Toronto the Good

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As I consider the online options for bullet-proof windows in my home, I wonder about Toronto’s nickname, “Toronto the Good.”  Lately, my adopted city has been anything but good as the gun violence escalates into an all-out war with innocent Torontonians caught, quite literally, in the cross-fire.

I have always gravitated towards big cities.  I was born in DC (which by today’s standards is not very big at all), have spent oodles of time in Manhattan and surrounding boroughs, lived in Chicago and Atlanta.  A big city and its attendant woes is not new to me.

My hometown once held the dubious honour of “Murder Capital of the U.S.  In my early twenties, I was adept at discerning a car’s backfire from semi-automatic gun fire.  I drove through even the best neighbourhoods with the car doors locked, always vigilant for a bump n jack as some carjackings were called then.  On more than one occasion, I woke with an acrid burning in my throat caused by tear gas.

Once, when driving to Westchester County  New York, I was forced to detour via the Cross-Bronx Expressway only to be detoured again because there was a sniper on the loose.  I pulled the fastest U-turn ever that day.  I drove back into the city  under the dashboard of my mother’s Oldsmobile.  I once surprised a thief inside my car in an underground parking garage.  Not fun.

In spite of all the violence and risk, I’ve never wanted to be a suburbanite. I would choose an absolutely rural location before I would ever again live in the ‘burbs – my husband and I have always lived in the inner city by choice. This  decision divided us from quite a few of our friends early in our marriage.  To this day, only a handful of our friends live inside city limits and some have barricaded themselves inside gated communities – the modern version of a fortified city with walls and a moat full of piranhas.  That is their choice.

Our commutes are shorter and our kids are getting exposure to all walks of life – good and bad – which they will have to know how to deal with when they grow up anyway (unless they move to Australia’s outback or somewhere else equally remote).  My kids can navigate any big city, they can read any subway map (except the ones in Athens).  They have adeptly navigated Barcelona, Rome, and London.

My kids love the city.  They love the vibe, the crowds, the restaurants.  Recently, Toronto’s deputy mayor slammed all parents who want to raise their kids in the city as opposed to the suburbs.  He cited a particular intersection:  King & John Streets.  Ironically, we had the kids down there on Friday night to meet up with their cousin.  We had the BEST time!  The streets were filled with cars, the sidewalks and restaurant patios were jammed, the theatre district is right around the corner – the city was alive.  At 10 pm when we left the restaurant, our nephew’s girlfriend commented on the masses of people on the sidewalks – yes, that’s downtown life.  That’s how it should be.  Full of people, full of life and noise and streetcars rumbling by.

Of course I am freaked out concerned about Toronto’s recent violence.  It also concerns me that our Mayor’s only solution is an antiquated “run the gangs out-of-town” stance.  Seriously?  Where are they going to go?  Violence, especially gang violence, has deep causes requiring innovative thought  – something our current city government is not capable of.  That scares me more than anything.

In the meantime, my kids will still go out and play in the streets (ok, not literally).  We will take as many reasonable precautions as we can  But, we’re not going to hide in our bunkers or help the mayor build an island in the middle of Lake Ontario for all the gangs.  We will not be fleeing to the suburbs – where, ironically, the worst of the violence occurred.

By the way, “Toronto the Good” was just one Victorian mayor’s wishful thinking.  He had high hopes of changing  Toronto’s reputation as a pit of drunken squalor by giving it a “moral” nickname.  Today, when it is used, the tongue must be firmly planted against one’s cheek.

Toronto, I love you.  You just need a mayor with a brain and a posse of innovative thinkers, not gunslingers.

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