Comment 17019

By statius (registered) | Posted January 10, 2008 at 00:41:53

Jason,

While I wholeheartedly agree with you that Toronto has a much more vital and functional core than Hamilton, I certainly would not attribute it to "doing many little things right ­ allowing the adaptive reuse of old buildings, allowing street uses such as patios and sidewalk stalls, keeping streetcars and two-way streets and maintaining acceptable sidewalks for pedestrians."

Toronto has a lousy downtown. Anyone from a real world city will tell you this (and if they say otherwise, they're just being polite). The city has suffered from decades of virtually complete lack of meaningful architectural control. Most of its good old buildings have been torn down and built over. Its transit system, while remarkably efficient, is grimy and not nearly as comprehensive as the city deserves. Its downtown is full of partial one-way streets (particularly in downtown residential neighbourhoods like the Annex). Its major "avenue" (Bloor) is a faceless windtunnel (Fifth Avenue of Canada, yeah right). While it does have patios and sidewalk stalls, this is DESPITE the sheer ugliness and inhumanity of the place, and they have always seemed rather out of place to me. As Robert Fulford rightly noted, the city is an accidental metropolis. It grew too big too fast (feeding directly off the economic decline of Montreal, a far superior city from an urbanist perspective) and it shows. The reason for the downtown's success is really quite simple - the sheer wealth of the place. The city is, by some measures, the ninth largest city economy in the world. It is staggeringly more wealthy than Hamilton, and I doubt if it is really productive to contrast the success of its downtown with the failure of Hamilton's. Moreover, as is well-known (witness the film "Let's All Hate Toronto" for rather amusing proof of this), Torontonians are self-consciously "urban" to an almost embarrassing degree. They take pride in living in 600 square foot condos because it is simply part of the perceived culture of the place. They conspicuously consume luxury goods (notice the pink Holts bags seemingly every woman carries) and drop half their weekly pay cheque at places like Lobby and the Drake because that is what well-off young urbanites are expected to do. Toronto's downtown is not an inclusive environment. With a few endangered pockets of exception, development/gentrification has forced the less fortunate to the suburban fringes of the city. There are virtually no first generation immigrants downtown. They just can't afford to live there. In that sense, Toronto really does have something in common with real world cities like New York, London and Tokyo: it has a critical mass of rich people which effectively keeps the hoi polloi out of site (I don't mean the panhandlers who feed off the largesse of the better-off, but the working poor who are the real underclass in that city) and sustains the shops, restaurants, clubs, and services which make the downtown seem so vital.

Hamilton doesn't have this. It probably will never have this. And if it ever does get it, it will not be by the same means that Toronto got it because the sort of wealth that exists in Toronto will never come our way.

As Fitzgerald said: "The rich are very different from you and me."

And as Hemmingway aptly responded: "Yes, they have more money."

We can't even compare.

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