Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Divide & Rule

I have previously referred to Imagine London, the activist group behind the division and redistricting of London's seven two-councillor wards into fourteen smaller single-councillor wards, as Imagineering London. In truth, organizations may spend as much vigour and passion on promoting democratic reform, as their public calling card says, but an organization that confuses electoral systems with democracy is engaged, not in the resolution of the source of authority in government, but in its apportionment — in other words, in a task of political engineering of government. According to the London Free Press, the engineering aspect of Imagine London is underway.

Leaders of a citizens' group that pushed through London's 14-ward map are focused on backing a single candidate in each ward who would ban pesticides and limit sprawl.

Leaders of Imagine London sat down last week with representatives of like-minded groups to plan, ward-by-ward, how to elect candidates who share their vision.
The dissolution of Imagine London after achieving its ostensible aims would have signalled at least an earnest confusion between electoral systems and democracy; however, the confusion was transparently willful as the engineering of London's politics within the broad context of democracy had always been its real objective.

Imagine London is, if you will remember, a celebrated local group of disaffected social activists — they describe themselves as a "coalition of civic, neighborhood, labor, environmental, and student leaders" — who had mischievously recast a failure to achieve their own political objectives of environmentalism, heritage restrictions, pesticide bylaws and opposition to development under the current council as a failure of governance, as will all such groups. But cleverly deriving from principles of democratic checks and balances against corruption and interventionist excesses instituted by municipal reformers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Imagine London correctly deduced that those checks and balances — political interests aggregated in large geographically-defined wards and in at-large council structures — incent a competition for common interests that moderate the pursuit of particular interventions against one interest or another and impede their own interventionist aims. This cunning observation suggested to them that their objectives would fare better in a political environment where particular interests were fragmented and less inhibited from pursuing invasions of the interests of others.

The less broadly resonant imagined slight of "failure of governance" was presented as a more encompassing but undefinable "disconnection" between council and Londoners that could be attributed to the ward system, an attribution that itself could be counted on not to suffer much scrutiny. The immoderate vagueness and inscrutability of the product term "disconnection" effectively apprehends examination of the ward system factor in their equation. A similar dissemblance wass at work with their promotion of segregated and gerrymandered particular political interests under the handle of "communities of interest."

But, as I have noted before, there certainly was a connection between the existing ward structure in London and Imagine London's objectives…
there could not be otherwise especially given the lengths to which they have gone pursuing the decision. Advocates of activist intervention have long stridently voiced their continuing frustration with a council that can be characterized as fairly evenly divided between what can be called pro-development and anti-development, less and more interventionist, or laissez-faire and authoritarian propensities, according to your persuasion, resulting at times in some reluctance or a slow pace to adopt progressive policies that have been implemented in other cities. Imagine London's witnesses described the failure of council to implement what are euphemistically called "community initiatives" as a "democratic deadlock" […] Unfortunately for advocates, democratic deadlocks are evidence that democracy is working properly — there is rarely a consensus on either side of the contentious issues they propose. That is small comfort to those with utter conviction on their side against the status quo.

The current two-councillors per ward system at least fairly divided representation between Londoners of more or less "pro-development and anti-development, less and more interventionist, or laissez-faire and authoritarian" persuasions. Moreover, considerations of the particular methods by which the sovereignty of popularity is exercised include restraints upon democratic government to prohibit it from infringing upon the rights of minorities, and the processes and structures by which democratic governments are arrived at and incorporated.
Restraints of which Imagine London had never the slightest disposition despite its blustering public concern for democracy. In their undisguised incarnation as a political broker, Imagine London is certainly clever enough to focus on the issues of pesticides and urban sprawl, restrictions of which Londoners have largely acquired a habit of endorsement rather than rational criticism. Having committed these gross errors, however, Londoners would be committing a far greater one in pretending that the scope of Imagine London's ambitions, with its open door to every sort of progressive and socialist program advocate, would be fulfilled with only these objectives — Imagine London has already shown itself to reassemble its public agenda with each accomplishment.


Honey Pot said...

Hey it is all good. A handful of people knocking the chair from under city council's feet. To be able to even put a small dent in that wheel of power is remarkable. What imagine London has did, has seldom been done. It was a fluke, a long shot, but it worked.

Alberta Pat said...

Just great, eh? Hitler coming to power was hailed similarly as a triumph of the ordinary working German over the entrenched power of the "Old Germany".

Imagine London is conducting a slow-motion coup d'etat. Welcome to the People's Soviet on the Thames.

Pietr said...

"People's Soviet On the Thames".
Sounds like a good title for a Sunday late-night arts review programme on local TV.

They actually had one over here called the South Bank Show.

Anonymous said...

Imagine London just made the next municiple election much, much easier. Just check to see who they are supporting and vote for the other guy.

Honey Pot said...

You guys are so comical. You would
off your grandmother if you thought you could get a tax break, and you are comparing Imagine London to Hitler.

Hey, they got the power now, so you better get used to it. It's all about stick handling, and who gets to swing it.

rhebner said...

Godwin's Law invoked after just the second comment! Way to go Alberta Pat!

Pietr said...

If only people would get used to it.
That would make the world a safer place for people who wanted power, eh?

Honey Pot said...

What they did had to be done. It is funnier than hell because they really didn't think they had a chance in hell. I am hoping they know what to do with it, now that they have it. London needs to change the gatekeepers. It is way too boring. I just love it when the common people can kick ass. Pretty obvious down there at city hall, that it lacks leadership or flare.

Mike said...

Visitors to this blog should take warning that Godwin's Law is inoperable on the London Fog, because it is obviously false.

To disprove a law, you need one counterexample. I now proceed to show that Godwin's Law is nonsense.

Suppose A says, "We need to bring this country together into one great economic plan directed by me and my little square mustache. I demand single-tier health care, pensions for the sick and aged, and a comprehensive and universal child care program and education for all Germans. We must stamp out obesity and smoking as we strive together to make our country the greatest power on earth. We must institute innovative, open-ended programs to end the historical advantages of certain privileged and wealthy groups in society, and ensure that all Germans can share in the bounty of our nation. Also, I plan to invade Czechoslovakia, Poland, and France."

Godwin's Law tells me that by calling such a person "Hitler" I am then deemed to have "lost" some sort of debate. But that is absurd, hence Godwin's Law does not hold.

Some have speculated that Godwin's Law was first conceived as part of the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, but more recent research has shown that it was formulated by unserious people who should have stuck to arguing about whether Captain Kirk could beat Captain Picard at Pokemon.

Mike said...

After I posted that I remembered that I'd seen other formulations and maybe wasn't fair. And indeed, pardon me, that was Godwin's... Corollary or something... that I was writing about! From Wikipedia:

There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made the thread in which the comment was posted is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress.

Godwin's Law is the bit where the probability of Hitler coming up in an online discussion approaches 1 as thread length increases, which is reasonable, since there are lots of socialists around who haven't pieced together the fact that Naziism is socialism once people stop kidding themselves about the "good cop" path to Utopia.

I could equally well put forth the Londonfog Law, that discussions about Church vetting of science are likely to end up including a mention of the Inquisition. Big whoop...

MapMaster said...


I just love it when the common people can kick ass.

The ass-kicking was performed by one unelected OMB tribunal member, Douglas Gates. Imagine London merely conspired with: first, an appalling flaw in the Ontario Municipal Act that invested their 997-signature petition (in a city of over 100,000 electors) with the authority to bring the matter to an unelected and unaccountable forum; second, the more appalling gullibility and idiocy of Gates; and, third, with the weak, defensive and poorly prepared arguments of the city's paid legal staff. That their case was successful in a tribunal came to me as a great surprise as well.

But there is nothing common about Imagine London, as I have tried to make clear, both with their uncommon understanding of fixing electoral systems to provide more favourable outcomes to themselves, and with their semi-professional activist membership.

I have no issue with Imagine London spouting an agenda — however much I abhor it — or running a slate of candidates. I am pointing out that their objectives always were, and are becoming obviously so now, far less innocent than the democratic tinfoil they covered themselves with. Feel free to vote for their candidates — maybe they'll win and hasten my exit from this city. Aside from my objections to taxes in general, I particularly wouldn't want to give that bunch any of my money.

By the way, Mike, great comment. I wanted to say something to that effect, but I could never have done such a fine job.

Honey Pot said...

I look at it differently. The OMB has nothing to do with people, more to do with pandering for developers to perpetuate urban sprawl. I always thought of them as the heavy for the rich guys. I for one was somewhat shocked that they would even give a fuck about communities. This hole in the doughnut mentality that developers have, doesn't do a dam thing for me. I know you guys get a hardon about urban sprawl, but I see it as stupid, and a waste of taxpayer money. Use what you have in front of you before you go wasting farm land, that we may need someday.

Anonymous said...

Honey -
One of the great Canadian Myths "urban sprawl is bad". Why exactly is the increase of London, or any city, bad? Everyone doesn’t want to live close to downtown, just as everyone doesn't want to live in the country. There is absolutely nothing wrong with farmers selling their property (for HUGE profits, of course). Why shouldn't the farmers get out of farming with some cash in there pockets, and developers would not be putting big box stores up if people weren’t shopping at them.
I find the entire argument that urban sprawl is bad just plain silly.

Honey Pot said...

Like it or not the farmer's and their land are the backbone of the country. You know that meat you buy at the store? It comes from an animal, cow, chicken or pig. Animals take up space and need land. Need to grow food to feed them, that takes land. You know that bread you are eating? Well guess what, someone has to grow the grain to make the flour to make the bread. Ditto for the vegetables. Don't you ever wonder where the products we consume, like there is no tomorrow, come from?

MapMaster said...

Honey Pot:

Do you really believe that urban sprawl is going to cut into the supply of food? When food starts to become less plentiful than it is now, farming will become a more attractive and profitable prospect for land use than urban development. In the meantime,

"use what you have in front of you before you go wasting farm land, that we may need someday"

No, you're plainly talking about using what other people have. Convince me using something other than imaginary fears that other people owe you something. If I were a farmer I'd be telling you to stay the fuck away from my property.

The OMB is the heavy for political interests. Rich guys sometimes, busybody activists sometimes… but never what you call the common people. It should be abolished or its ambit severely constrained.

Dick said...

I would in fact tell the whole lot of you to "stay the fuck off my property".

While Honeypot may advocate the collective aims of some unforeseen food shortage, others seem to be as equally collective in advocating for ‘everyone that wants to live in the country’.

Imagine trying to ‘maximize your profits’ next to a subdivision – or an estate lot for that matter. While Mapmaster may enjoy the manure I spread as the sweet, sweet smell of agrarian capitalism, the other 99.999% of the landed gentry are guaranteed to find it foul and distasteful. Ever heard pigs being loaded into a truck? Health, property standards and environmental complaints would inevitably flood City Hall and I would be subject to a battery of inspections, potential fines and the inevitable harassment from my affected neighbours.

But as a farmer/developer, is it okay to redevelop my property if it’s going to undermine the viability of my neighbour’s operation?

To mind comes the poor bastard who owned the farm next to the Sam’s Club at Fanshawe Park Road and Hyde Park. I once witnessed him trying for 40 minutes to turn his combine onto Fanshawe – only to be honked at and cursed by the endless onslaught of vehicles destined for the recently constructed power centre. Money wasted, time lost. Trash from the next door ‘big box’ parking lot consistently polluted his feed lot and fields and complaints regarding odour filed with the City were numerous. Think of when he had to hook up the tractor to three large grain wagons and tried taking his grain (complete with chip bags) to Ilderton? Agriculture as a vocation was rendered impossible. I’m surprised he didn’t resort to a helicopter to get supplies in and grain out.

He finally sold out a year later. Coercion comes in many forms.

The farm has been there for 150 years… and here is someone having their ability to earn a profit in their chosen field on their own property (in a manner which had been done for over a century) eliminated in the collective name of ‘progress’, ‘growth’ and the ‘rural’ lifestyle. But “why shouldn't the farmers get out of farming with some cash in there pockets?” Well, what happens if farmers don’t want to? Perhaps the farmer is making an adequate living or it is a century farm with personal historical attachment. While there may be a ‘profit’ in selling out, does that give us (“everyone that wants to live in the country”) the moral justification to coerce by undermining economic potential of the way the land is used and is enjoyed? Inserting land use conflict in an area is the oldest trick in the book in terms of opening up agricultural land for development.

But apparently that sounds acceptable until ‘food starts to become less plentiful than it is now’. Then ‘farming will become a more attractive and profitable prospect for land use than urban development.’

Attractive and profitable to whom? What about those in the business now and do not wish to sell? The current trend to undermine agricultural viability in the name of attractiveness and profitability smacks of nothing more than the modern ‘greater good’ of years gone by.

Honey Pot said...

Mapmaster, I do believe Urban Sprawl is cutting into the farmland. Canada would do well to keep an eye on that. Lots of countries without good farmland, or even water. They are going to be needing to buy their food and water from somewhere. Canada could be one great big mother of a feeder, and profit greatly from it. That is of course some other country just doesn't come and take if from us.

Pietr said...

The British are coming, the British are coming....I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now!
(And that's just the Queen).

MapMaster said...

Honey Pot:

With regards to Imagine London, you are obviously enthusiastic about giving council a kick in the behind — a sentiment I share entirely. As an end, it is deserved, but if the means are not considered unintended consequences will ensue. Although not the author of the ward decision, as the schemer and honeyed tongue of ward redistricting Imagine London is pursuing its own ends the cost of which will, like all political ends, be inflicted on every other Londoner. And the manner in which their ward machinations were pursued were profoundly undemocratic. Of course, you are free to disagree, but I refuse to let a council made up of Judy Bryant or Joni Baechler wannabes hold a lien on my property. What Londoners do is up to them, to which, if they do as Imagine London wants them to, I will respond "See Ya!"

A short note on food. The local — and national and global — market in food is grossly distorted by subsidies, tariffs, regulations and God knows what else. Absent such distortions the market would reflect the relative desireability for land uses — food being top of the list for human need, the value of land for that purpose (quality, location, etc.) would be ranked accordingly. Arguing from the perspective of a free market where none exists is admittedly difficult and probably unconvincing where no examples actually exist to point to. In a world of such regulatory and pricing distortions, however, it is entirely possible — maybe probable — that agricultural land is undervalued for that purpose and that continuing on this path will lead to lost opportunities for profit or even eventually food shortages. Does it make sense then to seek remedy in the same regulatory regime that is causing problems in the first place? Given the unintended consequences of every meddling government action, food is the last place I would want them to take more action. Better to remove regulation.

Which brings me to Dick. I have never advocated for urban sprawl nor for any license for people to act without consequence. I have no patience for the boorish egomania of people who imagine they can live next to the country without the country living next to them. But as far as coercion goes, apart from the unpleasantness of crass urbanites, something we all have to deal with anyway, the examples you cited are of the same sort that I always admonish against. I am quite sure that my attitudes about urban sprawl have been adequately expressed before, here and here.

Who are the complaints filed with that result in impositions on the farmer? The city. Who zoned the land and planned the streets around his property? The city — which makes decisions, by and large bureaucratically and not publicly, with regard to increasing assessments, placating political interests like developers or community associations to whom they sell their favours, and adhering to theories of public good without consideration of individual cases.

Conflicts around land use and the enjoyment of property are probably inevitable to some degree, but without people being coddled into the belief that desireable consequences will be obtained politically and that bad consequences will be borne by the state rather than themselves, handling of those conflicts will be conducted with more comportment and responsibility. Sounds like an article of faith, perhaps? Not anymore than observation of the way people conduct themselves in arenas outside regulatory and politicized/bureaucratized intervention would lead me to conclude.

I'm probably wading outside my competence in speculation, but in the absence of zoning regulations and planning and public ownership of streets, what would ensue for that farmer? Well, for one thing, he'd have some stake in the ownership and planming of the street that he could use or sell a portion of to negotiate accommodations for his needs. For another, well… further speculations are complicated by having to examine the complex multivariate relationships that govern regulated vs. uncoerced behaviour and the impact(s) of removal or amelioration of one or more factors against the others, etc., something for which my one course in urban planning leaves me unequipped. But I will repeat that some conflicts are inevitable in any case but recourse to the same regulatory mindset that artifically produces more is hardly going to be the answer.

"Sprawl is messy, chaotic, and sometimes annoying. In short, it is everything one expects from a free and democratic society. Leave the neat and clean societies for totalitarian regimes. Sprawl creates problems, just like every other social trend; but to damn it for its problems is akin to outlawing the sun for causing skin cancer.

Robert Bruegmann reminds us that much of the anti-sprawl crusade is a result of a rising level of prosperity, and the complexity of millions of individual decisions made on a daily basis by millions of citizens. Better to have to deal with long commutes and strained infrastructure than malaria, cholera, or declining life expectancy.

In terms of problems, I'd take sprawl any day.

Vincent J. Cannato, cited here, which pretty much encapsulates my view of urban sprawl, "restrictions of which Londoners have largely acquired a habit of endorsement" leading inevitably to the reflexive assumption that someone criticizing the restriction must be endorsing the object of restriction. I can't tell you how tiresome that is.

Dick said...

Rather than commenting on subject matter, the shenanigans was more my aim. That said, I wouldn't overstate the authoritarian subdivision control powers of municipalities. Developers (or farmers for that matter) generally decide on densities and where roads go. In fact, at the zoning level, regulations are often drafted by the developer themselves - city planners just minorly tweak them.

The role of municipalities is to provide the basic broadbased policy and land use framework. Is it going to be a broadly 'low' or 'medium' density development? What types of roads are necessary for efficient transportation? While perhaps deliniated, densities and the location of roads are often altered when the rubber hits the road with a little market justification. Once it's been decided that an urban expansion is desirable, the truth in Ontario is that the rest is just wadding.

Anyways, I thought you'd appreciate the sarcasm. Given the antics at play here, I felt a poorly crafted half-baked rant was in order.


MapMaster said...

Ah, sorry Dick. On the contrary, your rant was too well crafted for me to recognize the sarcasm. You raised concerns that are not so readily dealt with, and that frankly exhaust my imagination. Sarcasm or not, though, I take your points seriously — and in real life I'm not as much of a hardass as polemic blogging requires that I represent myself as. Although perhaps the blogging has made me overly sensitive and defensive.

Best regards to my favourite planner,

MapMaster said...

And, by the way, I always appreciate the info about what goes on in the world of planning.

Dick said...

No apologies. You have every right to be as polemic as you want on your own blog! It is good argument after all that advances discussion. I was merely enjoying the random and meandering nature of the thread.

I enjoy your work, particularly as someone with a smidgen of statism in his bones. Whether I agree with you or not, it's great to read researched posts about relevant issues that are often glossed over by an uninterested media, development industry, planning profession and citizenry.

Keep it up.

Cyberotter said...

My thoughts on Divide and Rule