Toronto, Growing Up

By Denise Balkissoon

Launching at the Gladstone this Tuesday, December 6, is One Millionth Tower, the latest installment of Highrise, the NFB’s webstravaganza (wait, I hate made-up words. Sorry). If you haven’t seen the site yet, you know nothing about Toronto, since the Emmy-award winning project is the best bit of storytelling yet produced about the 1,000 highrise towers in Toronto’s outer suburbs, and the ten of thousands of people who live there.

Luckily, director Katarina Cizek has been doing a cracking job. The first installment, The Thousandth Tower, took us into the lives of six Torontonians who live in these vertical communities. Since then, she’s led planners, architects, musicians and many, many enthusiastic residents in putting together a next-level web project that looks at towers all over the world.

The new segment, One Millionth Tower, re-imagines what life could be like for the residents of two adjacent towers on Kipling Ave. It’s fun and energizing to walk through the virtual landscape – and Owen Pallet and Jim Guthrie helped with the soundtrack. In inspiring the hundreds of people who live here to imagine life with a vegetable garden or a dance studio, Highrise has helped instigate actual change: last summer, residents and a local charity got together to build a playground to replace a desolate and decrepit basketball court.

This is a global issue – the Highrise site points out that over a billion people worldwide live in mid-century apartment buildings that are starting to develop serious repair issues. As much as Toronto’s brown 1970s towers might be eyesores, it’s unrealistic to talk of tearing them down and replacing the majority of the city’s affordable rental housing stock (and, you know, condescending to the people that live there). But we do have to figure something out – as the United Way’s Vertical Poverty report points out, these complexes are troubled, structurally and economically. Many are out in the outer suburbs, where new immigrants and low-income communities become increasingly isolated as public transit gets increasingly crappy.

So far, Mayor Rob Ford hasn’t made an official statement about the future of the Tower Renewal project. Let’s hope that no news is good news.

A Downtowner Eats Her Words

After coming out in favour of downtown, Renee Sylvestre-Williams stumbles onto a kickass fashion party–in Woodbridge: “Drummers, cage dancers and fire dancers stalked the stage warming up the crowd who happily started whooping and cheering as each model strode down the catwalk. Wine was drunk, cameras flashed and when a shirtless model came out the screams just increased in volume.” Continue reading

Yes, I live in the suburbs. No, I don’t drive.

Jef Catapang assures us that life in Mississauga without a driver’s license is still worth living: “Not caring about cars is one of the many ways I often feel like a downtown spirit living in the suburbs. I like concerts, film festivals and used bookstores and I always thought I would end up living nearer to the core to accommodate my interests. Money issues kept that from happening, but a funny thing happened in the meantime — I started to not hate it here.” Continue reading

My Problem With the Suburbs

The “me” in this equation being Canice Leung, who grew up in Richmond Hill: “Here are two events in my life that explain urban planning in Richmond Hill: 1. The time I was 14 and tried to visit the local bike shops to buy a bike. 2. The two separate incidences, at the same York Region Transit bus stop, in which I had two men, in two separate incidents, show me their penises.”

Continue reading

Missin’ Mississauga

Romantic nostalgia for the 905? Yes indeed, via Chantal Braganza: “Want to watch 25-year-olds live out their 2001 dreams of The Fast and the Furious in neon-lit cars with wire spoilers? Wendy’s, Hurontario and Britannia. Or some helmeted daredevil stand on the handles of a motorcycle as he (or she, never found out) rips down Dundas at 140 km/h? Tim Hortons, Dundas and Winston Churchill. Make-out point? Wherever you could park a car.” Continue reading

One vote for the ‘burbs

Today’s Downtown vs. Suburbs post comes via Simon Yau, who advocates for life north of Eglinton: “I love my Costco membership. I love living in a spacious house. I love the silent privacy of my street. I love eating meals for $4 at Chinese food courts. I love being close to an Ikea. I love free parking. And to top it off, I could care less about bike lanes.”

Don’t forget that the pulsing climax of this week’s posts is the live, in-person Ethnic Aisle chat at the 519 next Monday. See you there! Continue reading

Suburbs vs. Downtown: Let’s Get It Started

It’s 416 vs. outer-416 vs. 905 week on the Ethnic Aisle. We’re going to be writing about downtown, the suburbs, the much-ballyhooed divide between them, and what ethnicity has to do with it. Hopefully you’ll find it all interesting enough to come to our in-person chitchat next Monday, September 26.

To kick things off, a few links:

From last weekend’s Toronto Star, a piece by Kenneth Kidd on How the Liberal Lost Toronto in the last federal election. How much did it have to do with the Conservatives’ targeting 905 ethnic communities? How repulsive is it that Jason Kenney was supposedly labelled Minister of Curry?

The blog Blue Kennel discusses Why Non-Suburbanites Distrust Suburbanites: “people move to suburbs not just to get things, like bigger houses and yards, but to get away from things in their old neighborhood:  crime, traffic, and bad schools….And how to keep the bad things from following them?  They have to be able to control the neighborhoods around them.”

The Atlantic thinks this is The Beginning of the End for Suburban America because no one can afford to heat/cool huge houses or commute long distances the way they used to.  (Thanks to Bernie Michalik for these last two links)

Secret Republic offers up an infographic on the Suburbanization of Poverty in the U.S., which should be old news to Torontonians  familiar with the 2004 United Way report Poverty By Postal Code.

In August, Ute Lehrer and Roger Keil from the City Institute at York University were on Metro Morning discussing how suburbs are going to keep on growing–in the GTA and around the world–through the 21st century.

Will the suburban GTA decide which party wins this October’s provincial election?

Hazel McCallion once told the Star that her biggest regret as mayor was not designing Mississauga to be more dense so that the city could afford decent transit.

And in Vaughan, mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua wants to transform the 905 outpost “from a suburban municipality to a world-class city,” starting with a walkable downtown.