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2007 09 04
The Role Of Corporations In Making Public Space
Image from Flickr - Sabocracy

To say all corporations are evil because of their single-minded pursuit of money, is as erroneous as saying that all not-for-profits or public institutions are noble and pure. People with enough experience in the world will agree that any institution conceived of and run by people is inherently capable of a spectrum of different moral and ethical outcomes - the shades of grey argument - from good to bad. Look at the checkered history of governments for example.

Given that context, when a corporation - General Mills for example - offers the city a donation to improve an important public space, how should informed citizens react? Should we question their motives? Should we take the money and run? Or, should we set up an office in City Hall that facilitates such donations?

According to today's Globe and Mail, the City of Toronto is doing the latter. Mayor David Miller calls the approach, " public interest partnerships." The purpose of this office is to create a way for the private sector to pay for costly infrastructure projects that the city cannot or will not fund. Okay. Let's assume the inherent nobility of these offers to the city. General Mills' offer to contribute $15,000 to improve one of the city's most public spaces - the ferry docks at the foot of Bay Street - is an example of this new corporate investment mechanism. The city is matching the gift. That means at total of $30,000 will go into improving the space.

Anyone who knows the docks also knows that $30,000 will only buy some very superficial improvements but hey, something is better than nothing, right? I'm tempted to say wrong just because we are entering into some very complex means and ends issues with these relationships. After all, is the improvement of our public spaces driven by the specific interest of corporations? Of course not. However, that said, why don't we use this mechanism to make some much-needed changes to the city's infrastructure?

Ghost bike memorial - Avenue Road

For example, city hall has failed - uniquely and horribly - to build cycling infrastructure in the city. People have died as a result of this willful negligence. Why don't cycling activists (that sounds too radical, cycling activists in our definition are those people who own bicycles who would use them to commute if they had safe ways to do so - in Toronto that equates to hundred of thousands of people) go to major bicycle manufacturers and distributors to get them to contribute to the city's infrastructure.

Imagine how far a gift of $1,000,000 would go to force the anachronistic politicians at city hall to build those promised hundreds of kilometres of cycling routes. It would energize the movement towards sustainable transportation in the city, and it would save lives.

Forget about that big Nathan Philips Square makeover for a year or two (sorry PLANT - sustainability issues have precedence here). Invest in a cycling infrastructure that will help the city reduce its carbon output. Help make the city more livable and sustainable.

There are enough corporations out there whose work falls on the positive side of the ethical and moral ledger. Give them access to our public spaces too. Let's see how much positive change our city hall's Office of Partnerships can bring.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 09/04 at 11:36 AM

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