Public parts

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The Tao of Recessions

2014-04-06 public parts

I woke up to a conversation on CBC about “long term planning”

In light of the ongoing debate over the request of Porter Airlines to expand Billy Bishop Airport, Matt Galloway was quoting Ken Greenberg, an Urban planner with a quite obviously displayed, passionate disdain for anything ‘pfrrrrivate’.

“What we have here is one of the greatest transformations of a waterfront – big picture – that is going on anywhere in the world, yet we allow ourselves when something pops up like the airport expansion or a megamall instead of a park at the mouth of the Don River or a casino-resort we twist ourselves into a pretzel trying to figure out whether some ‘private thingthat comes up should undermine the whole plan and take us into a different direction.”

You can listen to the whole interview as part of the previous day’s podcast.

The big question that Matt Galloway was asking was “who is planning the city?” with many not so subtle hints to suggest that ‘we’ should not allow ‘private interest’ to ‘highjack’ the planning process.

What made this particular segment so interesting is the news that followed it. Maple Leaf Entertainment ‘wants’ a 10 million dollar loan from each three levels of government to renovate the BMO field.

The Mayor says “We don’t have money. Why should we borrow to lend it to them? Let them borrow their own money.”

Despite the mayor’s protest, the vote will probably pass. Our good friend Adam Vaughan, the plastics and bullets ban guy is championing it.

Public and private. What do they mean? Who is ‘we’? How can a suggestion ‘highjack’ a process? What is a ‘mega-mall’? How big it has to be before we can call it ‘mega’? Why is the word always used with a tone of dismissive derision? How small a mall have to be to become respectable?

What exactly is private about a grocery store? It cannot exist without the public. The reason for its very existence is to serve the public. No private business can exist unless it serves the public. We know that private businesses serve the public because the public is willingly bringing money to them to exchange it for the goods and services they offer. There is nothing more ‘public’ than a private business doing business with the public.

The only difference is that what the Communist Broadcasting Corporation calls ‘private’ are initiatives of people who are willing to bet their own money to provide a service that they believe the public wants while ‘public’ are the ones that for sure cannot survive without the coercive taxation power of the government.

How did we get to a world where something that is in fact serving the interest of the public is called ‘private’ while something the members of the public would not want to pay for from their own pocket is called ‘public’? How did we get to this upside down world where nobody even seems to notice the irony and have serious discussions about the subject with self-serving politicians parading under the banner of “Public Interest“?

I live in Roncy Village. (Yes, I hate the name with passion). Recently, and finally, a Tim Hortons opened on Roncesvalles. My snobbish neighbours were running to public meetings trying to stop it. That is not for this neighborhood! Nobody wants it here! It is for the other kind of people. Rednecks and right wingers who wouldn’t even buy fair trade coffee. Not surprisingly, the shop is always full. Did private interest scored against public interest here or did the real public win?

How is a subway line public interest but an airport is private even if it is fully owned and operated by a government entity (The Toronto Port Authority)?
How does it make sense that the airport should not be allowed to spend its own money enhancing public property but a stadium can get my tax dollars for a project that I will never ever benefit from personally?
How is private money spent on a public property (the airport) is to be sneered at while public money spent on a private venture (the BMO field) is to be celebrated?

If I was living downtown, my biggest problem would be to figure out where to go shopping. Even if I could afford it, I would not want to shop in boutiques and organic specialty stores.
I would have to drive half an hour to get to a place with reasonable size, selection and prices. There are only two large Loblaws stores in downtown Toronto. One on Carlton, in the old Maple Leaf Garden building, the other at the bottom of Jarvis. Both stores were vehemently opposed by the same people who are now scoffing at the mega-mall idea in the dock-lands. As the density of downtown Toronto is increasing there is a great need for a reasonable size shopping facility. The people proposing it know that. They are willing to bet their money on it because they are in the business of serving the public. NOT THE IDEA OF THE PUBLIC, but the real one. The one that will be happily using their services.

 Let me suggest a definition:

Private is anything normal people use. Private are the things that people finance directly and willingly. Private is the real world of real people with real needs.
Public is what the snobbish, condescending and arrogant political classes consider to be in the interest of the little people (the real public) who should not be trusted with the decisions about their own interest. Public is what the anointed class designates to be called public. Public is what the political class does with other people’s money. Public is not what the people want; public is what their masters think they should have because, again, they consider the real public too stupid to know what’s good for them.

The private world is the enemy, except, of course, when it pays its respect to the Dons. Crony capitalism is fine. If you submit yourself to the power of the political classes, if you accept them as your masters, you will become part of their world. That is why the BMO field is seen to be in the interest of the public.

There could most definitely be a conversation. What could, what should happen to the docklands, the waterfront, any part of this or any other city. The idea of city planning is not bad per se, it just tends to turn out that way. Like many other ‘public’ institution, it has been taken over by radical, left leaning statist who are fundamentally hostile to free market solutions to any real or perceived problem.

What was most noticeable in the conversation was the vehemence of the emotions; the sharp edges of the divide between the representatives of the public and the private world (in whatever interpretation we take); the hostility of the anointed toward the real world, real people, real needs.
Listening to them I am beginning to doubt that an honest conversation could ever be possible. I don’t know what we can possibly do with these arrogant geniuses, our public parts.


The woman interviewed, Toronto’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat mentioned the place she considers an example of city planning done right: Portland, Oregon.
One of my favourite Libertarian Author, probably the foremost (critical) expert on the subject is from Portland, Oregon. He wrote quite a lot about it.
For something specific about Portland, read this short policy paper: “Debunking Portland: The City That Doesn’t Work” then read The Best laid Plans, a more general discussion of the subject. It is an eminently readable and impecably researched book.

Actually researching the history of the Toronto Island Airport is another fascinating subject and a typical story of government incompetence. The important thing to notice in that history is that it has never ever been private.

2 replies on “Public parts”

  1. zorkthehun says:
    I sent the following e-mail to Matt Galloway, the host of the CBC morning show.

    Hi Matt,
    Your segment inspired a post on my blog.
    I picked just one aspect of the conversation, the strange perception of the notions of private vs public.
    Your guest mentioned the city of Portland as an example of city planning done right so I included in my post a link to a paper on the subject that shows what an utter disaster Portland city planning is.
    Knowing that our chief planner wants to take us down the same road is not very encouraging. Now the question is: will you have the integrity to share this with your listeners?

    Zork Hun
    (a regular listener)

    • zorkthehun says:
      After a year and some more comments sent to him, I can say it unequivocally:
      No, Matt Galloway does not have the integrity to share information that maybe contradicting his neo-communist believes.

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