My wife’s friend Deborah works all over the world as an urban development consultant. Name a city and she has likely been there; there’s also a decent chance she’s lived there. Her favourite? Toronto.
In between assignments in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, she came to Toronto for the film festival in September. She took in more movies than she could count, but the star of the festival was Toronto itself. Deborah had moved away 10 years ago, and she couldn’t get over how the city had matured. New neighbourhoods, cutting-edge architecture, a highrise skyline that’s growing faster than New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco combined, an astonishing degree of cultural diversity — she couldn’t get enough of it. “This city is amazing,” she said. “There’s nothing like it anywhere.”
It was good to hear this, because Torontonians are feeling a little unsure of their city and themselves right now. Some of this comes from having a mayor who doesn’t seem to like Toronto very much, but a big part of it also has to do with being the object of incessant Toronto-bashing from the rest of the country. If others run you down for long enough, you can start to believe what they’re saying. On a road trip to Atlantic Canada last summer, my wife actually found herself apologizing to someone in a gas station because she came from Toronto.
I grew up in places where Toronto-bashing was so pervasive you’d think something had been added to the drinking water. Toronto was self-important, arrogant — altogether too big for its britches. We felt vaguely superior to Toronto because we didn’t have Toronto’s superiority complex. Or so the logic went.
Make no mistake, there’s plenty wrong with Toronto. Vast stretches of it are ugly. Traffic is deplorable. Housing costs are prohibitive. And Torontonians tend to be wound way too tightly. But as our friend Deborah pointed out, Toronto in 2011 is much greater than the sum of its big-city annoyances.
This country is still young. Maybe Canadians haven’t had time to fully embrace their big cities. Do the French malign Paris? The British London?
I bring up this issue because I’m uncomfortable with some of the water-cooler chat in the United Church these days. The church is discussing the future of its national offices, and to hear some tell it, relocating just about anywhere is preferable to staying in Toronto.
Some of the 18 proposals under consideration are from Toronto; most are not. When the General Council Executive meets this month, it may indeed decide that a new location is the best option for the United Church. If that decision is based on a careful weighing of pluses, minuses and priorities, it will be the right one. Rejecting Toronto because it’s big would be just as wrong as favouring Toronto because it’s big.
The relocation issue is potentially divisive. The United Church can scarcely afford that right now. Big, small or in between — we’re all in this together. Let’s act like it.
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