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January 16, 2008

Richard Florida

Yin and Yang

« Growing Up Immigrant | Main | Holy Moly »

Phillip Preville responds to my response. 

When people like Dr. Florida and I choose to settle, purchase real estate, raise a family and pursue a career here in Toronto—complete with better “livingroom”—our choices are the best evidence of our underlying affections for the city. Which is why his enthusiasm struck me, and so many of those who’ve commented on both his blog and mine, as cloying.

Like Mr. Preville, I did choose to settle in Toronto, purchase real estate, raise a family and pursue a career here. We brought a significant business here too.  He makes a good catch on the typo - I wish it was a zinger, but I'm truly not that clever. Just proof that this blog doesn't have an editor. 

But Phill trust me:  I'm not trying to be cloying. As a newcomer to a great city, I'm positive about it. I can't hide it, it shows. It's hard to convince yourself a place has major problems when you've just dragged your family to a new city and a new country. And coming from a major urban center in the States where murders and violent crime are a way of life (a journalist was mugged in my old neighborhood not too long ago and then left on the sidewalk by police and EMTs who thought he was a "drunk"), where people run to the suburbs when they have kids, and where way too many universities choose to wall themselves off from the communities in which they are located, I've found plenty to like.

Of course, since we plan on hanging around for the long haul, there's plenty of time for me to get familiar with the city, let the honeymoon wear off, rub my nose in it's problems and become my more typical curmudgeonly self  (just ask my wife, Rana).  Actually, I'm already too aware of the growing economic and social polarization in Toronto.  I've written one of my actual columns on it and cautioned the city to watch out for the corrosive effects such a class divide will bring.

If truth be told, I see the Globe video pieces not as an attempt to suck up to Toronto, but rather as a way to show the rest of the world and especially American cities what my new adopted city has going for it. For the record: My next "real" column in the Globe and Mail Focus section expands on the whole issue of university-community connection, and in my next video-visit I plan to go a neighborhood to which reflects this polarization. I'm open to suggestions on exactly where.

Preville's got "balls." As a native of Soprano-country, I like that. He's not afraid to point to problems and call a spade, a spade.  Too many people try to white-wash over their city's problems. One of the best things about Toronto is that academics, writers, journalists and people care deeply about this city and are more than willing to speak out. I'm more than pleased to be in a place where the preponderance of my critics come from the left - a striking contrast to the States where most of my critics were from the socially conservative right.

I hope we get to meet soon and continue our dialogue in person. Who knows, Mr. Negative and Mr. Positive might find that they balance each other out.

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Comments

Sean Galbraith

Dr. Florida: Have you been on a TAP into TO greeter tour yet? If not, I highly recommend them. I'm a greeter for the program (free from Toronto Tourism) and would be happy to be your guide for a session.

Bruce Stewart

What I find fascinating about this is how where you come from influences how you see where you now are.

I was born & spent the first 40 years of my life in Toronto. Two years in Fairfield County, CT, then back to Toronto for two, a year in The Hague, then back to Toronto, and finally out to Vancouver, BC in late 2000.

Toronto in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s was a magnificent place. Since then, it's gotten significantly more violent, crowded, dirty - and the cultural amenities have fallen off relative to what we used to have. These changes began in the second half of the 1990s with the Megacity amalgamation, into an already-weakened urban fabric with the central city real estate surtaxes and the downloading of social services to the municipal level.

I do not think Vancouver is any great shakes - it is all about the mountains, the sea and the tall trees, but is a sterile city full of fakers and takers and very few real contributors to the world, despite all the rhetoric - but in looking to move on from Lotusland I can also say that returning to Toronto isn't in the cards. It has lost its way.

Just my 2¢ worth. Happy to chat with you about it offline if needed - you can find my contact data at my company's website, http://www.accendor.com/

Matt

If I understand you correctly, the obvious place in Toronto for polarization between university and nearby neighbourhood would be the Jane and Finch area. It'd be #1 or #2 if you asked people to name the toughest neighbourhood in Toronto, and yet it's the same distance from York U as the financial district (or Rosedale) is from U of T.

I don't mean to pick on York; I don't know the area well enough to have any sense of whether the university has failed its neighbours. It may well be all an accident of suburban geography.

RF

Bruce - I think you are right. Toronto, in way, is falling victim to the same general trends the global (creative) economy is wreaking everywhere, a widening, spiky economic and social divide, between and within regions. My hunch is also that Toronto, for all the reasons we've been discussing here, has the history, cohesiveness and wherewithal to begin to remedy this. If not Toronto, then where?

Matt - Jane and Finch is on the table. What about Regent Park?

Matt

Sorry, I did misunderstand... now realize the polarization item was separate from the town/gown connection.

Regent Park has gotten a fair bit of coverage over the last couple of years due to its redevelopment, but it has such pronounced planning mistakes (e.g. disconnection from the street grid) that the tricky part in exploring it might be avoiding the I-told-you-so's for contemporary planning theories.

But perhaps the bigger reason I'd suggest going elsewhere is that it's the old style of poverty -- most Torontonians have walked or driven by and can easily recognize it as poor. I've never explored Jane and Finch, but I briefly wandered around Malvern (Neilson and Sewells Road) a couple of years ago. It wasn't that long after it got a bad rap from a gang-related crime wave, and yet it wasn't at all what I expected. Certainly it was painfully distant from the central city, there was no condo boom to speak of, and there were lots of signs of recent immigration. But I also found a bustling library and community hockey arena, average-looking streets, and as much of a sense of community as you'd get from most suburbs. Maybe Malvern isn't representative (though I don't think it fares well in the stats), or maybe it's a sign that much of the polarization in the city has crept up on us because it's easy to miss.

RF

Matt - Thank you.

john trenouth

Speaking of Jane and Finch, here's a 15 year old music video shot there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ctc4daiIZU

Looks like a place James Kunstler might describe as a "not worth caring about."

(http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/121)

And related to another TO neigbourhood, there's a guy who gives free historical bike tours of Cabbage Town, its buildings and its characters--a great way to spend an afternoon. Can't remember his name though.

Seriously though, you said in an earlier post that the role of an academic is to model problems. That's a crucial role. It helps us identify the right questions to ask. Ask the right question and the answers are relatively easy.

Canada has a couple seemingly intractable problems rooted deep in both the country's economics and national character. I'm anxious to hear someone start to ask the right kinds of questions--and I think you're that someone.


RF

John - Thank you for your kind words on this. I was just telling Rana how amazed I am by Toronto and the little bit of Canada I know. What an incredible city, what an incredible country. Perhaps this was prompted by a visiting American recently who literally grilled me on the point ... well ... as he put it, "isn't Toronto just a wanna-be American city." Give me a break.

One thing I'd really appreciate is if you help me put a little structure - some parameters - on those problems and questions. I can feel them - intuit them - but I still can't wrap my arms around them.

Bahar

Richard,

Please also consider Throncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park that are both beside the wealthy neighbourhood of Leaside (Eglinton Avenue East). You can see run-down community housing and a very disadvantaged population of first generation immigrants right beside millior dollar homes in Leaside.

Last year I ran in the municipal elections, trying to raise awareness over the segregation and poverty that is demonstrated by these neighbourhoods right beside each other in Don Valley West.

RF

Bahar - They too are now on the table. Thank you.

Josh

Jane and Finch seems like the obvious place to go, but Scarborough has been in the news a lot lately since they are trying to "change their image".

Oh, and Richard, you are once again in Philip Preville's thoughts: http://www.torontolife.com/blog/preville-politics/2008/jan/17/scarlem-scarlem-nyah-nyah-nyah/

I'm sure he'd love for you to go to Scarborough.

Jen Riel

Consider the St. Jamestown area. St. Jamestown is a series of high-rise buildings south of Bloor between Sherbourne and Parliament, built in the 1960s and intended to serve the emerging swinging single demographic. It is now one of the most densely populated places in Canada, with a diverse and largely poor immigrant population living in an area bounded by Rosedale, Cabbagetown and the gay village.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._James_Town

Shawn Micallef

It may be bad form to post one's own pieces, but these neighborhoods deserve lots of attention. I've written about a few in my Eye Weekly stroll column.

My experience in Scarborough is quite the opposite of the Toronto Life piece. What I wrote below is based on about 5-6 months of working on a oral history project there, where I got to go inside people's homes and talk at length with them about the place. Scarobough, like all suburbia, is a largely private place, and to figure it out you need to spend a lot of time in it. It doesn't lend itself to quick takes, because if you do, you end up with the usual "scarberia" misrepresentation.

http://contests.eyeweekly.com/eye/issue/issue_12.16.04/city/scarb.php

Flemingdon Park

http://contests.eyeweekly.com/eye/issue/issue_02.23.06/city/stroll.php

And I've got a Thorncliffe Park piece i can't seem to find the link for.

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