Toronto Life screws Jane Jacobs?

According to the September issue of Toronto Life, the city is – or ought to be – in the throes of an “exodus to the burbs” where, as the headline informs the magazine’s soon-to-be-former readers, “The houses are bigger [and] the people are nicer [and] the commute doesn’t suck.” Inside, the display copy for the article — written by freelancer Philip Preville – starts with this little chestnut:

“Screw Jane Jacobs. We’re outta here.”

Long before I became a magazine writer, and certainly well before I spent a decade as Toronto Life’s politics columnist, I used to work part-time for Book City, in the Annex. The remainder tables always used to be piled high with copies of a paperback called “The Death and Life of the Great American Cities,” about which I knew nothing.

Fairly regularly, a tall but stooped older woman, always wearing a shapeless brown wrap, would come in to browse. Eventually, one of my co-workers told me she was the author of said remainder. Jane Jacobs.

Only later did I become aware of her accomplishments — here and elsewhere — and her truly remarkable celebrity among urban thinkers. But when I think of Jane Jacobs, I often imagine her in person, among the stacks at Book City.

Now, courtesy of Toronto Life’s inexcusably coarse choice of words, I must summon up a different image.

The article itself offers up a re-telling of a very old story, which is that some people, especially those who are economically comfortable and have young children, tend to move away from the downtown core. Sorry, but nothing new there. This has been going on, in one form or another, since the industrial revolution and the advent of the Garden City movement in Britain and the United States.

But Preville’s story includes this intriguing spin on a Stats Can finding that for every individual who moved from a neighbouring municipality into Toronto, 3.5 moved out. “Were it not for the constant arrival of people from other regions, provinces and countries into Toronto’s city limits…the downtown would be emptying out in a hurry.”

This is kind of like saying, were it not for the dark and white meat, grilled chicken would taste awfully bony. What are all those newcomers? Hot dog filler?

The thrust of both Preville’s feature and editor Sarah Fulford’s set-up is that Jane Jacobs’ vision of urban living – i.e., relatively dense, mixed-income, ethnically diverse neighbourhoods that aren’t partitioned by highways — is utterly out-dated. Not to mention that the places the article’s subjects moved to (Dundas, Creemore, Cobourg) are not suburbs of  Toronto but other cities and towns.

But the argument is a complete non-sequitur. When Jacobs was writing in the early 1960s, she was responding to the centrifugal conditions created by post-war suburban sprawl and automobile dependency (not to mention white flight). Municipal planners thought that the best way to connect the new subdivisions to the existing urban commercial cores was with highways that, as it happened, would cut through working class neighbourhoods whose residents didn’t really count.

Fulford somehow manages to blame Jacobs for Toronto’s congestion problems, because, as she argues, Jacobs gave us a legacy of opposing “big plans.” This is a woefully simplistic argument, of course, and one that overlooks a lot of intervening history, but has the virtue of fitting well with a sensational headline.

I am not denying that Toronto has nasty traffic congestion – worse in the 905, by the way, than in the core, where transit is a viable alternative – and certainly Jane Jacobs wasn’t right about everything. But the city’s most wicked problems are a legacy of a long-standing cheapness that runs deep in our politics, and is currently expressing itself, so to speak, as a complete unwillingness on the part of the region’s residents to pay for the sorts of things a big city needs.

Incidentally, I noticed that nowhere in Ms. Fulford’s editorial does she call on local politicians to suck it up and approve a local sales tax or road tolls, the proceeds of which can be used to alleviate the problems that are apparently causing all the nice (read: Toronto Life subscribers) people to pull up stakes. After all, Toronto Life’s well-heeled readers don’t want to pay for a grown-up city, either.

55 comments

  1. A big reason many Torontonians are too cheap to care about the city is that many of them just moved here and have no real connection to the place. Like Toronto Life’s Mr. Preville–they come downtown, get married, have kids, and realize it’s crowded. After a while, they get annoyed, and leave. The constant churn creates civic instability. Big complicated plans thus never move forward. There’s no ‘paying it forward’ for a short term stay.

    Also, the rich who can afford to be taxed for the big projects are the ones who benefit the least from them on a per-dollar basis. Entrenched as their as in the prosperity of the city, you still won’t seem them clamouring for an Eglinton subway in Rosedale.

    Finally, our entire continent is branded a land of opportunity for the amibitious and economically impatient migrants from the rest of the world. Why stick it out in Toronto and pay taxes for the good of yourself and your fellow man, if it means traffic, if it means small bathrooms? Much nicer to have 3000 sq ft in whitby than go through all the trouble to build the kind of cultured civilization that your parents’ generation were dying to leave.

  2. Toronto Life is “torontonian” in name only.

    Notice the cover with the white parents and their three white children in what, I presume, is a nice white suburb. That ain’t Toronto any more, and it’s not even a good chunk of the 905.

    What decade are they living in?

    How do they explain the fact that dense cities all over the world are thriving?

  3. Thanks for noticing that places like Creemore and Cobourg are not Toronto suburbs. This simple fact throws Preville’s entire article into question. Where are his interviews with the downtowner who’s moved to Jane/Finch “in order to get away from the scary density of a jacobsian downtown?” Fulford should be ashamed for commissioning and approving this piece, and then for spinning it as if it reflects any reality.

  4. As with most big Toronto Life stories, the editorial team have cajoled facts into the story they wanty–a “coiunterintuitive” and “provocative” angle which also happens to be a load of crap. Indeed, most of the towns referenced aren’t suburbs but altogether separate from the GTA. Many of the people profiled aren’t rejecting urban living–they are, in fact, living in small but urban communities. And the houses they’re buying aren’t even so cheap. ($600,000, plus a 250 km round-trip commute every day? Have fun with that.)

    The author also accuses Toronto of being overcrowded, when it actually has one of the least dense cores of any city its size in the world. (I actually like Toronto for this–it’s urban but not overwhelmingly so, buzzing and alive without being the oppressive concrete jungle it’s accused of.)

    Should we be surprised that Toronto Life has published another misleading attempt at a “way we live now” story? Nope. It’s just surprising that it’s coming from a magazine that claims to love Toronto. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a smaller community–I’ve been thinking about one day living in one myself. But to claim Creemore or Barrie as a suburb of Toronto and then to say “screw Jane Jacobs” without providing any compelling criticism of her work, is horseshit.

  5. Spacing was referenced in the article as a Jane Jacobs propagandist. I think most of our editors can live with this supposed “slag”.

  6. Thanks, John, for a terrific comment on an irritatingly trite article. I have to say, however, that the piece surprised me not at all; it’s very much in the vein of recent work in TO Life that represents, I gather, Fulford’s goal for the mag: to make it more and more inaccessible, more and more elite, and thus ever more a hall of mirrors for wealthy, White members of the culturati (as if this were possible! And yet apparently it is). Not too long ago an acquaintance of mine put himself forward to be in a story, following a call for young Toronto tech entrepreneurs. After a brief pre-screen, he was told that his income was not high enough to make him a model for the kind of person Fulford was trying to stage, or to attract, via this story.

    I was thrilled when Sarah Fulford took over the job of editor, but I have become increasingly angry at the direction she has taken the magazine. If TO Life was bad at representing Toronto’s diversity before, it seems hopelessly disdainful of that diversity now. I do not know why Fulford so anxiously distances herself from anything not White and not Middle Class, but it’s a trend that sickens. I hope she is replaced sooner rather than later, and with a city-builder rather than a social climber.

  7. Shame on Toronto Life for publishing such a skewed article, just to be provocative. Toronto is not by any means perfect; every city has its issues and we definitely have our share. But, let’s not forget that we enjoy an amazing quality of life in this city…what other metropolis has to deal with the high cost of paying for increased social services for the huge number of immigrants and homeless people that flock to our city each year? As a former 905-er who moved BACK to the city to start my family and raise them in the downtown core, I disagree with the notion that Jane Jacobs and her vision of viable urban communities is a joke. She was a visionary and one that’s to be respected, not vilified.

  8. For anyone seeking further evidence to counter the article’s assertion that Death and Life is “dated,” I highly recommend a book called “What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs.”

    http://www.newvillagepress.net/book/?GCOI=97660100041170

    What really saddened me about this piece is that it squandered an opportunity to address a real problem — namely, that houses in almost all Toronto neighbourhoods are too expensive for “average” people. I personally could care less that the people interviewed for this article are less stressed out now and have bigger backyards. They’re all well-off people who traded nice homes in Toronto for nice homes in other places.

    I’m more concerned about that fact that many Torontonians — my wife and I among them — know that if they ever want to buy a place of their own, they will have to move out of Toronto. For us, as our kids grow, and we continue to make a bigger and bigger “investment” in our landlord’s mortgage (it stands at about $70,000 for our current apartment), that notion creeps closer to reality.

    This pains me to no end, because I love this city passionately. But I simply cannot afford it much longer.

  9. I will check this out when it becomes available online, as there are other mags I’d rather spend my money on as opposed to Toronto Life – but in of all the critiques of this article it looks like sustainability and the environment are left out of the argument, or only briefly mentioned.

    Did Preville really leave that out of the article? Can anyone confirm this? How can anyone be making an argument for or against rural/suburban/urban living without talking about sustainability in 2011? I suppose his entire argument would fall flat if he were to admit that it’s totally unsustainable for most Canadian families to be living in rural towns / small cities like he is.

  10. I subscribe to Toronto Life and, at first, thought it odd that a Toronto magazine would be writing about and “exodus” from the city. I glanced through the article (admittedly have not read it) and the photos seemed to be of white, upper-middle class families (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who were fleeing the city NOT to the “burbs” as promised on the cover (for we know that the actual ‘burbs’ of Toronto, such as Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, etc., while suitable to middle- and upper-middle class families, are also very multi-ethnic), but to the outer regions–small towns and villages that are still predominantly white. Again, nothing wrong with that. But it seems like these people are not trading downtown for suburbia, but diverse and exciting city life for quiet, small town living. And while condos pop up all over downtown Toronto, is there really a noticeable exodus of people moving to small town Ontario? Seems like a more appropriate cover story would be about all the young urban professionals (potential Toronto Life subscribers, one would think) moving into the core and creating an even more vibrant city…

  11. The main reason people move out to the suburbs is because Toronto housing is expensive. It is expensive because so many people want to live here. Doing things that will make it more desirable to live here will only drive up housing prices more.

  12. I’m generally in agreement with John Lorinc and I was with him on this article all the way until I got to the last sentence, which I regard as a cheap shot on his behalf and one that is personally insulting. Guess what? I subscribe to Toronto Life and Spacing. My choice in reading material does not dictate my character nor my views on city politics. Just because I read something does not mean I slavishly believe what it tells me. I am a TL reader and I am perfectly happy to pay my fair share for the services that this complex city needs. I generally look to Mr. Lorinc’s for intelligent analysis of issue facing the city and I was appreciative of his perspective on that story…up until I got a metaphorical slap upside the head for having read it.

  13. The real irony is that if I, for example, were to move to a small town 100km or so away from the city for the “benefit” of my family, I’d actually end up spending much less time with them. I’d rather have a short commute on a subway and more time with my wife and kids as opposed to an hours-long daily commute by car or VIA train. Life is much to short to waste your time like that. Speaking of VIA, the article describes one lady who commutes on VIA to Union, at a cost of over $300 for ten round trips (ie two work weeks). That is complete lunacy! A good chunk of the money they saved by moving to a small town is now being consumed by these exorbitant transportation costs. All for the luxury of spending less time with your family. But hey, she has a bigger and nicer house with a huge yard. Too bad she’s not there during the week to enjoy it!

  14. As some have mentioned above, there is no more savings going to the burbs than living in the city.

    At the Brookings Institute, they have measured the costs of living in a walkable and urban neighbourhood vs. living in a suburban neighbourhood.

    WALKABLE:
    Housing: 60% of income
    Transportation: 10% of income

    SUBURBS:
    Housing: 50% of income
    Transportation: 30% of income

    http://www.brookings.edu/topics/walkable-urbanism.aspx

    So you pay 10% more to live in a bigger house, have less time to spend in it, and spend three times as much on your travel (which is bad for the environment, which in turn is bad for your family in the long run).

  15. Wow, really odd thrust for Toronto Life. I know they have been treading way too close to the Fordies lately (who had surprisingly decent support in, say, North Toronto) and sometimes the thing reads more like Toronto Sun than Toronto Life, but still….

    All I can think of is that they are trying to come up with a story to hit the always-juicy things-aren’t-as-good-as-they-used-to-be angle. Or the why-is-traffic-so-bad ranter. Their readership is probably solidly boomer, and to the boomers Toronto is definitely a messier, dirtier, more crowded town that it used to be, filled with way more immigrants than their parents would have been comfortable around. To many people that also makes it a better city, mostly, but hey – it sells magazines.

    As for the Jane Jacobs part, please. As others have pointed out, this is not even related to her thinking.

    Statistically, I’d love to see “exodus” numbers (i.e. people resident at the last census, 10 yrs ago, who then move out of the city) and compare that to NYC, Montreal, Chicago, Philly, LA, SF, Vancouver, etc. I doubt Toronto is even close to the “exodus” stats for NYC, which somehow remains packed, vibrant and full of preschoolers and the elderly. What-ever.

  16. When people move into the “suburbs”, they would prefer to move into the “small towns” like “Port Credit” or “Streetsville”, not into cookie-cutter subdivisions surrounding them. Unfortunately, homes in the “small towns” are few, and are forced into the subdivisions for economic reasons. They forget that those subdivisions are designed for the automobile, and require the use of a car for just about everything, increasing the costs of transportation at the same time.

    The lucky few may find homes withing walking distance of stores, malls, or employment. However, the roads are designed to discourage walking by the absence of sidewalks, long distances, single-use buildings. and parking lots surrounding the establishments.

  17. It was this article, and the other on a few months back ‘when did Toronto get so @$&&#% expensive?’ or whatever it was called that made me really lose respect for this publication. That mag has become useful only for restaurant happenings.

  18. I have lived downtown for thirty years and have noted a tendency for some people to enjoy living downtown until their oldest child reaches school age and then feel a need to move to a neighbourhood with “good” schools.

    However my daughter and her friends all went to inner-city schools (with some bumps along the way), managed to graduate high school and go on to university.

  19. excellent article in Spacing.
    As soon as I started reading the TOLife article (I do read both) I immediately realized, “oh, you mean people with kids”.
    If the article had interviewed a single person, without kids, without a car etc I might have found it more believable. It’s geared towards a very specific section of their readership – probably the ones they wrote the “house poor” article for about three years ago.
    Now the house-poors have kids, and are moving to places like Creemore and Caledon in order to maintain the illusion that they are not becoming exactly what they said they wouldn’t – suburbanites.
    It’s a North American construct to require a backyard. Children in other countries manage to grow up without one.
    Personally, I find the suburbs scarier than downtown – in the suburbs there never seem to be any other people visible. You only have to look at the TOLife cover to see that.

  20. my mom lives in Cobourg, she was raised in Peterborough and much of her’s and my family lives there to this day. If you told them Toronto Life was suddenly claiming that Cobourg and Peterborough were suburban Toronto they’d scoff and then probably laugh.

    Both cities are close to Toronto but have no where near the close economic, demographic, transport and cultural ties with the city the way even Oshawa or Burlington do, let alone Markham or Mississauga.

    When someone is Peterborough says they’re going to “the city” or “downtown” they don’t mean Queen or Yonge. They mean George or Water.

  21. Reading John Lorinc’ excellent blog I was reminded of TL’s “exclusive” on Byron Sonne in their May issue (http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2011/05/03/how-byron-sonne’s-obsessions-with-the-g20-security-apparatus-cost-him-everything/).

    It’s a strange melancholy story. Sonne is an eccentric vaguely libertarian hacker with a fetish for explosives and thumbing his nose at authority. He spent the days leading up to the G-20 allegedly filming a series of how to videos on methods and means for breaching the event’s security. The story is well written and lively. I will leave it to greater minds than my own as to whether punishing Sonne’s admittedly odd behaviour makes him a martyr to the libertarian cause or a danger to society. What I do know is that the editor’s letter from Sarah Fulford that augmented the piece is an egregious embarrassment; subject to the same sort of critique as Lorinc’s. In the first para written in Extra Large font in case you miss the point Fulford writes:

    “The G-20 summit brought out the worst in everyone. As we approach the first anniversary of the fiasco, no one looks good : not the cops, not the organizers, not the protesters. The summit should never have been held in the downtown core in the first place. The Ontario government shouldn’t have secretly resurrected a law that granted cops greater power. And, of course, the demonstrators, who were protesting lord knows what, shouldn’t have broken windows, picked fights, burned cars.”

    Honestly, where to start? Lumping all the protesters together as an undifferentiated mob is a nausea-inducing lie. And the bit about the demonstrators, who were protesting “lord knows what” is pure supercilious tripe. It’s the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a monthly newsletter published by the Moore Park rate payers association. If nothing else it reminds me that Toronto Life treats its readers as though the only subjects worthy of conversation are real estate, restaurants and a certain high minded ennui. What on earth are people protesting about when there are rooms to redecorate and new patio drinks to be sampled? Sarah Fulford, with her dry, scolding indifference, is one supposes a blessing in disguise. She might just incite this city’s docile consumer hordes to a proper insurrection.

  22. Toronto is not seeing a flight out of the city.

    In fact the inner city of Toronto is growing with young families and is actually one of the whitest and least ethnic areas in the GTA.

    Where Toronto is seeing a sort of flight to some extent is in the old inner suburbs where many white residents are moving far out. It is even happening in my own area of Scarborough, where many white residents don’t feel part of the community anymore and are getting out. But they are being replaced with professionals of all different backgrounds.

    But house prices in Toronto and even in the inner suburbs do not point to an exodus. Houses in my area of Scarborough are selling in two or three days at very high prices.

    What I find an issue is the extreme segregation which is happening in the GTA. When I was growing up, my area was pretty well mixed, and I went to school with people from all backgrounds, religions, etc.
    Today it is very noticeable that people are segregating based on ethnic backgrounds or race to a higher degree than before. And that is what I find troubling.

  23. Seriously, does any genuine Torontonian ever even touch an issue of Toronto Life?
    It’s only a reference tool for recent invaders, a restaurant guide for lemming foodies, and a barometer for uncreative scene-suckers.

  24. Toronto Life seems to be written for a certain kind of white person who is more and more out of touch with the real Toronto. My experience is that people from the burbs, even older people, are moving closer to downtown to be part of the action.

    Toronto is no more congested, or not congested, than any other city.

  25. As a reader of both Spacing and TL who just sold my suburban home to move to a smaller home in the city, I can only laugh at this article. 

    I made the move to give my kids a richer life that involves getting outside more and feeling connected to your neighbourhood. The suburban experience seemed to provide less and less of this. I had to pay for this benefit, but i think it was worth it. 

  26. My first reaction on seeing the headline was, “didn’t he notice all the condo buildings going up downtown?” It looks like more of an exodus in to Toronto. Then I realized he was talking not about people in general, but only about white middle-class families like his own. It might be worthwhile for Toronto Life to remember that many of the the single people, straight and gay couples, and retired people moving into condos in the downtown also have disposable income (look at the condo prices) and might be potential Toronto Life subscribers too.

    And then I noticed, as everyone has pointed out, that these people are moving to places that, far from being anti-Jane-Jacobs, are actually (as the author later admits) places that fit the stereotype of her ideals very well.

    The actual take-away is that white middle-class families are SO attached to the stereotype Jane Jacobs ideals (old houses on leafy pre-WWII streets, etc) that they have jumped right over the massive amount of housing available in the actual suburbs and gone extra dozens of kilometers to find something as close to the Annex as possible in small-town Ontario.

  27. Funny thing is: read between the lines, and the “phenomena” is less a rejection of Jane Jacobs, than part of the diaspora of her (actual, or bowdlerized versions thereof) ideas. What’s good for the Annex is good for Dundas or Uxbridge, I suppose…

  28. Perhaps this is Spacing’s opportunity to dedicate their next issue a counterargument against TO Life’s spin on the issue….

  29. It seems like Toronto Life has been in constant change since it was puchased by St Joseph Communication.
    The supported the big box development in Leslieville, they are now talking about how great the suburns are and they really are not the magazine they once were.
    The feeling is siilar to that of the current Toronto politicians, they seem to be people that don’t actually like Toronto and are more interested in pointing out what is wrong with it, as opposed to celebrating what is good.
    About once every 18-24 months I think about subscribing, then I shake my head and realize that it will end up in a pile and then out with the recycling without even being opened.

    I can’t wait until they move their offices to Mississauga.

  30. What Adam Sobolak said.
    I’d also encourage those interested to actually read Jacobs’ Death and Life. It’s much more nuanced than it’s normally presented. It’s one of those “often referenced, never read” books. In it, in general, pretty much everything that’s now become a ‘issue’ in urbanism (cars, bikes, expressways, tall towers, low rises, parks, pedestrian zones, etc.) are not the ‘key’ or ‘kingpin’ of cities. All these things are fine, so long as there aren’t too many of any one of them. In fact, Jacobs goes to lengths to explain why closing streets to traffic and/or building more parks are not the ‘solution’ to the city

  31. So many good points against the asinine article. I still think the best thing written in about Toronto Life was regarding their annual ‘Money Issue’: “Isn’t every issue?”

    If you want a lot of land in a mono-ethnic community at the expense of a longer commute, fifteen pounds on your gut because you don’t walk, and little stimulation that doesn’t come from one of your Telescreens (1984), the ‘burbs and further are for you. If you’ll take a smaller space and give up a car or two, live among various ‘swarthy’ peoples, and get better health and more stimulation to boot, the city’s for you. I think the first choice is insane, but people make their own choices. What’s a shame is that they make the choice and claim it is for their children: I was never so bored as in my teens in Georgetown! A town which, even now, is indiscreetly sold as ‘whiter than Brampton’ by real estate agents.

    As for Sarah Fulford, and her bias for a richer whiter Toronto than many of us live in (or want to)… that’s what she’s from. You think someone with fewer connections gets as far in Canadian publishing, art or politics?
    http://magazines.humber.ca/magworld2008/profiles/kenbrown.html

  32. This article, and many comments here, seriously miss the real issue.
    For a large number of people leaving Toronto, the motivation has nothing to do with crowding or multiculturalism and everything to do with the simply unaffordable cost of housing.
    I’m a teacher and my wife is a nurse, and even working more than full-time there is no way we can afford to buy a home for us and our two your children in Toronto, much as we’d love to.
    Seriously, what is the price of a three-bedroom home in Jane Jacob’s Annex? $500,000? $600,000? $700,000? Who can afford that without significant support or prior investments (say it: family money)? So of course we’ll leave. $2500 rent x 12 months x 20 years = $600,000 we’d rather not spend on someone else’s mortage.
    Oh, and before your assumptions embarrass you: we’re both first-generation immigrants (west Africa, eastern Europe), who don’t find Toronto even slightly crowded, and love the city for it’s diversity. Without economic diversity, though, don’t be surprised when the make-up oc Toronto and its exurban areas comes to more and more resemble that of Paris and London. And, as the kids say, good luck with that.

  33. I haven’t read the article but did it at least touch upon the reality that many employment areas are now located in the suburbs. For both my boyfriend and I, the vast majority of jobs in our profession are located in either: Oakville at the QEW, Markham at the 404 and 7, Mississauga at the airport or Mississauga Rd and the 401. The closest we’ll get to working in Toronto is North York or outer Etobicoke. If we want a more ‘urban’ lifestyle where we can cycle to work or have a short commute we have to live in the suburbs.

  34. Let us not forget that magazines like Toronto Life aren’t written for the readers. They are written for the advertisers.

  35. The whole thrust of the article is ridiculous. There have been a number of recent studies showing not only that urban life is less expensive, but also that moving to a suburban, car-centric area actually makes the average person more stressed out and less healthy.

    I’ve met a number of people who moved to get a bigger backyard for their kids and realized the error of their ways and either moved back, or wished they could.

    The only issue is affordability. But there are plenty of neighbourhoods in Toronto that offer much for the same price as a home in outlying areas, but it is just a smaller house, with less property taxes and cheaper transportation costs and a healthier lifestyle both physically and mentally.

    So people just need to understand the benefits, and understand that maybe they won’t be living in Riverdale, or the Annex, but Danforth and Woodbine has its charms, too.

  36. Preville comes across as a jerk in the article – he says that when he lived in the Toronto he found himself littering and swearing at people because of the lack of sense of community. Community is what you make it, and if that’s the kind of person he was in downtown, then I wish his new community all the best with him in their midst!

  37. I lost all respect for the editor of Toronto Life after the article on the attorney-general, but I can honestly say that one look at the cover of this month’s issue was what actually prompted me to bestir myself and cancel the subscription.

  38. @Really, Now

    Those are good points, but the Toronto Life article isn’t about families unable to afford homes in the city. All of the families profiled (if I remember correctly) had owned houses in the city of Toronto, but left to have bigger houses, as well as for other non-housing issues they had with life in the city. 

    But you’re right – a lot of families can’t afford to live close to downtown, and move further out just because they need the space, and having enough space for 2-3 kids can be prohibitively expensive. And that’s going to exacerbate the economic disparity between downtown and the suburbs (as pointed out by David Hulchanski – http://www.urbancentre.utoronto.ca/pdfs/curp/tnrn/Three-Cities-Within-Toronto-2010-Final.pdf). 

    That’s a definite problem, and I don’t know what the solution is. But I just thought I’d mention it’s not what the Toronto Life article was about – it’s about people with money leaving the city (and still spending $500k on a house), but not because they can’t afford to live in Toronto. So that’s what John Lorinc is responding to in his article. 

  39. Thank you for writing this. I agree with this fully and the only redeeming piece is that TorontoLife isn’t very good anyway. It’s gone downhill since Sarah Fulford got there. Old school TL was much better and the writing world knows that, hopefully the reading world knows too.

  40. @ really, now: to be perfectly honest, it is rather absurd to discuss a transition from renting a home to owning a $500,000 house. Very few people could pull that off. You have to take baby steps and have patience to get there. I started in 1998 with a one bedroom + den condo at Yonge & Eg for $179,000. Sold it five years later for $280,000 and bought a bungalow in East York for $320,000, then sold that in 2008 for $420,000 and bought my current home close to Coxwell & Danforth for $501,000. I made a decision early on to rent for the shortest amount of time possible, so that I could start building up equity in order to be able to eventually afford a house in the city. And really, my mortgage payments and maintenance fees on that first condo were only marginally higher than what I had been paying in rent, so that first step was quite easy. Also, you have to be realistic in terms of the neighbourhood where you’ll live. My first choice certainly wasn’t East York or Coxwell & Danforth – I had my sights set on Riverdale, the Beaches or the Annex. Alas, $500,000 just doesn’t go far enough in those areas so I chose the next best thing. It turned out to be a good decision and I’m glad I did it instead of leaving the city.

  41. It may have been a somewhat interesting article, although nothing unique, about how some in the city get fed-up at a certain point and look to live elsewhere. However, the title sets-up the article as some mythical and not entirely true 416 vs. vs. 905 battle, but then bypasses suburban Toronto for these exurban fringe cities which actually have a fair-bit of Janes Jacobs-ness about them. It almos seems like a ploy to get more readers from outlying areas to the magazine by means of making them feel better about their choices.

  42. When I moved to TO four years ago, my real estate agent & a friend each gave me 2 year gift subscriptions to TL – I’ve been increasingly annoyed & disappointed with the sorts of stories it covers and this is one of the worst!  Needless to say, I won’t be renewing…

  43. The biggest irony of all is that the article says “Screw Jane Jacobs,” yet the people documented are moving to small communities which are walkable, historic, and urban. These small communities are essentially the kinds of communities Jacobs was endorsing, just closer together to form an urban mass. This article makes about as much sense as an anti-transit right-winged politician endorsing the construction of a multi-billion dollar subway line.

  44. Suburbanites who complain about Toronto’s traffic conveniently ignore the fact that they are the traffic. Much of the city’s congestion is generated by suburbanites driving in, out or through the city.

    @Martin and @Really Now: The downtown affordability problem seems to be partly a supply and demand issue. The demand for a home in the city is greater than the supply (the inverse of the TL article claims), so the prices keep going up. The solution would seem to be to increase the supply – more urbanization of suburban areas in Toronto and the cities that surround it.

  45. Most people don’t realise that it was the City of Toronto that encouraged this flight many years ago. See, at one point the roads coming into town (Gardiner and DVP) were packed in-bound in the morning and outbound in the evening…..hmmmmm…..what to do with all that silly capacity lying on the other side of the road???? Gee, I know (!), encourage businesses to locate in the suburbs (lots and lots of ways though restrictive zoning to achieve this) and the workers will follow.
    So, in that way, the City, Region or the Province could put off building new roads into and around the city.
    Neat, eh? Now we’re behind the 8-ball with packed roads AND transit. And the City isn’t/can’t do much to addess the issue (because people won’t pay). And they’re not doing much to ecourage families to live in the City, except for in existing housing stock. So, what do you want? Preville speaks a nut of truth in my opinion.

  46. We used to live in the city.

    2 years ago moved to Thornhill. The house of our size (not too big but good quality and new), in the city areas we like would cost about three times the price we paid for ours.

    Yes we drive a bit more, however our area has grown with many parks, restaurants, supermarkets and cafes within 5 minutes drive (or 20 minutes walk).

    We are also 35-40 minutes away from downtown Toronto where we go sometimes to visit friends or for dining/entertainment.

    So, all being said we are in a much better position now.

    I like Toronto Life magazine 😉

  47. @vadmelikh: OK, but how much more money do you pay every year in property taxes? How much more money do you spend on gas and maintenance for your cars? And how often do you really walk to those parks and restaurants that are 20 minutes away on foot? I bet you drive most of the time. City-living isn’t perfect, but people who move to the suburbs always mention the benefits (which is usually only one – that they got a bigger house for less money) but conveniently leave out all the negatives.

  48. @LEO GONZALEZ Yes, as I’ve mentioned, we do drive a bit more, however when we lived in the city we also drove to see my parents, to the market etc. Toronto transit system is way behind the city growth. Same with the road system. 

    We do walk or bike to the stores and parks around the neighborhood. BTW – taxes are not so high where we are. Also- the air here is cleaner then downtown – very important.

    We love the city and all that it offers. But we also like where we are now for a number of reasons. And we are only 35 minutes away from downtown.

    I also really like Cobourg – very nice town close to Prince Edward County and Port Hope. As well not too far from Toronto.

  49. Tranna “Life” has always made me gag as a whiny entitled enclave of substance-less posers and intellectual light-weights. Like the Globe and Mail running columns by Leah McLaren or drooling over Richard Florida. So it seems to have found the perfect editor.

  50. “Today, downtown has returned to a period of ascendancy. Gentrification is everywhere, and condos are selling like hotcakes.”

    How things must have changed for Toronto since 2007 when Preville wrote the above words in a piece for Toronto Life’s blog criticizing coverage of a study on diabetes that implicated the suburbs (the real suburbs and not 2011 Preville’s rurban dream home) in causing diabetes. Or it could be that Preville ‘s own personal circumstances shifted (read: he bred) and with it his view on the city.

    On TL overall, Slate’s Jack Shafer runs a regular feature in which he takes apart “bogus trend pieces” from major newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post. I think one could easily give Toronto Life the same treatment in a space such as Spacing; indeed, if recent history is any indication, you’d never want for subject matter.

  51. To add fuel to the fire, it’s perhaps worth mentioning that Jacobs’s last book, “Dark Age Ahead,” was in part a paean to the city of Brampton, of all places. So maybe moving to the suburbs is not necessarily giving her legacy the finger after all?

  52. Looking out from his airplane on his first foray outside the iron curtain, as a young apparatchik of the defunct Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev was struck by the endless miles of suburbs stretching from San Francisco to San Jose to Sacramento. The next day he had his chauffeur drive for hours through curvy residential streets. A few days later he hired a helicopter to get a look at back yards, shopping malls, schools. Twenty years later the Cold War was over.

    Unfortunately for Gorby, if you look at Google satellite, Moscow and St. Petersburg are still surrounded by hectares of cubic grey three-story elevator-less pre-1970 apartment blocks, now complemented by L-shaped and I-shaped eight-story ones. Sure, there are a few luxurious estates out-of-town for the well-connected, but no sprawling subdivisions of townhouses and single-family dwellings, i.e. no robust middle class.

    The relative size of suburbs says something about a society’s ability to generate and distribute wealth. India, the world’s largest democracy, is rapidly growing its own version of suburbs. China, despite all its wealth, is unable. It remains a country with just a few million rich people, a billion very poor ones, and no peaceful political means of rectifying that. The immigrant Chinese “entrepreneurs” who are still buying homes in Richmond and North Vancouver, are not what you and I would call middle-income.

    Probably 65% of the world’s population would describe Toronto-area suburbs as heaven on Earth. Another 30% would describe them as a nice place to live. I find it hilariously and insularly Canadian that we would even debate the merits of suburbs.

  53. “The commute doesn’t suck”. Tell that to anyone stuck in traffic on the 401. People who live and work in the suburbs can just as easily have terrible commutes (because of 2 income households with two different work locations). Also housing prices are no longer cheap in the suburbs (expect to pay $500K for a decent house near the major Mississauga/Markham business parks). The trend of businesses moving to the suburbs is destroying our city.

  54. I’m thankful for all of the brilliant, thoughtful and in touch minds at Spacing who call out others on their bullshit and back it up with facts. You are speaking out and standing up for many of us. Toronto and her people are very lucky to have you going to bat for us. THANK YOU!

  55. I moved to the suburbs for the ethnic amenities. I simply could not get the kinds of food specialties and daycare in my language and so on in the 416 unless we were prepared to spend a huge amount of money on housing and everything else. Now we are less happy with the lack of walkability and with one of our commutes (the other is a bit shorter), but we are happier for our kids to grow up bilingual and to hang on to their culture a bit longer before Toronto’s assimilation machine works its magic.

Comments are closed.