Friday, January 27, 2012

A New Year’s Resolution for Toronto

Gosh darn it, it’s almost the end of January, and I’ve yet to use the discounted gym membership I bought from WagJag on January 1st.
There goes yet another New Years resolution recycled into the dustbin of yesterday’s self delusion. While the advent of the cruelest month, February, may mock us mere mortals for having failed on our path to self betterment, there is indeed time for the collective in all of us, we - the polis of the great megalopolis of Toronto, to make some community minded resolutions for 2012.

Dear Torontonians: it is time to embrace the fact that Toronto is ugly. But ugly is ok.

Like sands through the hourglass so are the columns, which neurotically lament whether or not our fair city is “good” enough to be considered a major world metropolis. These writers nit-pick at Toronto’s ennui, using it as conclusive proof that our fair burg is nothing more than the urban version of an early Spice Girls hit (i.e. a Wannabe).
This tired thesis, by my count a variant on said narrative, is published annually by at least one of our city’s major publications, and has become a paint-by-numbers tome on whether or not Toronto is World Class™. The definition of World Class is of course, elusive, yet the recurring conclusion is that Toronto is sort of like Lana Del Rey: not yet ready for prime time.
Toronto’s urban incompleteness is confirmed by a litany of things believed to be missing in our lakeside burg. The presumption is that once we acquire such “things” Tarawno will finally become something. This argument is, of course, a logical fallacy, but still the list is made: Toronto needs an aquarium! More subway lines! A casino! A waterfront! Things! Stuff!
While some of these needs may be necessary, lord knows the city is in desperate need of more subway lines, the train (pun intended) of thought is off. When Metrolinx finally cuts the ribbon on the oft debated, long awaited, Union-Pearson Air Link, will we, as good Torontonians, suddenly wake-up the next day and realize: this is our moment?
World Classiness does not choo choo choose Toronto simply because we connected Pearson Airport to our Financial District.
Torontonians are also to blame for this insipid shame spiral. Toronto is like the pretty girl next door who used to be fat, and therefore, we must now constantly remind everyone about how cool (and skinny) we’ve become. Thus, it seems that our World Class glass is never neither half full, nor half empty. Our civic boosterism rears its head as if to overcompensate for the above neurosis. Didn’t ya know that Toronto gifted the world the second most important film festival in the world? We also have the greatest music scene in the world, says us! We also had the world’s tallest freestanding structure, once!
Toronto’s tendency to self-aggrandize, unnecessarily, is unbecoming of a large city and more akin to a small town signpost that announces: “Welcome to Middle American Town, Ohio, Birthplace of Forgotten US Senate from the Reconstructionist Era. Population: 2500.”
Toronto, we’re better than that.
Of course combined with grande inferiority complex is the sad reality that Toronto really only blows its wad when something from out of town finally graces us with their presence.
Dear Toronto: Do you know who else has both a Ritz Carlton? St. Louis. According to David Whittacker, CEO of Tourism Toronto, Toronto before the Ritz must have been a nasty and boorish place, pre-cambrian even: “Having a Ritz-Carlton here speaks volumes about the destination Toronto has evolved into. It adds to the visitor experience, and that extends beyond the hotel walls.”
The unfortunate paranoia that Toronto’s chattering class has about stuff too often leads the city saddled with poorly-advised legacy projects which speak to our ill begotten obsession with trying to prove that indeed our dick is bigger than you think. Rogers Centre, ne SkyDome, anyone?
But 2012 is a new year Toronto. And in the year of the Mayan sunset, rather than lamenting the Toronto that we don’t have, let us celebrate the Toronto that we do have.
Perhaps the Toronto that we need to embrace is the city that was most eloquently defined by LA journalist James Rojas, who said the following: “there's a sort of less-than-manicured quality to the whole thing… the city ends up feeling gloriously messy…The city's messiness and realness stands in refreshing contrast to oft-cited beacons of “smart growth” and good urban design, such as San Francisco and Boston, where the perfection of the built form has almost transformed these cities into museums.”
In TIFF parlance, Toronto is like an old Hollywood actress who has refused plastic surgery. And really what type of city do you actually want to live in: Demi Moore Ville, a place whose plastic perfection belies its age and probably its inner insecurities (being married to a chronic philanderer decades younger would do that), or Susan Sarandon-Land, the type of place that may have a couple of laugh lines, but at least it can make proper facial expressions, date younger men AND singlehandedly revive table tennis?
Can Toronto, which is too often portrayed as neurotically self-absorbed and insecure, learn to realize that its greatest asset is actually its lived-in ugliness? If we Torontonians, both media and citizenry alike, can learn to truly embrace our own patina of ugliness, then we may not be as insecure as our naval-gazing, self-loathing chorus would like us to believe.
Cities, after all, are not made to be perfect, nor are they made by perfection.
You want a marketing slogan: “Toronto. Get Real.”