Urban life is a fantasy, a nuisance

There’s a pretty insidious attitude you see pop up now and again in our city. When it comes to our downtown and central neighbourhoods, city officials will often treat them as a means to an end for suburbanites (the streets are for commuters, the facilities are for entertainment and work) or, worse, a nuisance.

(The corollary to this is that people in central neighbourhoods will see suburban neighbourhoods as purely a drain on city resources and undeserving of nice things.)

One city councillor, Rick Chiarelli, demonstrated this attitude perfectly, if unwittingly, a month or so ago.

Speaking on CBC, Chiarelli was defending the Where Is My Plow app that completely failed users during the first big snowfall of the season (even when it worked as designed, it was still a failure as a communication device). Chiarelli was noting that the app was only for residential streets (though, as we all probably know, it wasn’t for all residential streets), and it wouldn’t give estimates for main streets, like Bank. This makes absolute sense. Bank Street is a high priority street for clearing. It’ll always be one of the first done (at least downtown), and it gets done regularly during the snowfall. That’s fine. No problem. As someone who lives on Bank Street, no complaints.

As a follow up, he notes that the app was designed for streets “where people actually live.”

Dick move, Mr. Chiarelli.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he knows that people “actually live” on Bank Street. (I’m typing this from a Starbucks on Bank Street underneath condo tower, sitting at a window facing another condo tower.) It was just easy shorthand for him. There was no evidence of malice. (From all appearances, he seems a jolly and likeable chap.)

So his words were ill-measured, but there is still meaning behind them. It may be shorthand, but it’s shorthand for something. He’s trying to build a city for the suburb-dwellers in his ward. He’s not considering that people (like me) actually live on Bank Street. We don’t count.

This is the attitude I’m talking about.

Council is often quite dismissive of people living an urban lifestyle. Whether it’s transportation, service delivery, schools, events, development or taxation, central neighbourhoods are considered secondarily or not at all.

It’s ugly, and it’s just demonstrative of the bullshit urban-suburban(-rural) culture wars that politicians feed upon. And it’s perpetuated by lies and misinformation. Whether it’s Jan Harder claiming Barrhaven is denser than downtown (well, if by dense…) or Chiarelli saying that people don’t actually live on Bank Street, it’s harmful to the city, and it’s just plain dumb for city-building purposes.

And, you know, I’ll bet these condo towers have more residents that Joyce Crescent in College Ward.

Dear College Ward, You Can Do Better Than Rick Chiarelli

But not this year.

I watched the Rogers 22 debate for College Ward the other day. If I was a resident of College Ward, it would have been really disappointing. Hell, as a non-resident of College Ward it was disappointing. Rick Chiarelli was bland, typical and boring. He’s been a politician for a while now and he kind of seemed like he was coasting. If he has (or ever had) a grand vision for the city, you wouldn’t know it. Of course, he doesn’t really need to do much to protect his seat; his opponents are doing enough of that for him.

Scott Andrew McLarens seemed well-intentioned. He was also clearly in over his head. By his own admission, he wasn’t sufficiently prepared for the debate and fumbled badly over the first question (a straightforward one about property taxes). He’s clearly the youngest of the field. Perhaps he’ll grow into the role of civic leader. That’d be pretty cool.

Craig MacAuley… well… even he doesn’t take his candidacy too seriously, so I’m not sure we should either. During the debate, he told everyone to vote for his competitor, Guy Annable.

Which brings us to Guy Annable, a passionate candidate, shall we say. (It’s fitting that his information on the city election site is in ALL CAPS. He’s just an all caps kinda guy, I guess.) His platform is thin (two of his four promises are about weekly garbage pick-up… seriously), and his grasp on running a city is weak. He was clearly the strongest and most prepared challenger for Chiarelli, but that has more to do with MacAuley and McLarens than it does his own performance. Annable “passion” covers an anger about city politics. Sadly, it’s not just righteous disapproval of mismanagement; there’s a layer of hatred to his utterings. Building off his racist tweet from the other week, Annable lectured the TV cameras about poor people being drug dealers, suggesting we needed forceful police action against those who dare be poor. On the plus side, he let slip the candidate mask a bit when he let us know that one of his pastimes is hanging around fast food parking lots looking out for poor people drug dealers in “blinged-out” cars.

So, here we are. Sadly, I will be rooting for a Chiarelli victory. Maybe one of Somerset Ward’s strong candidates could parachute in, instead.