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Do Cities Really Want to Change?

Maybe Saskatoon doesn’t change because it is afraid of it.

The civic world is obviously more complex than this simple joke. But given the persistent failure to change the trajectory of so many places despite the enormous time and energy — not to mention vast sums of taxpayer money — spent on it, it’s worth pondering the possibilities.

Problems are problems, but they are also sometimes solutions to certain sets of questions. One of these is how to mobilize, allocate, and deploy community resources and power. Fighting decline has become the central organizing principle in many places.

As a friend of mine from the IT industry once put it regarding what he termed “rackets”: “A racket is when folks have something they complain about and commiserate about but don’t fix. Upon delving into the roots of a racket one finds that the folks don’t really want it fixed — the subject of the racket is a unifying force that if corrected will remove the common complaint and thus the unifying force. The cultural changes that would ensue from the change in practices that ‘no one wants’ are not acceptable to [the complainers]. In corporate organizational behavior, it is important to break the rackets. It is also difficult. But, I imagine, far easier in a company with some semblance of common objectives than it would be in an each-man-for-himself city.”

In short, economic struggle can be a cultural unifier in a community that people tacitly want to hold onto in order to preserve civic cohesion.

Jane Jacobs took it even further. As she noted in The Economy of Cities, “Economic development, whenever and wherever it occurs, is profoundly subversive of the status quo.” And it isn’t hard to figure out that even in cities and states with serious problems, many people inside the system are benefiting from the status quo.

They have political power, an inside track on government contracts, a nice gig at a civic organization or nonprofit, and so on. All of these people, who are disproportionately in the power broker class of most places, potentially stand to lose if economic decline is reversed. That’s not to say they are evil, but they all have an interest to protect.

Consider one simple thought experiment: If a struggling community starts booming, that would eliminate a big part of the rationale for subsidized real estate development, which constitutes the principal form of economic development in all too many places, and which benefits a clear interest group. It might also attract highly motivated, aggressive people from out of town, folks who are highly likely to agitate for better than the current inbred ways of doing business. This would inherently dilute the positions of the current powers that be.

Look but don’t touch

I know most of us are more concerned with the roads but have any of you noticed the condition of many of our light standards in the city.  Some are almost completely rusted through.  I have poked at more than one and had my finger go right through.  Others are really swaying in the recent wind. 

According to city reports, City Council has not only ignored city roads but also our electrical grid.  I know, I know, marking priorities is hard.

There were roads, bridges, and snow to neglect and now we have light poles that are not structurally safe and are rusting out. It’s actually remarkable that council could let so many things at the same time.

Oh wait, amidst all of our infrastructure falling, we have a clear goal.  In case you have ever wondered what drives the Mayor and council’s desire to keep taxes low when our city needs revenue, it is Calgary.

This is from 2011.

Saskatoon’s mayor is eyeing a property tax increase of one per cent per year less than Cowtown’s over the next decade.
In 10 to 15 years, Saskatoon’s tax rate could equal that of Alberta’s biggest city, where ratepayers have the lowest property taxes among major cities in the country, he said.

Calgary has fun with this.

To help set its mill rate, Calgary relies on a so-called municipal inflation rate, a combination of costs for salaries, service contracts, fuel and materials. Saskatoon’s administration is coming up with a formula to calculate its own municipal inflation rate and Atchison has said in the past it makes sense to try to tie property tax hikes closely to that amount rather than the consumer inflation rate.

Property tax increases since Atchison became mayor have averaged 3.7 per cent annually. During the same period, Calgary’s property tax has gone up by an average of 4.2 per cent with the municipal portion jumping an average of 6.5 per cent.

Atchison’s wish already has a fiscally prudent Calgary alderman, Andre Chabot, chuckling.

He notes this spring council chose to boost the education portion of the property tax by a onetime whopping 10.4 per cent to take advantage of the province’s move to cut its portion of the property tax.

By comparison, Saskatoon’s property tax rose by a relatively small four per cent in 2011.

“For the mayor of Saskatoon to make a claim like that, it certainly is a politically astute kind of selling feature for his proposed tax increases,” Chabot said, “because he can always make the argument that it was at least one per cent lower than Calgary’s increase.

So how many miles of roadways does “politically astute” pay for?

Of course there is a reason why Calgary’s mill rate is lower.  They collect more business tax.

Jack Vicq, professor emeritus of accounting at the University of Saskatchewan Edwards School of Business, said there are differences between how Saskatoon and Calgary are funded that need to be accounted for. The amount in business tax collected in Calgary keeps its property tax rate lower, he said.

More from Vicq

“Let’s make sure the framework we’re in is the same,” Vicq said. “I would go at it from the perspective of really, what is it we should be doing in the city of Saskatoon and how are we going to do that? And maybe that takes a property tax that is higher than Calgary. You can get into trouble by just looking at Calgary and saying, ‘I want to be there.’

“You might lose sight of what you should be doing as a city or what residents expect as a city.”

As an aside, as the video below shows, I am not sure that our mayor even understands basic tax policy.

Back to what we are talking about.

First of all, the reason we have a lower rate is that we don’t fund the city the same way.  We have inferior snow removal and road repair policies to Calgary.  We also do things like underfund transit and force them to purchase worn out busses from places like Edmonton.  Parts of our bus fleet are so old that people come from all over North America to ride them.  The reason we keep using them, they are cheap to run (but you knew that already).

We don’t repair things like light poles is no big shock but now we have the cost of replacing them that is going to be a big shock to the bottom line.  Either that or we will just watch them fall over.

If you are ever in budget review meetings, you hear city managers say, “If you cut this amount, I can’t afford to do maintenance on parks” or “We won’t have enough for fuel”.  Those things are cut anyway.  You know because why do city vehicles need fuel budgeted for properly.  In many ways I think you can say that Calgary is getting far more bang for their tax dollars than we do.

Instead of funding the city the way it needs, we have actually developed our own spin that blames “freeze thaw” for bad roads (we don’t have a freeze thaw cycle, it just freezes) or that rain wrecks our roads (because we are too cheap to use rock base and instead only use sand).  My favourite is listening to council talk about how brave and hard working our city workers are doing instead of talking about how underfunding is creating this mess.  My favourite was when Pat Lorje suggested that city council was under siege last winter because of the lack of snow removal which was something she voted against.

The whole things reminds me of Winston Churchill underfunding the defences of Singapore in 1937 while First Lord of the Admiralty and then calling the British general performance there abysmal when Japan invaded in 1942 and they had no defences to work with.

We have roads that are brutal because the Mayor and council stopped funding the roads years ago.  We have light posts that aren’t safe because the city doesn’t have the cash (because of our desire to beat Calgary) and our city is dirty and grimy into July because it is cheaper to clean the streets slowly rather than quickly.  We get upset that we don’t have enough swim lessons but underfund leisure services as the city has grown.

Jack Vicq is right.  Instead of playing political games, we need a council (who can override the mayor) and fund the city properly.  Instead we get a Twitter feed that is constantly tweeting power outages because they take large dividends out of Saskatoon Light & Power, a #BetterRoadsYXE hashtag, new pylons and lots of emails from the city telling me how much they are doing (that’s another topic).

While the 2011 article mentions the mayor, it is also the fault of city council.  Darren Hill, Pat Lorje, Charlie Clark & Tiffany Paulsen have all been there at least two terms and are working on their third terms.  Mairin Loewen, Ann Iwanchuk, Randy Donauer have all been re-elected once.  They are all there when the council pulls a mill rate out of Calgary and agree to it.  When you are as integral part of the problem, can you be part of the solution?

Sadly repairing the grid or maintaining the Traffic Bridge doesn’t get people elected.  New bridges and low taxes do.  This problem isn’t going to go away and if we don’t do something about it in 2016, the mess will be just huge when we do.

Man Flies Drone Through Fireworks, The Results Are Spectacular

Someone needs to do this during the PotashCorp Fireworks Festival in Saskatoon.

Complete Streets (it’s more than just about cycling)

It is so depressing to think about how much further along in their thinking that places like New York City are than Saskatoon in realizing that not all people own cars.  Just think about it, a street designed for cars, pedestrians, and cyclists.  It could one day happen in Saskatoon.

The Case for Separated Bike Lanes (in New York City)

The Whole Story

Inspiration for Cycling

Why did the US lose at the World Cup?

Not enough good players according to Dan Wetzel.

Klinsmann spoke to finding not just a great American player but also one that will stand across from the world’s best and believe he is better. One that doesn’t go into these games thinking about just surviving or rising to the challenge, but instead that he’ll impose himself on the other side.

The U.S. needs its alpha dog – a few of them, actually.

“It’s not only physically and technically but also mentally,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a completely different ball game [at this level] … we still give it a little bit too much respect in our end when it comes to the big stage. This is something they have to go through; no matter how many years it takes.”

Perhaps the most promising sign of this tournament came in the furious final 15 minutes here Tuesday. Trailing 2-0, Klinsmann inserted 19-year-old Julian Green for his World Cup debut. Rather than be intimidated by the moment, the German-American scored almost immediately, on a beautiful finish, to keep the outcome in doubt.

“Nice first touch for a World Cup,” said Bradley, whose chip set up Green.

That’s the level of skill that has to be the future for the U.S. to finally break through. That’s the presence. That’s the seizing of opportunity. Only they need a bunch of those guys.

It is Klinsmann’s chief task as he continues to oversee all of America’s soccer development.

Soccer has arrived in the United States. It’s here for good. Kids playing. Fans watching. The national team is an engaging and enjoyable group. There is no questioning the commitment of everyone involved.

Yet once again, the Americans trudged out of a World Cup bitterly disappointed, stuck on the Round of 16, with no viable answers.

They gave everything they had. It’s just once again they didn’t have enough players capable of playing with anyone on the planet.

Klinsmann has talked about this a lot.  Too many top players spend four years in the NCAA rather than being sent to the elite clubs around the world.  He also doesn’t have any control over the style of play that the top U.S. clubs or NCAA plays which means that he has to continually be teaching his style of play to new players.  There is also the problem that MLS plays during the summer and not during the winter which means that the national team schedule interferes with club schedules.

I like Klinsmann a lot but he has a lot to overcome to make the USA into World Cup contenders that other national teams do not.

Suarez Was Here

Suarez Was Here

GOP Candidate Charges Opponent Is Dead, Represented By A Body Double

Best political accusation that I have ever heard

Political opponents accuse each other of lying all the time, but one Oklahoma congressional candidate took his accusation to a new level this week when he claimed his opponent was actually dead and being represented by a body double.

KFOR in Oklahoma reports that Timothy Ray Murray believes Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), his opponent in the congressional Republican primary, was executed three years ago and is being represented by a look-alike. Because he believes Lucas is really dead, Murray said he will challenge the results of Tuesday’s Republican primary, in which Murrayreceived 5.2 percent of the vote. Lucas won the primary with 82.8 percent of the vote.

“It is widely known Rep. Frank D. Lucas is no longer alive and has been displayed by a look alike. Rep. Lucas’ look alike was depicted as sentenced on a white stage in southern Ukraine on or about Jan. 11, 2011,” Murray said in a statement posted on his campaign website.

“I am contesting that this matter has happen [sic] since his election was blocked, because of the U.S. Defense Department’s use of Mr. Murray’s DNA. To my knowledge, the U.S. Defense Department has not released to the public that information, as it is their confidential information about many people,” the statement said.

Brian Dean, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Election Board, told The Huffington Post that Murray had sent the board a copy of the statement posted on his website but had not formally filed a petition asking for a recount or alleging election irregularities. He has until 5 p.m. Friday to do so.

In the statement, Murray, who did not respond to an interview request, also reassured voters that he is not a body-double.

“I, Timothy Ray Murray, am a human, born in Oklahoma, and obtained and continue to fully meet the requirements to serve as U.S. Representative when honored to so. I will never use a look alike to replace my (The Office’s) message to you or to anyone else, as both the other Republican Challengers have,” he said.

Lucas, who has served in Congress for the last 20 years, told KFOR that he’s never been to Ukraine.

“Many things have been said about me, said to me in the course of all my campaigns. This is the first time I’ve ever been accused of being a body double or a robot,” Lucas said. Lucas also added that Murray ran against him as a Democrat in 2012.

Maintaining Wimbledon’s famous grass courts

How the famous courts are made and maintained

“You expect the court, obviously, to be great,” Murray said. “The bounces and stuff were absolutely perfect. There’s no bad bounces. It’s always, you know, a little bit slippy the first match. The grass is very lush. So that was the only thing — you need to be a little bit careful of your footing. But the court played very well. No bad bounces or anything. It was perfect.”

Such reviews have allowed Stubley, just the eighth groundsman in the club’s 146-year history, to slip back behind the scenes, where he wants to be. During Wimbledon, though, he swaps his work shorts and T-shirt for slacks, dress shirt and tie, part of the tournament’s formality. At 45, he blends into the debonair world of tennis, his build slim, his face tanned. His temples are lined with crow’s-feet, marks of someone who spends time squinting outdoors.

He oversees 16 full-time employees, expanded to about 30 for Wimbledon, who tend to 19 competition courts and 22 practice courts. The grass is nurtured all year with one primary goal: to be perfect for the tournament’s opening. After that, the grounds crew tries to maintain it, amid the toil of countless footsteps and the vagaries of an English summer.

“That’s the balancing act, having the right amount of moisture in the plant at the start of the tournament to make sure it can hold the moisture until the end,” Stubley said. “For that to happen, the court will always be slightly lush at the start of the tournament, and as you get slowly into the latter part of the first week and into the second week, the court naturally firms up more, the surface starts to dry, and it becomes a lot more grippy.”

Any growing interest in soccer a sign of nation’s moral decay

This crosses the line in so many ways

If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

This is so offensive.  The fact that “Americans” is in quotation marks is offensive as if immigrants from around he world are citizens.  Plus, my grandfathers were born in Canada (I know, not “America”) and if alive, they’d be watching England stink up the joint like the rest of the nation.  They’d also be making Suarez puns like the rest of the world.

So again, Ann Coulter is being offensive while talking about something she knows nothing about.

So if there is intelligent life out there, why hasn’t anyone contacted us

It could be we are in a remote part of space that no one cares about.  We are the Moose Jaw of planets.

The Americas may have been colonized by Europeans long before anyone in a small Inuit tribe in far northern Canada realized it had happened. There could be an urbanization component to the interstellar dwellings of higher species, in which all the neighboring solar systems in a certain area are colonized and in communication, and it would be impractical and purposeless for anyone to deal with coming all the way out to the random part of the spiral where we live.

There are a lot of interesting hypothesis of why we haven’t had our first contact.  The following is the scariest.

There are scary predator civilizations out there, and most intelligent life knows better than to broadcast any outgoing signals and advertise their location.

This is an unpleasant concept and would help explain the lack of any signals being received by the SETI satellites. It also means that we might be the super naive newbies who are being unbelievably stupid and risky by ever broadcasting outward signals. There’s a debate going on currently about whether we should engage in METI (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence—the reverse of SETI) or not, and most people say we should not. Stephen Hawking warns, “If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.” Even Carl Sagan (a general believer that any civilization advanced enough for interstellar travel would be altruistic, not hostile) called the practice of METI “deeply unwise and immature,” and recommended that “the newest children in a strange and uncertain cosmos should listen quietly for a long time, patiently learning about the universe and comparing notes, before shouting into an unknown jungle that we do not understand.” Scary.

The view from within the peloton

A look inside the peloton from Stage 5 of the Tour de Suisse.

167 people cashed in on bet that Luis Suarez would bite someone at World Cup

175-to-1 odds that Luis Suarez would bite someone during the tournament.

Andreas Bardun, sportsbook manager for gambling site Betsson, where Syverson placed his bet, said 167 gamblers placed bets on the prop.
The biggest winner was a Norwegian who won $3,300, he said, but he cited company policy not to disclose any of the names of its bettors.

Also journalists are heading to Brazil to find out why Suarez bites people which you have to admit, is an interesting question.