Lawrence Solomon: Ford’s blow for film freedom

(February 10, 2011) Urban Renaissance Institute Executive Director Lawrence Solomon describe’s Mayor Ford’s intervention to save a local film screening from being shut down by bureaucrats.

Fix My City: Reg Hartt and the Cineforum

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford recently came to the rescue of Reg Hartt, an individual who had run afoul of the law. Hartt’s violation? As explained by city authorities, he was illicitly running “a place of assembly.” Hartt’s actual crime? He is a non-conformist in a city that makes just about all commercial activities illegal, including those in the home, unless some city bureaucrat says otherwise.

Hartt has been a credit to Toronto for decades. His Cineforum, which screens noteworthy films for small study groups in his living room, has long won acclaim from critics in Canada and abroad and endorsements from Canadian icons such as author Pierre Berton and urban guru Jane Jacobs.  Lonely Planet lists 463 Bathurst St, his modest abode on a major Toronto thoroughfare, as among the top 30 sights to see in Toronto and in the top 30 of sights to see in Ontario. That’s quite a credit to the city. Yet although neighbours don’t complain, the city’s Municipal Licensing and Standards department periodically shuts him down.

MLS regulates freedom in Toronto, everything from the activities of major retailers down to an individual’s garage sales. It can investigate how well you are prepared to look after your pet in an emergency, whether you are mowing your lawn properly, and whether you are operating a pedicab without a license. And – in the case of Hartt — whether you can screen films in your living room for small gatherings. MLS’s answer was “no” – Hartt’s screenings of everything from modern classics to Nazi propaganda from the 1930s to Betty Boop cartoons, it claimed, somehow threatened the common weal.

Until Ford came to the rescue, it looked as if Hartt’s on-again, off-again battle against the authorities had finally ended in his defeat – Jane Jacobs, a former defender of his but now deceased, was no longer able to talk some sense into city officials. But while Hartt is grateful that the mayor has ended (at least for now) the bureaucracy’s ability to put him out of business, he would like to see something done for the many others like him who have been shut down, or live in fear of being shut down. A city shouldn’t shut the door on the inventiveness of its residents.

Hartt’s desire should become Mayor Ford’s command. The mayor has among his goals the trimming of city staff through attrition, the trimming of the city’s budget, and the treatment of city residents with respect. My suggestion: As a first cut, remove from the jurisdiction of the MLS all home-based activities that don’t create a disturbance. MLS would then shrink in size as inspectors would no longer need to investigate harmless activity – we already have a police force, a fire marshal, and environmental officers to deal with illegal or unsafe activities. And in Ford’s Toronto, city residents would be treated with respect.

EYE weekly once wrote that “Reg Hartt’s Cineforum is everything Jane Jacobs writes about.” Hartt is also like Jacobs in wanting the city out of its citizens homes – Jacobs believed harmless home businesses should not be regulated by the city bureaucracy.

On a Sunday afternoon later this month, Hartt will be showing film of Jane Jacobs “so that folks can hear from her lips that creating districts, standardizing cities and all the other things that are going on right now are anti-Jane Jacobs.” Mayor Ford is invited, and so are you (space permitted).

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute and author of Toronto Sprawls (University of Toronto Press).

Have ideas for Fix Your City? Send them to LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com.

Financial Post, February 10, 2011.

 

 

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