Friday, April 24, 2009

Americans Aren't Helping Matters

Since taking up my new hobby ( I'm noticing that Americans aren't helping matters. On the cover of the May 2009 issue of Conde Nast Traveler magazine appears a prominent "CANADA NOW! 16-PAGE PULLOUT EXTRA" which actually prompts me to buy it (well, that and I happen to be in the US where it's cheaper). What's the first line? "Move over, New York. Step aside, LA. These days, the continent's hottest metropolises are north of the border. Welcome to the new Canada!" The section on Toronto begins "Peter Ustinov once quipped that Toronto is New York run by the Swiss. It was meant as a compliment, but Canada's largest city seems to be on a mission to shrug off its staid reputation by giving itself an architectural makeover."

I'm anxiously waiting for the day when an article in a popular media outlet boldy praises Toronto without apologizing, looking backwards or making comparisons. If you're aware of any, please let me know!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Big Brother We Can Believe In

I just want to put in a plug for the Toronto Public Space Committee (TPSC). A self-appointed watchdog of sights and sounds in the public sphere, TPSC first drew my attention with its campaign to rid the city of ugly chain link fences, framing its work in terms of community development: "A self-imposed rusty barrier between neighbours, properties surrounded by chain link look more like jailyards than homes. Fences create feelings of isolation and detachment. By taking them down, we encourage a process of community building." Other campaigns include the "billboard battalion" to hold the city accountable for its strict rules about outdoor advertising (already on the books, but inconsistently enforced) and "city for sale" that is working to ensure that names of city parks, subway stations, libraries, community centres and other public spaces are not sold off and that ethics guidelines are established to inform decisions about corporate sponsorships and donations. Please join me in donating or volunteering to this worthy cause.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My New Hobby

I really feel terrible doing this, but I just can't help myself. I've recently started a new hobby I'm tentatively calling "the insecurity project." I've been living in Toronto for nearly two years, and I'm totally in love with this city. But the longer I live here, the more evident it is that this city, and in many ways this country, suffers from a serious self-esteem problem - frequently framed in comparison to other places, and always viewing itself as "lesser than". I've started to collect documentation of this phenomenon - mainly from newspaper clippings and online articles so far - and have amassed quite a pile on my office floor in a very short period of time. Actually, I have two piles - one just for pieces by or about Richard Florida. I'm not quite ready to offer theories to explain it - but I am fascinated by it.

Exhibit A, from the August 19, 2008 issue of The Star: "Toronto gets spot on world Monopoly game. But Hogtown takes over for Virginia Ave., while Montreal lands Boardwalk position and Vancouver subs for New York Ave. Well, we're not quite Baltic Ave. - but we're a long way from passing Go. And it looks like Torontonians will have to stroll along Montreal's boardwalk if they want to get there. Hasbro Inc. has announced the top 22 global cities that will make up the first world edition of Monopoly. More than 5.6 million votes were cast for 70 contenders over a six-week period earlier this year, to determine which cities would be featured in the game. And as a nation we can puff our community chests - with three cities on board, Canada tied China for the most representation in the new edition." If we're on the Monopoly board, we must be world-class, right?

Exhibit B, from the January 3, 2009 issue of the National Post. The headline catches my eye: "As the new year begins, so, too, does our 26-part alphabetic accounting of what makes this city special. We start with the visual arts..." I scroll down to the first installment expecting to read an upbeat account, but what do I find? "When it comes to art, Toronto is not New York or London; nor is it Tokyo, Berlin, Paris or even Miami. If you like your art playful and a little wild, be thankful. Some would sniff about Toronto's second-or third-tier position in the visual arts. Others, however, recognize that Toronto offers something none of these other cities can: An arts scene as a study of a work in progress; a place where the challenge is to realize unrealized possibilities -- an unfinished canvas, if you will."

To be continued...