Sunday Roundup – June 5 EXTRA: TO Services Review Roundtable

Busy week behind me, busy week ahead. There is a supplemental section for Sunday this week – I attended the Toronto City Services Review at Toronto City Hall yesterday, so here’s the round-up first, and you can scroll down for my review of the Toronto City Services Review.
Item: I wrote this while watching the VancouverBoston game, and nearly fell over when Ron MacLean referenced “honey badger”. Thumbs up for being all up on your memes, Ron. He don’t care about no bees indeed.

So! This week – what happened?

So What Do You DO All Day? – If it’s not happening from nine to five, then is anything getting done? In a word – yes.
Art and Potholes – a bit of info about Artsvote, about the Toronto City Services Review, and a very cool answer to the question, “is your art more important than potholes?”.
The Quality of Relationship Is Not Strain’d  – a couple of real life examples of the relationship building properties of social media.
Making Art, Painting Over Art – bit of a shoutout to Manifesto and the amazing work they do, along with a bit of a confused shoutdown about the city’s policies on painting over murals.
What Are We Reading These Days?  – love letter to the Toronto Public Library, and a few book recommendations.

Cartoon for the week is from 3eanuts again. I love them.

As I mentioned earlier in this post, earlier Saturday and a few times this week, I attended a Toronto City Services Review (TCSR) Roundtable today from 2:00 – 4:00 pm today at City Hall. The following is a composite of thoughts, notes and photos from the day. It’s not comprehensive, it might not even be cohesive, but it was my experience.

I am welcomed.  And immediately am curious as to  what Our Toronto Is according to the five circle images shown. On closer inspection, our Toronto is traffic lights, soccer, recycling, 24/7 and a streetcar.

In I go, where I signed in by saying the name my registration is under. Off I went to sit at Table 7 – my goal was to be at a table of NOT like-minded people (in other words, people I do not already know) so as to get a good sense of what the issues are to many people. I look around the room and wonder who is there about childcare, about infrastructure, about art, about potholes and police and parks.

We each receive a consultation kit which contains cards printed on paper, with each one representing a service. It seems like we will be playing a large game of solitaire, or maybe euchre. We will see what is trump. I also have a paper copy of the online survey, which i filled out online a while back. The paper version has all the same information, in the same order, yet seems somehow better laid out. I also pass a note to Chris our awesome facilitator, pointing out that perhaps it would have been better to alphabetize the services on the survey, rather than to seemingly assign value to them through arbitrary listings. If it’s listed first, it’s most important, right? Bad optics. My note will be submitted with the comments. (photo by Yvonne Bambrick)

Onward. We are a table of four Caucasian women, all over the age of 35, and so is the facilitator. This was not the cross-section of Toronto I’d hoped for, but we shall persevere. One woman points out very quickly that 38% of the budget comes from property tax and that is TOO MUCH. Another asks, “what DO the Feds do with all our money? Oh right – they sent it to Af-ghan-is-tan.”

We begin our giant card game – we’re putting the services in three categories – Must Have, Nice To Have, Not Really Important. After we spend some time discussing exactly what those categories mean, i.e. Not Really Important might mean “Someone Else Should Fund It“, the woman who mentioned property taxes picks up the cards labelled “City Run Theatres” as well as “Arts, Culture and Heritage Programs. I hold my breath.

“I know EXACTLY where these should go…” she says…and places them firmly in the “Must Have” category. The woman next to her says, “here – this too.” – public libraries. Despite my efforts, I am among like-minded people. And as it turns out – we all live in the same Ward.

We spend the next half hour sorting cards, asking what we think is important, (childcare, senior care) what we think is not so much (311 services). Although the point of the exercise is not to reach consensus at the table, we seem to find it on many things. If we have a question, our facilitator tries to answer, and if it’s specific, she holds up one of five coloured cards, indicating “budget” or another category, and we continue moving the cards around. The fourth woman at the table tries to move “City Run Theatres” out of the must have category and I ask her why, and explain to her why they are important. She says she thought she would move it as she “doesn’t use or know anything about theatre,” and I counteract with, “and I make my living from it,” – and we both start to genuinely laugh.

City Manager Joe Pennachetti stops by our table, and comments that we are a table that is really thinking about it, he can tell from our cards. I think he also heard our conversation about one service that we thought should be half funded by the city, and half by the province, and could we tear the card in half to represent our opinion? No, we could not, but our concern was written down. In fact, our facilitator wrote down all comments that we wanted made note of, and they were collected. All this was happening at all the tables as well, with comment cards being collected and ferried to the front of the room.

A lot of our discussion involved the feeling of either-or that the survey indicated, that there didn’t seem to be much room to have a little of each. That the categories were limiting by the way they were labelled. We agreed on a few items once we discovered they were downloaded expenses from back in the days of downloading from the province (overheard: unless we’re getting a percentage from the fines we collect for the Provincial Offenses Act, the Province should pay for it.)

I showed the fourth woman this graph that being outlines by Mr. Pennachetti. I explain that the cost of the arts to Toronto is at the very bottom, such a small investment that it’s lumped in with another expenditure, and if she looks closely, she’ll see that unlike the other expenses, the arts make more money for the city than they cost it. She says, ‘well, I’m convinced,” and she says it in a good way, not in a please stop talking way.
Item: I gave her my contact info – I am absolutely bringing her to see a show. I feel there was a sharing of knowledge between us today, and I’m determined she should experience what we talked about. If anyone has comps to something good and non-threatening, I’d appreciate it.

People are really angry about garbage.Many opinions on how it should be dealt with, but bottom line is it must be dealt with. It is an excellent opportunity to educate about green bins, and the person giving the education is Councillor Sarah Doucette, who I had not yet met. From the time spent at our table, I think I really like her. We also talk about things like why a fire engine, ambulance and police show up at every 911 call, and a few other I did not know that! kind of items.

People are really angry about the G20.

Interesting item –  only 5000 people have filled out the survey online. I find that disheartening. Once all the roundtables have happened, all the raw data collected will be going online in a report.  A final summation of the conversations overheard at the various tables (20 tables of 8 people each) was projected onscreen – I pasted some of them below and apologize in advance  – but it’s a phone camera shot of a Powerpoint slide from across a rotunda.  From the statements made, the majority of the people attending want a good city, a livable city – they seem  to genuinely care about it. Granted, this was a ‘downtown’ session, and so your demographics will skew.  I said goodbye to Mr Pennechetti when I was leaving, and he asked me what I’d thought. I said I wished it was longer, although  I’m sure he knew it wasn’t a two-hour task, and that although I was glad citizens had the opportunity to be consulted, I wished we weren’t in this position. But at the same time, based on some of the conversations I had, conversations I overheard, and the snapshot provided of those conversations, I am hopeful for our city, the people who live here and want to see it work, and more importantly –  what makes it great.

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