "revolution is over." She says that "Pride is no longer about support for gays" and is actually just about having "gay-themed fun"(whatever that may be). Revealing her own deep-seated homophobia, Kay writes that Pride participants do everything but have sex in public, that it deserves public funding just about as much as a strip show, and is all about lewd self promotion. "Tolerant and non-homophobic Canadians" don't want to celebrate that yuckiness!

The culture we live in is one in which a straight woman feels entitled to tell us when our own revolution is over, that we are all dirty gay sex fiends, and that a diverse(and often family friendly) celebration is not worthy of our own tax dollars. And that's not homophobic? Pride isn't the only solution to this kind of garbage but when politicians and public figures participate it is always a step in the right direction. Barbara Kay herself is a good argument for Ford marching in the Parade -- hatred is so normalized that it's in the mainstream media without question.

Deciding against participation creates an Us vs Them kind of mentality with Ford on one side and the lgbtqa community on the other. Ford is the Mayor(unfortunately), we're stuck with him. But he's stuck with us too. This is our city AND his. To march in the Parade, or to be involved in any way, might not have meant a lot to some people but we need to stop and consider what it means to Ford. It means he doesn't want to extend an olive branch, he doesn't really want to work with this community, that he is so stuck in his own ideology that he can't even participate in something he doesn't 100% believe in. It means he doesn't acknowledge that there will be people participating in Pride who actually voted for him because all he sees are left-wing radical perverts. Sure, I might not want to see Ford at Pride shaking his money maker(actually.. I did) but it would definitely demonstrate that he's willing to step outside of his comfort zone and really lead this city, fags and all. To be a healthy city we need the Us and the Them to at least try to work together and that is why it matters that Rob Ford won't march.

Who knows, maybe Ford is just saving up all of his rainbow glitter for Muskoka Pride.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...