Centre For Local Research into Public Space (CELOS)


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Custodians:
Doug Carroll, interviewed by Jutta Mason, Sept.17 2010

Doug Carroll -I want to talk about the park benches. Hereís a local park, and hereís a broken local park bench, and hereís a bunch of people that know how to fix park benches. Theyíre all standing around this bench, but this bench doesnít belong to anybody here, it belongs to an organization called the City if Toronto, which a few years ago would have been one of our best friends. At the moment itís a large hierarchical structure with a whole lot of rules that apply to stuff like allocating resources to get benches fixed. The money is being collected and gathered, and it flows up through really an enormous hierarchy, and then has to be allocated by an extensive and costly process, by way of a S.A.P. enterprise system which is supposed to extend those resources across a vast area Ė formerly six cities that never intended to join their administrative processes together. The amalgamation was against the wishes of 76 % of residents. The resulting attempt to combine completely dissimilar cultures and imposing centralization and harmonization spending in six formerly independent cities Ė itís caused a lot of the problems that weíre presently trying to deal with, right down to getting the local benches fixed.

Jutta Mason - And of course if youíre a park manager, once youíre up there in your central City Hall control room, where you sit and look down at the city parks landscape, itís really hard to imagine that things could be any different than how you designed them, or how your analysis tells you they ought to be. So Ė it turns out we donít have a budget line for fixing benches. What can you do about that?

Doug Carroll -Those people at the top have a responsibility for an enormous area and Iím sure in their perspective theyíre trying to equitably allocate resources. They have a control system and a way of surveying such a vast amount of territory. Itís going to be by class of assets rather than individual assets. Thereís the direct experience of the bench, i.e. itís broken. But to the people at the top, the bench is a class of asset attached to something called a park, which is itself a class of asset. No one at the top who has responsibility for what could be thousands or tens of thousands of similar assets, has the time to come down and look at that park bench. And even if they did know about this park bench, theyíd have to follow their own rules Ė they might not be able to get the bench fixed. Itís a completely unnecessary structural problem that should be fixed by re-localizing government, re-localizing control. It would be nice if the park had discretionary funds at a local level, as well as the discretionary right to add items to the work queue for staff. Maybe there ought to be boards, with members from a catchment basin Ė including people who do volunteer work, regular users of park facilities, people who live in proximity to the park Ė they should decide how the park is run.

JM - What about people who actually work in the park?

Doug Carroll - They should be included too. Theyíre another kind of resource Ė and their skill and experience, available to maintain the park, costs money. Itís kind of a rude way to talk about a person, but the staff are part of the resources, hopefully known to residents as well as the administration. Without them you canít get things done. Letís get a local staff person to spend 20 hours fixing some park benches. Letís get some wood and paint out of our discretionary funds Ė and a day later the benches are fixed.

JM - So what would you do on Dec.1 if you get to City Hall as Councillor Carroll, and we call you and say Ė ďthe floor at MacGregor Park field house wasnít properly painted, the paint is too thin, we need a few more coats of paint thereĒ?

Doug Carroll - First off Iíd call Parks and Recreation and try and persuade the manager that this is a rework situation, that they need to contact the contractor and get them to finish the work that should have been done. Following that, as part of a larger-scale change, Iíd like to try for by-laws that would regularize the institution of community input. Since Council owns these assets, fundamentally every councillor has to persuade a majority of other councillors that a change should occur in the by-laws, and a sense that this is a collective problem. But at the outset Iíd just try and persuade the people who already have control over this, to fix the floor.

JM - What if the federal government says next spring, weíre going to do another round of stimulus projects? Letís say youíre offered new doors and windows at another field house, what would you say?

Doug Carroll -Consultation should not occur only when new money has appeared. It should be an ongoing relationship. There are assets all through the ward that should be identified as important, as affecting peopleís lives. There should be something like a liaison committee. We need a list of community assets, a list of associated interest groups, a mailing list, background documentation for that asset, so people can become involved in assets and what should be done about them well before any money appears. This pseudo-contest between timelines and money attached to them , fingering community consultation as a delay, I find completely false. That consultation should have been ongoing from a long time previously, and the wishes of the community should have been available for reference when the money arrived. Instead, this project made the MacGregor field house unavailable all summer.

JM - Maybe some of the work wasnít necessary at all.

Doug Carroll -Well, I didnít see much wrong with the old doors, for example.

JM - So the question is, as councillor would you say, ďactually this project is too expensive, We donít need this. Letís trim this project downĒ. Would that be you?

Doug Carroll -We have to deal with the tremendous anticipated expense of the state of good repair. Itís projected at $0 billion between now and 2019. Iím trying to think if the word ďadequateĒ might work in the context of otherwise really expensive capital repairs. It might be possible to do more limited work that suited the community better, actually cost less money and didnít involve so much disturbance. Frugality is the right term. Itís like wearing an old shirt thatís still adequate, riding an old bike instead of getting a new one. These virtues Ė theyíd go a long way to saving us money. Our capital expenses result in our indebtedness. We need to see how to keep taxes lower without losing our services. Adjusting deliverables to what users actually want Ė residents, taxpayers, citizens Ė making sure that work isnít being done in a manner far from the people itís being done for.

JM - Residents donít always want the same thing. For example, the bio-toilet at Dufferin Grove. It seems that the City would have supported it, but there were people living near the park who felt very passionately that it should not happen. That toilet would be way less expensive than the $400,000 it costs to get a regular public toilet building in a park. But people in the neighbourhood got really, really mad at each other. As councillor, what would you try to do?

Doug Carroll - Iíd try and find out what the real issues were. There might have been a belief about the bio-toilet that was incorrect. There might be some way to demonstrate that those fears werenít justified. Or on the other hand those fears might be justified. But if at all possible Iíd want to persuade people to try it, on a temporary basis, do something to test is as a theory, since this is such a positive benefit. Councillors always have to resolve conflicts. Itís not like thereís one community. The councillor is always in the middle, and they have to find actual solutions. If people have genuine concerns, itís not possible to just push past those concerns, thatís just wrong.

JM - How did you feel about the Lansdowne road narrowing?

Doug Carroll - It was classed as an arterial road. Iím surprised that a narrowing would have even been allowed, because of the emphasis on traffic plowing through. But somehow it was allowed. The reasons why residents didnít want that are pretty important. My superficial feeling was that it might be an improvement, but thatís not how residents saw it. They didnít like the end effects Ė loss of parking, trees being cut down. It would have been good if ongoing consultation had been done prior to spending that money, so that these issues had been resolved before any work was started. And it would have been nice if there had been a scale model of the work beforehand, so people could see what the stages were, and what was going to happen next, and why was this beneficial.

JM - So youíre saying itís not good to just push ahead over objections. Would you say thatís one of your central ideas?

Doug Carroll -Yes, I donít want to leave anybody out. In a way a councillor is like a weathervane. And he has to help people to invent solutions as well.

JM - A weathervane...

Doug Carroll -You canít go by your personal opinions. You can have an aspiration or a sense of hope for the city, but it gets complicated. There are so many hallway discussions for councillors, so many quick votes on committee or council itself Ė thereís a terrible solitude to it. A councillor canít avoid having to make most decisions by instinct, when thereís no time for consultation. The whole thing happens by way of a negotiation. But in general the councillor should be trying to understand what the community wants, and at the same time trying to provide some direction. Heís a specialist who spends all day with government. He should always look for knowledge and experience that could help people to figure out what they want, and what would be most desirable. Thatís very different than coercing people. There will never be anything rammed through by me.

JM - People have a tendency to make war on each other, What you said about the councillor not having an opinion sounds kind of neat. Youíre supposed to understand what people around are concerned about.

Doug Carroll - It sounds like an idealization. Thereís no way you can avoid having instincts or a theory. But theories can be wrong, and also the whole ward has got a lot of theories that are all operating at the same time. I think the councillorís job is to somehow act as an agent of the community, to weave and blend a lot of different strands of awareness into something that works for everybody. Itís an interpretive role. Itís kind of an odd job Ė to try and respond to a lot of different directives and invent solutions where theyíre not otherwise obvious. To somehow deconstruct conflicts so they can be harmoniously resolved, and to allocate limited resources, and embody a collective vision.

JM - Then you run into another problem which is how do you even find out what your constituents want? Youíre pretty focused on the web, right?

Doug Carroll - Yes. A lot of information flows through the councillorís office. I think the councillor should be sharing all that with constituents.

JM - How do you see making your information available on the web?

Doug Carroll -That $50,000 thatís supposedly so wasteful, that each councillor gets, in part would be spent on trying to improve web democracy through my office. Sharing more of the issues that are coming through, making sure that any background material that was relevant was posted so nobody would have to ask the councillor, ďhey, whatís going on?Ē Or ďwhere are we in this process?Ē Believe me, there would be no hiding of transit reports that went against a particular argument. It would all be there. Iíve been on the outside of the city as a deputant and as an activist seeking better democracy since megacity, which is in 1997. I know what itís like to be on the outside. A feature of my office if Iím selected would be transparency, a determination to get everything that I know out to the constituency. I wonít hide anything the law doesnít require me to hide. Privacy legislation would probably prevent some kind of disclosure, but Iíd be trying to broaden what can be public, as much as possible.

JM - But itís probably true that in Ward 18 there are a fair number of people who are not on the web.

Doug Carroll - Itís true everywhere. But many people do have access, and more are joining in. If residents had access to some of the internal systems of the city on a read-only basis, we could look into what is involved in allocating resources...You know, if the washroom needs opening at 8 in the morning and somebody lives across the street, that person really ought to be paid for two hours a day and go across to the washrooms and open them, and close them at night, rather than send a truck there with a couple of people in it. Itís like fixing the park benches right here in the park instead of shipping them downtown to a yard someplace, and having to go into a work queue. I think itís a matter of making optimal use of resources from a frugality point of view - fixing things to the level where they function, rather than to a very high and very costly standard.

One of my favourite examples of that is the auditorís report about the ferry system that services the Toronto islands. The report discovered that about $50,000 was owed for past ferry services, and that cash and ticket controls were weak. The solution the auditor proposed was to install an extensive new cash management system and issue tickets to every person who got on, even if theyíre part of a group, to integrate S.A.P. management for monitoring, and state-of-the-art City cash controls. In my view that would cost far more than $50,000 and would impose ticket costs forever afterwards as well. That results in overheads that arenít necessary at the scale of the operation. Small problems should be solved with small remedies. Perhaps it would be possible to break out clumps of assets into local governance without changing the City of Toronto Act. That way some of the issues could be addressed by local communities. They could be fixed without the costs of the administrative overheads, going through 44 councillors and through that whole great enormous pool of money. Some of the staff ideally should be decentralized, broken down into the six cities or even more finely than that. The city should be broken up into 200 small regions of governance with local users controlling some portion of the funds, some portion of the work allocated. This is just improving the articulation and responsiveness of the system, so that it meets local needs first and foremost. The results will improve the larger administration.


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Content last modified on October 03, 2010, at 05:52 AM EST