While avoiding working on things I should have been working on, I wrote down the acknowledgements (admittedly prematurely) of my as-yet-unpublished manuscript, The Night Girl. Here’s an excerpt:
You can take the boy out of Toronto, but you can’t take Toronto out of the boy. For the first nineteen years of my life, I lived and went to school in downtown Toronto. The rest of my life was spent in Kitchener-Waterloo, where I and my neighbours, the local media and the local government lived very much in Toronto’s shadow.
That’s both good and bad. The fact is that all of the media, located in Toronto, tends to flood out the local news, such that people in my current region perhaps know more about the goings on at Toronto’s City Hall than they do their own city hall, especially when Rob Ford was Mayor of Toronto. That alone is a reasonable source of resentment when it comes to dealing with the big city. At the same time, I’ve often likened my current relationship to Toronto as being similar to the relationship a grandfather has with his grandkids: you get to play with them and hug them, and when they start to throw a tantrum, you get to leave.
But I’m fiercely proud of being a Torontonian, even though the cliche is that it’s fashionable, even necessary, for the rest of the country to hate the city. The city shaped me in ways few other places could. When other teenagers rushed to get their drivers’ licenses seeing the car as a source of personal freedom, I didn’t learn how to drive until I was twenty-three. For me, public transit was my first car.
And I admit that I clung to the “world class” touchstones that Torontonians point to in order to hide their own insecurities, such as the Yonge Street being the world’s longest street (a lie), that the United Nations named us the most diverse city in the world (an urban legend, though our population is very diverse), and the CN Tower being the world’s tallest freestanding structure (until Burj Kalifa bested us in 2007).
At the same time, I know that I’ve called my city insecure, and I stand by that statement with loving respect. I do feel that we drove too hard, especially in the late 1980s, to acquire certain big projects because we wanted to prove ourselves “world class” on the International stage. We spent $600 million on a domed stadium, unsuccessfully chased two Olympics and one World Expo, and failed to spend money on bread and butter infrastructure like rapid transit expansion and maintaining public housing. Today, too many Torontonians wring their hands about a lack of world class architecture, and too many bland glass towers, even though our city is building and growing, and that’s a record that many a city can look at us with envy.
We Torontonians don’t need to thump our chests and proclaim ourselves world class, or waste money chasing such a dream, but we should take the time to look up and around and see the beauty of what we have, along with the challenges of what we need to do. I find beauty in the Toronto PATH Network, which I continue to call “The Underground City” in defiance of all edicts, that justifiably claims its own entry in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest underground pedestrian complex. I love to walk the back streets that the tourists do not go to see. And I love the people, who live and work and make do as best they can while the politicians struggle and occasionally make fools of themselves.
My home town is not perfect. There’s a lot of work to be done. But we’re doing some important things right, and that’s world class enough for me.