Sunday, April 15, 2012

Socking It To The Cities

When Jane Jacobs moved from the United States to Canada, she looked around at Toronto and concluded that Canada's largest city provided a model for wise urban development. "Here is the most hopeful and healthy city in North America," she wrote, "still unmangled, still with options."

Twenty-five years later -- after the Neo Conservative Revolution was firmly entrenched -- the title of her last book, Dark Age Ahead, chronicled her growing disillusionment with what the vaunted elites had done to Canadian cities.

Mathew Kelaway and Roger Keil write that the recent Harper budget is further proof that the powers that be are draining Canadian cities of their ability to prosper in the 21st century. In Jacob's beloved Toronto:

There is a public poverty that has settled across this urban region in the years between Jacobs’ optimism and gloom. It is evident in the shabbiness of our public space and the dilapidation of our infrastructure. Not for all, but for most, it is conspicuous too by the scarcity, sometimes absence, of our infrastructure — from transit to affordable housing to child care.

There is a private poverty too. It is found all over but is concentrated in the expanse between our downtown and the “cities in waiting” in the exurban belt beyond Steeles. In these inner suburbs, a new in-between city has emerged where social and economic problems abound.

But rather than address these problems, the Harperites have put all their eggs in the resources basket, choosing to build pipelines instead of cities. Given the fact that 80% of us live in cities, something is seriously out of joint. Kellaway and Keil write:

The latest federal budget displays this government’s callous indifference to its role in establishing the conditions necessary for urban centres to succeed. Urban economies build upon communities and infrastructures that support creativity, innovation and productivity. At a minimum, this means national programs for transit, housing and child care. These are the obvious strategies for enhancing our economic competitiveness and supporting, socially, our diverse urban communities.

In place of such urban investment is this budget’s promise to hasten resource development and the infrastructure — explicitly pipelines — to enable its export. Nevermind the objective of post-carbon cities as the oil-centricity of our national economy is more deeply entrenched, our dollar ever more lofty and, correspondingly, the manufacturing base of our urban economies ever more diminished. But this is a budget that continues to expose our manufacturing base not only to this “Dutch Disease” but also to economies with vastly lower wages and weaker employment standards. And, it is into such a remade labour market of our own that this budget will force future seniors for another two years, effective 2023.

Given the fact that Stephen Harper grew up in Toronto, one would think he would be familiar with the problems the city faces. But, then, one would think he is wise enough -- when procuring military hardware -- not to keep two sets of books.

It's simply a myth that the economist-in chief -- "the smartest guy in the room" -- is smart. It's not good economic policy to sock it to Canadian cities.


thwap said...

Exactly. Every morning I'm crammed on to an incredibly slow, falling-apart subway system.

It was built when Toronto had one million fewer residents.

It was built when politicians were willing to spend the money. Now, they're all infected by their idiotic faith in the private sector (to build public goods!) and fiscal conservatism.

Rob Ford's barking about "subways" was just evidence of the mental disconnect. Sure he wants to build 'em. Just like harper says he "prefers" 'em.

But neither of them want to spend the money.

Owen Gray said...

Precisely, thwap. And the economist they idolize -- Milton Friedman -- famously said there is no such thing as a free lunch.

They want to eat well. But they don't want to pick up the check.

Anonymous said...

Toronto needs to be punished, and so you are. Sucks to be you and it will only get worst.

Owen Gray said...

Such generosity of spirit!