Bring to Toronto your upwardly mobile masses yearning to breathe free
WELCOME TO THE MIDDLE-CLASS CAPITAL OF THE WORLD
Bring to Toronto your upwardly mobile masses yearning to breathe free
Toronto, as the city fathers will tell you quick as you can say Montreal, is growing three times as fast as the city of Expo, has more building going on in proportion to its population than any other city in the world, and outstrips even New York in the sheer volume of new construction. Toronto, as everyone else in the country will tell you quick as you can say clean air, is the city whose citizens flee north to breathe easy in little woodsy cottages every chance they get — a booming city, sure, a city where economic decisions that affect the lives of all of us are made, but who wants to live there? Grab the money and run.
Rising to defend itself in that brokerish way we have all come to expect, Toronto replies with statistics. All kinds of people want to live there, it seems — in a fiveyear period during the Sixties of all the people who emigrated to Canada about 260,000 stayed; during the same period nearly 175,000 people emigrated to Toronto (and stayed) from inside the country and out. This might be called the Goin Down The Road syndrome, and the reasons for its virulence lie in fat Toronto neighborhoods on every hand. If you are one of the lucky 20% or so of those English-speaking Torontonians who live in such neighborhoods, you are five times as likely to have your own swimming pool as your fellows, you drink 11 times as much Scotch, are twice as likely to have two cars, travel abroad three times as much, drink four times as much wine with
your meals and have nearly a 600% better chance of using an American Express card. And the good things of life common to every free citizen are common to everyone in Toronto as well, maybe even more common — barring such things as massive power blackouts, every second of every day four people make love in Toronto, with the result that, among other things, a new Torontonian is born every 14 minutes. The air in the city can’t be that bad either, because Torontonians die at the rate of only one every 37 minutes. Every day in Toronto, 115.8 people get married and a householder complains to the authorities that a raccoon is plundering his elegant garbage.
What is beyond the bounds of credence, however, is the number of people who visit the place every year, people looking for fun and relaxation who actually seek it in Toronto — tourists, in other words. In any given year in the past decade, more than 10 million of them passed through the Toronto area; discounting those rural folk from places like Ottawa and Hamilton, the combined Canadian and American tourist visitation to the Toronto area that year exceeded the combined populations of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In a nation that treasures a national myth of The Big Sky and the desolate beauty of limitless lakes where the cry of the loon is heard upon the still air, something profoundly untoward has happened: Toronto, the grey, WASPish town that used to be called
The City of Churches, has become a tourist spa, the Acapulco of the North.
It is a year-round phenomenon: on winter weekends the expensive stores and restaurants of Bloor Street and the bar-hotel-theatre district farther downtown are as surrounded by cars bearing American license plates from the northern states as they are all through the summer months, when they are joined by tourists from as far away as California. As for why, consider this letter to the editor of the Toronto Star, published last summer during the height of the season.
“My husband and I have just returned from a trip to Toronto and feel we should take the time to write and compliment your Mayor, William Dennison, on his many fine achievements. We were truly impressed by the amount of building construction going on in the downtown area. Moreover, we were delighted to see the use of flowers, trees and water by everyone — whether city buildings, individual homes or businesses; the well-kept older homes and buildings; the cleanliness of all areas, new or old; the beaches along the lakeshore, easily accessible to everyone; and even more importantly, the number of people both young and old, of all ethnic backgrounds, strolling at night in all parts of the city. This is what makes a city live — when its inhabitants are out on a warm night enjoying their city. Keep up the good work; we look forward to our next visit. — MRS. J. RUDNIAK, DEARBORN, MICHIGAN.”
What attracts the tourist, at least the American tourist, is something more lambent than Acapulco, it is the middle-class dream unbetrayed, an entire, safe, bourgeois 19th-century city that really works. Let it be recorded that about the same time in the 20th century that Walt Disney began play-acting the 19th, charging admission to stage-set Main Streets fleshed out with a full cast of happy burghers, Americans began getting their jolt of nostalgia firsthand by traveling north to Toronto. It is a Toronto that is extra reassuring for seeming so prosperous and progressive — Mies van der Rohe skyscrapers just like the Mies skyscrapers in Chicago, a busy city with a registered motor vehicle for every 2.8 citizens and 4.2 vehicles for every downtown parking space, a city with 16 square feet of retail store space for every man, woman and child in the
metropolitan area. Venture magazine, a glossy American tourist periodical with 3-D covers, calls Toronto “The Very Model of a Modern Major Metropolis,” adding, to clarify the matter, that “certainly Toronto isn’t New York, and in some intangibles it isn’t even Montreal. But then it isn’t Detroit either, or Cleveland or Pittsburgh.”
What that means, to tourists so moved that they write letters to the editors of out-of-town newspapers, is that you can revel in your middle-class affluence without getting mugged because of it, you can stroll neighborhood streets of all ethnic backgrounds without the fear that they will be razed to the ground by the angry inhabitants while you are there. Not long ago, a TV producer was commissioned to package several episodes of Sesame Street (which is dutifully and universally adored four times a day in Toronto living rooms); good Torontonian that she is, she wanted to film the show locally, but after combing the city for locations she gave up and did the show with American locales, because, she explained in despair, Toronto simply didn’t have any suitable ghettos.
Toronto is clean, comfortable and safe, “all middleclass values” snorts one young writer. “You don’t talk about those things in New York, you go there for other reasons, because things are happening there. All the things that Canadians complain about as being American — the plastic environment, the arborite furniture, the urban invasion of the landscape and the suburban monotony — are all right here. They’re all middle-class things and Toronto is the middle-class capital of the world.” Magazines such as Venture think that’s just fine and important enough to write about. “It’s a big, clean city with a lot of building going on,” Venture reports. “And it’s comfortable; they speak Canadian, and you won’t get robbed.” Happy as a drifter who has just found a satchel full of money in a hollow tree, Toronto thinks that’s just fine, too, and is moving to exploit it. The days when it was a dour town known for its repressive drinking laws have passed; an enormous immigration of Italians, Ukrainians, Germans, Greeks, Portuguese, West Indians, new citizens from all over the globe, has given the city a great boost toward cosmopolitanism, and the city fathers smile upon
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ethnic street festivals all summer long now, beaming upon sidewalk cafés, outdoor drinking and dancing in the streets, WELCOME VISITORS signs are everywhere and clean-cut uniformed young guides ply the traffic on motorbikes to assist the tourist from one bromidic wonder to the next.
On the TV screens of northern American cities, color commercials of a dreaminess perhaps unequaled since the demise of mentholated cigarette advertising inform Americans in their beleaguered suburbs that they can have “a love affair with Toronto.”
“Toronto . . . affectionately yours” is the catchphrase of the campaign, the ingratiating child of the Convention and Tourist Bureau of Metropolitan Toronto, and a bursting heart, of the sort normally worn on the sleeve, is its symbol. “Start a love affair,” the bureau urges, “with captivating Toronto.
“Look up. Tall buildings. A mixture of very old and challenging new. More happy faces. Entertainment? Just try counting all the showplaces. The really big names are in town. Plus everything from Chaucer to planetariums. You’re on a first-name basis now. Call her Tee-Oh. Enjoy her carefree spirit night and day without worry. Crystal lakes and leaping trout are only moments away on giant 12-lane highways.
“Just another big city? We don’t think so. Try us. But careful. You could lose your heart. . .”
What more is there to be said? Experts in urban studies say that there is a great deal more to be said — that Toronto’s very snatching after greatness, its Babbitt dream of tall buildings and fine, broad roads will destroy the comfortable city of secure neighborhoods that have made it the dream city of the middle class. Everybody knows what happened when the princess tried to carry her innocence forth from Shangri-la into the real world; she fell all to pieces in the back of the boat. Even now, residents’ associations assail City Hall in alarm, seeking to halt the march of highrises and expressways on their old neighborhoods of brick houses and shade trees. A major expressway project has been halted, but the most deeply convinced of the city’s boosterish politicians threatened daily to revive it, and still the highrises march on, still the tourists in their millions flock to see the clean, booming metropolis of the pretty pictures — and how long can it last? How long before Tee-Oh hurries from her role as an old stuffed shirt to a new one as just another old jade, no longer affectionately theirs, but just theirs? ■
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