Does spatiality include transit?
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
Rob Ford, as always, is good intentioned - but woefully ignorant and elitist. It's like that time he tried to get Oxycontin for some random guy. Or those days when he framed himself as the only hope for football players to avoid a life of drugs and crime, much like the one he was simultaneously living.
It's beneficial to explore Ford's position to understand where he's coming from. What does he mean by suggesting people without jobs don't need transit?
Remember - this is the pro-car guy, the pro individual-freedoms guy. When he says transit, he's not talking about broader infrastructure like roads, street signs, lights, etc. - he strictly means public transit.
Ford is also the anti-social assistance guy; he feels people need to stand on their own two feet and that social assistance is burdening the masses with carrying for the lazy. This perspective doesn't imply that Ford doesn't recognize that some people simply can't work; like Tim Hudak, he's all roses and empathy for the really sick, though in his mind it's largely up to their families to take care of them.
This frame isn't a Conservative thing so much as it is an economic thing - if there were an Economic Party, it would have as it's slogan "it's the economy, stupid."
Under this frame, the only system that matters is the economic system. The flow of money and the capacity to generate revenue/spending power is what matters. Money is the fuel that keeps the economic beast churning. That which generates revenue is good and should be rewarded; that which does not is a burden. You want more of the former than the latter.
The only interaction between people that matters, from an economic perspective, is one that generates wealth and keeps money flowing. People are the cogs in this economic machine; their job is to work.
We're slowly getting to transit.
For folk like Ford, there are two kinds of people - those who can work and those who can't. It's simple, which is what communication is supposed to be in their view, and it's also all about the economy. The work and the revenue it generates matters most; people matter only in as much as they contribute to the economy.
For those who can make revenue, there are more categories; the more you make, the greater your status and privilege should be. The Alpha Earners have less restrictions, because their capacity to earn validates them; whether they text and drive, drink on the job or whatnot doesn't matter, because they're still generating revenue.
Those who earn less have less entitlements, because their economic value is less. You don't get the corner office just for showing up, after all - ya gotta earn it, and earning is determined by ability to earn money. So, while the wealthiest are entitled to break the odd rule, have homes in cottage country and dictate to lesser people what they should be doing, middle-income earners get away with less and have a more constrained level of spatiality (the ability to move) and space (property).
This brings us back to transit. Cars are freedom - you can go anywhere, it's property you yourself own; public transit is shared, limited in where it can take you and worst of all, it gets in the way of cars.
Of course, in Ford's mind, we all want cars - cars are status, freedom, tools and symbols of economic activity, which is all that matters. Public transit, or simply transit in his world, is for people of lesser means. For him, bicycles aren't transit - their leisure tools, like a crochet set or a badminton racket. You ride a bike for fun, not for transit; it can't take you as far as a car, nor is it big property and it's not public transit in that you can't squish more people of lesser means on them.
To Rob Ford, the idea of bikes on roads is a non sequiter; they don't belong, because they don't contribute. Roads are the veins of the economy; public transit blocks the flow of bigger earners in their cars; bikes are clots, clogging the system.
Put all this another way - if the economy is the system, than movement is about economic activity. That which does not produce economic activity shouldn't be moving. The more you earn, the more status and freedom you have to keep earning more - hence cars, or more plan traffic on the island airport. The less you earn, the less need you have to go anywhere, because your movement does not serve a purpose.
Back to the people who work and the people who can't categories.
Those who can work, must work. They're burdening the system if they don't. Work is tied with movement - to and from work, to and from other economic activity, like the purchase or sale of goods including food, clothing, entertainment, etc. These aren't activities that are about individuals and social living - they're about the economy. Duh.
So what of those who can't work? Well, if they can't work, then something must be really wrong with them. Like, they're in a wheelchair or braindead or something, i.e. mobility isn't something that's available to them. If they could move, after all, they would be capable of working in some form or other.
The ability to move equates with the ability to work. The more work you do - or rather, the more economic activity you're able to generate - the more movement and space you're entitled to, for the good of the economic system.
If you're poor, well, you simply need to work harder, earn that car, gain the freedom wealthier people have by contributing more to the economy. Public transit is a courtesy, really, one that should be buried away where it doesn't muck up the flow of car people.
If you can work, you should. If you can't, it clearly means you're unable to go anywhere and therefore don't need transit, period. Why would you? Your movement doesn't contribute to the economy; allowing you movement will interfere with those who can.
This is how I see Rob Ford's frame on society, jobs and transit.
Again, he means well - he's only thinking about the economy. He wants more jobs for people so they can contribute to the economy and maybe get to a point where they're as entitled to do what they want as he is. Transit must be all about supporting economic activity, otherwise what's the point?
From a very narrow frame, this makes sense in the same way John Tory's insistence that women need to be more demanding for raises and promotions does; might makes right, the ability to sell (oneself) has primacy, because the economy is all about pushing sales.
It's a common frame, an historically common frame, but also a dangerous one.
When the ability to work and generate revenue comes first, those who can generate money gain special status. They get to bend rules. Those who can't generate money, however, lose status - they become seen as impediments to the system that need to be pushed to work, isolated from the majority, etc.
What happens when an employer decides an employee isn't worth their salt? They get terminated - removed from the system so as not to be a burden to those who are generating revenue.
At the start of the Industrial Economy, lower income earners like factory workers were housed close to where they worked and lived only to shuffle back and forth between work and home. Illness was seen as an excuse, a deterrent to economic activity. Kids ate, so they had to earn their keep, too - that's still the case in far too many places all over the world.
What of those who weren't able to work, either physically or mentally? They were segregated so as not to impede the functioning of the economic system. Burden that they were, as few resources as necessary were expended on them. In extreme cases, these undesirables (for their inability to contribute) were terminated, too. That, too, still happens.
Where those with power and money are entitled and those without have less access and less mobility, you don't tend to find a lot of democracy. In fact, democracy is a system designed to balance out the economy with a dose of engagement, i.e. sociology.
Do jobs matter? Yes they do. Is the economy important? Of course it is, but in a supportive role.
Rob Ford is wrong to downplay the importance of transit and access, but it's very telling that he does.
Be thankful we don't have a Strong Mayor system in Toronto. Worry that we have an increasingly unaccountable PMO. And the next time you here someone say "it's the economy, stupid", be wary.