Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Predictability in government: Toronto edition

Developers especially use the word predictability to refer to building and zoning regulations, as well as historic preservation protections, in terms of how such impact their decision-making with regard to property development. Changes aren't looked upon favorably.

So political regimes that are chaotic, with policies subject to drastic change, don't create a favorable development climate.

While developers liked the pro go-go development attitudes of the early years of Mayor Barry's administration (as described in Chapter 4 of Dream City), after awhile other problems with governance and municipal administration eventually led to impingement of the investment climate and development in DC did decline. Once Marion Barry was no longer Mayor, with the election of Anthony Williams in 1998, the investment climate changed significantly and positively, and even with the real estate crash of 2008, comparatively speaking the DC real estate development market is strong.

Toronto governance is in the crazy s*** phase right now, and has been ever since the election of suburban councillor Rob Ford as Mayor. On his first day in office, he repudiated the Transit City transit expansion agenda of the previous administration in favor of subways that were for the most part unfundable.

He got elected claiming that billions of dollars of savings were achievable because of wanton waste, which he never found. His brother, Doug Ford, a member of Council, pushed forward a change to waterfront redevelopment plans, attempting to scotch a long-time plan and process. And an evaluation of government for waste by KPMG created tons of anguish over proposed changes to government service profiles.

In the last few weeks, the Toronto City Council struck back and reinstated the Transit City agenda, asserting that Mayor Ford did not have the authority to unilaterally change policy without Council approval. See "From transit to waterfront, Fords make themselves irrelevant" from the Toronto Star.

The Toronto Transit Commission is run by the city government, with a majority of the commissioners appointed by the Mayor. In response to the repudiation, and because the TTC did not support the changes initiated by Mayor Ford because they did not make financial sense based on transportation planning principles and findings. A majority of the TTC commissioners were Ford appointees, and he had them fire the Executive Director--a well respected transit professional--because of the lack of support.

So the City Council has struck back again, and is reorganizing and reconstituting the Transit Commission, with a majority of the commissioners appointed by the Council. See "Toronto is finally bringing order out of transit chaos" and "TTC: Ford loyalists booted; Stintz stays as chair in expanded board" from the Toronto Star.

Governance in Toronto right now is not predictable.

It is another example of how it does really matter who gets elected. (E.g., like in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the change to a Republican administration

It's also made me reconsider city-county consolidations. Typically, center cities are more progressive politically than the suburbs. When the city and county consolidate, urban progressivism can be overwhelmed by suburban less-progressivism. That's what happened in Toronto, where suburban districts elected Rob Ford as Mayor. (Note that like the Republican presidential race for nomination now, residents didn't have many good choices.)

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