Marcus McGee makes a nice attempt at an ode to Toronto as opposed to the idea of Ford Nation: "Toronto isn't Rob Ford. Toronto is more than that." Unfortunately, I think he missed the point of why there is dissatisfaction in some parts of the city. All his anecdotes refer to The Core of the city. It's mostly south of College and all south of Bloor. Toronto is more than Ford Nation, true, but it is also so much more than the Core. Let me tell you about my Toronto.
Toronto is getting pizza and Tim Hortons at St. Clair and Dufferin. Toronto is getting a Jamaican beef patty on a fresh portuguese bun at Eglinton and Oakwood. Toronto is getting congee rice porridge in North Scarborough and then going to Walmart for some shopping. Toronto is getting fresh polish sausages and halal lamb skewers in Etobicoke to BBQ on the balcony of your high-rise apartment.
Toronto is massive shopping malls outside the Core: Yorkdale, Scarborough Town, Dufferin Mall, Centrepoint, Fairview. Places where families get their shopping done. Places where teens learn to build their own community as they go to movies and roam the stores. Places where so many people work day in day out, 364 days a year. Some malls, like Fairview, provide a transit hub and essential services needed to support huge clusters of apartment buildings nearby. Other malls, like Yorkdale, become places to push the limit of consumerism without worrying about affordability. Both have their place in this town.
Toronto is also a place of small malls and strip malls that bind communities. Jane Park, West Side Mall, North Park, Agincourt Mall and dozens of others I don't know. Places you've probably never heard of or visited unless you live in that community. They are part of the identity of this city of neighbourhoods outside the Core. They are the places where people shop in No Frills and Walmart; where people meet and chat doing groceries; where seniors meet in a coffee shop where everyone knows their name.
Toronto is the quiet sea of bungalows throughout midtown, full of tiny parks and where a tiny corner store is hidden far from any major road. These neighbourhoods are where the whole world lives side by side, where whole neighbourhoods will light fireworks on Canada Day in local school yards.
Toronto is a town of many colleges and three huge universities. UofT sits as an island of new and old, a universe of world class learning and research floating in the centre of the city and in growing campuses in Scarborough and Mississauga. YorkU sits on the edge of the world, crossed by power lines and bordered by oil storage and highways; a community built on melding Art, Science and Knowledge into a cohesive whole. Meanwhile Ryerson grows, relentlessly, just a bit off-centre in the old Core, charting a new way forward through technology and design.
Toronto is a morning ride on crowded buses and subways where absolutely everyone is a minority, and everyone respects the space of others and the hard commute they go through every day. Toronto is also commuter's traveling beyond the city. It is the transit hubs at Union, Yorkdale, York University, Finch Station and others. Where people step every day off their TTC bus or subway and get onto another bus or train run by VIA, GO, YRT or others to continue the long journey home. This, too, is Toronto. It is the orbit of our great city, and it cannot be great without all its neighbours like Markham, Richmond Hill, Brampton, Mississauga.
Toronto is the Belt-Line trail, a running path tracing an old commuter rail that stretches from working class old York through the back yards of Forest Hill, across uptown and into the great Mount Pleasant cemetery down to the Don Valley.
Toronto is more than the Gardiner and the Don Valley. Toronto is the 401, Allen Parkway, Black Creek Drive and all the ramps and roads that feed into the highway universe that is so essential to this city. People live in the shadows and view of those highways and never see the crumbling Gardiner at all.
Finally, Toronto is not just a city of neighbourhoods, it is a city of cities. People still identify as living in Scarborough, Etobicoke, North York and even tiny York (represent!) and East York. They are also Torontonians, a duality of identity within the city. One that hurts when the very real wonders of The Core are the beginning and end of anyone's description of the city.
Toronto is so much more than the Core or the car-centric suburbs. But that is just my Toronto. What is your Toronto?
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