The First “LEAPing Beyond” II: The First Answers, Advocate, 13/07/2016

Continued from last post . . . And you can have a look at the post leading up to the first workshop this weekend to see a little more context if you want. 

It was just a small group in this workshop, which is what I like because it means the conversation can plumb the depths of our topic while everyone has the opportunity to be involved. 

As well as Dynamic and Bauhaus, a couple of NDP activists joined us from up in North Etobicoke. And they were impressed enough that they invited me to do a workshop later on in their region. I just need to get a ride up there because transit from the north to south end of this borough is garbage.

Toronto's drivers are not known for taking friendly
suggestions well.
And transit was a major issue in our discussion. We didn’t even really discuss it that much, because we were all on the same page – improved transit infrastructure would cut down on emissions, pollution, and improve quality of life for many working-class people across the city.

The most enlightening conversation when it came to practical activism was our discussion about affordable, energy-efficient housing. This is an important part of LEAP Manifesto’s anti-poverty ideas, since building homes – apartments, townhouses, and detached houses – that are use energy more wisely also makes them cheaper. 

But the current behaviour and interests of many institutions and actors that govern and influence housing developments in Toronto mitigate this. It’s an effect of short-term greed, the usual reason for destructive human activities.

A property developer can make more money more quickly by building plots of enormously expensive mini-mansion housing as extensions of already-existing suburbs. Investment capital can’t reach the types of projects that we need to build to make our cities ecologically sustainable.

Mini-mansion suburban housing developments strain already-underfunded public transit systems. When public transit can’t reach a new, far-flung neighbourhood, it encourages the residents to drive single-occupant cars everywhere for work, chores, and leisure.

Our workshop walking through Sam Smith Park in
southern Etobicoke.
Urban development has to make a city’s population denser, so that we leave more wild space outside the city or threaded through the city. We have to make more income-accessible housing energy-efficient, while mixing those accessible homes with places pitched to wealthier owners. That way, we build smarter, more vibrant homes, communities, and cities for everyone.

New Lesson #1: Fair and open development of urban real estate, so that energy-efficiency contributes to overall affordability of homes in diverse neighbourhoods. Combining with physical accessibility through public transit and solar panels to contribute to the energy pool instead of only drawing from it, community spirit augments ecological wealth.

One of the biggest rhetorical weapons against any progressive proposal like energy efficiency, public transit, or affordable good-quality housing comes as a dichotomy. If you don’t let self-interested developers have their way, they’ll all walk away; mass poverty will be the only result.

In other words, we face a choice between development and decay. I call shenanigans. In the context of housing, all the reasons I’ve described above constitute the foundation of greater wealth than could ever line the pocket of a housing developer, no matter how many isolated miniature estates he might finance on the outskirts of Oakville and Waterdown.

And this choice occurs in many different contexts, all of which have a common theme running through them. If I can evoke the New Democratic Party’s friendly ghost,* it’s how someone tells you that it can’t be done.

Or maybe Smiling Jack.
* Let’s not call him Christ-like. There was no sacrifice here, only the most cynical gesture of idealism and inspiration. Jack is no redeemer. More like a guardian spirit. Herne the Hunter. Jack-i-the-green.

Affordable energy-efficient housing in financially and culturally diverse communities? Either do exactly what the greediest developer wants or collapse into inescapable poverty. You can either protect the environment or you can grow the economy. Choose one or the other. How often did we hear this during the Harper years?

Even in the rebuilding year of the NDP, we keep hearing the same idea, even from our own quarters. Do we want to hold fast to our principles, or do we want the power of state control? 

All of these are false disjuncts. Making you think there’s a stark choice of one or another, when you can have both if you do things right. 

New Lesson #2: Well, not quite false. But the choice isn't stark, and it isn’t absolute. If you’ll let me riff on Deleuze a little bit, it’s about creating a disjunctive synthesis. Developing a practical logic that brings two sides of an either/or together, and their interaction is more productive than their existence alone ever would have been.

You can hold even the greediest developer’s feet to the fire until they finance a mixed community that continues to create capital and community wealth, like Bernie Sanders did as mayor of Burlington Vermont. You can build an ecologically sustainable and creative economy, as the vision of the LEAP Manifesto sets out.

You can hold on to your principles and still gain power when the people come to share your principles. This is the real victory of any of us who still hold optimistic visions for the future of humanity.

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