18 August, 2018
For a Much Better Toronto
What do you want for your Toronto? Don’t you aspire for a great city that is livable for you, your family, friends and neighbours? I sure know that is “what” I wish for my Toronto.
And how does that happen? Having led many successful organizations I know it comes from leadership that has a clear inspiring vision and adheres to a few solid core values. Since getting interested in what makes truly special cities I have come to the conclusion that there are four key values that would make Toronto more livable for all.
Sustainable – financially sound, necessary infrastructure, climate change resistant, available affordable housing
Healthy - safe streets, recreation, parks
Inspiring - festivals, libraries, schools, arts
Inclusive - whether you are old or young, male or female, able bodied or not, gay or straight, born in the city or a recent immigrant - Toronto is your home and you feel accepted.
There is a Japanese proverb that I have quoted repeatedly:
“A vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare”.
Unfortunately today Toronto seems to have too many “nightmares”. Too many of our current elected leaders lack the courage, and political will to do what is best. They lack the discipline to make the right decisions based on evidence and proven urban best practices.
If Toronto truly had an inspiring vision and clear core values decisions and investments wouldn’t be the disaster they often are. If we had great leadership we wouldn’t be wasting billions on one-stop-subways and tearing down part of the Gardiner, only to build it back up. We would immediately invest in the Vision Zero initiatives that the Dutch and Danes and have proven are so effective in making streets safe. We would get instep with other major cities to seriously fight climate change. We would invest more in housing and improving city services like libraries, recreational programs, homeless shelters. Yes, I know these things cost money but creating great livable cities require investment. Great cities are never free.
When I pivoted from being a corporate executive to become a self-taught city builder I was described by some as becoming left-wing. I do not believe I am, but I do know for sure that I am progressive:
“a person favouring or advocating for progress, change, improvement, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are”.
I am definitely progressive about creating a city that can truly be the most livable in the world.
So when someone knocks on your door over next few months to ask for your vote ask them what is their vision for Toronto and what values will direct their decision making?
And when you vote for mayor I encourage you to vote for a person who has an inspiring vision, solid values and real city building experience to do a great job leading our city.
For a much better Toronto vote Jennifer Keesmaat for Mayor.
A passionate city builder
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17 June, 2018
Give a Damn
On June 12th I was honoured by the Jewish National Fund of Windsor at their annual Negev dinner. It was a great honour and a special evening surrounded by friends and community members.
Proceeds of the dinner will go to supporting the renewal of the Givat Hamoreh Forest in the Lower Galilee which was devastated by fire in 2016. As a recent Climate Reality Grad, I know the important job trees do taking carbon out of the air and putting oxygen back in, so the project was one that I embraced enthusiastically.
I chose “Indifference” as the topic of my speech. You may remember that I posted “The Dangers of Indifference” back on May 14th. In May my post talked about the indifference that allowed the Holocaust to occur, but in my Negev speech I also talked about how it causes people to ignore, climate change, poverty, racism, major issues in the Middle East, etc.
I summed it up with a call for all of us to focus less on “ME” and much more on “WE”.
Here is the text of my short speech on the dangers of indifference at the Negev dinner.
- Thank you.
- Shalom. Good evening everyone.
- It is very special to be honoured by the Jewish National Fund at its annual Negev dinner
- Especially since the recognition is here in Windsor
- I left Windsor 48 years ago; but I am still a blue-collar Windsor boy at heart.
- My wife Colleen and I have a beautiful spring - summer - fall home on Boblo
- I continue to work closely with the University of Windsor’s Odette school of business to create future 21st century leaders
- And I help the university’s facility of Human Kinetics invest in the health and fitness of the university’s students
- I actively support Essex Regional Conservation.
- Colleen and I were delighted to be recognized by ERCA in 2013 as recipients of their “Clifford Hatch Conservation Foundation Award”
- And I still have some of my closest friends here in the city - - thank you for coming tonight
- Back when I was running the Maple Leafs a Windsor Star reporter once asked me what was the difference between Toronto and Windsor?
- I told him “they don’t boo me in Windsor”
- Thank you for that.
- Today Windsor / Essex is a very important place for me.
- Because I know Windsor helped me realize my dreams and exceed my wildest expectations
- Again, thank you JNF for this recognition
- And thanks to Diana Swain from CBC’s “The Investigators” for being our key note speaker tonight
- Diana is a good friend. Wicked smart, candid and has strong personal values
- Retired CBC broadcaster Robert Fisher once said this about Diana’s show “The Investigators”
- “It’s a show that goes into the corners with its elbows up and that is a good thing”
- Shameless plug here: Investigators being moved to Thursday 7 pm in the fall.
- Well earned
- Diana, Thank you for coming to Windsor
- I would also like to thank the Ciociaro Club for hosting this event tonight and for being a Wind-sor club that believes in being inclusive for all
- When JNF came to me with the invitation to participate in this celebration they showed me 3 possible recipients for the funds
- I quickly picked the Givat Hamoreh Forest rehabilitation project as my preferred choice
- As you have learned a fire broke out in this forest in 2016 and destroyed 275 acres of wood-lands and forests
- The funds raised tonight will go towards making the forest healthy again and even more inclu-sive for all
- I chose Givat Haoreh because forests are an important part of eco systems everywhere - in Israel and right here in Essex county
- They breathe life into our atmosphere by sucking up carbon dioxide and exhaling important oxygen
- A single acre of forest can pull six tons of carbon out of the air and put four tons of oxygen back in every year
- And if the science doesn’t impress you enough you should also know this
- Studies have proven that walking in the woods can lower blood pressure, boost mental health and improve memory.
- So those are some of the reasons why I care about the treatment of our Ojibway Park, the low natural coverage in Essex county
- And why I hope our Federal government will help Windsor city council protect the Ojibway Shores
- For years now, I have been worried about the effects of climate change
- Last October I graduated from the Al Gore Climate Reality course in Pittsburg
- Tonight, I am proudly wearing my green circle graduation pin
- I didn’t take the Gore course because I needed to be convinced climate change was real
- Hell, I had figured that out
- I took the course to learn more about it - things like
- World temperatures increasing almost every year. The earth just had its 400th straight warm-er than average month.
- A streak that started way back in December 1984
- Rising ocean levels that threaten coastal communities
- Dramatic ice loss in the polar regions
- Much more violent storms
- The phenomenon of “rain bombs” Windsor is already experiencing more intense heavy rain storms
- And I learned the absolute need to reduce carbon emissions going into the atmosphere
- So, a key takeaway tonight? “the best carbon capture is a tree .. and when scaled up it’s a forest”
- Recently Colleen and travelled to the city of Berlin
- Now, we did that specifically to better understand the rise of Nazism and the Holocaust
- Specifically, the factors that lead to the slaughter of millions of Jews, gypsies, gays, com-munists, soldiers and political opponents
- The trip definitely got me thinking and it caused me to write a blog for my website - entitled
- “The Dangers of Indifference”
- The dictionary defines indifference as: “lack of interest, lack of sympathy or concern, viewing issues and people as unimportant or insignificant”
- The late holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel expressed it far better
- And I quote;
- “What is Indifference? Etymologically the word means ‘no difference’.
- A strong and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, guilty and compassion, good and evil”
- Wiesel went on to say ‘of course indifference can be tempting - more than that, SEDUCTIVE
- It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid interruptions to our work, our lives, our dreams, out hopes’. End quote
- So yes, I worry about the INDIFFERENCE many have to the critical investments we need to successfully fight climate change.
- I worry that 10% of Canadians still do not believe Global Warming is happening
- But also, that 23% do not think WE humans are causing it
- Personally, I can’t imagine not fighting for the health and well-being of future generations
- As Proverbs 13:22 says “ a good person leaves an inheritance to his children”
- My thoughts on the indifference that enabled the Holocaust to happen got me thinking about some of the other examples of indifference in Canada today
- INDIFFERENCE to poverty
- Did you know that Windsor is #1 in Canada when it comes to poverty?
- One in four Windsor children (24%) under the age of 17 live in low income families
- INDIFFERENCE or even outright hostility to immigration
- Canada has been built on immigration, but despite that 35% of Canadians think we take in too many immigrants.
- Too many immigrants when over 300 million people across the world have been displaced from their homes due to war, famine and disease.
- INDIFFERENCE to prejudice that affects people of different ethnicity, religion or race
- Hate crimes are up against Muslims, Jews and gays across Canada
- INDIFFERENCE to reductions in city services because people want to keep their taxes low
- Reductions in basic services that often affect the most vulnerable among us.
- It is important that you know that great livable cities cost money
- And INDIFFERENCE over what is happing in the Middle East
- I don’t pretend to understand the complexities of the Israel - Palestine conflict
- The roots of it go back centuries
- I also understand that there is much debate in the Jewish community about the situation
- But no matter what the long-term issues are
- No one should be INDIFFERENT to the bloodshed and shooting deaths of civilians, members of the media, first responders and even young children
- There must be a humane solution that affords peace, safety and dignity for both sides.
- And I could go on and on about many more examples of indifference in countries around the world including Canada
- Recently I read an article from Paul Piff, a social psychologist at the university of California
- He has written extensively about compassion and I am going to quote him because I believe indifference and compassion are linked
- Piff believes that: we are experiencing a compassion deficit in society today
- And he thinks that a decline in community connectedness
- And our increasing use of technology have altered face to face interactions
- and both are raising social inequality
- He concludes that the solution to this lack of compassion - and too much INDIFFERENCE
- Is not an ALL or NOTHING solution
- Instead it is about what EACH (all of us in this room) can do a little more on a daily basis
- Frankly a little less focus on ME.
- And much more on WE
- And one thing we canNOT be is silent
- Silence is Indifference’s best comforter
- Silence is its fertilizer to grow
- In closing tonight one last inspiration found in an old Chinese proverb
- “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
- The second-best time is now”
- Thank you to JNF and to all for your attendance tonight
Give a damn for a much better world - don’t be indifferent.
Passionate city builder
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1 June, 2018
Dark Age Ahead
The possible election of Doug Ford caused me to reread Jane Jacobs’ book “Dark Age Ahead” where she wrote in 2004:
“we stand at the brink of a new dark age, a period of cultural collapse”.
The best-selling author Richard Florida believes that her book predicted the conditions that brought about the rise of Trump:
“she ominously predicted a coming of age of urban crisis, mass amnesia, and populist backlash in her final work”.
I have never asked Richard, but I wonder if he believes she predicted Doug Ford as well?
As I write this the Ontario Election seems to be a tight race between the PCs the NDP. So, there is still a real chance we could see Ontario led by a very regressive leader, Doug Ford. Now before I catalogue all my concerns about Ford I need to declare my conflict right up front. My wife Colleen’s agency, Bensimon Byrne, does Wynne’s advertising, as they did in her 2014 election for Premier. I like Wynne and don’t fully understand why she is so personally unpopular. Sure, she has made mistakes, and yes, the Liberals have been in power a long time; but she has also done a lot of good things as well. Now I am not going to try to change your mind about her and the Liberals, but I would sure like to tell you why I believe Ford would be a disaster for Ontario. So here goes:
Vision: I always start with vision when thinking about leadership. And when it comes to Ford I have no idea what his “inspiring, stretching, reinforcing, aspirational dream” is for Ontario?? From what I can tell it is pretty regressive (less advanced, returning to a former less developed state). E.g. reopening sex ed debate, developing the Greenbelt, ignoring climate change etc.
Values: his are clear and they are not pretty. His negative attitude to gays (Pride parade) and people with disabilities (autistic teens who ruined the community). Some of the people he has chosen for his team (anti Muslim, anti-choice, demonized gay marriage). Saying that the comments of those people do not reflect his position does not let him off the hook. Then there is the way he flouted rules regarding PC memberships and attending a political fund raiser. And while on Toronto City Council it was found that he violated the city’s code of conflict for improper use of influence to help his own business. He may tell you that many of those mistakes are in his past, but I keep coming back to the old saying “best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour”.
Bogus Platform: as I write this Ford is the man with no real plan. Making billions in promises while providing no details on how he will pay for them. Other than claiming he will find billions in “efficiencies” - a word I don’t believe he truly understands the meaning of: “accomplish something with the least waste of time and effort, competency in performance”. Even if he presents a fully costed plan before election day there will be little to no time for the voters to properly vet and understand the plan. Ford also claims that “cuts” are not in his vocabulary, but that is clearly what he will do if elected. This was a man who believed closing libraries was an efficiency. This is man that says he will find six billion dollars in “efficiencies” without cuts. I think not - he will be more like Harris 2.0
Over promises: nice that he promised $5 Billion for transit in the GTA but the list of things he promised to build add up to $30 Billion : relief line, Yonge street north extension, burying the Eglinton Crosstown, extended subways in Scarborough ++. Even with commitments from other levels of government Ford’s number is $16 Billion short of delivering on his promise.
Climate change denier: apparently the entire PC party are science deniers. All the candidates who ran for party leadership said they would cancel the cap-in-trade carbon tax. An approach that is viewed by many as an excellent way to reduce carbon emissions. Despite the fact that climate change is real threat to the future of mankind he has no plans to address it.
“a good person leaves an inheritance to his children”. Proverbs 12:22
Poor leader: I believe you can judge a leader by whom he / she puts on their team. Ford enthusiastically chose Granic Allen, homophobic, anti-choice, and invited her support, despite knowing what she was he had no problem with her until others found out about her. He chose Andrew Lawton who has a history of past negative comments about women, Muslims and gay people. He supported Simmer Sandhu who resigned from being a PC candidate when he allegedly was involved in the theft of data on 60,000 Hwy 407 customers. Seeing a trend here?
Doesn’t understand the 21st century: clearly, he doesn’t read, travel internationally or have any interest in what great things other cities and countries are doing. I also believe this will make him incredibly bad for the future of Toronto. He will continue to love cars, cars, cars and will do everything he can to bring more cars into the city. And if Denzel Minoan-Wong (a horrible city councillor) gets elected I imagine Ford will invite him to focus on Toronto which will just compound our problems.
Now one may say that I am being alarmist when I make the claim “dark age coming” if Ford is elected. But I stand behind that statement 100% because I strongly believe that four years of his leadership will have devastating social and economic consequences to our wonderful province. So yes, I may understand your need for change, but I predict you will rue the day if you vote for Ford.
“Wrong way. Don’t do it”
For a better Ontario
Passionate city builder
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27 May, 2018
Best Practices for a Better Toronto (Part 6)
I always like to recognize a best practice in Toronto because while I believe we could learn so much from other cities, Toronto already has some very good ones of its own. And one of them is the St Lawrence Market. Recently the National Geographic Magazine named it as the best food market in the world, beating out markets in NYC, Nice, London, Palermo, Helsinki etc. It has operated since 1803 when it cohabited with Toronto’s city hall. The market was saved with some redevelopment in the 1970’s and 1990’s. Today it hosts over 100 retailers selling fresh fish, meat, vegetables and cheeses. I used to like their famous peameal bacon sandwich before I gave up eating pork (pigs are so damn smart).
For years running was my major source of exercise. But as I got older all the miles caught up with me and I started mostly walking. Today I walk to many of meetings in Toronto, regularly walk the three-mile loop around BobLo; and when I visit other cities walking is my major mode of transportation. A recent article in the G&M captured the essence of walking far better than I could: “it’s good for your heart, your mind, and your bones. Walking, like many forms of exercise, makes you feel better - emotionally, mentally and spiritually, it keeps you young”. The article went on to say: “walking is good for the environment, crime prevention, community-building and the economy. Conversely the most unhealthy, unsafe, anti-social, and costly thing people do is drive”. And the most unhealthy, unsafe, and costly thing our city council regularly supports is cars, cars, cars.
In many of my previous Best Practices’ posts I have written about cities like Paris, Seoul, Bogotá and Barcelona that have committed themselves to creating walkable areas at the expense of cars. So, it should come as no surprise that when I was in London recently that I came across another walking best practice - Carnaby Street. The streets of Soho were originally laid out in the late 17th century. The pedestrianization of the area started in 1973 and it showed a 30% increase in pedestrian traffic. Today many of its 14 streets are completely car free or car traffic is restricted during certain times of the day and this has all been very good for business. The area is jammed pack with people supporting many successful fashion and life style retailers and over 50 restaurants and bars. Fun place.
The other thing that really struck me in Soho was how people were completely comfortable taking over streets - see my photo as proof. Clearly, they feel safe gathering outside their favourite pub to enjoy a pint or two. Which brings me to another conclusion - Ontario alcohol laws are archaic. Over the years loosening of alcohol rules has occurred at glacier-like pace. It’s bizarre that some areas of the city were dry until quite recently; St Clair West 1994, High Park 1997, Junction 1998. I remember having to petition AGCO in around 1990 to allow Skydome to serve beer at concerts and events like NBA exhibition games. Still today people are confined to caged off outside areas at events. Definitely not what I observed on Carnaby streets. So how about a new best practice for Ontario - treat us like adults?
Increase walkability for a healthier and better Toronto
Richard Peddie Passionate city builder
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19 May, 2018
The Last Straw
Back on December 24th I posted a blog on plastic shopping bags. You know the thin, easily torn, plastic bags that many retailers use to over package store purchases. Who hasn’t seen a shopper walk out of a store with six, eight, even ten of them at a time? Today the world has a major issue with discarded plastic filling up our fields, rivers and oceans. In the Pacific Ocean there is a garbage patch of floating plastic the size of Texas. My preference is for Toronto to follow the lead of cities like Boston, LA, San Francisco, Montreal and outright ban plastic bags, but I know that a stiff per bag charge would also be very effective. Hopefully the new city council that gets elected on October 22nd will attack the issue and not be frightened off like the city council of 2013.
On May 3rd Margret Atwood and Calvin Sandborn contributed an opinion piece to the Globe and Mail that suggested an action plan that is a lot broader than my recommendation to ban plastic bags: “Can Canada Reinvent the Plastic Economy”. In their article they wrote about how the world’s oceans are choking in plastic and how that plastic is breaking down into microparticles that are now being widely found in tap and bottle water. Atwood and Sandborn believe that Canada can do its part if our governments develop a national strategy that encompasses actions like regulating, reusing, banning; and replacing plastics. They conclude their G&M piece with this quote:
“our grandchildren’s right to a healthy ocean takes precedent over our right to consume and throw away”.
Recently the issue of disposable plastic straws has also come into the public’s consciousness. You know - the ones that seem to come with every drink whether you ask for them or not? In the U.S. they are included in drinks to the tune of 500 million plastic straws a day! Today some restaurants are nixing them while others are not automatically putting them in every drink. In California cities like Oakland and Berkeley are banning them. The UK plans to ban them, and Trudeau wants to discuss them at an upcoming G7 Summit. A recent cringe-worthy graphic YouTube video about a Sea turtle with a plastic straw up its nose has made the poor turtle the anti-plastic straw poster child that should convince us all to quit using them.
Now unlike plastic bags I am not quite ready to suggest we ban plastic straws, however Vancouver’s recent decision to ban straws next June makes me think that maybe we should be more aggressive. While we are thinking about it here are 4 short term suggestions:
restaurants should no longer automatically put them in a drink. Recently I had lunch in Toronto’s Soho House and that’s what they did.
the server should ask the patron if they wish to have a straw in their drink. A short elevator pitch on why they are asking would be nice.
restaurants switch to paper straws.
people commit to not using plastic straws. That’s easy to do for able bodied people but not possible for everyone. It’s also not easy to drink a smoothly without a straw. So, do what I do - keep a reusable metal straw in your car or in your purse.
Now every time you go to use a plastic disposable straw think of that poor turtle and maybe you can do without a straw in your drink.
For a better plastic-reduced Toronto
Passionate city builder
Note: I have attached my December post “Don’t Come Around Here No More” in case you missed it
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