Alright, so here’s my two cents on Toronto Life’s current exodus to the suburbs story. A few notes before I begin:
I write for TL a fair bit (including a story in this very issue! About insomnia! Don’t sleep on it!), and I’m not going to trash the mag in favour of some mythical Toronto publication that gets it all right (more on this later). I’m also friends with Philip Preville, so aside from this—PHILIP, YOU LITTER? GROSS!—I’m not going to trash him either.
Others have already done a good job exploring the rather obvious point that the story has a packaging problem. I agree that it’s not about the suburbs, but small towns that are becoming exurbs whether they like it or not. So I’ll stay away from that, too. I’m going to focus on two things: economics and demographics.
Let’s start with the money bit. I don’t care if suburbanites/exurbanites don’t want to live here, but it’s ridiculous that we let them sneer at the overcrowdedness of the TTC and then turn around and take the money that we need to fix the TTC up to Uxbridge. What the story reinforced for me is that if people need Toronto to fund their gorgeous new Annex-mansions-in-Dundas, Toronto needs to stand up for itself. Most (all?) of the families interviewed have at least one partner who is relying on Toronto for a salary; meanwhile the city is suffering from years of provincial downloading and federal derision. Whether it’s via road tolls, or disincentives for companies with offices in the 416 to hire outside the city, or something else, it’s time for this financial engine to demand some cash money respect.
I also wondered about the effect of flush Torontonians buying up the nicest Victorians in Cobourg’s Rosedale on the current residents of the small towns in question. (Ok, I’ll say it: the focus on gorgeous real estate is sooooooo Toronto Life. It’s hilarious that the one family that lives in a typical nouveau salmon-brick suburban house is shown in their backyard.) Funding a 705 lifestyle with 416 money would seem to replicate awful Vancouver-y real estate markets. That kind of sucks for the original 705-ers. I can’t figure out if I think The New Exurbanites are contributing to sprawl. I suppose if they buy up the old houses, then people who work at lower-salaried jobs are left with new builds, but that’s pretty indirect. I’m still musing on this one.
Random thought unrelated to my points of focus: it’s my understanding that parenting is a fraught and paranoid practice everywhere, and I highly doubt, Philip, that you’re trusting your kids with random friendly small-towners. I was in Kingston this past weekend (itself a lovely town where a four-bedroom, 150-year-old, heartbreakingly gorgeous stone house was $539,000, sheesh) and shuddered when passing the penitentiary. Paul Bernardo’s worst crimes happened in St. Catharine’s, remember? Evil and goodness are not location specific.
On to demographics: There’s no mention of diversity at all, except for a weird comment about the Toronto-ditchers missing the food here. As far as I’m concerned, every single piece of journalism that claims to be about any meaningful shift in Toronto’s demographics has to tackle ethnicity head on. Otherwise, the half has never been told. And it’s fine for the commenters at Spacing to insult TL for white blindness, but let me take this opportunity to say that I don’t think any publication in this city consistently parses GTA diversity in any quality way. Good thing the Ethnic Aisle is planning a Suburbs vs. Downtown issue for September.
Months ago, a (white) friend told me that he and his (white) fiancée figure they’ll eventually move out of Toronto. They want the space and the quiet and all of that. A number of my white friends have talked to me about their desire to leave the city, for the usual reasons, from lower house prices to less road rage. During one of these convos, last spring, my reaction was visceral, i.e. rude: I blurted “well, enjoy life among all white people.” I apologized afterward, but I’m still bothered. I just can’t escape this nagging feeling that when people say they like the “simplicity” of the exurbs (or cottage country), it’s at least partially a code word for “homogeneity.” Everyone loves udon and dosas, but dealing with all that language-barrier stuff at your kid’s public school is so complicated. On Metro Morning, Philip said that his research shows that it isn’t just white people that are moving out of the city. The omission of that info from the actual article is a major flaw. If Toronto’s weaknesses are leading the entire region to self-segregate, that’s something to be obsessing over, not ignored.
Did I say anything new here? I dunno. When I was writing this, I kept humming LCD Soundsystem. Toronto’s having a hard time right now, and sure, it gets me down. But you know what? This is my hometown and I love it. I want to fix it, not flee.