It's official: now we are 'world class.' Aren't we?
The G20 is over and the impact of the chaos and brief moments of nihilist anarchy have left us with a world class city.
Isn’t this what we wanted?
It's been a couple of weeks since the G-20 officially ended and even a 4-day trip of New Orleans (more on that later) can't shake the dark cloud that has eclipsed the city.
A few days ago I heard someone at my hair salon remark with disgust about how embarrassed she was to call herself a Torontonian after witnessing the weekend's events. On Twitter friends and strangers alike traded “war stories” of the people on the front lines who were violated, silenced and denied their human rights.
There were those who cheered that rebellious faction of vandalizers for their "bravery to take on the establishment" (this prompted loud dissent among the small group). And of course there were the TTC patrons who were really just in dire need of information about when their favourite store, which was victimized by vandalism, was reopening so as not to avoid paying that additional 8% on their favourite goods. If there's one thing that I've noticed about the world it's that whether apathy or anger, world-class cities are always full of mixed opinions and experiences.
If this is true, then we did it, Toronto. We finally became a world-class city. We finally got our chance to prove what Torontonians have wanted the world believe all along; Toronto is the place to be in the 21st century. We hosted the world’s 20 most influential leaders as they deliberated over strategies to change/improve/damage our collective futures and the world watched it happen. Toronto got the international attention that we've been waiting for and for the right reasons. As a display of democratically sanctioned global domination, the G20 brought cheers and jeers from across the city and beyond. Still we got it done and it only cost us $1.1B plus damages, 900+ arrests, a few rubber bullets and a demoralized population.
After tallying all of the reciepts and accounting for all of the damages, what has the G20 really cost us, Toronto?
I've thought about this answer for a few days and even had a few conversations with friends about it. While many feel like they personally lost $1.1B ("those were my tax dollars down the drain, you know!"), it seems that my peers and I agree that Toronto has lost its identity.
The G20 forced a number of realities on us.
First, it confirmed that we’re not the city we thought we were. Instead we were forced to snap out of our fantastical illusions of Toronto as a progressive and inclusive city.
In addition, many of us have now been forced to choose a side; In not so many words we are being faced with an ultimatum: You’re either with Toronto, or you are an anarchist. After all, if you dislike the that rebellious faction dressed in black, then it follows that you support the $1.1B efforts of the police force, doesn't it?
This issue has put many of us (myself included) at odds with our municipal leaders who continue to shower praise and deny the injustices that happened on the weekend. Indeed, we have become a divided city that is now home to the bitter, angry, resentful and hurt. I keep wondering if anyone has anything positive to say about Toronto’s role in the G20 without pausing and then regretfully shaking their head in shame?
On the topic of impending global economic, environmental and political matters of tomorrow, we've had to let go of our usual lines of defence (our multiculturalism, our position as the economic engine of Canada, etc.) because they don't make sense in this discussion.
Does our multiculturalism really help us make any political statements if we keep reducing it to the variety of ethnic restaurants in this city? And as the economic engine of Canada, are there any fiscal policy agendas we pushed that would make Toronto and Canada proud?
In short, no.
Instead we politely protested. Personally, the weakness of our mobilization tactics made us look politically inept and socially disconnected with the innovative strategies of political organizing. In other words, polite chanting might work among polite Canadians, but on the world stage requires a more elaborate or strategic kind of production. In the end, it looks like Toronto failed the test of world-“class-ness” and instead have been reduced to a Canada-class city.
But world-class is what we wanted, wasn't it? When my fellow writers and I began writing on the Your City My City blog back in March, many of our first entries talked about Toronto as a world-class city. Now in the aftermath of the G20, perhaps we should’ve been more careful for what we all wished for- or better prepared.
Today we are left in the wake of a tornado of political and media-driven hoopla. And for what? Bragging rights? I've spoken to a few friends and watched the commentary of the post G20 events. And while it's hard to see now, I think an opportunity has emerged.
The G-20 has finally given our upcoming election substance its been lacking.
Our candidates are now better positioned to speak directly to us about a matter that touched all of us. We can finally stop the political rhetoric and talk about some real issues. Our global initiation on to the world stage was humiliating for many Torontonians and left us wondering what went wrong. If our municipal leaders want to make a compelling case for why they should be mayor, they need to answer this:
Mr or Mrs Mayor, in light of the G20, what lessons have you learned and how can we apply them to future events (in ways that wont humiliate us again)?