At the Accordion City Blue Jays’ home opener on Friday (where a newly-invigorated team started with an amazing first inning and proceeded to give the Minnesota Twins a severe 13 – 3 pasting), our Peter Griffin-esque mayor Rob Ford was in attendance. One of the cameras zoomed in on him, and as soon as his mug appeared on the jumbotron, the stadium filled with a resounding chorus of boos. The cameras cut away quickly.
“I thought sports fans would be for the guy,” I quipped to the guy beside me.
“No, not for baseball – it’s technically a ‘hipster’ sport,” he replied, “and opening night is traditionally more of a downtown crowd.”
Making fun of Rob Ford is great sport among the Accordion City citizens who live and work closer to the downtown core, myself included. However, I did write this just after his election:
I’m open to the possibility that Ford could pleasantly surprise us. The thought of Toronto’s service unions – long a hiding place for mediocrity –grimacing at the thought of dealing with a mayor who isn’t so beholden to them pleases this accordion player. As Stewie Griffin might say: “Perhaps the Fat Man might prove to be useful after all.”
I have to give credit where credit is due and give a thumbs-up for Rob Ford for this: he may actually be a better Jane Jacobs mayor than his predecessor, David Miller, whom I liked to Family Guy’s Mayor Adam West.
The issue is the Toronto a la Cart program. It was a pilot project whose goal was to expand the options at downtown Toronto’s food carts beyond barbecued hot dogs. The fact that they’re cooked on a gas grill rather than boiled and that real sausages and not just bland hot dogs are available puts us ahead of many cities, but being limited to hot dogs is pretty sad. For real food cart diversity, you should check out Austin, Texas, whose carts carry everything from hot dogs to pizza to burgers to barbecue to tex-mex to shawarma to oddball-but-tasty hybrids like bulgogi burritos.
An article in the most recent issue of the alt-weekly Eye captures what happened nicely (the emphasis is mine):
That program, after all, has been phenomenally short-sighted and ham-fisted, taking the excellent concept of allowing sidewalk dining options other than hot dogs and twisting it to try and ensure that healthy and ethnically diverse food were the only new options. Rather than throw the street-food industry open to anyone with a good idea, a clean cart and some cooking skills, former mayor David Miller and health board chair Councillor John Filion decided in 2008 that the city should control the industry. In an almost cartoonish example of the left’s counter-productive impulse to not just overregulate but to micro-manage too (see also: garbage bin program), the project ordered and manufactured custom food-vending carts that operators were required to purchase from the city, and the city vetted and approved a select list of vendors who paid high fees to participate. Those vendors had their menus full of health-conscious and ethnically representative dishes regulated closely by the city, and worked at fixed locations dictated by health department bureaucrats.
It’s the sort of “we know better than you” thinking that plagues that sector of the Left that’s over-educated yet under-smart (and which is why I’ll never vote for the NDP), which often leads me to have conversations like this:
Me: So, do you have any post-secondary education?
Over-educated under-smart lefty: Yes! I have a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Philosophy!
Me: You could’ve just said “no”.
Oh, relax, poli sci majors. I kid because I care.
Mayor Rob Ford disagreed with this course of action back when he was just Councillor Rob Ford in 2008 interview with the Toronto Sun: “I would just open it up and let them sell anything…whatever they want to make money on.”
I would have to concur with him. As long as a cart is clean, sold clean food and met health and other regulations, why get in the way of an enterprising businessperson who probably has better ideas for what to serve than some stuffed shirt in City Council?
Thankfully, the Toronto a la Cart program is going under review this month, and it seems likely that the Mayor and councillors will kill it.
The Eye article I quoted earlier suggests that although Ford’s opponents simply talk the talk of being followers of Jane Jacobs’ wisdom about cities (if you’re not familiar with her work, go out and get a copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities; it’s a fantastic read), Rob Ford actually walks the walk.
“Cities,” wrote Jacobs, “have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” And that means more than just high-on-ideals low-on-useful-execution governing bodies like David Miller, who was all hair and no head.
The Eye article talks about the Toronto a la Cart program as well as the Mayor’s office’s defence of Reg Hartt, who’s been running a little cinephile movie theatre out of his living room for decades (I used to go all the time). Mayor Miller’s well-meaning but wooly-headed council tried to kill this unique little piece of Toronto, but Mayor Ford’s office brought it back. It’s a worthy read, which closes with this line that’s sure to make some progressives do a double-take:
Ford is one of the only politicians at City Hall whom I have never heard invoke the name of Jane Jacobs, in any context. But at least in a few respects, he is governing in her image.
As much as I disagree with “Mayor Griffin”, I’m going to have to give him points for this one.