City unplanner

These professionals think allowing city chaos best plan of all


Rating: NNNNN


This is supposed to be about the Planners Network Conference held in Toronto last week, but if I stray it’s because I’ve never been good at making plans. NMore than 150 “politically progressive urban planning professionals and academics from around the world” met at Ryerson for the first Planners Network Conference to be held outside the USA since the organization was founded 25 years ago.


Not being a planner, I have to ask what it is they do. From what I can gather, there are bad planners, the ones who throw up megaprojects with no regard for the surrounding area, and good planners, who take into account environmental and social concerns. This is a meeting of the good planners. Hence the title: Insurgent Planning, Globalization And Local Democracy.

The range of topics and presentations is impressive: Does Gender Make a Difference In Planning For Ordinary People? The Good, The Bad And The 905 The Rise And Fall Of The Welfare State And The Implications For Social Segregation In The Toronto Region.


Taken aback

I arrive in time to sign up for a tour. The bus to the Rouge Valley slipped away at 1 o’clock instead of 2. Most people have signed up for A Cross-Section Of Toronto, From The Centre To The New Urbanist Suburbs. What is “new urbanism”? I wonder aloud. Jon Caulfield, a professor of urban studies at York, is taken aback by my ignorance. I could be the only outsider here. The example of new urbanism his group will be visiting is a housing development outside Toronto where the garages are in the back, along alleys, and cars can be used less. Sounds like a set for a fake city.

Instead, I choose Rodney Bobiwash’s Great Indian Bus Tour Of Toronto. Not till I’m onboard and chit-chatting in Spanish with the Colombian from Boston who gave me the pen he found on the floor do I realize we’re heading up the DVP and onto the 401 to Scarborough. A Guatemalan/Torontonian herbalist with a cellphone, two Mexican muralists who are here reproducing a work destroyed by the anti-Zapatista army, a freelance archivist and I constitute the non-planning contingent of the 15 or so tourists.

“When you live in a place not your own, you have a responsibility to learn the stories of the original people,” Bobiwash informs us.

Jarvis Street is named after an infamous Indian agent responsible for selling off native lands and forcing Indian women to prostitute themselves for annuities in the 1820s and 30s. Roads that follow natural contours of the land, such as Davenport, Bloor and Dundas, are old Indian trails.

Amazingly, Scarborough was not ceded until 1927 and was the setting for Susannah Moodie’s rough time in the bush. Because they hung skunks on the trail, she thought the Indians hated her, but the animals were strung up to signal danger. Just last week I saw a skunk chasing a man down the railroad tracks, and I knew it wasn’t good. There aren’t enough skunks or trees to warn of all Toronto’s dangers these days.


Free plays

We make it back to Ryerson, and I unlock my bike from in front of the new gay Dominion store. The Imperial Public Library Tavern, which was saved from the Yonge/Dundas mega-cleansing, has free plays on the jukebox and should be included in the planners’ plans. I notice that no bars, nightspots or related subject areas are addressed in their information. Have these people of vision not noticed how the world is biased in favour of those who sleep away the moonlight hours?

Progressive planners have a lot to think about. They bristle at the suggestion that they’re academics, but at the same time wear the names of the universities with which they’re associated. I don’t let the use of words like “praxis” (heavy metal band?) put me off. They seem a bunch of good, conscientious eggs sincerely concerned about curtailing pointless, rampant growth and suburbanization.

I only wish I could attend the panel from Brazil. I can’t get a copy of the latest Planners Network journal (379 DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11205, USA), which features Brazilian solutions to urban problems. I don’t want to bother the editor, who’s busy experiencing the countless barriers confronting those confined to a wheelchair.

Back in town, guys on Yonge Street are eagerly awaiting the womyn who’ve opted out of their tops. Thousands of happy dykes parade proudly by. I feel alienated.

On my ride home, a woman screams in my face, “Hey, why don’t you take that hat and shove it up your ass?” In Parkdale, the annual lineup of Mariposa’s white folkies is performing in the immigrants’ backyard. Later, big, expensive fireworks fizzle in the hard rain on the lake. That makes me feel a little better.

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