Despite the many concrete challenges Toronto faces — transit building negligence, aging infrastructure, affordable housing crisis – I think there’s a much less tangible but more powerful force at work on the politics of this city. Existential even. Existential? Perhaps. It’s a slippery word, that.
The urban-suburban divide.
Perhaps more than anything else, the urban-suburban divide has been shaping how, why and what things get done here. These past 3 years have certainly heightened the divisive dynamic but it’s been there, lurking in the shadows pretty much since amalgamation in 1997. We have been a city at war with itself.
The best thing a candidate could do in this year’s election campaign is to undertake a study, getting to the bottom of a favourite trope of many current members of city council that in this uneasy alliance between the inner and outer cores, downtown gets everything. Former suburban municipalities point to some new gleaming edifice or piece of green space downtown and scream, Why isn’t there one of those in my ward?! Of course, this overlooks what everyone takes for granted. The difference in road space, the amount of additional infrastructure needed to service more dispersed communities.
I’m not saying there isn’t a discrepancy between how money, services and programs are doled out across the city. It’s just that nobody seems to know the answer to that. Wouldn’t it be good to sort that out, one way or the other, so we could begin to address any possible disparity based on some sort of fact based debate instead of just unfounded emotional outbursts?
Downtowners are imposing their LRTs and bike lane lifestyles on the suburbs! Surburbanites are inflicting their car-centricity on the downtown! Low taxes before everything else! Keep your user fees to yourself!
We are frozen to almost the point of petrifaction, unable to push forward for fear of somebody yelling and stomping their feet in disagreement. But what about me! Why am I paying for something you get?!
No better example exists than the 3 year fight we’ve had over that fucking Scarborough subway.
Oh, look! Petty downtowner doesn’t like it when the suburbs get what he’s already got. Unfair much?
Because we’re not the same. Our built forms are entirely different, our needs in terms of infrastructure distinct. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to running a city like Toronto.
Now, I’d argue that the challenges we face in terms of growing and evolving as a city come down harder on those living in the inner suburbs. No doubt the onus to adapt weighs more heavily on those parts than it does on downtown. We here are used to intensification, with more than a few head-shaking exceptions. We have more choices in terms of how we move around the city. But this is the way it’s playing out in most cities across the globe. We are being squeezed in closer and closer with increasing demand for more public spaces not less.
So naturally it feels like the suburban lifestyle is under attack. It is under attack if it remains resistant to anything other than a 1950s version of it. That doesn’t mean the suburbs have to become like downtown. They can’t. They just can’t remain the suburbs of our childhood memories.
This would still be the case if Toronto had remained un-amalgamated. These pressures to change and adapt aren’t coming from some nefarious downtown elite cabal. It’s simply necessity, simply economic and demographic necessity.
Friend of the site, Himy Syed, gave us a theory of municipal governance a while back about the real damage inflicted upon the 416 by amalgamation. Before that time, every former municipality had a similar target of derision when they were unhappy with how the big ticket items like transit were being run. Metro Hall. Metro Council. Damn you! cursed Etobicoke. Why I oughta! threatened Scarborough. Up yours! shouted East York.
With amalgamation, the metro level of government was gone, removed. In its place? City Hall. Downtown.
As the new whipping boy, it was exploited for cheap political gain by those with nothing else to offer but division and antagonism. For sure, too many residents throughout this city were being ignored, left out and overlooked. But that was happening long before amalgamation and by players far bigger than those at City Hall at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa.
That’s not an excuse or rationalization. It’s just candidates running for local office need to explain that City Hall isn’t the enemy. That downtowners aren’t living large at the expense of hardworking suburban taxpayers. That suburbanites aren’t unrepentant anti-urbanists only wanting to pave over everything so they can park their cars everywhere.
We need municipal leaders who see City Hall as a unifying force not some death star that must be blown from space.
Wring our hands and nash our teeth all we want over this:
Not that very long ago, the picture went like this:
Ignore the colours. This is the map anyone running for city council this year must endeavour to bring about. They’ll certainly have my vote.
— numerically submitted by Cityslikr