Manifesto Multilinko
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Monday, December 22, 2008
a billion here, a billion there...

The future, in advance, for your convenience:

government in the US and Canada will begin shoveling out billions in "infrastructure" money

In the US, they will articulate an overarching theme of a green economy, and as Obama is an urban politician, with an urban voter base, some of this money will actually make it to transit and new electrical grid and such. With the urgency to shovel it out however, tons of it will go to roads with dubious justifications and other such junk.

In Canada they will just shove money at existing constituencies (industrial mining, industrial forestry, whatever other 19th century industries shout the loudest). Token amounts will go to city transit so that the Cons can pretend they also like cities even though their actual constituency is suburb-rural.

Meanwhile, wise columnists will call for reasoned investment, almost none of which will happen. Today's second case-in-point...

One good idea is to avoid stimulus projects that generate ongoing public liabilities. Take roads. Construction companies everywhere are lobbying hard for road-building. They argue that the ribbons of new asphalt will generate instant employment, make a region and its industries more competitive and put smiles on drivers' faces. They're right, to a degree. But a road is a public cost; maintaining one consumes tax revenue forever. Roads also have a nasty habit of attracting traffic, not curing it. Cars and trucks generate carbon dioxide.

If the same money were given, say, to help the rail industry upgrade and extend tracks and buy new locomotives, you would get a whole other picture.

Stimulus will serve the loudest, not the smartest - Eric Reguly - Globe and Mail - December 22, 2008

The Globe, in a follow-on to its call for trains, now calls for transit.

In addition to their obvious environmental benefits, capital investments in excellent public transit can pay off over astonishingly long periods. One need only look to cities such as London, where the Underground tube system is approaching its 140th anniversary, or to New York's subway, which is more than a century old. These and other networks have produced economic benefits that vastly exceed their cost.

From paper to transit - Editorial - Globe and Mail - December 22, 2008

Man do we urbanites love things that run on rails.
Man do we have no chance of getting more than a token investment in what we want.

It would be a golden opportunity for the City of Ottawa to get some money for its light-rail program, if the planning for that program wasn't such an endless disaster that even provincial and federal governments who usually love to hand out cash can't bring themselves to put any money into it.

First of all, we will never have European cities.
And we will never have the North American equivalent, New York.

We could have our own urban models but it will take 50 years of concerted efforts to rebuild and reinvent Canadian cities in a more citizen-friendly and less car-friendly manner. If you take a stroll through downtown Ottawa, you are apt to discover that other than old trolley areas (like the Glebe) and the small bright spot of the market, what you basically have is islands of buildings surrounded by highways, in the centre of the city. No store-window displays. No sidewalk cafes. Nada.

It will take decades to undo that, and I don't see the political or the citizen will to make it happen. Instead, we will continue to (re)build the infrastructure and the industries of the second half of the 20th century, possibly some of the worst buildings, most desolate and soul-less urban environments, and most planet-destroying corporate behemoths ever known. Success!

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