Germans debate free public transit

The Europeans, unlike North Americans, are serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Germany there is talk of making all public transit free. The problem is not finding the resources to finance the move, it is to get enough trains, buses, LRT, and other forms of public transit vehicles to meet the demand. When are we going to have a serious discussion about transit?

This is the link to the Guardian article.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/14/german-cities-to-trial-free-public-transport-to-cut-pollution?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+main+NEW+H+categories&utm_term=263949&subid=15580490&CMP=EMCNEWEML6619I2

Support the Island Bird Sanctuary

The Toronto Field Naturalists are leading the effort to create a bird sanctuary on Toronto Island. This is one of the most important flyways for migratory birds on the Great Lakes. 
The City of Toronto Executive Committee has endorsed the bird sanctuary, which is the first step in the approvals process. The motion will go to the City Council on January 31.
The Field Naturalists are urging people to sign their petition in support of the effort. Councillor Joe Cressy will take the petition, and the names of those who have signed it, to council on the day of the debate.
I urge you to sign the petition and forward it to your friends who you think will support this effort. This is the link.
Bill Freeman

Airports and development don’t mix

Last week Hamilton’s City Council approved a development virtually across the road from the Mount Hope Airport (John C. Munro, Hamilton International Airport). Altogether the approval of the Hotz and Son Development will allow the building of 271 single family houses and 440 townhouses.

Problems abound with this development. Because the project has been on the books for several years it falls under planning rules that were replaced at least five years ago. Even the ward councillor who moved acceptance of the project, Brenda Johnson, admitted that it probably would not be approved today because it is exempted from rules protecting ecologically significant areas and rules around airport noise.

Across Ontario residents are complaining of noise, pollution, and increased traffic caused by airports. That is particularly true of the communities around Pearson International, and residents close to Billy Bishop, on Toronto’s Waterfront, have pointed to many different problems.

Hamilton council has ignored all of this. The property that will be developed is across the road from the Warplane Heritage Museum, a recently built air cargo facility, and is kitty corner from the airport itself. The airport has advised that they are opposed to the development.

The development plan also does not take into account that there are plans to extend the north-south runway of the airport, and the city has spent $10 million to acquire land for the extension. If the extension is built it will greatly increase the noise from the airport.

The problem is not just the airport. It is a Hamilton City Council whose members are in favour of development of almost any kind. Regulations around airport noise have been put in place to protect the public. Here is a flagrant use of legal loopholes to approve a development and by-pass regulations. It is inviting trouble.

With the help of Hamilton CATCH. http://hamiltoncatch.org/view_article.php?id=1527

Transforming North York’s Yonge Street

It is distressing. Councillor John Filion, and North York citizens, are supporting a proposal from city staff to change Yonge Street, from Sheppard north to Finch, into a walkable neighborhood, and who is opposed?  Mayor John Tory.

Times Square was transformed into a people’s place

It is not that this is a radical plan. It proposes to reconfigure Yonge Street in North York from six lanes, three in each direction, to four lanes, two in each direction. The sidewalks would be widened to make the street more walkable and various street furniture and amenities would be added to create a more pleasant environment.

This is how John Filion sees it. The people, “deserve a main street with some atmosphere and some culture. They deserve sidewalks wide enough to sit down for a glass of wine and lunch with a friend.”

Cities across North America, are discovering the benefits of taming traffic and promoting walking communities. Andrew Picard says, “Walking is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug. It’s good for your heart, your mind and your bones.” (Globe and Mail, September 26, 2017)

It also strengthens communities and promotes commerce. It reduces crime, leads to more varied and integrated communities, and creates a better balance between commercial and residential interests. It is vibrant communities like this where people of all ages want to live and work. These are the neighborhoods that will develop and grow stronger in the future.

To quote Picard again: “If you want healthy communities, you need to create a sense of space, of belonging; you need to build inclusive, diverse spaces, where healthy runners and cyclists, parents pushing strollers, frail seniors with walkers, people using wheelchairs, street people, immigrant shop owners and pin-striped business types all feel at ease moving about and intermingling. Streets are the original and ultimate social network; you need to construct them not only for commerce, but for culture and community-building.”

As I say in my book, The New Urban Agenda, we are beginning to reinvent our cities, and it is demands to take back the public spaces – the streets, the sidewalks, the parks and all public amenities – that is the essential first step in this transformation.

In other cities politicians are leading these efforts to transform cities, but in Toronto, John Tory and Councillors like him, are still insisting the automobile has priority over the pedestrian. It is time we had politicians who want to promote livable cities and inclusive neighborhoods.

Nuclear disarmament and city politics

Many Torontonians like to think that we are light years ahead of other Canadian cities on progressive issues, but as this posting from CATCH News clearly points out, our friends in Hamilton are away ahead of us.

Personally, I am distressed that our Liberal government in Ottawa instructed our representative to vote against a UN resolution, “to prohibit the development, testing, production, manufacturing and possession of nuclear weapons.”

All of the countries who have nuclear arms voted against this resolution. The Canadian government fell in line with the Americans as did all of the NATO counties except Holland. Despite this, the motion passed by a large margin in the UN General Assembly.

Read what happened in Hamilton and you will understand why I think Steeltown is a leader in progressive politics.

Bill Freeman

CATCH News – August 14, 2017

Ban on nuclear weapons

They gathered last week celebrating last month’s United Nations treaty banning nuclear weapons, mourning Canada’s refusal to support it, solemnly remembering the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and affirming in unison their commitment to real security. The Dundas councillor brought greetings from “peace mayor” Eisenberger, noting Hamilton is officially a nuclear-free city, all while two presidents rattled their bombs in an international competition for who is most willing to bring an end to life on earth.

The Hamilton Mundialization Committee’s annual reminder of the consequences of nuclear weapons took place in the city’s municipal service centre in the old Dundas town hall. It heard a specific message to Hamilton from Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima attack 72 years ago and a peace activist who was unable to attend in person as planned. Her statement pointed particularly to the UN decision “to prohibit the development, testing, production, manufacturing and possession of nuclear weapons” that was approved by a lmost two-thirds of the world’s countries on July 7.

“For the first time nuclear weapons have been unconditionally stigmatized as standing outside the international humanitarian law,” she stated. “In no uncertain terms this treaty declares to the world that nuclear weapons are illegitimate, illegal and immoral.”

Canada joined all nine nuclear-armed countries in boycotting the UN vote as well as the three years of conferences leading up to it. Japan and all NATO countries, except the Netherlands, also didn’t participate with the latter casting the only ballot against it. Iran, Sweden and Switzerland voted in favor as did Mexico, Cuba, Ireland, Iraq, Egypt, and most African and Latin American countries.

North American media largely ignored the UN action. The United States, France and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement declaring: “We do not intend to sign, ratify or ever become party to it. Therefore, there will be no change in the legal obligations on our countries with respect to nuclear weapons.”

In June Prime Minister Trudeau characterized the initiative as “sort of useless” if it doesn’t include countries that actually have nuclear weapons. An NDP motion calling on Canada to participate generated a lengthy House of Commons debate on June 8. The Liberals argued the treaty is “premature” and will be “ineffective”.

The NDP motion only won support of the Bloc Quebecois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May. The Liberals and Conservatives combined to defeat it 245-44. Petition cards urging Canada to ratify the treaty were distributed at last week’s meeting and can also be endorsed on-line.

In the gathering Councillor Vanderbeek spoke on behalf of Mayor Eisenberger, noting that he joined Mayors for Peace in 2006, a group committed “to the total abolition of nuclear weapons and the attainment of lasting world peace, and to the solution of such problems as starvation, poverty, the plight of refugees, human rights abuses, and environmental degradation in cooperation with the United Nations.”

She also recalled that Hamilton “has been declared a nuclear-free zone which means that no nuclear weapons are to be located in Hamilton or to be moved through Hamilton.” The meeting also heard a letter from the mayor of Nagasaki and one from Hiroshima read by a student who had participated in Hamilton’s fifty-year-old exchange program with Japan started by Dundas. The mayors of both cities are urging the Japanese government to ratify the UN treaty.

The meeting concluded with recitation by the attendees of an anti-war “Pledge of Nagasaki” and a community affirmation that read in part:

“We declare that we are at peace with all people of good will. We require no leader to tell us whom to call ‘enemy’ or whom to call ‘friend’ or what to call ‘security’. Instead we affirm that our earth’s security rests not on armaments, but in the fairness of adequate housing, food and water; in the justice of safe and renewable energy; in the legitimacy of meaningful education and work; in the integrity of economic order that gives everyone access to our earth’s abundance; in the honesty of political process to which all people contribute; and in the decency of human relationships nourished by cooperation and love.”

More on Red Hill

This is an article published by CATCH News, a Hamilton citizen online newsletter. Red Hill Expressway has been a controversial local issue for decades. It illustrates how local citizens understand the consequences of projects like these far better than the traffic engineers.

Bill Freeman

CATCH News – July 17, 2017

Red Hill and Trump

The Red Hill Parkway was born in controversy and continues that history, most recently focused on the large numbers of crashes on the valley expressway and the even greater numbers of trucks. All of this appears to be connected and may shed some light on current US events.

More than any other Hamilton road, the valley parkway is political, steeped in decades of angry debate between multiple factions long before it was opened ten years ago. The idea for an east end expressway across the escarpment arose in the 1950s, but where to put it generated an epic debate where passion and politics overruled engineering and road construction know-how.

That gave Hamilton an ‘expressway’ that follows a route largely determined thousands of years ago by the landscape-carving effects of the waters of a meandering creek. That meant not only more curves than engineers prefer for major highways, but a lot of ups and downs to move motorists from the valley floor to the intersecting roads serviced by interchanges on top of the steep challenge posed by crossing the escarpment.

Additional politics determined that there are six of those interchanges along an eight kilometre stretch – Dartnall, Greenhill, King, Queenston, Barton and the QEW – with each of the latter five sited barely a kilometre apart. That’s also far more than road engineers recommend and has meant that on-ramps from some interchanges complicate drivers’ attempts to take the subsequent off-ramp.

Media attention has focused on pavement quality and lighting, but the basic layout required to build a road down a creek valley may be much more significant. It certainly is more difficult to change. So is the simple fact that most traffic comes off of either the QEW or the Linc – both with higher posted speeds.

Drivers doing their usual 120 km/hr are presented with what seems to be a continuation of the highway. Not surprisingly they tend to try and maintain their speeds with unfortunate consequences. Changing that ultimately that may require stoplights at either end of the valley and other measures beyond signage.

That’s further complicated by thousands of heavy trucks utilizing Red Hill and the Linc as a shortcut between the QEW and Highway 403, as well as a way to avoid the frequent high winds on the skyway bridges. Some city councillors seem surprised by this activity and have ordered staff to do a count, but it was obvious the trucks would be attracted to a route that’s a full nine kilometres shorter than via the skyway.

Friends of Red Hill Valley, one of the groups that opposed the valley route, not only loudly predicted this short-cutting, they even tried calculating the numbers. Volunteers (the author was one of them and also chaired the group at the time) did a 24-hour count at the Freeman interchange in Burlington and found that 4500 trucks a day were shifting between the QEW and the 403.

In 1950s several locations were possible for a north-south expressway but by the late 1970s when the municipal politicians selected a valley route, other potential options such as Centennial Parkway or Kenilworth Avenue (and later Woodward Avenue) featured established businesses and residences. Thus valley defenders were countered by groups based along those arteries and that intensified the politicization of the decision-making.

The provincial government unsuccessfully tried to broker a compromise 60 km arterial road using at-grade intersections and avoiding much of the creek valley. A federal environmental assessment of the project offered a final chance to flag safety issues but councillors spent over $4 million on court action to stop that from being completed.

So Hamilton got an expressway whose route was determined not by professional road engineers but by dueling citizen groups and the politicians responding to them.  South of the border we’re now seeing many other examples of decisions guided by alleged “common sense” trumping science and expertise.

 

CATCH (Citizens at City Hall) updates use transcripts and/or public documents to highlight information about Hamilton civic affairs that is not generally available in the mass media. Detailed reports of City Hall meetings can be reviewed at hamiltoncatch.org. You can receive all CATCH free updates by sending an email to http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/?p=subscribe. Sharing links are available on the hamiltoncatch.org.You can unsubscribe at http://hamiltoncatch.org/newsletter/?p=unsubscribe

Participation and Democracy Rising

When I set off to write a non-fiction book, like Democracy Rising, I try to explore the subject as comprehensively as possible, but after the book is written, edited, printed, and in the book stores inevitably I come across material that I wish that I had included.

Sign and white blaze on a tree marking the Bruce Trail

Democracy Rising is a good example. The thesis, or major idea, of the book is that if we are to have a vibrant democracy the people must be engaged, and the most effective way for us to do that is through grassroots organizations that encourage the participation of its members.

The book starts off by describing the limitations of representative democracy and to show how elites have been able to dominate our political institutions for their own benefit. But the important material in the book is the discussion of how ordinary people have transformed our country through organizations such as the progressive movement, trade unions, co-operatives, the environmental movement, and community groups.

It is the participation of citizens in grassroots organizations that has strengthened our democratic practices and the book concludes by showing how we can make them more effective. We will never have an effective democracy until we have a truly participatory democracy.

This was an interesting book to write. I have been a community activist all of my adult life and Democracy Rising gave me the opportunity to write about those experiences and the organizations I have been involved with. Those who have read it have liked it, but the reality is that I did miss some opportunities. Here are some examples I could have included.

  • The Bruce Train is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year. It was a group of keen hikers who came up with the idea of a walking trail from Niagara Falls to Tobermory along the Niagara Escarpment. They mapped out the trail, got permission from private landowners to cross their land, wrote brochures and articles describing the trail, set up a governing councils in different regions to look after the trail and advocated protection of the trail with the Ontario Government. It was a massive effort and it was all done by volunteers. Today the Niagara Escarpment is part of Ontario’s Greenbelt Plan. It is a remarkable story of how the participation of people can make a difference and change our political practices.
  • Another example is the growth of land trusts. Community land trusts are private non-profit organizations that acquire and hold land for the benefit of the community. In rural areas often land trusts are set up to protect land from development and hold it in a natural state indefinitely. In cities land trusts are usually set up to make land available for affordable housing. This is a growing movement that is having an impact on many communities across Canada. Again, it is all being done by volunteers.

Those are two dramatic examples of people participating in their communities, but think of the scores of different organizations that exist in Canada. These are some that I am familiar with: Jane’s Walks, food banks, athletic associations, volunteer social service agencies, and so on and so on.

Participation, engagement, the development of grassroots organizations, these are all things that contribute to our democracy because they encourage public participation in meaningful ways on issues of public importance. Social media is a very effective way to develop and promote organizations like that and engage in the discussion of issues.

But before we dismiss books in favour of social media as the tool for organizing and grassroots politics, let me give a last appeal. Writing a non-fiction book is a way to explore a subject or an issue in a comprehensive way. That’s what I tried to do in Democracy Rising. I did miss some things, but then that is inevitable. It is the ideas in the book that will stand the test of time.

May 30th: An Evening in Toronto with Dimitri Roussopoulos, workshop and book launch

 

6pm Workshop:
The Rise of Cities: Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Other CitiesEdited by Dimitri Roussopoulos
Although the city is the foundation of democracy and citizenship, it is widely misunderstood as a geopolitical space. However, it is playing a growing role in shaping the 21st century whilst at the same time being beset by serious social and ecological crises. The Rise of Cities  explores three major cities of Canada through lengthy overviews of well known authors Shawn Katz, Bill Freeman and Patrick J. Smith as well as a major introduction by the editor: political economist and veteran urban activist Dimitri Roussopoulos.
Black Rose Books 250pp ISBN: 978-1-55164-334-2 (paperback) $19.99; 978-1-55164-335-9 (hardcover)

When: Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: OISE 252 Bloor St W
Room: 7th floor Peace Lounge (fully accessible)

NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED – ALL WELCOME TO ATTEND

At the meeting Dimitri Roussopoulos will talk about the history of Milton Park Housing Co-operative.

Please join us for an engaging evening on the history of the largest non-profit housing cooperative project in Canada: the Milton-Parc Community in Montreal, presented by community organizer and publisher Dimitri Roussopoulos. His workshop on establishing grassroots housing co-ops will be followed by a public discussion.

In the 1960s, speculators wanted to destroy a downtown Montreal neighbourhood to build ‘the City of the 21st Century’, massive condos, office towers and shopping malls. For over ten years, residents of the Milton-Parc neighbourhood fought back with petitioning, occupying the developers’ offices and squatting. The community eventually won, creating North America’s largest urban land trust thus liberating the buildings and land from the market and abolishing speculation. Today, 21 non-profit housing organizations, of which 15 are cooperatives, collectively own six downtown city blocks, housing 1500 people in this remarkable urban village.

Members from Milton-Parc have presented on their accomplishments around the world, but this will be the first presentation in Canada outside of Quebec!

When: Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: OISE 252 Bloor St W
Room: 7th floor Peace Lounge (fully accessible)

NO REGISTRATION REQUIRED – ALL WELCOME TO ATTEND

 

 

 

 

Reactions to OMB Reform

The reaction to the Ontario Government’s announcement of its intended reforms to the Ontario Municipal Board were swift and predictable. Leaders of citizen groups and municipal politicians welcomed the news while spokespeople for the development industry condemned it.

High rise condos on Toronto’s Waterfront

This is the news release from the government:  https://news.ontario.ca/mma/en/2016/10/ontario-proposing-changes-to-ontario-municipal-board-to-improve-efficiency-and-accessibility.html

The Globe and Mail: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/ontario-municipal-board-reforms-will-stifle-new-housing-developers/article35004540/

Toronto Star: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/05/16/province-plans-to-overhaul-omb-and-give-more-power-to-cities-and-citizens.html

Suburban sprawl in the GTA

Toronto Star editorial: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2017/05/16/planning-changes-go-in-the-right-direction-editorial.html

Star reporter Jennifer Pagliaro on Toronto City Hall reaction: https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/05/16/omb-reform-praised-as-bold-boon-to-local-democracy.html

My reaction, for what it’s worth, is that this is to be welcomed because it strengthens citizen involvement in planning and enhances local control. It is a major development in participatory democracy in Ontario.

For too long developers have been able to use their financial ability to get what they want. The expense of OMB appeals has been a financial burden for municipalities. Developers have literally been able to outspend municipalities on legal and planning experts to get what and that means increasing profits.

But the real problem is that a small group of unelected, OMB officials have been able to overrule local politicians. Politicians are not perfect, as everyone knows, but at least they are accountable to the people.

This has led to inappropriate development all over the province, from high rise in downtown Toronto to urban sprawl in the suburbs. The OMB reforms will help to rebalance interests and strengthen citizen control of their communities.