Over the last three years I’ve been extremely privileged to have a ring side seat in a cultural re-awakening in Toronto. The city that everyone else in Canada loves to hate had been batted around by a negligent federal government, a hostile provincial government, inept civic leadership and some really bad PR courtesy of SARS.
Yet despite all this the city didn’t sink under its own morass it bounced back. I think I knew something was happening when hundreds of people waited outside the Gladstone Hotel in an early November rainstorm to hear soon-to-be mayor David Miller and urban guru Jane Jacobs talk about the city they’d want. It’s a conversation that’s been continued in the pages of Spacing magazine, an independently produced magazine celebrating and exploring this city’s public spaces (confession, I write for Spacing), in Coach House Book’s much lauded collection of essays uTOpia, and in newspaper articles like these, that the Star ran over the weekend asking prominent Torontonians what they want their city to look like.
I’ve found this optimism downright addictive and a whole lot of fun. This isn’t a case of Toronto chest thumping. To quote a uTOpia contributor Jonny Dovercourt: “Torontopia [what some of us idealists have taken to calling our city] is not about fomenting civic rivalries; it’s about making your town the best, no matter where you live. Improving the place you call home, rather than just complaining about how boring it is.
I get the feeling that this sense of optimism is infecting other cities in Canada too. I noticed that Vancouver, probably high over its Olympic status, is swaggering again. Calgary, definitely high on oil fumes, is becoming a confident Canadian city. Even Montreal, which was affected by fears of separatism has regained much of its confidence. That is if Maisonneuve magazine is any indicator. John Lorinc’s recently published book the New City talks about how cities have risen to the forefront of our national consciousness, simply because the overwhelming majority of Canadians live there now.
So as a sometimes far too nearsighted Torontonian I have to ask what kind of civically optimistic things are going on in your city? Or more importantly, do things actually feel optimistic in your part of the country, or is it just a Toronto thing. I’m personally interested in hearing from people in some of our smaller cities. Are cool things happening in Kamloops? Is there an urban renaissance going on in Windsor?