The curtain has fallen on our election drama, and political casualties are limping offstage.
Taking bows are the newly re-elected mayor and a chorus of councillors smiling like backup dancers. Most of the citizenry, having played a part in the cathartic ritual of beheading and re-crowning our mayor and council, will exit the civic stage with the sense that they have no further role to play.
Until the next election they will join the apolitical in assuming that the drama is over and the leading actors can perform the mundane sitcom of government alone.
Au contraire, the election is merely an audition for a never-ending tragicomedy in which vampires and bad actors never die and courageous champions are always in danger from foe or lazy friend alike. Every day on the civic stage, plunderers of the public realm and treasury must be appeased or slain anew, one bylaw or one condo-storey at a time.
And where citizens are unconscious of their power to act, politicians and public servants can do much harm. More urgent and fundamental than engaging new voters is engaging the citizenry between elections in the daily reinvention of our city.
David Miller's first term began with the mad expectation that such a collaboration had begun. His election was a long-shot triumph and a rare setback for the political machine that successfully produced puppet mayors for 20 of the previous 23 years. Miller had captured the public imagination by reminding us that at our best we are a city that defends the public interest against narrow private interests. Implicit in Miller's exaltation of our civic virtues was a call to live up to them.
But as Mayor Miller took office and dealt with the first thousand issues, the voice that had offered a vision of the public good became muffled in bureau-speak, in the abstractions of growth, intensification and branding.
The city once glimpsed in Miller's focused vision slipped back into fuzzy scenarios of World's Fairs and wow attractions in which few citizens could see themselves or enhancement of civic life.
Though visibly creative on many fronts, from crime to garbage to gardens, Miller was often consumed in behind-the-scenes negotiations to amend the poverty and weakness of local government, and few of these issues invited us to play a greater role in our city's destiny.
Meanwhile, with the mayor's priorities elsewhere, a leaderless drama played out across Toronto as alien forms of development swarmed our neighbourhoods, with the acquiescence of local councillors.
Many in the mayor's earliest base neighbourhood and main street groups, architects, heritage-protectors, enlightened developers were abandoned to local councillors and their let's-make-a-deal planning "process."
Over the objections of the very people who animate their neighbourhoods, valued buildings were demolished, condo towers were rammed into low-rise areas, sunlight and sky views were stolen from the public realm and residents were forced to "choose' between the crack cocaine of Section 37 (which allows developers to give money to the city in exchange for height or density variances) or a thorough beating by the Ontario Municipal Board.
As deals increased in number and size, property owners everywhere saw towers dancing in their heads, rents rose, whole species of culture and endeavour became endangered. Countless unneighbourly developments wait in the wings.
In Mayor Miller's second term, he has the opportunity to give leadership to thousands of neighbourhood heroes, people who are passionate about the heritage and funky accidents of Toronto's built form, the democratic grace of sunlight and trees.
Over many years, they have come to understand that human-scale neighbourhoods communalize and catalyze diverse peoples and entrepreneurial energies in the most effective way imaginable; and that the "vertical sprawl" of condos is not the cure for suburban sprawl but its evil urban twin, which destroys indigenous forms of social, economic and cultural life.
Not persuaded that "greatness" is something that can be added to a city by skyscrapers or megaprojects, many citizens are engaged in cultivating greatness from what is already good. Veterans of this battle are joined by the most active young generation in memory; a new urban consciousness is rising as groups such as Queen West's Active 18 collaborate on their own neighbourhood plans.
These political actors need Mayor Miller, and he needs them, to build the city we all dream.
What do we enjoy and want to cultivate? How do leadership and citizenship interact to express our civic vision?
These questions will be answered over the next four years by whoever shows up onstage. The drama will be "thrilling" and "challenging," with "everything at stake."
Run, don't walk, to your neighbourhood theatre of politics and play your part.