Hume Fumes

By Ben Bull
Published September 11, 2006

Christopher Hume, the Toronto Star's urban Affairs columnist, gave his readers a kick up the backside in his column from last Wednesday.

Using his recent vacation spot of Sweden as a fuse, Mr. Hume launched into a tirade about Toronto's - and Canada's - lack of vision and foresight when it comes to issues such as energy conservation, sustainable development and efficient transit.

Nothing much new for RTH readers here; however, I have to say it was still quite a shock to see my favourite Star columinst in such despondent mood.

One of the reasons Chris Hume is such a favourite here at RTH is that he has proven himself to be an enlightened, intelligent and progressive individual with a lot more than moans and groans in his ink pot.

Mr. Hume regularly serves up down-to-earth analysis of urban issues, such as architecture and street design, while also offering an easy to understand synopsis of how to do things right, and what it means when we do things wrong.

I can't fault the man for his views, or his barely contained frustration. But I do hope he cheers up soon and maybe offers us some insights into how we can claw our way out of this vacuum we've created.

If you haven't discovered Christopher Hume yet, you can find his thice-weekly column online.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By zanis_vald (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2006 at 12:11:10

Two autumns ago I had the chance to visit Stockholm (as Hume suggests). I was able to wander about the city for two days. I don't disagree with Hume about Sweden's social or environmental policy. However I wanted to say that of the cities I visited on that trip to Europe, Stockholm was by far the least pleasant. Yes, the transit system was good, yes the city had no beggars or 'vagrants', and yes it was clean. But it was also very dead. There were people on the streets - so it wasn't suburban death (although it has a lot of that too, dead transit suburbs). It was planning death. Everything was in its place. Everything controlled, regulated, and homogenous. I grew up in Hamilton (Dundas), and now live in Toronto. What I have always loved about downtown Hamilton and many parts of Toronto is the un-plannedness, the slap-dash renovations, the amateuristic signs, the heterogeneity, etc. It makes you feel human. In Stockholm I felt like a cog in a safe, cushy machine. Stockholm’s unpleasantness contrasted with the warmth of Riga Latvia that we visited next. That city's crazy post-communist, post-planning vibe was amazing - so much vibrancy, urban texture, and street level humanity. (And yes, there were lots of polluting cars, drunks and vagrants on the streets, a dilapidated transit system etc.) Just be careful what you wish for

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2006 at 12:38:10

Great observation. I recall reading about a bunch of Torontians who were moving back from Paris because they felt overwhelmed by the city and it's suffocating presence.

'The city has already been built' they wrote. 'There's no way for it to evolve' The writer likened the meticulously planned built environment of Paris to a jewel in a ring, 'To change it you would have to pop it out in one peice' he wrote... He also commented on how oppressing it was to live there, almost as if the weight of history was somehow telling it's modern day citizens how to behave... He finished out by praising TO for all it's warts because, if nothing else, it is a city that is allowed to evolve.

The idea that even a beautiful city can be a victim of it's own design is interesting (and encouraging :) ) It's also one of the reasons we at RTH do not like grand scale development of any kind. Cities should evolve. Take a walkthrough Olde Dundas - you'll see the hap-hazard evolution of that old town. It makes it interesting, beautiful and it gives the present generation something to work with.

Good points.



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By jason (registered) | Posted September 11, 2006 at 13:33:00

here here! give me the sweet old Christophers Fast Food sign, Hutch's neon and the new beauty at Cheapies any day of the week over some gawdy, upsacale patisserie type thing on every building. Sure, some of those are nice - such as Bistro Parisien or Delicieux, but I agree completely - a city needs to have the eclectic look and feel from past years right up to current modern styles all in harmony and co-existing. otherwise you run the risk of having a city that looks like Vegas or some movie set.

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