DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOUR CITY
In forty-three years Toronto has paid five sets of planning experts to tell it what’s wrong with the city — and taken no notice of any of them. So its traffic, residential and industrial headaches have grown from bad to worse till now it’s a hopeless jumble of thirteen governments bickering like Balkan states, most of them fighting the one step that’s necessary to start repairing the damage. Here’s a dramatic lesson for the other fast-growing Canadian cities who seem to be in danger of following Toronto’s horrible example
TORONTO has probably had more books, articles, poems, plays and gags written about it than any other city in Canada. It has been praised, panned, pitied and ridiculed. Its public transportation has been called the continent’s best, its gloomy Sundays the continent’s worst. But the real story of Toronto is much deeper than its veneer of gags and clichés.
For every citizen of every city and every big town in Canada the real Toronto story is one of grim and vital urgency. Many of Canada’s small cities and big towns will be big cities of tomorrow and Toronto has an important lesson for all of them.
Toronto is a particularly hideous illustration of all that can be bad about urban living. It is
Canada’s, if not the continent’s, best example of how not to build a city.
In fact, those very terms “build” and “city” are misleading distortions as far as Toronto is concerned. For Toronto isn’t a city, but thirteen cities piled haphazardly on top of each other like a child’s stack of wooden blocks; and it wasn’t “built” with the methodical planning that that term implies, it just grew . . . and grew . . . and grew some more. It grew with no orderly plan for handling its central whirlpool of traffic, with no provision for expansion when its area became filled anrl congested as inevitably had to happen, with no thought of the downtown parks and squares that would be so urgently needed when green fields and countryside became pushed miles away. It com-
placently permitted a stifling slum to eat into its heart.
Toronto’s century-long accumulation of ills now has the city and its bickering family of suburbs deadlocked in a bitter judicial feud on the question of amalgamation. The battle at the moment appears to have only one possible outcome a shotgun wedding of city and suburbs with the provincial government calling the tune and holding the gun.
The feud over whether a jumble of twelve suburbs will continue to manage their own little households on Toronto’s doorstep, or whether they will all join hands with the city and together correct the woes of an unplanned, haphazard, too-rapid growth, has flared periodically for twenty-five
THE TRAGEDY OF TORONTO:
years. With every year the problems of patchwork jurisdictions and the difficulties of solving them have become greater. Finally, in 1950, the harassed provincial government, sick of the never-ending municipal squabbles in the shadow of its parliament buildings, told Toronto and its satellite communities to settle their feud once and for all, or the province would jump in with its big stick and settle the mess for them.
The result has.been a long-winded, mud-slinging, year-long series of hearings before the province’s Municipal Board in which eighty-three witnesses and thirteen lawyers flung two - and - a - quarter -million words of blustering accusations at each other. Toronto and one suburb the town of Mimico—argued for an all-out amalgamation that would obliterate the suburbs and create a new Toronto seven times larger in area than the present city. Eleven of the suburbs, however, fought desperately for the right to continue paddling their own municipal canoes.
The hearings ended last May. The Municipal Board, which is the Department of Municipal Affairs’ referee in such disputes, is now studying the eight thousand pages of typewritten evidence before it. The board’s decision will probably be a history-making precedent in Canadian municipal affairs.
“Toronto’s amalgamation battle is merely the last link in a long chain of city-planning blunders and failures,” says Eric Hardy, expert in municipal problems, director of the Citizens’ Research Institute and the Bureau of Municipal Research. “We shouldn’t blame Toronto’s former leaders too much. Toronto didn’t know where it was heading. City planning for future growth was largely unheardof in Toronto’s infancy. But vision and planning could have prevented most of Toronto’s present troubles. This is the lesson that Toronto holds for every other city and town in Canada that still has time today to plan its future and avoid the Toronto errors.”
Where did Toronto and its smothering barrier of suburbs go wrong? First let’s look at the stage setting of the drama—the geographical Toronto as it is today.
Greater Toronto consists of the city itself and twelve densely built-up suburbs around it. Toronto proper, with sixty-eight percent of the population, is squeezed into fourteen percent of the area at the heart. Geographically and socially Greater Toronto is one community, so literally so that the stranger cannot tell when he crosses the border from one municipality to another. But from an administrative standpoint, Toronto is thirteen separate entities— yet so irretrievably enmeshed
that the decisions of one invariably affect and often clash with those of a neighbor.
Toronto proper, at the core, is the only one that has the official status of a city. The others, although most of them have urban populations which make them cities in fact if not in name, are masquerading under the labels of townships, villages or towns because they obtain bigger provincial government grants that way.
Toronto, the central city, roughly forms an inverted T, with the bar of the T lying along the shore of Lake Ontario for ten miles and the stem extending seven miles northward. The strait jacket of twelve surrounding municipalities which fence it in starts on the lakeshore at the west with the village of Long Branch, the town of New Toronto and the town of Mimico, all of them small in area. North of them is the township of Etobicoke, which has a densely urbanized zone in the south where it approaches Toronto and large tracts of undeveloped rural land stretching to the north. Squeezed in between Etobicoke and Toronto’s western boundary is the village of Swansea, small in area but built up with high-class residences.
In the western angle of Toronto’s upside-down T are the village of Forest Hill, the township of York, and farthest out, the town of Weston. Forest Hill is small, completely urbanized and has the
reputation of being Toronto’s most select suburb. York township is perhaps Canada’s strangest municipal anomaly. It is completely built up, heavily industrialized, has a population greater than Halifax, maintains its own fire and police forces, ranks as Canada’s tenth largest centre of population, yet it is governed by a reeve and council and managed under the same municipal laws as a farming township.
In the eastern angle of the T are the town of Leaside and the township of East York. Leaside is a prosperous suburb, zoned better than most with a new residential section and a separated industrial area that provides it with a high assessment. East York is older, almost entirely residential, and has little space left for expansion.
Toronto’s two remaining suburbs are the township of North York and the township of Scarboro —North York stretching across the north and Scarboro reaching down to the lakeshore at the east. They are Toronto’s biggest suburbs in area and therefore most capable of expansion in the years ahead. Both have newly urbanized sections adjoining Toronto and large areas of undeveloped rural land beyond. North York is today absorbing most of Toronto’s overflow and the annual value of its building permits makes it Canada’s fastest expanding municipality.
In 1950 Toronto’s population was 667,000, that of its inner suburbs 387,000. Each of these suburbs is a self-centred autonomous little state with its own municipal council. Each is expanding any old way its own private interests suggest, and to heck with how it affects its neighbors or Greater Toronto as a whole. Each is aggressively seeking to finance its own individual requirements as economically as possible, uninterested in a solution of the great over-all problems common to the whole metropolitan area.
And smack in the middle of the whole chaotic muddle is Torontoan ageing parent now disowned by the bickering sons and daughters it produced and nurtured into self-sufficient maturity.
One other governing body also has a finger in the administration of Greater Toronto. It is York County Council, composed of representatives from all the suburbs and also from a number of more northerly townships and towns which lie beyond the Greater Toronto area. Toronto itself, as a city, has no representation on the county council.
Now let’s retrace the years and see how it all happened.
Somewhere back in its history, when it became apparent that it was going to become a great city instead of remaining a Muddy York, Toronto should have paused
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in its growth, done a bit of tearing down, and then started growing again on grander and enlarged foundations. But no one had the vision to see the ! need so Toronto didn’t make that ; essential second start. Now it’s too late. Today it’s the same little Muddy York just squashed out over half a county and dressed up in very ill; fitting big-city clothes.
Don’t let the tragedy of Toronto happen to your city.
“In its uncontrolled and unplanned | growth from a frontier town into a j twentieth century metropolis it made | about all the mistakes that a growing city could possibly make,” says Dr. j E. G. Faludi, a community-planning authority who has served as consultant for Toronto and a number of other Canadian towns and cities. ‘‘And Toronto is still making new mistakes, and making the old ones bigger.”
It is true that Toronto is slowly turning its University Avenue into a traffic artery that will be one of Canada’s showiest and most efficient. Its Yonge Street subway, Canada’s first high-speed underground transit route, will bring about a big and longneeded traffic improvement when completed in another year or two. Its Regent Park subsidized housing project ! is a positive and commendable attack against one of its worst slum areas. But Greater Toronto’s plight is so bad that even these costly undertakings are feeble gestures in the face of its enormous over-all needs.
Butterflies Get Sunburned
Toronto’s earlier sins were so overwhelming that their effect will still be crippling the city a century from now. It handed out building permits with ; the recklessness and abandon of an auctioneer passing out handbills. It | permitted its checkerboard of narrow, [ pitifully inadequate downtown streets | to become hopelessly imprisoned be! tween multi-million-dollar skyscrapers which only an atom bomb will ever j move. It did nothing as industries ! intruded into once - fine residential areas, turning the areas into slums under a blighting pall of smoke, fumes, ! odors, noise and dirt. It allowed the ! city’s business heartland, the head office site of scores of leading Canadian j firms, to become curtained off from Lake Ontario by an ugly squalor of railroad yards and freight warehouses which now represent an investment so vast that nothing will ever oust them. !
It permitted such building conges; I tion on its downtown streets that today j : there isn’t an open space, a public J square, a boulevard or even a patch of lawn big enough for a decent game of croquet. And for blocks in all j directions from its city hall there isn’t j a shade tree big enough to keep a i butterfly from getting sunburned.
It made the inexcusable blunder of disfiguring most of its beautiful twelvemile waterfront with a garish con| Í glomeration of amusement park hurdyj j gurdies it fondly calls Sunnyside, and j j with a smelly industrial litter of coal piles, refineries, glue works and sewage j disposal plants. And, as if that wasn’t | enough, it shoved more railroad yards I and more factories up its Don River j valley, turning as fine a parkland as any | city could ever have into an industrial slum.
Though on a site especially favored by nature with two rivers and miles of lake beaches, a generation of Toronto j children have grown up with only a
few artificial pools in which it has been safe to swim. The Don and Humber Rivers have been allowed to become such cesspools of industrial waste that the Toronto and York Planning Board decided two years ago it would be cheaper to build more swimming pools than attempt to clean the rivers. And most of Toi'onto’s beaches on Lake Ontario are so polluted with sewage that the warning sign, “Infected Waters,” has become lamentably familiar to Torontonians.
The result of all these planning sins, or lack of planning, was inevitable. Toronto, or at least a large part of its central area, became less and less attractive as a place to live and raise children. Those who could afford it moved to the city’s outskirts where there was space and clean air. A low-income class, most of them tenants, was compressed into the older residential sections which surrounded the downtown commercial and industrial zone. Buildings became old and in disrepair. There was no incentive for landlords to improve or rebuild. Decay set in across a vast section ot the city’s heart. Toronto, never showy or particularly attractive, became blighted now with an ugly fast-spreading slum.
The warning was evident three decades ago. In 1934 a housing study emphasized the danger and there were a few half-hearted gestures at demolishment and rehabilitation in a couple of tiny spots. But because of a combination of depression, complacency and a naïve lack of vision of what was at stake Toronto did little about the decay at its core and the crippling chain reaction of havoc which that decay was setting in motion. Those who could contribute most to the city’s tax revenue and social structure retreated beyond the city to its suburbs in larger and larger numbers, like rats abandoning a sinking ship.
At the end of World War II the exodus to the suburbs, sparked by the housing shortage and good times, became a flood. The population of Toronto, apart from its suburbs, which had been growing constantly for more than a century, suddenly started to decline in 1946. Since 1946 Toronto proper has lost more than forty thousand citizens.
Thus, because Toronto failed to foresee the need and provide attractive homesites, thousands of its more prosperous wage earners still work in the city every day, crowd its streets, drink its water, travel at cost on its publicly owned transportation system, place undue demands on its police, fire protection and health services, yet they live in and pay taxes to some other municipality outside.
Toronto’s daily traffic snarl and its police and maintenance payrolls are two illustrations of the injustices with which its citizens are faced. Residents of Toronto itself own one hundred and seventy thousand automobiles. If these were the only cars that used its streets the traffic situation would be bad enough. But every weekday morning approximately one hundred thousand additional cars pour across its borders and jam into its spindly downtown thoroughfares with workbound suburbanites. At five o’clock something like two hundred thousand cars start homeward in an exhaustbelching horn-blasting riot on streets originally designed for a few hundred crawling horsecarts—and altered little since then. The Toronto motorist who crawls homeward in second gear at an average speed (in the downtown sections) of six miles per hour, can meditate the fact that one hundred thousand non-resident drivers are largely responsible for the traffic congestion that is wasting an hour to an hour
and a half of his life every day. And he can also annoy himself with the bitter reflection that he is being charged two dollars in taxes for every dollar of wear and tear he puts on his own streets. That other dollar is needed to take care of the wear and tear caused by the suburban cars which are blocking his way.
Greater Toronto’s horde of automobiles is growing at the rate of about twenty-five thousand a year. The cross-city Bloor Street tram run which a few years ago took sixty-six minutes now takes eighty. Says Traffic Engineer H. R. Burton: “Complete traffic
stagnation is not very far away. We are getting close to the point at which it will take a man hours to get home at night.” And when Toronto’s city planning board in 1949 toted up the cost of the auto speedways and street widening needed to accommodate the city’s traffic it came to seventy million dollars. One proposed cross-city highway alone—and Toronto will need several of them before its ancient gridiron of narrow, jogging streets will properly carry its turbulent melee of traffic—will cost in many spots an estimated eight million dollars per mile for the acquisition of land and the tearing down of buildings.
Because of Toronto’s huge daily non-resident population and the demands of this population on its services the city must keep almost twice as many police, firemen and maintenance employees per capita on its civic payroll as the suburbs. Toronto has about eleven employees per one thousand of population, the suburbs six. To supervise traffic and to protect the concentration of commerce and industry which provides thousands of suburban taxpayers with jobs, Toronto must maintain 1.64 police per thousand residents. The suburban municipalities have an average of .9 police per thousand. Swansea, for example, a residential suburb, pays four dollars per capita per year for its local police and fire protection. But Toronto, where the average Swansea wage earner spends about one third of his time at work, has to pay twelve dollars per capita per year for police and fire protection.
Greater Toronto is growing rapidly in population. But Toronto itself, the focal point at the heart of this growth, is losing population because it is becoming more and more a place to work and less and less a place to live. More people are using Toronto’s services and public utilities each day, fewer people remain to pay for them. At the same time, the decay and congestion which is driving people away is causing depreciating property values and a constantly decreasing assessment.
Actually the financial position is still strong. Its debt of around eighty million dollars is only half the peak debt of the thirties. But it is scraping the bottom of its tax barrel. It spent twenty-nine millions in 1950 and under the province-set municipal tax limit of two and a half cents per dollar of assessment there is only an added five million dollars it can now draw on.
These are the woes of Toronto. But those ex - Torontonians who headed across the city limits to build new municipalities of their own have woes, plenty of them, too.
For Toronto didn’t just spill over methodically into its bordering countryside. It exploded, flinging out isolated patches of residential building wherever a real estate speculator happened to be able to make a good deal and pick up a piece of farmland for subdivision and home construction. In spite of the gruesome lesson of Toronto’s unplanned growth the suburbs for the most part have allowed them-
elves to fan out in exactly the same haphazard way. All of the crippling 11s of Torontonarrow streets, main thoroughfares through residential sections, congested and monotonously identical housing, lack of parks and open playground spaces, destruction of trees, and industrial intrusion into residential areas—were repeated in the city’s suburban development.
Toronto had some excuse for its lack of planning. Town planning for healthier, happier, more economic and efficient community living was largely unknown in the city’s infancy. The automobile had not arrived. But now town planning is a science that can solve tomorrow’s traffic and slum problems by working on them now, while there is still time. Yet the development of Toronto’s suburbs is still being left largely to the whims and profit schemes of a few real estate builders. Many of them appear to recognize only one aim: to jam as many houses into as small a space as possible, sell them for all that the market will stand with no regard for how the project fits in with an over-all traffic, sewage, water and industrial zoning plan.
Home building has boomed ahead so rapidly and unplanned that many sewers and water mains have turned out to be too small almost as soon as they are completed.
For the whole area Lake Ontario is the natural source of water supply and outlet for drainage and sewage. Yet most of the suburbs are cut off from the lake by the city of Toronto. Though the world’s biggest source of fresh water is just a few miles away a large part of the suburban area is forced to depend on expensive and uncertain wells for their supply. It is not rare for desperate mothers to mix baby formulas in ice-box drippings or ginger ale when the water supply fails temporarily.
Thousands of new homes have been thrown up in more outlying areas whioh cannot be served with sewers for years yet. Here, septic tanks are the only sewage disposal system possible. According to a survey made by a sanitary engineering firm in 1949 much of the soil surrounding Toronto is unsuited for safe septic-tank performance.
“The safety of septic tanks depends on the porosity of -the soil,” stated Dr. A. E. Berry, sanitary engineer in the provincial department of health. “They won’t do their job safely in heavy clay soil, for then you frequently get seepage of sewage back up to the surface. This is occurring now in some areas of the suburbs and where it occurs the danger of a typhoid, dysentery or diarrhea outbreak is always present. North York alone has fifteen thousand septic tanks. In addition to the health danger there is the expense—about four hundred and fifty dollars each -—which is merely abandoned when sewers are brought in.”
This, then, is the municipal muddle of Toronto 1951.
The city itself is deteriorating from the heart outward. Its best tax contributors are deserting when it needs them most, laying the foundation for a new and future rot outside. Toronto is confronted with a face-lifting job that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Yet under the present municipal setup the people who would derive much of the benefit are suburban residents who wouldn’t be paying a cent for it.
Toronto had plenty of warning of disaster ahead. In 1896 when its population was under two hundred thousand an official report prepared for the council of that day warned that its 1945 population would be in the neighborhood of half a million (it became 671,000). In 1926 an official study forecast that the 1950 popu-
lation of Greater Toronto would be a million and a quarter (actual, 1,055,000). By 1925 it was apparent that the automobile was going to transform urban life. By 1930 a large section of central Toronto was declining inevitably into slum.
“Toronto first became conscious that it was going to be a city of considerable size before 1910,” says A. E. K. Bunnell, chief consultant of the Ontario Department of Planning and Development, a planning expert who has been associated with Toronto’s development for forty years. “In 1908 Toronto went so far as to bring over an English expert to advise it regarding planning for the future. Its first official plan suggesting widened highways, parks, a civic square and greenbelt—things we are still talking about today—was prepared by a civic improvement committee in 1909. In 1912 Toronto even drew up plans for the Yonge Street subway that is only now being built, forty years later.”
Who Wanted a Bunch of Bankrupts ?
Toronto talked plenty, but except for a couple of periods of activity around 1912 and again around 1920 it did little to implement the talk and planning. It put off its growing slum problem as too costly to do anything about—even when large areas declined so much in assessment value that the taxes they produced were no longer even paying the cost of servicing the areas with streets, water and sewers. Its slums became breeders of crime and disease, yet the city continued to maintain them at a loss. And when the city still had cheap undeveloped land at its outskirts, it took no steps to acquire this land so that future expansion could benefit the city.
“Toronto couldn’t entirely have prevented the exodus to its suburbs, but it could have controlled it considerably,” Eric Hardy, of the Bureau of Municipal Research, stated. “It might have maintained its residential values with parks and bylaws to prevent areas from becoming rundown, so that when a building began to decline it would be economically desirable for the owner to tear down and rebuild. It could have annexed land outside to keep ahead of its growth. But even in the Thirties Toronto still had a hands-off policy regarding its suburbs. Most of them were in financial difficulties then and all except Forest Hill were willing and anxious to amalgamate with the city. Toronto didn’t want to pool its resources with a bunch of bankrupt suburbs. So the suburbs pulled themselves through. Today their finances are in good shape and they’re proud of it.”
Now, years too late to do it either peacefully or efficiently, Toronto is trying to bully a way out of its mess by gobbling up suburbs which have been left on their own so long they have developed a zealous community loyalty and a civic pride in running their own little show. And with this move Toronto has stirred up a sizzling hornets’ nest of local jealousies. Suburban reeves have accused Toronto’s Mayor Hiram McCallum of being a little dictator whose chief desire is to reign over a city he could boastfully call Canada’s largest. McCallum has retaliated with the charge that the reeves are striving to retain their little empires so they and their hangers-on can preserve their own jobs.
Community pride and a desire to avoid the officialdom and bureaucracy of a government that would be bigger than Manitoba’s are reasons put forward by the suburbs for opposing amalgamation, but the overshadowing reason is that they are afraid it will
send their taxes soaring. Some of the suburbs such as Leaside and New Toronto have succeeded in enticing a disproportionate share of the metropolitan area’s industrial development, which boosts their total assessment considerably and makes possible a low residential tax rate. All of the suburbs except residential Forest Hill have lower per capita tax bills than Toronto.
But the arguments for some form of unification are overwhelming. Political boundaries that bear no relation to the social and economic life of the people are responsible for costly duplication and a crippling lack of co-ordination in public utilities such as police, fire protection, water, sewers and education. They make it impossible for the metropolitan area to co - operate sensibly in the solution of over-all problems such as traffic facilities, housing and industrial zoning and a fairer distribution of taxation.
All suburban police forces have their own shortwave radio systems but all but one operate on different wavelengths from Toronto. Recently when Toronto police attempted to alert all police cruisers in the area following a hold-up, they had to telephone eleven suburban police departments individually and ask them to send the alarm out on their radios. The gunman got
away. In some cases,_____
one fire department’s I hoses won’t fit another’s hydrants.
Because its school ! population is falling, the city has scores of | well-equipped class! rooms now vacant, while most of the suburbs because of j their rapid population growth are years ¡ behind in school conI struction. Some j suburban students are walking a mile to | school while there is ; space in another mu! nicipality’s school ¡ just a few blocks j away.
The biggest arguj ment for unification j is that the thirteen ; municipalities will j seldom forget their j individual interests ! long enough to sit ! down and work out j a joint cure for the : past mistakes that are gnawing at the j metropolitan area as j a whole.
A plan for the establishment of a green belt of continuous parkland which would cut a fivethousand-acre semicircular swathe through the metropolitan area is an illustration of this.
Parks to form a breathing space in the constantly spreading labyrinth of stone, bricks and pavement are one of Greater Toronto’s most widely recognized needs. With its Humber and Don River valleys and their beautifully wooded tributaries the metropolitan area could have a seventeen - mile -long park winding through its urban
sections. Much of the lower reaches of these valleys in Toronto itself are now lost beyond retrieving to industrial development, but farther out most of it could still be acquired for park use. At the present rate of expansion it will all be gone within a few years.
In 1949 a planning board of city and suburban representatives worked out a scheme for the gradual acquisition of this land. It suggested that a one - hundred - and - fifty - thousand -dollar fund be established, and as land in the proposed green belt became threatened with urban development it, be purchased a bit at a time through this fund. With Toronto contributing two thirds and York County, representing the suburban municipalities, contributing one third, the amount spent each year would be replaced so that the fund remained constant.
Toronto agreed to the proposal at once but York County could muster little support for it. In the county the green belt would pass through five of the suburban municipalities. Some of them had already acquired park lands and refused to contribute to any more. But the main opposition came from suburbs through which the green belt would not pass. Most of them refused to havé anything to do with a scheme under which they would he
helping to pay for parks in some other municipality than their own.
The suburbs have come up with some compromise amalgamation suggestions in an effort to save themselves from being swallowed in an enlarged Toronto. They have asked that certain of the public utilities such as roads, water and sewers be placed under a metropolitan area control but that local affairs including taxation be left under the management of the suburban councils. But everyone who has studied the problem impartially, including bodies like the Toronto and York Planning Board on which the suburbs too have had representation, has had to admit that a complete amalgamation in which the area’s entire municipal business comes under one government is the only workable answer.
But whether a new expanded Toronto grows out of the squabble or whether the old suburb-smothered Toronto goes it alone, there is a staggering job ahead repairing past mistakes.
Yet it needn’t have happened. Proper planning would have prevented it all. Since 1908 'Toronto has officially prepared five city replanning blueprints—-and so far none of them lias accomplished anything except to add to the clutter of its city hall files.
1 )on’t let this happen to your city, if