[On Thursday, March 7th, Idil Burale and I will be hosting a discussion forum at the Academy of the Impossible called, Reimagining Toronto: Understanding the framework of urban/suburban politics. So this week at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, we’ll be looking at some of the issues that make up the divide of such urban/suburban politics.]
Toronto: A City Of Disparities – Idil Burale
The more time I have spent thinking, discussing, and researching the urban-suburban divide paradigm, the more I’ve come to realize that the underlying factor in this politics du jour is the growing income inequality in what is now 4th largest city in North America. In his groundbreaking 2007 report “The Three Cities Within Toronto“, David Hulchanski highlighted a disturbing trend of concentration of wealth and poverty in different parts of the city for the past 35 years. According to that report, the Toronto core (i.e. downtown) has become an enclave for the ultra rich, whereas the rest of Toronto (the suburbs) has seen a decline in prosperity. Hulchanski is confident that if nothing is done the trend lines will continue and that we will see an emergence of Two Cities Within Toronto by 2025: one rich, one poor.
And yet, instead of dealing with this, most discussions on the development of Toronto lately seem to be centred around casinos, condos, and transit issues. No one seems to be strategizing a way of curtailing the symptoms of income inequality. For example, dealing with the issues surrounding the prevalence of precarious employment, the dire lack of affordable housing, or the disappearing middle-class. In short, there is no shortage of `wicked problems’ (to coin a Vass Bednar phrase) to solve, but how have these issues been addressed, if at all? Even more importantly, is this the only source of tension between the urban-suburban divide?
I don’t think so.
Since where you live dictates your lifestyle, your neighbourhood influences the way you relate to the city. Our surrounding environment is part of the perceptual process that we use to make sense of the world. Therefore, it is important to note that the framework of the urban-suburban divide is also about how people perceive their political identity and role in municipal politics. In Cityslikr’s post earlier this week, he mentioned Mayor Rob Ford’s comments that people in North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough are conservative voters. I don’t think that’s the case and we only need to look to the last provincial elections to counter that notion. Or David Miller’s sweep of every suburban ward except two in 2006.
However, what Ford is alluding to is a cycle of voting precipitated by a particular circumstance. Ford knew that people in the suburbs did not want their taxes increased. Therefore, he used the perception that most suburbanites have about their place at City Hall, i.e., as second-class citizens, to convince them that any tax increase from liberals, would be used to further develop the infrastructure of the downtown core at the expense of the suburbs. He guaranteed he would put a stop to that. Stopping the Gravy Train.
When we consider that 10 out of the 17 years of post-amalgamation bliss in Toronto have been governed under the leadership of a conservative suburbanite, one must ponder why the right wing is better at exploiting the urban-suburban dynamic than their progressive counterparts? In many ways, the rise of Rob Ford was made possible by the growing sense of urban chauvinism in Toronto politics and facilitated by the recession.
Does this mean that the amalgamation benefits the conservatives more than it does progressives?
Its time to think anew and build a system of planning that doesn’t exclude people from the spaces that we create. We need to revisit suburban planning. We need to change certain perceptions that people hold both of themselves and of other people in different neighbourhoods. We need to remind ourselves that a focus on the development of Toronto cannot be successful without addressing the growing trend of income inequality. We need to realize as one city, Toronto must ensure that all of its residents – urban and suburban alike – have equal access to opportunity, mobility and liveability.
To do that, Toronto must first move past the false, political and geographical divisions that we’ve created.
— suburbanly submitted by Idil Burale