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October 28, 2007

« Globe and Mail Column | Main | Different Strokes »

Lots of comments on the column around the blog-sphere. Here's a quick sampling.

Dan at More Notes from the Underground writes: "[I]t's obvious that he hasn't been in Toronto long. Why? He's optimistic about this place in a way that we longer-term Torontonians do not permit ourselves to be in many ways. Is this because we've been let down by our city's inability to get top-flight events (Olympics, Expos) that other, smaller Canadian cities can attract? I don't know, but we've taken to shrugging about this place too much."

We Eat Toronto says that I: "mentioned having the uber-Toronto peameal and egg sandwich at the St. Lawerence market so that planted the idea in my mind. We spied the shop hawking these sandwiches while at the market so we couldn't resist. 4.95 with tax so certainly not cheap (maybe that helps make it authentically Toronto-ish?). It was pretty good. Just like the Tim Horton's egg mcmuffin is a better version of the original McMuffin, this sandwich was better than the TH edition. However, the bacon wasn't as flavourful as it could be. No other complaints except obviously the price."

Randy McDonald adds: "It's interesting to see that Toronto's hinterland really might extend that far beyond Toronto proper, beyond even Canada's borders. Since at least the 1960s, Canadian journalists, sociologists, and others have been writing about the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor, a concentration of population, industry, and wealth that stretches from Windsor, Ontario in the southwest (just next to Detroit) northeast towardS Québec City, and has Toronto very nearly dead-centre, with its importance rising since then with Montréal's relative decline. More recently than that, at least as earlier as my brief 2005 observation about the decline of the American cities of Detroit and Buffalo relative to Toronto, others have been suggesting that these and other cities might try to recover by linking with a luckier Toronto. I only hope that Toronto's up to the challenge."

CanCult on "The Rise of the Toronto Class" - gotta love that headline: "Toronto has an inferiority complex?"

Great to see folks reading and commenting on the column. Keep 'em coming!


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With all respect to "Dan at More Notes from the Underground", I don't find people shrugging about Toronto. There is a sense of optimism in this city, over the past few years, that hasn't been seen before, at least in most living memories. Since the 1970s, we have been the Number 1 city in Canada, but this wasn't much realized during the 80s, and certainly not during the recession of the 90s. That's all changed now, and the optimism is everywhere.

As for the Olympics and Expos, I'm not so sure that these mega-events are actually of huge benefit. They require massive investments of time and attention, and obviously money, which could be put to any number of alternative, and probably better, uses.

Brenda Cane

Richard: re "Tor-Buff-Chester"

As much as it is intriguing and theoretically sound to lump us all together as a giant hub, formerly the 'Golden Horseshoe', the notion does raise a few neck hairs. It will be a frosty Friday before many here in Toronto, come to acknowledge this surround-lake sprawl. Why? We aren't American. Yes, I agree that the geopolitical barriers are falling - the world is flat- but in the mind-set of many in this city, Toronto has many distinctions. We can't take the fifth, we don't carry guns, we speak two languages, English, and some Francaise, and we call our immigrants 'Newcomers'. Our health care is 'free'.

Toronto has tried for the past twenty-five years to become a 'world-class' city. If you will, it's own 'place'. Nationally, Torontonians are not held in high regard, for we are different. Regional Canada is economically dependent on sparse industry and local government infrastructure. It is not sustainable. It's crumbling. Hence, the disregard for the growth and hum in Hogtown, aka Toronto. This keeps us separate in self-regard.

So I propose that a clear delineation be made between the seminal economic theory and the practical social reality, or your house just might get egged on Hallowe'en! But not by me. Because what you say, in totality is very true. We are no longer nation states, we are mere hubs of commerce. I guess you have already met Janice Stein at The Munk Centre?

Other tid-bits: a while ago, we built a boat terminal at Toronto harbour to connect with Rochester. A 'Ferry' big diasaster. The thing shut down in twelve months- at great expense to the management. Maybe we were not ready?

Moons ago, Lawrence Park and Rosedalites drove to Buffalo for a drink. We were dry back then. We became licensed and never looked back, unless it was for some quick cross-border shopping, which until September had not happened in twenty years.

Welcome to Toronto Richard. Thanks for helping to place our PLACE on the bigger map, to challenge our perceptions and accept our distinctions. You are in the right place. As you step out of your office and walk over to Beverly and College, take a look around. You'll see an allophone population of about 27% and plenty of ESL schools to support this fact. So ultimately what do we really care? The BLENDER has already been turned ON.

John S


I'm afraid you've stepped into a nasty debate that was around long before you came into it. The issue of whether Toronto is a world city or not has been exercising people's spleens here for decades, and spilling a lot of ink too. It's only resurfaced lately and noisily with the Buffalo Bills announcement.

You put your finger on an important part of it, when you point to Toronto's neurotic need for validation. It simultaneously has an inferiority complex when thinking of New York, and a contemptuous superiority when thinking of other Canadian cities. The truth is, Toronto is somewhat in between them. It so vastly overshadows the rest of Canada that the logical next step is among global peers, not national peers. It's been trying for years to step up beside them and use various persuasions to convince them, and itself, that the label "world class" fits. But it's not quite there yet.

For my money, if you have to keep insisting that you are world class, you're not. New York knows that important things happen in it, and doesn't need to be told or tell anyone else. It just is. It's just another ordinary, unremarkable datum -- the natural state of affairs. Until Toronto can truly feel this calm, balanced acceptance of itself instead of its current neurotic hysteria, it won't be a global city.

But it raises other questions in my mind, though. New York, London, and Paris have been world cities for so long that it always *has* been the natural state of affairs, it seems. And so that will only re-inforce itself. Important things will go there because they simply assume that that is where important things are supposed to go. Nobody needs to remark upon it because nobody has, in a long time. But Toronto is only lately trying to step up to this plate, and maybe that inevitably brings with it this awkward in-between stage. I wonder about other cities that seem to have made the transition in recent times, and if they have had to go through the same "adolescence". Which other ones even would fit the bill.. Bombay? Dubai? Kuala Lumpur or maybe Sydney/Melbourne..? I don't quite know. Another thing: Maybe Toronto will always feel this obstacle to being a world city because it is already so nearby another world city -- New York -- but not a part of its agglomeration. Maybe world cities need to be a certain distance apart. I don't quite know either.

Gary Dare

Even Chicago, older and bigger than Toronto, wallows in insecurity over whether it is a global city or not. On Chicago Public Radio's "848" daily news discussion show of 10/17, they discussed a report released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (formerly Council on Foreign Relations but that was attracting too much attention from the black helicopters conspiracy crowd) on Chicago's status as a "global city". Following the Chicago news online, that insecurity crops up in the city's pursuit of the 2016 Olympics, last week's World Boxing Championships as a test case, and the impact of public transit cutbacks ("CTA Doomsday" is November 5) or triple-barrel tax hikes (city, county, state) required to make the situation right.

The Portland Tribune's ongoing series "Re-thinking Portland" also muses about the status and future of Portland, Oregon which is the youngest and most growing city on the US west coast. The question is two-fold ... a) when Portland will realize that it's no longer merely the northwest's second city to Seattle and b) when will others realize that?

Toronto, Ontario is Canada's largest city, maybe 1 in 10 Canadians live there, so it makes for a big target ...


Richard, I enjoyed your views on Toronto's self-image. It is a huge topic -- not sure you'll have time to explore it fully and keep up your other research!

My take is that several traits combine to weaken our self image. First, there are assumptions that our problems are unique to this city. (John S provides an example of this in mentioning overuse of "world-class" -- true in Toronto, but even more true in London!) Second, there's a reluctance to believe good things until they're confirmed by an international study. And third, we don't do self-promotion well even for a verified success story. (There's almost no fanfare for the tremendously successful Toronto Public Library, even though -- per the second trait -- it's the world's second-busiest public library system.)

Outside Toronto, it doesn't help that English Canada only has one really big city, where in the U.S. the major institutions get divided between New York and Los Angeles. Toronto-bashing continues to be fashionable for many -- a recent documentary about Canadians' attitudes towards Toronto was, sadly, titled "Let's All Hate Toronto".

But thankfully, there's also been a recent upswing in more positive takes. If you haven't seen them already, the book "uTOpia: Towards a New Toronto" and the local mag "Spacing" are worth a look.

Gary Dare

A good point, Matt, because of Toronto's perceived "unique" problems, the homelessness issue is worse in Portland, Oregon while worse than the TTC, the Chicago Transit Authority is going into "Doomsday" meltdown next Monday, November 5 with no last minute reprieve in sight. (link to WLS, ABC 7 Chicago news provided, please scan for recent story clips)

London has had two transit strikes in the past year and at least a couple of derailments in the Tube.

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