Look back as we leap forward
A planning commissioner with a vision, someone who is not afraid of making bold decisions and exudes passion for the city and its neighbourhoods.
The kind of vision that sees an abandoned, elevated rail line transformed into a striking urban park.
Better commuter times than Toronto (I’m still reeling).
It’s not like we aren’t trying. Spend some time exploring this city’s nooks and crannies and you stumble upon urban art installations and bike lanes alongside the train tracks. And there is a vision (albeit moving at a snail's pace) in the waterfront plans, in some community housing development and revitalization projects across the city.
But here’s something else we could take from the Big Apple: a museum that celebrates Toronto’s immigrant communities, and all that they have brought to the city.
Why not start with one little corner of the city.
In New York, it was the Lower East Side.
The Lower East Side Tenements Museum started when a historian and social activist decided she wanted to build a museum that honoured America’s immigrants. In 1988, she and her co-founder finally found what they were looking for… One of the original tenement buildings, those multiple family buildings that housed thousands of immigrant families from the mid-nineteenth century on.
Now, having restored six apartments to reflect the living conditions of six actual families, residing in the tenement at various points during those many years, the museum is a living history of immigration, a slice of time and cultures, all carefully told by guides with talent for telling their stories.
So my Idea of the Day is a celebration of Toronto’s immigrant history. And yes I recognize that we are all – with the exception of First Nation people – immigrants to this land. But let’s start somewhere. Perhaps a storefront on Spadina Avenue, once the centre of Jewish life in Toronto, the home of the garment district, Yiddish theatre, cinemas. The advent of Chinatown and the waves of new families, cultures and communities ever since. The smells and sounds of Kensington Market.
And it is true that the dreams of a Toronto museum have been lingering out there for years… so maybe this could be a first step, a little taste of what we are and what we will become. A celebration of something that we are proud of, a reminder of the good and the bad, the racism, the struggles, the triumphs.
Oh and since we are talking about museums, and thinking big ideas, spend a few moments checking out the virtual museum of Toronto. It’s a beautiful little thing.