First of all, let me begin with an awesome street art initiative from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Urban Repair Squad
As the article mentions, Sao Paulo is known for its congested streets which pose a dangerous challenge for pedestrians and cyclists alike. During Brazil’s World Cup games, a group of street artists took to the city’s empty streets to paint bike lanes and pedestrian crosswalks in hazardous areas, a project which reminds me a lot of Montreal’s very own Roadsworth.
There’s some talk about initiating traffic-calming initiatives and pedestrian-friendly urban improvements in Montreal’s St. Henri Borough to manage dangerous and confusing intersections. (Ongoing construction has, in some places, created a maze of concrete barriers through which pedestrians must weave in order to cross streets). I’ve suggested that the local borough council, if and when it begins a public awareness campaign to raise support for intersection overhauls, get a street artist like Roadsworth (or myself) to paint new pedestrian crossings in certain intersections. I’m thinking of something along the lines of a meandering clown-shoed path to best illustrate the danger that construction barriers pose to pedestrians crossing far-too-wide streets in which they’re often forced to stop halfway. Or a stencil of the Montreal Pedestrian Charter, which was adopted to prevent situations like these.
And now on to gripe-town. The Harper government continues to stand pat on its decision to eliminate the mandatory census long-form, a decision which has been condemned across the board. To this date, only a handful of groups have come forward to support Harper’s decision. These include the Fraser Institute, a right-wing, pro-’free market’ think-tank, as well as the National Citizens’ Coalition, site of Stephen Harper’s old job, and the euphemistically-named Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation.
Stephen Harper’s contempt for others and their points of view has been glaring and at times, even chilling. Watching Industry Minister Tony Clement being apparently forced to publicly defend the scrapping of the census long form, seemingly as punishment for having criticized Harper’s decision to do so in the beginning, smacks of a tragic comedy; one part misery and two parts farce.
As a future urban planner I will be one of the many people who will be making important use of census data that, in Canada, currently has an international reputation for accuracy, proper documentation and strict privacy controls. What it all boils down to is this:
As Noam Chomsky has said, media discourse no longer revolves around a debate or interaction of two opinions. What has replaced it is instead a strategy by which a message is repeated over and over until it enters the public consciousness and becomes public opinion. Facts are replaced by buzzwords. And it works. For example, take the recent survey which found that close to 20 per cent of Americans believe that President Obama is a Muslim.
Harper’s people have been trying to push a conservative Christian agenda on Canadians for a number of years, an agenda which requires more than a complete ignorance of the facts. For example, it’s not enough for them to say that Insite does not work, in spite of the massive support it has received at a city, provincial and even international level. It’s not enough to call for a recriminalization of marijuana and mandatory minimum sentencing for possession charges in spite of a tremendous amount of evidence contradicting the very same fear-mongering pitches which Harper & Co. toss out.
No, in order to successfully pull something like this off you have to sway public opinion in your favor first. And that involves both flooding the airwaves with your own message and destroying the foundations of your opponents’ arguments. As long as census data remains reliable you’re bound to see situations where Conservative ministers get caught with their pants down, as was the case when Treasury Board President Stockwell Day tried to claim that the Canadian crime rate is rising rather than falling in order to justify a planned $6 billion dollar expenditure on new prisons.
You can’t call your opponents “ivory-tower intellectuals” and “thug-huggers” and get away with it very well if they can meticulously tear your arguments apart with cold, hard data. You’re just stuck in place babbling on about Imaginary Crimes. These types are the worst kind of policy-makers. Like ‘bio-ethicist’ Margaret Somerville, these people follow a scientific approach insofar as it suits their ideological goals. They prepare an ideological argument first, and then scour for figures that supposedly back it up.