Number One (without a bullet)!

There’s been some negativity ’round these parts lately. I’m not, constitutionally or by preference, a negative sort of a person- in the normal course of things.

But when stuff happens, I find it very difficult to remain silent. Doing so would abrogate my responsibility as a citizen of the planet and member of this human race. Still, I think I need to lighten up every now and again. Now would be a good time.

So, prompted by a couple o’ things…

I gotta say, this made me smile quite hard late last week.

8th safest city in the world, numero uno in North America. And when you look at the “index of indexes” (shouldn’t that be ‘indices’?) we’re NUMBER ONE overall.

I love my hometown. I talk about it quite a lot. Here, for instance. Or here.

I also love that, in spite of the fact that we have been the focus of the world recently not for our greatness but because of the ignorant, self-aggrandizing buffoon who sat in the mayor’s chair for four years, we are being recognized for all the things that make us pretty damn fine. Not perfect- there is much room for improvement- but pretty awesome.

I’ve touched on the question of multiculturalism a bit recently- specifically alluding to all of the challenges that it can bring. Growing up in this town, awareness of and exposure to different cultures was part of the scenery, part of the experience. It remains one of the things I love most about my city by the Great Lake. On any given weekend in the summer months, one community or another invites the rest of the town to come pay a visit and experience a little slice of their take on food and music and art and dance and culture.

We have work yet to do- there is always work to be done- but I think we are better than most at recognizing that, along with its many benefits, our town’s diversity means that we need to address challenges head-on when they arise.

Sure, our public transit system is a HUGE mess (that’s getting messier by the day), but we have a good foundation with which to work- provided we can get people (especially those who insist upon driving cars everywhere) on board with some of the initiatives that have been tabled to make movement around the city better for everyone.

We’re still dealing with some of the fall-out from years of City Hall mismanagement- and our heritage programs are underfunded and disordered, permitting developers (mainly condo developers) to get away with destroying century-old buildings in order to raise even more glass towers…

Coincidentally, hard upon the heels of our international validation last week, a friend of mine gave me a copy of a novel by Michael Redhill. Consolation is an interesting read about the ways in which we need to wake up to the reality of history in our lives. Set in Toronto- in 1855-57 and 1997- he presents the less-than-auspicious origins of the town and demonstrates the ways in which we bury that history in our financially-based drive to ‘development’.

In very many ways, he has the pulse of the city down pat. And his love of the town comes through as he warns of the dangers- personal and otherwise- of keeping things hidden- or allowing them to be destroyed- for the sake of expediency and/or ‘progress’.

One of his characters notes that ‘neglect of the past is a form of despair‘, while another spells out the reality of politics and planning in the city:

… anyway, it’s not even up to the city. This is the Heritage Act- it’s a provincial bill. It sets out what’s protected in the province, whether it’s on provincial, municipal or private property, If you want to know the truth, it’s a toothless bill and most of it’s about how many appeals you get if you really, really want to tear something down. March of progress and all that, good luck if you’re an Indian burial ground or a nice old house standing on some expensive dirt… I doubt a four-foot piece of the True Cross would be enough to stop work on a site in this city. You find a three-week old potato chip in Montreal, they raise a velvet rope around it and have a moment of silence. But here, no. If you’re hoping for a work stoppage, you’ll need a lawyer.’

Closely following that little bit of truth, Redhill presents a conversation with local councillor- the one in charge of Heritage- that outlines the opinion that most municipal employees (and all-too-many citizens) seem to have about historical preservation in this town: development, and the potential tax money that might come out of development, is ALL, and it is to be encouraged regardless of environmental impact or historical preservation.

That sort of thinking is what permitted this sort of travesty.

While that system is pretty damn broken, we are seeing some developers who seem to be about more than the money, and who are enthusiastic about maintaining our heritage gems- and incorporating them in the plans for improvements in our downtown core.

This story, in particular, warmed my cockles significantly. In case you aren’t from around here and mightn’t know, the Matador was immortalized in Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song/video Closing Time.

How much do we love Leonard? Our National Bard. He’s from the number 2 town in the world, but we’ll forgive him anything. (It’s also cool that Montreal came second overall. I’ve always maintained that if I couldn’t live in TO for some reason, la belle Montreal would be second on my list. Apparently the world agrees with me.)

I have never met Paul McCaughey, but he quickly became one of my very favourite people when I discovered that the Matador will stay a music venue- rather than becoming a parking lot, as planned.

I also have to like our safety numbers. We do see incidents of violence (and policing problems that blacken our collective reputation) but our comparative safety record speaks for itself (as far as the people at The Economist see it, anyway). While gun violence happens, it remains rare enough to be shocking when it does.

We might not be located on the extreme of gun avoidance that Michael Moore suggested in Bowling for Columbine, but we tend to have a healthier view of arms and armaments than do our neighbours to the south of us.

We have some truly fantastic cultural spaces and events: Grandmaster Flash is going to be at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Thursday night (the party is sold out)- which is pretty cool- even if you aren’t a fan of old school rap. And Friday Night Live at the ROM this week is all about Carnival- and will highlight all kinds of goodies- musical, culinary and otherwise- from our various Caribbean communities. (I’ll be attending that particular party). Then there are our great restaurants and fun pubs and bars. You can shop like a star- if you’re inclined to do that kind of thing- or enjoy an evening of laughter at one of our comedy clubs (we are the hometown of people like Mike Myers, Dave Foley, Will Arnett (who went to my high school, actually), Catherine O’Hara, etc. etc. etc.). Take in a band (we have LOTS of great ones of those, as well) at one of our fantastic music venues (I’ve written about a few of them before). Or cheer on a sports team- even a hockey team (if you’ve got something of a masochistic streak. In case you weren’t aware, our professional hockey team isn’t very good).

There is, quite honestly, always something to do in this place. For just about everyone.

Whether or not the weather gods are being kind…

Redhill’s 19th century apothecary aptly noted ‘had Simcoe* or his wife set foot ashore in weather as unsuitable for human habitation as this winter had offered, he had no doubt there would be no Toronto.’

(*John Graves Simcoe was our first Lieutenant Governor- who founded York- now Toronto- as the capital of Upper Canada .)

Okay. So our weather is a little unpredictable. I, myself, can’t stand winter, and we got a pretty strong blast of that sort of nonsense yesterday and the night before.  The snow that fell has now turned to slush, and the sidewalks and roadways are grey and icky. We’re supposed to see more snow- and even colder temperatures- tomorrow.

But. Today the sun is shining and the wind off the Lake isn’t as bad as it could be. On days like this I can actually remember- and look forward to- the warm breezes and return of the green spaces that make up so much of this town.

Eventually things will start to look like this again…

Green and warm and Lake-shore-y.

I do love to travel- and there are other places in the world that have captured my attention and heart in one way or another (looking at you, Glasgow), but today I’m a proud Torontonian. In spite of the below-seasonal temperatures.

We might like ourselves somewhat overmuch (if you listen to peeps from the rest of the country, anyway), but I think we have a whole lot to be proud of, here in Hogtown.

Pop on by for a visit.

And remember, when you do- the second ‘t’ is silent. Welcome to Torono. You’ll feel like a local in no time.