Liveable cities. Food trucks. Why Toronto needs to grow up.
I wanted to live in Toronto. I worked to be here. I knew what it was going to entail. I knew it was going to be half the space for twice the money. I knew I would probably give up my car, that it would be both expensive and impractical. I knew I’d be living in an urban centre. High density. Close proximity. Public transit and some inconvenience, but I wanted to live in a really big city.
Most of the world lives this way. Hong Kong. Tokyo. Paris, London. New York. The density gives you things - amazing food, theatre, art. The city engages you. And for that you make some sacrifices.
What’s absolutely bending my brain is that I seem to be the only one to Get It. We’ve got this nasty mayor and his “war on the car” and all this Me Me Me bullshit - that basically we should try to make Toronto into something it isn’t, and has never been.
This strikes me as bizarre - did no one get the memo? If you want wide open space, a big house and yard, and to have to use a car for absolutely everything, move to Regina. I’ve lived there. I needed my car more living there than anywhere else. Granted, this was 20 years ago, so things may have changed. But still, my point remains. If you want to live here, you’ve got to come to terms that this is high density living.
Toronto is a big, messy metropolis. Always has been, always will be. There is no “going back” to something that never existed.
There is a book out that presents this argument far better than me - it’s called Happy City. It’s pretty simple: Your city can be good for cars OR good for people. It can’t be both. Car friendly means more accidents, injuries and deaths of both pedestrians and drivers. And long car commutes make for really unhappy people - the longer you’re stuck in a car, the unhappier you will be. Unhappy with everything - your job, your marriage, your life.
Many huge cities have started to figure this out, and done everything they can to keep cars to a minimum - but Toronto seems to be grappling with this, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. In London, when they brought in the congestion charge for cars, it was remarkable. Fresher air. Quieter streets. Boris Bikes. Buses that actually could get from point A to B. rather than be stuck.
Toronto now looks, sounds and smells like pre-congestion-charge London. It’s gridlock in every direction. Drivers leaning on their horns. It’s noisy and it’s choking on exhaust. Public transit is trapped in this mess and can’t operate. We all wind up paying for it, with our time, our patience and our health.
The big issue our city council is grappling with right now are - wait for it - food trucks. For years there has been some kind of freakout about having these delicious little mobile enterprises. Much fretting, lots of red tape. What if they take away from restaurants? What if they take up our parking spaces? These are both non-starters. You don’t go to a food truck for a restaurant experience. Competition is good for business. And better a vehicle that Does Something than another parked car taking up premium space.
What food trucks in big cities do is get people out of their condos and their offices and out into their neighborhood. We had the Caplansky’s truck (Thundering Thelma) around the corner for a few months, and it was fabulous. Go for a walk. Get some well-crafted food. Share some maple bacon doughnuts with strangers. Get some air. Move your body. Connect.
If we want Toronto to be a liveable city, we need to accept it for what it is: A huge metropolis. Space is limited. We need to consider what we want to give that space to - cars? Or people?
If you’re still stuck catering to the needs of your SUV, try having this debate with someone who lives in a big city that *knows* it’s a big city. Go ahead, tell them how they need to make central London more friendly to cars and how that will make them happier. They’ll look at you like you’ve sprouted scales.
The city I chose to live in put people first, but somehow got confused along the way. I look at our besieged mayor and wonder, would he be less of a mess if he weren’t stuck in a car? If he went for a walk? If he had more opportunities to connect with the city he’s supposed to represent? If his daily path were broader than fortress suburban house to car to office to car to house?
We’re a big city. That’s just the way it is. We need to start acting like one.