Gord Perks: We have to redesign the city

This post started out as a lob at the absurd “Driven to Quit” challenge being waved about over at the Canadian Cancer Society. You’ve seen the billboards, newspaper ads and the pamphlets: they’re offering a new car as incentive to cigarette smokers to abstain for the month of March.

You can spot the irony. In a city with a huge smog problem, a province with a huge sprawl problem, and a country with a huge climate change problem, which dependency is worse: that on tobacco or that on cars?

For more, we give you our urban design correspondent, Jacob Allderdice:

cc Toronto Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser

E-mail: driventoquit@ontario.cancer.ca
Fax: 1 800 706-0112 (toll-free)
Canadian Cancer Society, Ontario Division
1639 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON
M4T 2W6

Hi Canadian Cancer Society–

I was planning to make a big donation to your organization this year but am waiting to hear from you. What is your rationalization for this absurd campaign to encourage more people to drive cars?

I am referring to your “Driven to Quit” promotion, which offers a new car as incentive to get smokers to quit.

Fact is, I’m not a smoker, but I’d rather have the entire population addicted to cigarettes than have everyone “dependent” (as the euphemism has it) on the automobile: at least smokers don’t necessarily despoil the landscape with urban sprawl; they don’t kill wildlife and people by their need to get places quickly, and they don’t cause wars over the raw material of their addiction. Tobacco smokers don’t require the spreading of roadsalt and other toxic substances everywhere, or contribute substantially to global warming. And then there’s the smoke/smog comparison: think the contents of tobacco smoke is noxious? Try sucking the tailpipe of an automobile.

No matter how your PR flacks spin this “promotion” (I suspect you’re going to tell me that “everyone wants a car, so it’s a good motivator”) fact is you’ve made a giant mistake. How much do the full page ads and TTC billboards cost, anyway? What percent of my donation actually pays for cancer research?

Until I get satisfaction with these questions, you sure won’t be getting any money from me, and everyone I know is going to know why I feel this way.

“Driven to Quit:” absurd, no? Yet this thing is mainstream: it has backing from the City of Toronto and is cosponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson? You know them–they probably made that crap you smeared on your body this morning–whatever it was. You know them. They own Pfizer Pharmaceutical, and a wink is as good as a nod with those people. You know Johnson & Johnson. They own the company that makes Dean Kamen’s “ibot.” And for god’s sake, you know Kamen. You know the Segway he invented, coming to a sidewalk (god forbid) near you.

As for us, we’d be interested in a Driven to Quit campaign that awards quitters with a new Segway. We just have to make sure they stay on the road where they belong, though.

Oh–Johnson & Johnson also own companies that make nicotine patches, sprays and gum. So when you take the “Driven to Quit” challenge, you know you’ve got a friend ™.

Some of our colleagues in the International Bicycle Conspiracy and at BACON (Ban Advertising Cars Over Night) have had their antennae up over the “Driven to Quit” campaign for a long time. But it’s Streets Are For People, the ingenious tag team of auto-wranglers who’ve brought us such delicacies as Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market and the “Parked Car” project, who hit this one out of the parking lot.
quitten to drive--photo by Darren Stehr

Learn about the results of their effort in this week’s NOW magazine and at Martino’s Bikelane Diary.

We first read the coverage in this week’s NOW magazine (after we finished drooling over the “letters to the editor” page), but following the link from Martino got us to the online version of the story, including this fascinating snippet from Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks: “If you live where you can walk to a grocery store or take a streetcar to work, giving up driving is quite easy, as I have.”

Now it’s true we’ve had our differences with Sr. Perks in the past. We’re pleased to hear he’s given up driving, but we wonder how far that takes him so long as his wife is still a member of that rabid pack of road-huggers, the Canadian Automobile Association.

“If you live in an area where you can’t get a loaf of bread unless you get in your car, then it’s a whole different challenge. So we have to both give people incentives to get out of their car but also redesign parts of the city so that’s easy to do.”

Bravo, Sr. Perks! Where shall we start? How about replacing the Toronto Island Airport with a new carfree community of shops, apartments, and houses? How about taking a bulldozer to the Don Valley Parkway? Oh, we at the ALLDERBLOB have lots of suggestions for this one. We’ll put our resident Urban Designer right on it. Just call us.

NOW magazine completes its coverage of the Quittin’ to Drive campaign with its own modest suggestion: “What about bike lanes, a better transit system and walkable neighbourhoods to encourage drivers to kick their filthy habit?”

One Response to “Gord Perks: We have to redesign the city”


    [...] offered smokers who quit for the month of March the chance to win a new car. We blobbed about it with our usual aplomb. Result? If it’s “driven to quit” smoking that describes you, it’s [...]

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