Elections, Values, and Stone Walls

(Photo: City of Toronto Archives, SC 268, Item 410)

Today is election day in Toronto.

It is a day when, in spite of the archaic electoral system we use, citizens are able to engage most directly with their government. A day that quite literally counts our respective values, ideas, and visions for what this city should be. 4 years ago, we were wondering how the hell someone like Rob Ford ascended to power, and then spent the next 4 years trying to ensure it would`t happen again. At least, those of us who didn’t vote for him.

The split in that election – those who voted for and against #rofo – was polarizing. Some would say that Mike Harris’ forceful 1998 amalgamation – in which Toronto became ‘the Megacity’ – is in large part why something like this could happen. This graphic shows the split, and above all, is a really strong argument to reverse amalgamation, or at least to change our electoral system.

Essentially, the city hall environment is one where multiple values and visions of the citizenry are represented and all grapple for oxygen while being engulfed by the smoke cloud of amalgamation (or Robbie and Dougie’s Friday night). Below is a video of Councillors Denzil-Minnan Wong, Josh Matlow, Kristyn Wong-Tam, and Norm Kelly fighting the ugly side of amalgamation, on any given day between 2010-2014:

It’s easy to say that #rofo has provided for a lot of easy, sensationalist media content. Indeed, that was my first thought upon hearing that he won the 2010 mayorship. We have had nothing if not countless opportunities to be the butt of international jokes (on a side note, I am glad he is now receiving the help that he has so clearly needed, both physically and mentally. The first step is always the hardest):

Jon Stewart – forward to 3:10 for #rofo

and Jon Oliver –

and Jimmy Kimmel –

Maybe it’s time we let another city take the comedy stage?

I digress. This is a conversation about values.

I`m reminded of Thanksgiving Weekend in 2011 which I spent up at Hart House Farm – about 45 minutes from Toronto. It is one of the most beautiful spots I`ve been to, and a place near and dear to me. Complete with a Finnish Sauna and caves to wander and get lost in, it sits on 150-acres of tranquility and thought-provoking silence. I was lucky enough to be part of the team that rebuilt the century-old dry stone wall that lines the entrance to the Farm. I was also amazed by the sheer speed in which stone amphitheater, 100-foot wall, and several other dry stone structures seemingly appeared from thin air. They were built by values of hard work, teamwork, and commitment. 3 years later, I met a new friend through Thanksgiving and Hart House, but in a completely different context. We have spent the past year pontificating and gesticulating wildly about notions of place and purpose, and also about Hart House Farm. Subsequently, certain values have come out of those conversations: innovation, creativity, and community. The key takeaway from these discussions is that culture and purpose require a physical space to exist and to grow.

We’ve got that space in city hall.

And so, on the eve of our 2014 election, I’m reminded of the many conversations and values that we’ve shared over the past 4 years, as a city. I’m hopeful that the new stone walls we create together will not act as impediments to our dialogue and progress, but as symbols of what we can achieve together, through creative and committed teamwork.

To all of you out there: what are your stone walls and values? What kind of city do you see?


The 3 Most Destructive Words a Boy Hears

Be. A. Man.Joe Ehrmann, Coach and Former NFL Player, The Mask I Live In

In 2011, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom produced the feature-length documentary Miss Representation, and in so doing begun (or simply contributed – depending on who you ask) a “movement that uses film and media content to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shift people’s consciousness towards change.”

I chose to screen Miss Representation later that year with a host of colleagues (mostly female) that wanted to explore the issues raised by the film: gender injustices that limit girls in modern Western culture; media and advertising and its effects on girls, for examples. It provided for much post-film dialogue where we facilitated some very intense discussion groups. The thinking was that more of these kinds of conversations were needed.

Yet, that is only one side of this issue’s coin. The other acknowledges that much work needs to be done in order to address and challenge the same destructive narrative for Western society’s boys and men: the bravado, the code, the veiling of true emotions we’ve been told aren’t “manly”. They are absolutely on point for highlighting that the intersectionality of this conversation needs to be in focus. Not doing so would make Miss Representation an effort in vain.

Enter The Mask You Live In

I am very much looking forward to this film, its potential impact in the English-speaking world, and for the conversations it will spark. When we (all) feel encouraged and supported in being vulnerable enough to share our true thoughts, emotions, and ideas in a safe and positive space – that which is so close to our hearts – true understanding can really occur. I know, this sounds all soft and easy, but trust me, it’s not. If the cultural norms and fronts that have stayed the course of time are still with us, it’s clearly not.

While much of the themes can hold true across cultures, we need to be mindful that this documentary should not serve as a blanket for masculinity world-wide. Let’s understand that this conversation talks largely about American masculinity. In fact, the protective, dominant, and detached male archetype has endured this long for a reason. It’s just time we revisit it’s purpose in our modern society.

What do you think are the most destructive words or phrases a boy or man hears?

Respect the Court: a Role Model for Youth

We need more youth in the world like this young man in the navy track suit.

Turns out that the San Francisco Parks and Recreation department has begun a policy of quasi-privatization of public spaces (in this case, a community soccer mini-field). Local youth and local yuppie techies (apparently representing Dropbox and Airbnb) clash in this video, with the latter having actually booked the space for $27. Arguably, they should have expected rules to be rules.

Yet, in the absence of a formal dispute resolution process, no park managers to enforce bookings, and a municipal parks and recreation system that has clearly found itself affected by technological externalities, this young gentleman becomes the voice for the entire sports field, and a great role model for his community.

It’s easy for us as on-lookers to simply point and virtuously suggest that we would have done something special or differently, or in my case, to even comment. Yet, I can find parallels with my own basketball community. Over the years playing pick-up, there is inevitably someone or some group that will challenge the established order which has seemingly been around since the Roman Empire. Yes, please tell me more about how you’re so much more special then the lot of us, who have been playing here forever and know each other. Tell us how you are the buck which the trend has been waiting for, or how you should play before everyone else. Without fail, the court rules will always win – they’ve simply been there longer.

Why? It has to do with respect. Put plainly, respect for the court.

At 4:10 of the video, the informally-reached solution is established: follow the rules of the court – suit up 7 players and wait your turn. You win, you play on. You lose, you wait some more. That, or “you guys can have this stand off for the next 30 minutes”.

2 points of note here:

1) It’s a real shame that the elder yuppies didn’t resort to this level-headed approach, or think of another approach that was fair to everyone involved. They would have likely scored points with the community there, met some cool kids in the neighbourhood, and not perpetuated any previously-held notions of who they might have been. Once they got there and had realized that there was no enforcement mechanism, the only course of action is to respect the court, and take the issue of your money up with the city.

2) The techies could very well have had their asses kicked (literally) on another day. They were outnumbered. In the end, they ended up playing, but not without a whole lot of unnecessary shame.

A big TPM shout out to the young man for being the true voice of the community. He acted not only as a great role model for the young ones, but also for those who should have known better.