A couple of weeks ago I was travelling on the subway between the east side and downtown when, as I always do, I looked up and out over the Don Valley as the train crossed the Bloor Viaduct. I realized suddenly that this was a personal rule I’d created for myself when I travel around the city: always look out the window when crossing the Don Valley in the subway. Travelling in Toronto, by any mode, can be a stressful experience, and I’d created this rule for myself to introduce a moment of beauty in my trip and remind myself of one of the joys of this city.
I was curious about whether other people had a similar rule for themselves, so I Tweeted out a question.
I got a pretty good, and interesting, set of responses. One of the themes was taking surface transit over the subway when you have a choice, so you can look at the city as you move about it, which is a rule I also follow.
Another theme was to try a different route or cut through a laneway whenever you get a chance — mix up your own experience of the city.
Take different routes whenever possible to see new things. Cut through laneways. Look up. Look down. Take the streetcar instead of subway if you have time.
— Vic Gedris (@vgedris) November 6, 2019
A further theme was engaging with people: chat with crossing guards (“They’re the eyes and ears of the community“), or offer to help those who look lost. Other rules were about consciously noticing something about the environment — the light, the progress of a construction project.
All of these personal rules are ways of taking ourselves out of our own little bubble and reminding ourselves to pay attention to, interact with, and find ways to appreciate our city as we move around it.
If you have a personal rule like this, let us know what it is in the comments.
I have a related rule, which is to have my phone ready when I’m driving and come to a long enough stop. Toronto really is spectacularly shabby and ugly for a city of its pretensions, so if I’m stopped on a high street I sometimes take a photo. The frontier-town overhead hydro infrastructure on major streets is like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else in the developed world. Add to that the general ugliness of the built environment and you get some interesting shots.
Pman > The frontier-town overhead hydro infrastructure on major streets is like nothing I’ve seen anywhere else in the developed world. Add to that the general ugliness of the built environment and you get some interesting shots.
Try visiting Japan. Notwithstanding the bright lights and relative continuity of form of some famous tourist areas like Ginza, Shinjuku, Shibuya, etc., many urban environments in Japan seems to be random mishmash of stuff, often in the “ugly” to “very ugly” range. Lots of grey and concrete and the overhead wires you mention. The mishmash seems to be the result of very permissive zoning, which allows you to build pretty much anything on your land (up to a certain height). This does mean there are some very creative and beautiful structures here and there, mixed in the crap.
I agree with Pman as I like to photograph our hilariously dilapidated hydro infrastructure. And I would add to the mix our narrow and battered sidewalks, shoddy roads, laughable cycling infrastructure, poorly maintained parks and public spaces, generally terrible signage and awful street furniture (those garbage and recycling bins!). Did I mention the entirety of Dundas Square? And it’s not only heritage hydro poles on prominent downtown streets but the random rusty and/or abandoned poles that are found just about everywhere. The city looks shoddy and cheap no matter how many new buildings go up. It’s almost impossible to string more than a block or two of sustained attractiveness together. And believe me, I’ve tried.
Colin’s response is typical. Any time you criticize anything in Toronto someone will inevitably chime in with “Well you should go to _________, they have terrible _________ too!” Rather than aspire to being the best Torontonians are always satisfied with being not the worst. This attitude ensures that Toronto will continue to be ugly well into the foreseeable future.
But then again, if you want to see truly ugly, you should go to _________!