It’s hardly novel on my part to return from nearly 3 weeks in the developing world, let’s call it, to announce that we here in these parts of the developed world might have gone a little soft. That’s not to suggest it’s all good here, everything’s fine and dandy, What Me Worry? Eat your peas, young man. Don’t you know there are children starving in India? (Yes, I was in India.)
There’s probably very little distinction between poverty and grinding poverty to those contending with the former.
When I suggest we might be a little soft, it’s more to do with our approach to problem solving. Yes, we have problems. Some serious problems. But by comparison, in a relative sense, the solutions to our problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like inequality, affordability, are simple or, at least, simpler. They are, in fact, not intractable.
While away, I was amazed at how quickly you adapt or adjust to the wildly unfamiliar. The traffic chaos, the incredible shrinking sense of personal space, the urban livestock. But the one thing I could not get my head around was the garbage. Now, I’m not talking litter, empty take away coffee cups strewn here and there. I’m talking piles of garbage on street corners in almost every village we passed, in major urban centres even.
India has less than one-third of the landmass of Canada but over 30 times the population. Factor in the jarring transition from a rural based, farming society to a high tech urban go-getterism and waste disposal is a significant, monumental social and infrastructure issue. Ditto the delivery of clean, potable water.
So when some here in Toronto talk about ‘deserving’ a subway instead of some rinky dink LRT, it takes on something of a grotesque stature if measured by global standards. You deserve a subway. Really?
I think it was Bill Maher who said, in the wake of September 11th 2001 when everyone was trying to figure out why the west had come under attack, that people hated us because we don’t know why they hate us. We argue bitterly over higher order of public transit while much of the world struggles with even the most basic of waste management.
So, yeah. It’s fair to say we’ve gone a little soft. Our problems, hundreds and hundreds of millions of people around the world would love to have. Yet, we seem deliberately frozen and resolute in erecting reasons why we shouldn’t/can’t robustly address matters that need addressing.
We live in a wealthy city in a wealthy country, full of educated and intelligent people with innovative and thought provoking ideas to make Toronto an even better place (although few have come up with ways to improve the weather here). We draw people from around the world because of the quality of life we have on offer. Improving that quality of life, and extending it to more of the population, isn’t, in fact, rocket science. Toronto isn’t starting from square one in terms of delivering the simple basics like water and waste disposal.
What problems we do have as a city stem from an unwillingness to deal with our problems. Our infrastructure deficit exists because we’ve simply neglected to maintain and upgrade our infrastructure needs as the city grew and objects aged not because we don’t have the money to do so. Poverty exists because we’ve failed to address the root causes of poverty not because it’s somehow endemic and unavoidable. It’s not a question of possessing the capacity to deal with the problems but simply an indisposition to do so. No can’t. Just won’t.
Yeah. It feels like a lazy trope to go visit places like Sri Lanka and India only to return with the sentiment, So you think we’ve got problems… ? But coming as my trip did right on the heels of an election campaign that was defined as it was by limitations and very few demands made of voters, the two realities felt particularly jarring. Never has so little been asked of so many for so few… or something to that affect.
Our To Do list is extensive in its breadth. A little daunting at times owing almost exclusively to having been put off for so long. It’s hardly insurmountable, however, since we’re not exactly starting from scratch. We simply have to stiffen our resolve a little bit, accept some responsibility for building on what was already here when we came along, and get rid of the flabbiness that’s come from the inattention and disregard we’ve displayed over the last three decades or so.
– sightseeingly submitted by Cityslikr