Who to thank

Below is a letter I sent Monday to my city councillor. He's both on the Executive Council and not quite a Fordist hard-liner.On Thursday some of the cuts, including to the arts, were pulled off the table [read about it.]

Which is better.

I am grateful for the people who wrote and called their councillors, those who spoke to council and kept media attention going, to those who made their voices heard. And I am grateful to the staff and councillors who are working so hard to make the city work despite Fords' best efforts.

But I'm not sending thank you notes to the Executive or to Palacio just yet. First, I am suspicious of the strategy of announcing more cuts than intended in order to "save the day" at the last minute. This strategy usually means a whole bunch of cuts slip through with little notice and an opposition with no wind in their sales. It's going to take a lot more than one day of being marginally less terrible for the city to have me sending notes of thanks Ford&Co.

The pressure needs to continue, and the real work of changing a city and changing the conditions that made Ford resonate to voters needs to happen. I have little faith in politicians changing their minds. I still, despite all the possible cynicisms, believe that in ourselves and our fellow residents is where change can occur. Let's work on that.

One election day away.

Dear Councillor Palacio,

I am writing to ask you to reconsider your position as a supporter of Mayor Ford.

I moved into the riding in May 2011, buying a first home with my partner on Carrick Street. I love the neighbourhood. I love the economic, ethnic and resident diversity. I'm close to the Silverthorne Library, the hydo-line parkette and I have good access to to the West Toronto Railpath, which is amazing for my year round cycling. The Keele busses and the St. Clair street car make getting to the subway easy (I would love a few less stops, but that is a minor complaint.)

I am looking forward to interacting with the the community centre and park more in the coming year- passing by the full pool in the summer and the rink in the winter is a real delight that makes me happy and proud to live in Toronto and our neighbourhood.

One frustration is the empty storefronts along St. Clair by my house. Between Caledonia and Old Weston, there are almost as many "for rent" signs as there are business. I understand that the neighbourhood is changing and that there will be pains as things shift. But right now the only thing that seems likely to stick is Jonah Schein's constituency office.

I run an small but, potentially, growing theatre and events company. I want us to be a "local" company in many ways. Our shared office is on Dundas West and Keele and I am mindful of supporting local businesses. My ambition includes a real engagement with local schools and community centres, along with a rehearsal, teaching and performance space in the neighbourhood. As I pass by these empty storefronts, I think about these dreams, and the dreams of other young social and artistic entrepreneurs I know. I think about how we all dream of space, and I think about how we all face scarcity. We have ideas, skills and drive to make the city better, to contribute to our community and the lives of those who make it up - but the current administration is attacking the structures and feeling of possibility that make all that possible.

The relentless focus on cutting and destroying the social fabric and infrastructure is disheartening and makes our work and lives harder. The jargon of "tax-payer" over "citizen" or "human" crushes our higher potential and reduces everything to a base and petty level. A level that we should all be trying to live above. The feeling of absurdity and hopelessness for a better city that comes from hearing about a council willing to turn down free and necessary public health nurses; that spends more to have less safe cycling; that attacks the programs that house and care for our most at-risk while promoting red herrings like monorails and a war on public servants is crippling.

To reframe a revenue problem as a problem of expenses is small politics that aims at dividing and deconstructing our society for the betterment of the few. It should come as no surprise that these ideas come from an independently rich Mayor who inherited his wealth and influence. They are ideas that make starting new things very hard, ideas that keep things going the way they are currently going - environmental and social decline that increase that gaps between the rich and the rest of us.

While I'm well aware that lobbying for one's own particular field is limited, but I wanted to give a concrete example for you:

Right now I am preparing to submit an application for annual operating funds to the Toronto Arts Council. It won't be for much money, maybe $10,000 a year, not event a tenth of our yearly expenses, but it will make a huge difference in the stability of the company and reduce the amount of time we spend writing project grants - time we could use developing connections and programs to benefit the community and people of the city. It will also mean we could afford more space - perhaps one of those store fronts. With that kind of space, we could offer classes and performances that would benefit the area through participation and engagement as well as bringing new people into the neighbourhood who will support local businesses and activate the streets in a way that inspires new, grassroots businesses and services. But I am applying with the knowledge that we will not receive that funding. With the proposed cuts and/or freezes, there is simply no room for new companies to receive operating funds. My best chance of getting the stability those funds provide would be to take a job with a more established company - none of which are in this neighbourhood, so I will have to leave the storefronts empty, I will have to continue to support the development of other communities. I also have the fear that without transit, increased cycling infrastructure or neighbourhood community strength, any business that I start in the neighbourhood would fail.

Civic services aren't the cure-all but they provide an important part of making our city a better place to live, and I ask you, as a resident, voter and as a person who wants a better city, neighbourhood and life for everyone, to stop dismantling the city we love. Reinstate the vehicle registration fee and Transit City look for better relationships with the other levels of governments and revenue sources. I am sure there are places to save and decrease bureaucratic bloat, but please stop participating in the destruction the morale and capacity of our, potentially, great city.

We will all remember your efforts,
Jacob Zimmer
Artistic Director, Small Wooden Shoe