A 905 dweller with downtown dreams
Like most people who migrate to a new land, there is often a sense of nostalgia associated with the return to “back home” or the “old country.” There is an unspoken expectation that the stay is never to be permanent; just enough time to secure the financial independence that would facilitate one’s return.
I grew up in Toronto and I am currently in the tenth year of my migration to the 905 world of mega big box stores and readily available free street parking. Yet I still dream of the day that I can return to the “old country” of corner stores and eclectic night life that is the land of Toronto.
For many immigrants, like myself, the true sign of “making it” in the new country is in becoming a homeowner, with a backyard. Unfortunately, with the ever increasing cost of homes and the limited access to affordable housing, the thought of home ownership in Toronto, especially when you’re raising children, is merely a dream for most. So insert plan B: a move to the suburbs to fulfill the immigrant dream.
And thus begins, what I call, community envy.
Let’s be honest, we all have it. Perhaps I should define exactly what I mean by community envy. It’s that desire we all have to step out of our front door and take a mid-afternoon stroll with the family along the (insert your neighbourhood of choice here) The Danforth, Yonge and Eglinton, Cabbagetown, College St. W., etc. for ice cream, without having to pack up the mini-van and leaving for that mid- afternoon stroll at 8 a.m. in an effort to ensure that we are able to secure parking that is relatively close to our destination; while praying that we’ve brought enough snacks and multiple “educational” toys to keep the children distracted - sorry, I meant engaged, for the journey.
I will admit that I have often fantasized about waking up one morning only to discover that a giant hand had swooped down and scooped up my house in the middle of the night and gently placed it at the corner of Bathurst and St.Clair. Crazy I know; but I would bet that I am not alone in my delusion and my wishful thinking.
Yes, I am a 905er and like many other 905ers who work and play in Toronto, the reality of community envy connects me to the upcoming municipal election. Issues such as the universal transit pass make my connection all too real. As a 905er, I would like to see the issue of linking the TTC to other GTA transit systems and the GO transit addressed. It should not be cheaper for me to drive from Brampton to Toronto and back, than it is for me to use public transit.
Given our interconnectedness, Torontonians should not take us 905ers for granted. Like Toronto residents we also pay into the city’s infrastructure and play a role in its growth and sustainability.
There is no doubt that the suburbs are growing and that more and more newcomers to Ontario are actively choosing to make a life for themselves in the GTA instead of settling in Toronto proper. At this rate of expansion, it is not difficult to conceive that eventually the suburbs will be on par with Toronto in terms of employment opportunities, lifestyle options and daily living conveniences. As a result, there will be fewer reasons for people like me to trek into the city; which is more reason to broaden the dialogue to include the contributions of 905 residents.
I’ve said all of this to say that what I don’t want to see is downtown Toronto falling prey to the ills suffered by many large American urban cities, in which their downtown core has become primarily a space for the super-wealthy or the ultra-poor. Cities that operate in those extremes are not sustainable and ultimately become quite costly.
Part of what I will be looking for from the candidates, in the upcoming municipal election, is their individual ability to understand and articulate a message that speaks to the needs of their Toronto constituents while not alienating their 905 neighbors and supporters. For this to happen, we need leaders who are forward thinking and who are willing and able to look beyond their personal interests in order to address the needs of the collective.
At this rate, I am unsure that I will ever be able to go “back home”. But just like any self-respecting ex-patriot, I keep abreast of all the news from home, hoping that my knowing will somehow lessen my longing for the “old country” and diminish the intensity of my community envy.