Do you remember Jane Jacobs? Jane was an influential urbanist who graced the City of Toronto, among others with her intelligence and resilience to make her environment a better place for people. Her legacy lives on throughout the world by way of Jane’s Walk, a global effort to bring social awareness to the urban fabric where we all live and work.
I recently attended a panel discussion on the impact Jane Jacobs had on the City of Toronto from the perspective of 4 of Toronto’s former mayors; David Crombie, John Sewell, Art Eggleton and Barbara Hall. Each had unique and interesting things to say about their city and about Jane Jacobs attitude and approach to city politics along with her impact on the city itself. She was an idealist and a realist if there is such a thing. With the exception of Barbara Hall, the time when these mayors were making their way through the municipal political system in Toronto was during the 1960’s and 1970’s. A time of great political activism and coming of age for many cities in North America and Toronto was no exception. A time, it seemed, when ideals and ideas to affect change was on the forefront of the minds of the city’s leaders and influential citizens.
One topic of discussion centered on the original municipalities, how Toronto has grown to be an ethnically diverse and multicultural city and how the amalgamation of 1998 has affected the now coined “mega city”. Toronto was originally made up of 6 individually governed municipalities, namely; Scarborough, East York, North York, Etobicoke, York and Toronto each with its own unique political, cultural and constituent base. While I am not here to argue for or against amalgamation I have lived in three of the municipalities and I can attest that each has carried its flavour into the amalgamation without losing its distinct regional personality.
The debate became interesting when discussion turned to how social diversity has been impacted by economic disparity over the past 30-40 years. Toronto, by its nature, has grown to become culturally diverse and we are fortunate to live in a city which is socially and culturally tolerant. Regardless, all 4 of the former mayors agreed that Toronto, the now coined mega-city, in general seems to have become an economic convergent ring from the core outward whereby the most affluent live in the inner city, the middle class surrounding and the lowest income families occupy the outlying extremities or pockets within the least accessible or viable areas of the city. This phenomenon is not a revelation or even uncommon but it is interesting when further discussed in the realm of culture and trust.
Regional culture in different municipalities of the city remains intact and strong and there is inherent trust built among the constituents of these areas. Each have common interests, common vision, common values, however, when addressing city issues each remains as an island to the other. Naturally issues that concern one municipality may differ from the other however as an amalgamated city we, as citizens, are now mandated to take a unified view when it comes to government. The current political system makes it difficult to govern the city in any other way. So what do we do? Do we tend toward the insular and maintain our culture within local politics and local issues, influence what we can locally and not worry about our neighbouring municipalities? That doesn’t seem right, does it?
Well, the panel agreed that until the level of tolerance increases between the seemingly politically elitist Torontonians (I am currently one and that stung) and their now no longer neighbours but family in the suburban municipalities it will be difficult to make a realistic change to the current state of affairs. Aren’t they simply saying we need to trust each other regardless of our cultural and regional differences and listen to each other’s opinions, understand each other’s concerns and act as a team with a unified vision to a common goal? Boy, that’s a lot to ask of municipal politics but they are right.
It’s an age old issue of awareness. We live our lives. We have our families, our friends, our neighbourhoods and we need to care about those around us that are close to home. That’s life.
Jane would have loved that argument. We really need more Jane’s.