jeffrey simpson globe mail toronto suburbs.jpg

Oh, Toronto, what's happened to you? (An angry diatribe)


According to Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson, Toronto is going to hell in a handbasket, or, more accurately, to Jane-Finch in a roti wrapper.

Simpson's scattered editorial in this morning's edition points the blamefinger at new immigrants, who sap our tax dollars, suburbanites, who don't consider themselves "Torontonian" enough, and a conservative federal government, who doesn't care about any of it.

Simpson looks backward to the glorious days of Toronto in the '70s, a place Peter Ustinov called something along the lines of "New York run by the Swiss." Now, he says, our downtown is beset by condo towers and Rolls Royce dealerships, and our suburbs are dangerous and dysfunctional hotbeds of crime.

Perhaps it's obvious by now, but I take issue with all of it.

Who would want to return to Toronto in the '70s anyway? With the notable exception of Neil Young playing Massey Hall, or Led Zeppelin at Maple Leaf Gardens, the city is a far more vibrant, exciting place now than the staid, WASPy, whitebread town it was back then.

"The amalgamated city," says Simpson, "sprawls so far that the experience of those living in a downtown condominium is far removed from the suburbanite in Scarborough." No shit, Jeff, and that's how it should be. This is something that happens to cities as they grow, the farther you get from the centre, the more different it feels. Anyhow, people live in suburbs because they don't want to have the experiences of downtown life.

Ask anyone who lives in Park Slope or Williamsburg, and they'll tell you they live in Brooklyn, not New York City, and there's no reason why it should be any different for someone in Scarborough or North York. It's a matter of local pride as much as geographic identity, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The problems of suburban life don't end there for Simpson, however. "The crime in those neighbourhoods - in which families have disintegrated or never formed," he goes on, "education levels and ambitions are low, and drugs are rampant - stains the entire city." Of course we have problems, and we should be doing more to address them, but they still pale in comparison to other big cities. At least our outer suburbs aren't regularly burned by mobs of disillusioned youth, like those in Paris. At least our suburbs are, for the most part, safe and prosperous.

But our city's troubles don't end there. The downtown skyline has become blighted by "glittering cultural centres" and row upon row of unsightly condominiums. Luxury hotels, expensive car dealerships, and "fancy restaurants," are spreading like the plague.

Oh, Toronto! You're blowing all your money on condos and Rolls Royces! Shame of shames!

Yes, Jeff, the rich are getting richer, while the poor stay poor, (wasn't that a line from Les Mis?) and this is not a good thing. But affluence is something that happens to cities, successful ones at that. And we will deal with it just as other big cities do.

Even the TTC gets its share of Simpsonwrath. "Put the Toronto subway system against, say, that of Madrid, and Torontonians will weep," he says. "The Toronto Transit Commission, and Union Station, are looking old and shabby."

This may be the only legitimate point in the whole piece. Yes, the TTC could be much bigger and better-run. "Old and shabby," though? It's still the cleanest subway I've ever been on, except maybe for LA's, which is fifteen years old and mostly unused.

But where to lay the blame? Ahh, yes, of course: Those lazy fisherfolk. "Every year, massive amounts of money are quietly siphoned from Ontario taxpayers to more easterly parts of Canada," says Simpson. But that's not all: "At Queen's Park, health care gobbles up more and more of the provincial budget; its share will be more than 50 per cent in the not-too-distant future."

Damn that universal free health care! Blast those aging baby boomers and their swollen prostates! The time has come to put that money where it belongs... In making Toronto's suburbanites feel more like downtown yuppies!

Toronto is a big city with big city problems, we can all agree. But no matter what Simpson says, it remains a great city, and I wouldn't rather live anywhere else.

photo: tanjatiziana


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