There’s No Getting Around The Urban-Suburban Divide

Point 5*.

We come in peace.wecomeinpeace

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 whosafraidofvirginiawolftrope 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.

Etc., etc.

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?

The amalgamated city lurches from one decision to the next, one policy pursuit to another based almost exclusively on unfounded emotional outbursts.metoo

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?

It was a debate based on parochial resentment and irrationality. One equating fairness and equality to sameness. mineminemineIf you have one, why don’t we?

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. changeaheadThat 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. deathstar1For 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.

* Points 1, 2, 3 and 4.

numerically submitted by Cityslikr

10 Responses to There’s No Getting Around The Urban-Suburban Divide

  1. Jim Rootham says:

    I am suspicious that what looks like a huge suburban/downtown split is acutally a relatively small variation in the city building/low tax focus. Given the First Past The Post electoral system that amplifies the differnence it looks like a huge suburban/downtown divide.

    If we had a system where 60-80% of voters got their first choice on council I suspect the map would look a lot different.

    • Sonny says:

      It would look different if you compared the 2003 open election to 2010! It’s just that Ford paid off voters by getting rid of the VRT! Rob’s main opponent is gay and there was a whisper campaign. Not to mention some other fat gay guy used $10,000 of his office budget to pay for a retirement party that perpetuated the “gravy train” mantra

  2. Ron Wheeler says:

    Funny enough…if we got what we wanted we would have a subway running under Queen, King, Dundas and College-Carleton. So that “St Clair disaster” that is oft repeated is completely disingenuous. We already compromised….

  3. GW says:

    “That doesn’t mean the suburbs have to become like downtown.” Okay, so which of these “adaptations” that you feel the suburbs have to make would *not* also serve to make them more like downtown?

    • Sol says:

      I think his point is that we should stop thinking in those terms. They just reinforce the divisions and enable the divide-and-conquer strategy.

      • GW says:

        How does it make sense to not think in those terms when the underlying message is “We’ve got it right and don’t need to change, but we’ve got to convince those other, less enlightened folks to see things our way”? It’s like saying “We’ve got to stop all this divisiveness between Habs fans and Leafs fans, It’s bad for hockey. How do we get those Montreal hockey fans to start cheering for the Leafs?”

  4. Simon Says says:

    Why do “downtowners” constantly think they have all the solutions to the city’s problems and it is the people in the suburbs that got it all wrong? You (suburbanites) need to think like us!

    Everyone squawks about density as a good thing when making decisions about transit, but complain about density when a new condo goes up.

    • Ron Wm. Hurlbut says:

      I’m a mid-towner who was raised in the ‘burbs but spent some time downtown too.

      Why don’t we all adopt a “When in Rome” attitude.

      Expecting everything to work the exact same way Downtown and in the ‘Burbs is not realistic. The Infrastructure won’t support it.

      When in the ‘burbs – Drive.

      When downtown – Take Transit.

      The outer ‘burbs (905ers) are the real enemy. Filling up the cheap transit seats and squeezing the rest of us out.

      It’s those guys that should driving their 6-lane stroads or coughing up some extra dough to ride the relatively comfy GO Transit.

      The TTC would be much nicer if it wasn’t packed with those interlopers.

      Areas with 6-lane stroads were built to be driven.

      Dense areas need to be traversed in dense modes (Transit).

      The attitude that Streetcars are in the way of cars is bass-ackwards: It’s the cars that are in the way of transit.

      I’d like to see the city adopt Zone Licensing so that you have to pay a toll to drive outside of your Zone. Offset this with strategically located (At Transit Hubs) Parking.

      I’d like to see King Street, Queen Street and Dundas Street with fewer cars plugging things up. Adopt the “Hook-Turn” so that ALL turning traffic is in the right lane. All Through traffic can then sail along the middle lane without waiting for Lefty-Loos to clear the intersections.

      As for squawking about density – Everybody squawks – that’s human nature.

      Buy a Condo with a great view and then another condo goes up next door to block that view. oh well….

      Got a nice bungalow in the ‘burbs and the next thing you know, you’ve got McMansions going up on either side of you.

      If they’re not building McMansions in your ‘hood it’s ’cause your ‘hood sucks. (Probably because it has crappy transit….)

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