The art of conflict
Eighteen months to find a location for a piece of public art is par for the course, but when the art in question deals with genocide, the whole process can be thrown completely out of whack. Take lawyer Bryant Greenbaum's effort to install famous Congolese artist Alfred Liyolo's Congo Memorial Project. The privately funded statue is intended to raise awareness of the lives lost in the most recent war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and to showcase African art in Toronto.
A year after he approached the city with his gift, Greenbaum is sounding like a jilted lover, attributing bureaucratic blunders to "mean-spiritedness" and "stalling tactics."
Any hopes Greenbaum had of discussing a location for the memorial were dashed at a recent meeting of the city's official gifts, tributes and memorials committee, even though committee chair Daphne Gaby Donaldson had told Greenbaum earlier that the subject would be on the agenda.
"They're waiting to see whether the project can die on its own accord," he says.
According to Donaldson, though, it's normal for this kind of project to take a long time. In the new amalgamated city, she says, the only two completed public art projects "were in the works at least 18 months."
Greenbaum's project, however, seemed bungled from the start.
First, there was the whole "genocide" mix-up in February. That's when Donaldson e-mailed Foreign Affairs political officer Bernard Renaud in Ottawa to ask if the city should be made aware of any "political considerations" about a memorial commemorating "3.3 million victims of genocide."
Since the official total number of deaths in the Congo conflict is a matter of intense debate, Renaud warned Donaldson to "be very careful."
Recalling the controversy around the Sun Yat-sen monument installed in the mid-80s in Riverdale Park, which exacerbated a rift between pro- and anti-communists in the Chinese community, the city was understandably cautious.
What's less understandable is Donaldson's use of the word "genocide" in her e-mail to Renaud, since the word is not used in Greenbaum's proposal.
Discussion about one possible location for the statue at Queen and Soho also turned sour, poisoning the process further.
A January e-mail to Greenbaum from Donaldson suggested the site was feasible and that local councillor Olivia Chow was planning a meeting to gauge community support.
But the following April, absent a technical review, Donaldson informed Greenbaum that "the sidewalk needs to be clear for pedestrians and servicing."
Donaldson goes on to chalk up the three-month delay in notifying Greenbaum to the fact that"the urban design staff was not consulted specifically about... Queen and Soho."
Yet Jane Perdue, part of that urban design team, was copied on the original exchange between Donaldson and Greenbaum in January.
The city has since sent Greenbaum an e-mail outlining the precise technical information it needs. Once Greenbaum provides the information, phase one of city's drawn-out technical review will apparently come to a close.
But stay tuned for more gaffes and head-shakers, because there's still a long way to go - an agreed-upon location, another review, a community meeting, a report - before the gifts committee makes a recommendation to council. Eighteen months to complete this project is suddenly sounding pretty good, if not a little unrealistic.
Car-crazy park plan
In Ward 29, councillor Case Ootes's world, there can never be enough parking, it seems. Take the nasty little set-to over the "green field" at 921 Logan Avenue, just a soccer-ball kick north of the Danforth, a grassy patch of land the size of two city houses where residents walk their dogs, toss their frisbees and stroll along the homemade dirt path.
It seems the 493 Green P parking spots and scores of on-street spaces in the 10 blocks around Danforth and Pape, not to mention the Danforth itself, aren't enough for the weekend rush. Ootes is now pushing a plan to convert the green space into a parking lot - all to accommodate a measly 14 more spaces.
The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) actually owns the land and plans to build an emergency fire exit from the subway on the site by 2011. In the meantime, Ootes says, the land should be turned over to the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA), which says it will build and maintain both a park and a 14-space lot, all the while leaving room for the TTC to expand.
"No one can be completely happy. Both sides, the residential and the businesses, must compromise," Ootes says.
Whether Ootes has the best interests of residents in mind, however, is the subject of some controversy, since he does belong to the local BIA pushing the proposal.
Residents don't want to change a thing. In 1997 and again in 2000, they voted by mail-in ballot to keep the space green. Earlier this year, many of them attended a public meeting and gave Ootes a petition with 130 signatures. They have yet to get a response, says Logan Avenue resident Tony Hicks.
"We don't want a compromise we want a green field," Hicks says.
Sue Zindros, chair of Greektown's business improvement area (BIA) and owner of Mezes Restaurant, says her customers are frustrated.
"Every day they tell me they have no place to park."
She thinks Ootes's solution is fair enough. "I don't understand why we're on opposite sides. I've lived in this vibrant area all of my life, and I know the business community cannot function without our residents, and vise versa."
A public meeting to discuss the parking proposal is scheduled for the fall. Not soon enough for some.
Hate rock appeal
Mark Roy Elms made legal history last month when he became the first person in Canada to be acquitted of wilful promotion of hatred charges related to the seizure of hate rock CDs. But he may be back in court before the year is up to fight the charges again. On July 8, the Crown, on behalf of Attorney General Michael Bryant, filed a notice of appeal of a June 9 Superior Court decision that found the 22-year-old not guilty of 15 charges under section 319 of the Criminal Code.
The notice asks that the acquittals be set aside and convictions and sentence be imposed, or at the very least that a new trial be ordered.
The appeal lists as grounds several errors in law by trial judge Derek T. Hogg, among them that he failed to give reasons for his verdict.