My attempts at humour elicited nary a response from the Mayor’s office, so I have constructed the following letter and cc’ed every Councillor (I think/hope).
I love my city, and this has been a depressing week for the world.
Dear Mayor Ford,
I’m not sure if you have been following the news recently, but there are riots in London, and all over England. The youth have revolted, and they are burning down local businesses, smashing windows, and displaying all sorts of unacceptable acts of violence. And very few of them can succinctly explain why. It’s scary, it’s depressing and it could have been avoided.
I hold London close to my heart. For the five years of my life that I spent away from Toronto, I lived in England. And while I never lived in London, London is the city I call my second home. My best friends live in London, in areas affected directly by these riots. It makes me nervous and sad that this is happening.
Earlier this year London faced huge cuts to various social services and programmes. Libraries were closed, youth programmes were cut, budgets for outreach programmes were slashed. All in an effort to balance books. London faced what you are proposing for my city. I understand that the tensions on a superficial level in London are different to the tensions in Toronto. But the culture of “us vs. them” and the underlying divisiveness that is the result of those tensions are here in Toronto now, and your administration is not only perpetuating it, but thriving off it. The definitions you are imposing on the residents of this beautiful city are tearing it apart: cars vs bikes, commie pinkos vs. taxpayers, downtown vs. suburbs.
No good can come of this.
While divisiveness, on its own, just makes for an angry city, cuts in city services, these things you call “nice to haves”, cause a climate of disengagement. If people do not feel invested in their city because their city is not invested in them, if they feel uncared for, ignored and marginalized, their civic pride will be non-existent, they won’t care. If they feel disrespected by those in charge and cannot see a future for themselves why would they in turn respect their city? The combination of hopelessness and anger is what is fuelling the riots in London.
Toronto needs to invest in its residents. Toronto needs social services for at-risk youth. Toronto needs to give its people something to take pride in. Toronto needs to aspire to be the best, not merely adequate. Toronto needs a constructive dialogue, and to stop towing ideological lines for the sake of ideology alone. And above all, Toronto needs to stop falling for rhetoric and dividing itself based on made-up definitions. It’s only in the past two years, that because I ride a bike, I’ve become a “commie pinko”. While the label is amusing, it’s more destructive than anything. When one of your city councilors sets up a facebook group asking for the views of constituents and then remarks to the media: “I’m really sick and tired of hearing from the communists in this city, I don’t want anything to do with them. I don’t want to listen to them,” the divisive lines are further drawn. It is destructive, unhelpful and very much discouraging engagement in our city when it is clear no one is listening. Speaking in terms of “taxpayers” instead of “residents” or “constituents” or even simply “people” creates a sense of elitism that is counterproductive when it comes to inclusive policy-making.
So please, Mayor Ford, I’m asking you to stop with the rhetoric and catchy one-liners. Toronto is not a sit-com. I’m asking you and your peers to think before you speak, and listen and debate before you pass policies. Learn from the mistakes of other municipalities. It’s your duty to educate yourself.
Invest in Toronto, and make it an even better place to live.
I’m scared for my city, and my back-up plan is on fire.
Maggie – Citizen of Toronto