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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Citizenship and civic responsibility

I've been going on about the police and the G20 for some time. To the point, in fact, where my partner is starting to tease me about being a fanatic.

All of that concern about civil rights and fundamental freedoms needs to be framed in a larger context, and my choice for that framing is the notion of citizenship. There's a whole volume of conversations stemming from any effort to define citizenship and its attendant rights and responsibilities, but my intention here is mainly a statement of first principles.

I'm choosing to start from here because I think it's important to take back a large chunk of rhetorical and discursive turf from those who would characterize us strictly as "taxpayers." What a sad and limited view of our roles in civil society and our relationships with public institutions and with one another. I'll try to expand on the idea of citizenship in future posts, but I would argue that being a citizen means, at the very least, that you have obligations to your fellow citizens. Among those obligations are participation in the civic life of your community and a shared responsibility for the maintenance of public space.

Which brings me to the event prompting this post. The video above was shot with a pissy little cellphone camera, so the quality isn't great, but this is a little parkette on Broadview Avenue, just north of the TTC station. Sometimes I like to sit there with a coffee before getting on the subway. Until this morning, this parkette was a pleasant place to do that.

When public infrastructure is neglected, the result looks like this. Or worse. This isn't about the municipal budget and how much it allots to maintenance of parkettes. Nor is it meant as a nagging public-service announcement reminding people to clean up after themselves. What I am saying is that maintenance of public space is a shared responsibility -- a responsibility that lies with governments, and that is discharged by judicious allocation of the resources we provide through our taxes -- but also a responsibility that lies with us as citizens. And when that responsibility is ignored or sloughed off, the result is a decline in our collective quality of life.

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