So it’s a bit late for this, but I wanted to share a few thoughts from the Toronto: A City Becoming launch that happened on Monday night at the Gladstone. Ron Nurwisah reviews the book itself in our new issue, so I’m not going to address the print version per se. But what I noticed at the panel could perhaps apply as well.
While the event’s panel did offer a bit of enjoyably spirited discussion (the most heated of which involved artist Michael Awad proclaiming that he loves the Island Airport—a brave admission in a room of west-end denizens), the overall feeling for me was that the Toronto this book is addressing is way too insular. This critique can be made of many media outlets (including, to be fair, this one), but perhaps being beholden to it in standing-room-only style was all a bit much.
As architect John Von Nostrand noted during his turn at the mic, the Toronto that exists north of Eglinton is severely disregarded in city planning. Sadly, it quickly became apparent that the area is also disregarded by books about city planning, like this one. Also, although columnist/panelist Linda McQuaig is usually a class warrior par excellence, her adamant dislike for the suburbs did seem to paint the people who live there (and not just their architectural features) with one broad (and ignorant) brush.
Strangely, I think the whole thing really brought out my inner conservative economist — who, frankly, I never knew existed up to this point. Yes, I thought to myself, as the panel and audience chatted on, there are some really great things about Toronto that make people want to live here. But when people go on and on about them to the exclusion of all else — ravines! neighbourhoods! waterfronts! moral sensibilities! — I’m reminded rather pointedly about a few of the main factors that made me decide to settle here rather than in another Canadian city. And those factors were: (1) the large number of job opportunities in my field; (2) the abundance of specialized health care services that go with being in a very large city; and (3) that I knew some nice people here. Economic opportunities and social links are huge reasons people move here (and settle in particular parts of the city), and I really didn’t see that reality acknowledged at all.
There were a few other points I had problems with as well. When a panelist mentioned how Toronto’s open-mindedness was an asset — particularly, he suggested, in early acceptance of the queer community — it seemed to me that they might have some severe illusions about queer rights being easily won, whether here or elsewhere. While queers might have been tolerated more readily in TO than in Calgary (and still are), the level of tolerance enjoyed by gay folks here today is due in large part to plain, old-fashioned pink-triangle activism. The kind that took bravery, and met backlash, well before thousands lined the streets for our Pride Parade.
I have to say this sense of insularity was also reinforced by the bulk of the panel’s mystification at how (or even whether) non-Torontonians could hate the Big Smoke. Fuelled by a few more drinks, I likely could have launched into some tirade about concentration of media, and Bay Street resting on the fates of the tar sands, and how, yes, there really are great artists and art-lovers who live in every city in the land.
But I only had one drink Monday night. So I told the panelists to see Let’s All Hate Toronto. And then, with some regret at being such a spoilsport, I went home.