In the ongoing tedious and sad affair that is Rob Ford, I came across an interesting article from Edward Keenan written just before Mayor Ford won his election. The pertinent part of the article I feel is where the Ford campaign’s genius was to define the election around the idea that Toronto is a city in decline. This idea, which caught on as the election narrative suited the Ford camp well, and by pointing to traffic, city projects and basically the realities of a city that is rapidly growing made it appear that Toronto really was broken.
But Toronto isn’t broken, and many of the problems that we face are actually the problems of a city that is incredibly successful and growing rapidly. It’s ironic that the outward signs of our success are some of the things that aggravate us the most, but its a reminder that strong economies don’t look like lazy towns on a Sunday afternoon but instead are chaotic, busy, hot and frustrating. It’s also interesting that many of the problems that successful cities face (and things that define a successful city) don’t ever change, regardless of the age. Noise, construction, overcrowding, congested traffic and suburban resentment are the hallmarks of prosperous cities.
Since I am a great believer that cities are our economic future I think its worth pointing out that the problems we face today we faced in the past, and will continue to face in the future. Cities that are actually in decline have a totally different set of problems. So its better to worry about constant traffic congestion and debate how best to expand our public transit than to wonder whether we should have public transit at all. If you’d like to see Toronto dealing with this in the past, may I recommend Toronto Boom Town by Leslie McFarlane, National Film Board of Canada, a ten minute long video from 1951, looking at Toronto, a booming city of tomorrow!
Great Further Reading: The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want by Garret Keizer, Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser, Some Great Idea by Edward Keenan