Friday, November 03, 2006

The Strength Within

Toronto needs a little pat on the back. We're told growing up to love ourselves first before we worry about others paying attention to us. Growing companies are told to focus internally before customers will appreciate a good product. Toronto should take some advice from the self-help book The Strength Within (it got 5 stars, after all) and concern itself with its own needs, and appreciate the beauty it already has.

Toronto is in a panic right now because of the missed opportunity of the 2015 World's Exposition. Before you get too worked up about it, tell me where Expo 2005 was held. I looked it up, and not so I could buy an airline ticket there.

If we want to improve our waterfront, let's improve it. When we're done, if we want to have a massive house-warming party for our new "cottage near downtown", let's do that. The idea that we need to be intimidated by an impending crowd of visitors is just conceding defeat to the people who say we can't organize anything. The best progress is made through openness and well defined goals. We need to be honest that our real intention is to create an attractive city for ourselves and visitors.

If we want to create a place that people are eager to see and spend time in, let's do that. I'm not sold on the idea that a bunch of massive structures designed to accommodate the huge impulse of Expo explorers would have been an attraction in the future. People visit cities for a few reasons, but rarely to go see where Expo nineteen-blankty-blank was held.

People go to cities to see life. Life is in art, entertainment, bustling urbanity, exploring unfamiliar shops, a quiet meal with people you care about, or dancing with people you've never met before. A city is shaped by its buildings, streets and parks. That shape can accentuate the city's life. Have you ever seen the steps of the New York Public Library at lunch time? They're packed with people eating sandwiches talking to each other.

Beautiful structures that are part of our every day life are the ones that are interesting. The Eiffel Tower, admittedly built partly to accommodate a world's fair, provided communications, while being a fascinating sight. Lion's Gate Bridge is an impressive structure, but if it wasn't being used every day, it would only represent waste. The train station in Amsterdam along with the streets spilling out of it with trams, cyclists and pedestrians can provide days of stimulation. I would guess that St. Lawrence Market, one of Toronto's real functioning food markets, is one of the more popular tourist destinations. In order to interest tourists, we need to be a little bit self-interested and create what will work well for us.

If we want to create jobs, we'll do that as we build our city the way we want it, not the way it's needed for a single massive event. We can improve our parks and squares, so that people gather just to see what's going on. We can build transportation systems to accommodate the throngs of people moving here. We can create fascinating and practical streetscapes that let people feel safe on foot or bicycle. This is what it means to create a city that's a real expression of Toronto, somewhere that's unique and worth taking the time to visit.

Those of us who spend time here know Toronto is more than just another franchise of The North American City. It's a city that has so many people loving it. Let's dream about what we can do with this city. Let's make the city we want, a city that exposes the beauty of the lives lived here, and welcomes people to join us. We can do it on our own.

Darren J 11/03/2006 06:33:00 PM

2 Comments:

You should send this to the Star's Letters Section. Everyone should see this.
Joe, very nice of you. I thought it was too sentimental, but the editorial board here let it get published anyways.

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