THE CASE AGAINST TORONTO, PART 1

It’s taken me a long time to come to this realization. At this point in my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to live in Toronto. My tolerance for Canada’s biggest city is starting to wane big time.

I know I’m not alone, either. This city may be one of the most alienating places in Canada, a wannabe-metropolis that seemingly cannot get its act together when it comes to funding a public transit system or uniting under a common banner with other Greater Toronto Area municipal governments to rally against an indifferent federal government. Instead, it’s the same old nonsense in the Mega City: city workers acting like spoiled children with each other, a complete and total lack of affordable housing for those of us who don’t have six-figure salaries, overcrowded subway cars that make rush hour seem like a compressed sardine tank and all the usual nonsense.

But here’s the rub that’s starting to get to me about Toronto. Toronto is a cold, mean place to live. In a city that once called itself world class, it’s most definitely not so when it comes to how people treat each other. I don’t know if it is based on a long-standing cultural ethos that Torontonians embrace all too easily – money is all that seemingly matters in a city that seems permanently allergic to fun. Toronto is a city so self-obsessed with keeping up appearances to outsiders that we refuse as a city to let loose and have unapologetic fun. Seemingly, the only time of year this is possible is during New Year’s Eve, and even then, letting loose means going to bed at 12:30 a.m. (at least Toronto isn’t as dull as Ottawa, but that’s another post).

Now, to be fair, not everyone in Toronto is like this. I’m generalizing, to be sure. But, after many years of wheeling and dealing with so many aspects of GTA life, it’s hard to deny the cutthroat, win-at-all-costs nature of this city’s culture. Sure, we’ve got a lot of nice aspects of Toronto – the diversity of peoples, the Toronto Islands, the multitude of public events that serve the amorphous Toronto “community” well. But I’m not really talking about those things. I’m talking about how people treat each other in Toronto.

Toronto’s day-to-day life is a mix of passive-aggressive, me-first b.s. We’re either overly polite to the point of annoying (someone going far too much out of their way to accommodate others and not being sensible about it) or just plain aggressive and mean to each other. How is this called The Liveable City? It’s most definitely not, not anymore. The only activity that unites us all? A lousy hockey team that has continually sold the public a bill of goods when it comes to their worthiness of being watched by sell-out crowds at the Air Canada Centre. It’s fitting that the Toronto Maple Leafs, a joke of a team, only stays the way they are because of corporate clients selling out the ACC on a regular basis. If this were Montreal, the Leafs would actually be watchable today.

I don’t know why, but Torontonians have seemingly internalized the now-very-out-of-fashion British Uptightness of yesteryear. While Britain might have been an uptight place in mid-20th century life, the U.K. of today is distinctly fun and far more evolved socially than one might expect (I have a few British ex-pat friends whom can verify this). But Toronto, on the other hand, hasn’t evolved at all from the Uptight Protestantism that founded this city. While Toronto is a very multicultural city, it doesn’t change the fact the only thing that matters in this city is work, money and making more of it. Fun? That’s something that can only be done if there’s practical utility involved, i.e. going to a corporate cocktail party to ostensibly have fun but to actually network. Note: obviously there’s value in work and money, but it’s all about balance with enjoying life. Toronto seems to have forgotten this.

But on a more personalized, individuated level, Torontonians are not friendly. We’re so uptight culturally in Toronto that everything has a preset agenda in terms of how we interrelate. It has a strong effect on almost everything we do.

Take, for example, the dating scene. On a purely anecdotal level, I have a friend (in this case, friend is not a socially sanctioned cover for me) that hates this city for the way the sexes treat each other in terms of dating. Instead of taking people as they were, there are certain cultural precepts in place that prohibit some people from dating others, i.e. does Gentleman X have a nice car? I’m not saying people shouldn’t have standards. But why is it here, in a culture devoted to the fanatical pursuit of work and money, these are even issues in the first place? I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but Toronto’s cold, abrasive ways seep into so many aspects of our daily lives we barely notice anymore.

Maybe, in another time when live in Toronto was more liveable (i.e. a half-way good public transit system, easy access to housing and a continual infusion of new people and perspectives through this mechanism), it would be easier for people to get along. But there’s no common sense in terms of civility and decency in Toronto anymore. The fact alone there are signs on TTC subway doors indicating common sense messages like allowing exiting passengers to leave first shows this alone. This is a city where the dog-eat-dog message has been completely internalized and life is becoming harder and harder.

As was quoted in this week’s NOW magazine, actress Lois Maxwell (she of Miss Moneypenny James Bond fame) once said that Toronto “is a frightfully lonely place. I find people very inhospitable at times.” She was right then, and her message gets more correct every year.

Toronto is fast becoming less and less tolerable. And I know I’m not alone.

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