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Collins' Capital

Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

Making room for the new, the weird, and even the disruptive

The tugs-of-war over public property come with the (shared) territory, argues columnist Steve Collins.

The paved surface of multi-use pathways is also an occasional billboard for political speech.

Steve Collins / Metro

The paved surface of multi-use pathways is also an occasional billboard for political speech.

The thing about multi-use pathways is, well, multi use. My dog and I share the NCC pathway that so blesses my neighbourhood with cyclists, joggers and everyone else.

The paved surface is also an occasional billboard for political speech. Last week, sloganeers deployed their multi-coloured chalks on a rainbow of declarations, from the platitudinous “Love Not War,”  to the resolutely distrustful “9/11 Was An Inside Job,” to the cryptic “Steve Grant.”

Among the most arresting entries: “Every Child Should Hear: 1) I Love You 2) You Matter 3) Taxation is theft.” Huh? Sure, the pavement for this manifesto was made possible by taxpayers, but inherently ironic speech should be free speech, too.

The pathway's owner/travellers share it, in mutual tolerance, a dash of annoyance and the odd eye-roll. If some spandexed cyclists fire by too fast and too close for my comfort, me and my meandering mutt are in turn holding them up.

These tugs-of-war over public property come with the (shared) territory. Council approved a mountain-biking area in Carlington Park last week over the objections of some locals, who worry the newcomers herald noise, traffic and environmental degradation.

Coun. David Chernushenko was keen to defend the two-wheeled interlopers, from whom he expects good land stewardship: “Mountain-biking organizations suffered in their early days from a bit of a yahoo reputation, and quite strikingly worldwide got a grip on that and actually became an example of how a sport could be very much self-governing and operate far more sustainably.”

Just as the mountain-biking barbarians stormed the gates of respectability, another recent invader, Uber, officially went from pirate cab app to legal business last Friday.

Mayor Jim Watson, who initially criticized ride-sharing as illegal, unfair and unsafe, last week praised the benefits of their creative disruption: “The taxi industry has all but had a monopoly for decades, so if we can improve the calibre and quality of service in the cab industry at the same time as offering a new alternative for people...then I think that's a good thing for the city.”

Now that Uber's gone legit, the new intruders du jour are marijuana dispensaries, operating outside the (to-be-changed) law, and many people's comfort zone. So far, police haven't given them much trouble.

Watson, while noting that politicians (thankfully!) don't direct police operations, seems to favour the harder-nosed approach Toronto police have taken over our cops' wait-and-see approach.

“The police in Toronto have gone down that process and it actually has worked. When you're charged and you're fined and your pot is taken away, that sends a pretty good signal that you're probably not going to stay in business very long and if you continue to go and do it you're going to be fined again.”

While the Toronto cops have undoubtedly sent signals, it's debatable whether it's working. The raids appear to be about as effective in stopping the trade as were Ottawa's by-law stings against Uber.

Ottawa police last week investigated one Rideau Street dispensary – as the victim of a robbery.

The gray areas in which attitudes have changed ahead of the law are another public space we have to negotiate together. Today's rebels will likely join tomorrow's BIA.

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