Leisurely making my way through Jeb Brugmann’s Welcome to the Urban Revolution when the concept of “city consumers versus trained urban citizens” stopped me up. Three weeks after the election that made Rob Ford Toronto’s mayor-elect and with much chatter about the divide revealed by his win, here to me was an idea that transcended mere geography. Could this be an insight into the core political sensibilities of the two camps?
Anybody who’s been following along with the post-election analysis knows of the downtown core/inner suburb, old city of Toronto/other places that weren’t Toronto but are now divide. We examined Edward Keenan’s article about here last week. Marcus Gee did as well over the weekend in the Globe and Mail although he failed to cite Mr. Keenan as his primary source material. The general consensus is that there were enough exceptions to prove the rule that it was suburban Toronto alienation from City Hall over the past 7 years that led them to vote for Rob Ford in droves while downtowners thought anyone voting for Ford was an idiot.
Here’s another take on it. “City consumers versus trained urban citizens.” Rob Ford supporters, regardless of where they live, think of the city only as far as what it gives to them personally. A place to live and work. Getting between those two places easily and safely is of primary importance and should be the main thrust of what a municipal government does. Pave the roads. Fix the streetlights. Clean the streets of garbage, both literal and figurative. Do it as cheaply as you can especially in the short run. Almost anything beyond that is simply ‘The Gravy Train’.
Trained urban citizens, on the other hand, see the city not so much as a set place on a map (that’s GPS to you city consumers reading along) but more as an entity that morphs along with its residents. The city extends beyond our backyard or office lunchroom or driver’s seat. It is a collective organism living and dying by the actions of those who are a part of it. What makes a city truly livable is when a majority of decisions made, from the corridors of City Hall right down to even personal ones, have a net positive effect on a majority of its citizens. An impossible goal to achieve, perhaps, but a better one to aim for than simply an every man for himself free-for-all.
There are more than a handful of credible theories about the origins and development of cities. At the core of each of them, however, is the inherent social nature of the human species. Push comes to shove, we basically like to hang out with each other. Arguably, we need to hang out with each other. Not everybody, of course. There will always be that one neighbour in the apartment above you who cannot get enough of Bon Jovi at top volume. Or the couple across the street who don’t think they have to clean up after their dog that makes a habit of pooping on your front lawn. But overall, we thrive and prosper with positive interconnectivity at all levels of our lives, and that is made much more possible when more of us have the opportunity at that positive interconnectivity.
That’s why 53% of eligible voters in Toronto didn’t vote for Rob Ford. Cities seldom flourish with short term solutions. Rob Ford is all about short term solutions appealing to our least likeable and most anti-social trait. What’s in it for me?
So, the upcoming battles that will be waged at City Hall won’t be fought along where you live lines although, clearly, the maps suggest they will be. No, it’s going to be about the overlap between what some think is best for themselves and what others see as being best for the city. Streetcars versus buses? Green initiatives? More cops at the expense of social services cuts? No longer mere campaign slogans, these are now items that very well may be put on the table for debate. You know, the whole ‘Vision Thing’ that was raised and summarily dismissed during the election race. An approach to city building that goes beyond the end of our own laneways, neighbourhoods and even outside ward boundaries.
That is the difference between trained urban citizens and city consumers. It isn’t just about my house or my bike lane. It’s our community, our roadway. A vital difference in the general well-being of any city, and one that must be overcome if this whole notion of an amalgamated Toronto is to work for everyone who chooses to call it home.
— hopefully submitted by Cityslikr
When thinking about cities, something that often comes to mind for me is efficiency. This works on so many levels. People want to be where they can locate other people, have access to things they would not in the wilderness, like goods and services, access to communication, safety provided by neighbours. Maybe us in the city can see this easier (even subconsciously), while folks in the suburbs cannot. I did not see it when I lived there, for 13 years.
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Impressive summary and analysis. One other item I think worth mentioning is the move back into the City from the suburbs, not only in Toronto but all over the continent. I think this has added to the sense of abandonment/isolation that maybe people in the suburbs feel but these returnees may be ‘trained urban citizens’ who found they missed the city?!
One problem with the Media is that they focussed on the horserace… Rather than the policies. There are all kinds of cranes that will be putting up towers along transit lines. TEA had it’s lament over light rail vs subways.
Tonight will be a lecture “Public Transit and the Mayor’s Role” by transit expert Richard Gilbert. postcarbontoronto.org
An excellent piece. Thank you for this articulation of what I have always felt to be the human need for, and creativity towards, genuine community. Consumerism of any kind doesn’t build communitiy; its part of the North American cult of expressive individualism. I appreciate you advocating the interconnectivity of the city as a place to live.