While I do believe that Toronto has tons of potential I also feel that too much of it is still untapped. And yeah, it frustrates and disappoints me.
I moved here from Montreal 32 years ago (wow, time sure does fly). As North American cities go, Montreal is a tough act to follow.
It’s a city where historic buildings are beloved, preserved and cared for, where the love of food and wine is like a religion, where designers and artists have never been afraid of taking risks, where the status quo is shunned and where the enjoyment of life is paramount. And, like most people who lived there, I took advantage of all it had to offer.
Sadly it came to a grinding halt in the mid-seventies when Rene Levesque, the founder of the Parti Quebecois became the Premier of Quebec. His mandate was to attempt, through a referendum, to negotiate the political independence of Quebec — a threat that plagues the province to this day.
And so, like hundreds and hundreds of thousands of other Montrealers, I joined the pilgrimage out of the city. Some headed to Calgary, some to Vancouver, some to the U.S and some, like me, to Toronto.
When I first got here I was struck by how huge this city is, compared to Montreal, how much more vast it is. When I lived in Montreal you could drive to cottage country, the Laurentians (otherwise known as “up north”), in about an hour (from downtown). Here it’s more like two or three.
I was also awestruck by how much there is to do here. The abundance of live theatre, concerts, events of all kinds and diverse and interesting neighbourhoods to explore. Which there still is. So why “the blahs?”
Well for one thing, I think that architecturally, Toronto is one of the most boring cities on earth. I am sad that, for the most part, any historic buildings there might have been were torn down. There are a few, here and there, Ontario’s Legislative Building and a lot of University of Toronto buildings among them, but too many are gone.
Still worse, most of what’s gone up in their place is unimaginative, uninteresting and unexciting. If I see another glass rectangle on our skyline I will scream! We play it way too safe here.
Architecture, like art, music and literature should challenge us, make us uncomfortable, force us to stretch our boundaries. It should inspire us, get us talking and debating. It should thrill us and give us goosebumps — not put us to sleep; and it should get others, in other cities and countries talking about us. Just look at these. And these. And these.
You don’t have to love all — or any of them — for that matter. But you do have to admire the impact they make. You do have to applaud the out-of-the-box thinking (literally), daring and open-minded attitudes that gave rise to them.
Speaking of out-of-the-box thinking, it’s not confined to architecture and other typically creative pursuits. In the challenging times in which we find ourselves — and are likely to remain for the foreseeable future — we need to think differently about everything, from our own lives to how our cities, provinces and country can not just survive, but thrive going forward.
And frankly, I’m not terribly encouraged, or inspired, but what I’m seeing so far. In last week’s blog post I referenced a New York times article I loved. It wasn’t the only article in that edition of the newspaper that inspired me. The other was about how Pittsburgh is re-inventing itself, and is re-emerging as a “hot spot for millennial geeks.”
Yeah, I’m envious. Not because they’re going “tech” — but because they’re doing something. They’re on top of it, thinking, planning, taking steps to ensure they have a successful future.
What are we doing? What steps are our politicians taking? Why aren’t they collaborating with educators, business leaders and entrepreneurs? Where are the think tanks? Where’s the innovation, the breakthroughs? Where are the crazy ideas that can lead to big ideas? Where’s the energy and excitement? Where’s the citizen interest and involvement?
Sorry, but it just feels like we’re stagnating — as a city, as a province and as a country. We deserve so much more.