Toronto livable city

Is Toronto more livable or lovable?

Insofar as we've run a number posts regarding Toronto's place on lists that try to rank the best cities in the world, I was happy to come across a recent article that provides an antidote to this particular brand of evaluation, which are often based on some concept of "livability." Edwin Heathcote, an architecture critic at the Financial Times, isn't buying it. In "Livable v lovable" he takes these ranking systems to task for their tendency to undervalue the messiness and allure of the great megacities of the world.

"The most recent surveys, from Monocle magazine, Forbes, Mercer and The Economist, concur" he writes. "Vancouver, Vienna, Zurich, Geneva, Copenhagen and Munich dominate the top. What, you might ask, no New York? No London? No LA or HK? None of the cities that people seem to actually want to emigrate to, to set up businesses in? To be in? None of the wealthiest, flashiest, fastest or most beautiful cities? Nope.... The big cities it seems, the established megacities of the US, Europe and Asia are just too big, too dangerous, too inefficient."

Cities that top these rankings, on the other hand, generally do so on account of the fact that they have close proximity to nature as well as superior "cultural institutions, global connectivity, green urban policies, well-designed housing within an easy commute, and so on." Not surprisingly, Vancouver consistently fares very well in these types of rankings.

Although Heathcote doesn't mention Toronto at any point in his article, I can't help but wonder how we fit into all of this. Recent rankings from the Economist and PwC put us near the top when it comes to "livability" and "success," but the rest of the publications listed above don't see us break the top 10.

Is this because Toronto falls somewhere in between efficiency capitals like Vienna and Zurich and giants of complexity like Paris and New York? If that's the case, I suppose the question would be which category are we closer to. My inclination is that we share more in common with the former than we do with the latter, but, by the same token, Toronto isn't quite so tidy and put together as it once was. And, hey, it's not like commuting in this city is "easy" for most people.

Walk around a jam-packed Trinity Bellwoods Park on warm Saturday or Sunday in spring, and you might get the sense that this city is less restrained and orderly than is typically advertised. Toronto the Good there may still be, but it isn't so often that one hears this thrown around as a thinly veiled insult these days.

At one point, Heathcote asks Joel Kotkin, a professor of urban development and fellow at Chapman University, about what he thinks of all these city rankings. His response challenges the prevailing ideology that informs city-building and runs counter to the view that efficiency must rein supreme. "We need to ask, what makes a city great," he says. "If your idea of a great city is restful, orderly, clean, then that's fine. You can go live in a gated community. These kinds of cities are what is called 'productive resorts'. Descartes, writing about 17th-century Amsterdam, said that a great city should be 'an inventory of the possible.' I like that description."

To what extent, then, does Toronto of 2011 fit this bill?

Photo by Joanne Dale in the blogTO Flickr pool.

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