David Olive, Toronto Star writer: “Big city, small minds streets”

In a piece on the front of the Toronto Sunday Star the other day, David Olive [who he? –ed.] wrote: “T.O needs a Department of Fun,” (subhead: “SMALL MINDS BIG CITY : Why is Toronto so hostile to the dramatic, bold decisions that could transform the city?”).

Now, we’re as fed up with the small ideas that get choked to death in this city as the next blob, but when a senior business reporter for the nation’s biggest newspaper rants about it, we know we’re mainstream: haleleujah and amen to that, brother.

But then we read what constitutes “fun” for David Olive. What for him would be considered a “big idea.”

Yeesh! What a creepazoid!

Now, he starts out on the right foot. He quotes our colleague Daniel Burnham [Hey! –ed.], who famously said of his design for Chicago’s massive waterfront park:

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.

What’s not to agree with about that?

Problem is, a lot of wackos and fascists throughout history have made “no little plans,” and the world is the worse for it.

So in making “Big Plans” we at the ALLDERBLOB say it’s best to tread carefully: car-lessly, that is.

Because Big Plans that include big highways are no more than big bummers for folks who prefer living to driving.

David Olive would disagree. With the rest of the car-headed set that passes for Toronto’s “intelligentsia” [bettur chek speling –ed.], a.k.a. the folks that say what’s fit to print in our newspapers, David Olive has yet to meet a road he didn’t like.

Naturally we put our resident urban designer, a man who’s never met a bikepath he didn’t like, to the task of crafting a response:

To the Editor:

re: David Olive: “Big City, small minds” (July 30 ’06)

First thought: Bravo David Olive for calling attention to the “Ideas Deficit Syndrome” that has our leaders in its grip.

Second thought: David Olive would not recognize a “big idea” if it smacked him upside the head.

I mean, come on: the Front Street Extension? That qualifies for a big idea in Olive’s book?

There’s a reason the Front Street Extension was rebranded by opponents as the Gardiner Expressway Extension: we saw it for what it was: a simple way of getting more cars into the city, with no clear “exit strategy” except more roads, more parking lots, more blight.

Instead of the expressway extension, today we have people repopulating the downtown core in droves, delighted to find there the walkable and coherent neighbourhoods the suburbs can never provide. We have former mayor June Rowlands to thank for the zoning changes that made possible this development, but despite this smack upside the head, Olive never mentions the special “Kings” zoning.

Olive’s big idea is a city for cars, not people. It’s a vision most clearly expressed in places like Detroit and Buffalo.

Olive is welcome to those places, if that’s what he prefers.

In fact, it appears Olive is among the growing line of people showing up at the playground to kick sand on the memory of Jane Jacobs. His heralding of Robert Moses and former Toronto Mayor Fred Gardiner as champions of the “big idea” clarifies the matter: Moses took a meat ax to New York City, just as Gardiner did to the Toronto Islands, both in the name of car access. Moses, famously, designed bridges on his New York City parkways to be too low to allow for bus traffic: you’re welcome to visit Jones Beach if you can afford to rent a car.

Gardiner, meawhile took his meat-ax to the Toronto Island, a viable car-free residential community that was decimated under his watch. Of course, we also have him to thank for the expressway that Olive today recognizes needs a new “big idea” to fix.

Now, just to show I’m not just some kind of NIMBY armchair critic, carping from the sideline, here’s a big idea, David Olive: let’s divide the city into “driving” and “non-driving” areas.

Just consider: “non-driving sectors” with sidewalk cafes where you can hear the birds sing, versus “driving sectors” where stepping off the curb may be a death sentence; “non-driving sectors” with windows you can throw open to fresh breezes and sweet smells, versus “driving sectors” where the roar and clank of cars, and the belching of exhaust keeps your windows shut tight; “non-driving sectors” with children playing and cyclists wheeling, versus “driving sectors” with sidewalks empty and teeth gritted? Which will you choose?

Jacob Allderdice, M.Urban Design
member, CAFE (Citizens Against the Front Expressway)

We have appeased the non-smokers. What about the non-drivers? Andy Singer CARtoon

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