Rob Ford, Crack & The Dangers of Government Consolidation
Often, the greatest dangers come from comforting confidence in bad ideas. Clearly, the absurd level of municipal fragmentation in Pennsylvania can be a problem. But the blind belief that merging often radically different communities together can only produce good is equally dumb.
In Toronto, the bitter political conflicts born in the forced merger of the city with its major suburbs elected a crack smoking mayor and a city so divided it seems unable to get rid of him.
In 1998, the Harris government forced a shotgun wedding on Toronto and five surrounding suburbs, in spite of local referendum results opposing the move more than three to one .
Not a single municipality affected was in favour of the merger, and all but one joined a legal challenge opposing it. The amalgamation bill was rammed through the Ontario legislature in one of the most bitterly contested battles in provincial history with opposition parties tabling 13,000 amendments over a two-week period in an ultimately futile filibuster.
The almost certain result in this case was a city dominated by suburban voters opposed to the basic values and interests of the city itself.
What was unleashed on Toronto in 1998 was a diabolical masterstroke: a perpetual culture war between the suburbs and the city, where the later will almost always be outvoted by suburbanites with different values, priorities and motivations.
Transit is a pregnant example. If the TTC only had to serve the former City of Toronto, it would actually turn a profit . Instead the beleaguered transit authority is whipsawed by populist politics and asked to deliver astronomically expensive subway service to the surrounding low-density sprawl. One of the first actions of Mayor Ford was to rip up Transit City, the guiding planning document for public transport even though it had been developed through years of consultation and had $1.3 billion in signed contracts.
No real surprise that Columbus, Ohio the regional poster child for a sprawling consolidated city now lags Pittsburgh & Cleveland in downtown construction.
Before one considers merging communities, consider what policies and interests would those voters bring. What would be the impact on land use policy, zoning & transit.