rob ford

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?