Can the fat-cat suburbs stand off the greedy cities? Watch Tuxedo
Can the fat-cat suburbs stand off the greedy cities? Watch Tuxedo
EVERY BIG, GRUBBY CANADIAN CITY has Its neat-little, fat-little Comfortable Suburb. In its purest form, the Comfortable Suburb can be recognized by two unmistakable traits: it's richer than all its neighbors and it bleats at suggestions that it help pay for the roads and schools it uses in a poorer neighbor's territory.
Most Comfortable Suburbs enjoy lower taxes on better houses on quieter streets than the towns on their borders. They only want to be left alone. They are fierce when cornered and most of them feel they are cornered, to some degree, by the big, ugly movements toward Metro Government and Amalgamation. For some Comfortable Suburbs, these trends have already meant compulsory entanglement in other people’s problems, loss of sovereignty and, most horribly, higher taxes.
• Tuxedo (Winnipeg) may be Canada’s only perfect, living specimen of the Comfortable Suburb. The four hundred houses on its ash-andelm-lined streets cost anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000. Tuxedo plans to tolerate one discreet shopping centre next summer but, right now, it has no unsightly commerce (as one outsider put it, “You can't spend a nickel in Tuxedo—except on golf’). It has no churches, hospitals, sidewalks or fire department, and virtually no welfare costs. What Tuxedo has, among other nice things, are four rinks, many tennis courts, a shuffleboard court, golf course, fancy street lights, buried hydro wires and lower mill rates and tax assessments than Winnipeg. “Tuxedo’s greatest fortune,” according to the Winnipeg Free Press, “stems from its singular ability to feed on its larger neighbor.”
Tuxedo doesn’t believe in local elections; gentlemen's agreements are cheaper, so candidates for office on the five-man town council are never opposed. Nor does Tuxedo believe in other people’s traffic on Tuxedo streets; it once had a police chief who stopped motorists to tell them, in effect. “Stranger, we don’t like strangers in this towm.”
Winnipeg’s experiment with the Metro system has already cost Tuxedo money; Tuxedo’s mill rate climbed 7.5 mills to 37.5 in 1961 and Metro's levy accounted for four mills in the increase. But Tuxedo taxes are rising for a reason that infuriates its people even more than Metro does. In 1959, surrounding municipalities voted to set up a new high-school division which includes Tuxedo (whose voters opposed it. fifteen to one) and makes Tuxedans liable to taxation for education outside their own green borders. Tuxedo has no high school. Tuxedo teen-agers — the ones who weren't going to private schools — used to attend Winnipeg schools at a cost to individual parents of roughly $325 per pupil. Now, three years after formation of the new school division, it's costing the town, in new taxation,
well over $1,000 for each of the 63 Tuxedo students attending high school in adjacent Charleswood.
• Westmount is surrounded by what her ratepayers regard as big, greedy Montreal, and threatened by big, greedy Montreal mayors. The current aggressor is Mayor Jean Drapeau, who recently tried to persuade the Quebec Legislature to permit Montreal to annex, w ithout referendums, Westmount and other Montreal Island municipalities. Drapeau failed that time, but he’ll try again; he's stronger than ever since last month's Montreal election, in which he was elected to a four-year term. Drapeau hasn’t been subtle about his motives; he wants to take from the rich, like Westmount and the Town of Mount Royal, and give to the poor. His Robin-Hood image does not impress the Comfortable Suburbs; when it comes to annexation, they think of him more as Hitler.
• Leaside (Toronto) is a sport among Comfortable Suburbs: it has industry. Down in the east end, where they can't be much nuisance but can be taxed, are more than one hundred and fifty factories and offices. About half Leaside’s annual revenue comes from industry and commerce and this helps to keep the town’s residential tax rate the lowest among Metro Toronto's thirteen municipalities. What’s more, people who live in Leaside generally earn their above-average incomes in Toronto, while most people who work in Leaside can’t afford Leaside houses; they go home to less comfortable suburbs and take their welfare problems with them.
“Leaside,” says the Toronto Globe and Mail, “prospers at the expense of other municipalities.” Reeve True Davidson of poor, little East York says, “It’s time to lower the boom on rich, little Leaside.”
There is only one local issue in Leaside: amalgamation in Metro Toronto. You just don’t get elected in Leaside unless you declare your hatred of amalgamation. In one survey, 7,842 of 8,180 Leasiders opposed it and last May 24 townsmen cheered a fireworks display spelling out: METRO, YES. AMALGAMATION, NO!
Amalgamation, for Leaside, would mean higher taxes — perhaps much higher — to build in other Metro Toronto areas the services Leaside built for itself years ago. Amalgamation could mean more traffic (Leaside discourages through-traffic now with the Canadian record number of four-way stop signs).
• Forest Hill Village (Toronto) is also a bedroom suburb, only here the bedrooms are even more comfortable than in most Comfortable Suburbs. It may be the richest community in Canada. “With its mink coats and diamond rings, it's the Valhalla of criminals,” said former reeve Frederick G. Gardiner. There are no factories in Forest Hill. There are so few stores and offices they provide only about a tenth of the village’s tax revenue. This isn’t too hard on the town treasury, however, since some houses are so monumental they’re taxed as much as $4,000 a year.
Leaside’s fireworks and middle-class passion just wouldn’t do in Forest Hill but, in its quieter way, Forest Hill is also dead-set against amalgamation. Like Leaside, Forest Hill has both a lower residential tax rate than Toronto and virtually everything a municipality needs; and it knows amalgamation would bring a fast jump in taxes to pay for the same things in other places. It also fears amalgamation would low'er Forest Hill’s standards of public education and municipal services, which are all exceptionally high.
• Rockcliffe Park (Ottawa) is the home of civil servants, doctors, lawyers, military brass
and people whose profession is just being rich. There are fourteen diplomats' residences in Rockcliffe but no embassies; embassies can be somewhat commercial at times and. in Rockcliffe, the only properties that are even vaguely commercial are a boys’ private school and a girls' private school, both with British accents.
Perhaps due to the number of Rockcliffe people whose business is conciliation, the town enjoys good diplomatic relations and sound treaties with Ottawa. Rockcliffe, alone among Comfortable Suburbs, is in no real danger of contamination by the spreading city. It will continue to run its own affairs and to maintain services like the special village crew whose job is to pick up hedge-clippings. Touches like that are what make a Comfortable Suburb worth fighting for. HARRY BRUCE
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