Toronto is a Broken City

What is going on with this wonderful hometown of mine?

When I grew up in Toronto, it used to be proudly called “The City the Works.” And it was. And it did. But not any more. It makes me mad and disappointed and activist. Toronto should be renamed “Broken City.”

Arrgh. I’ve got to get all this off of my chest. It’s been two years of living here and this Broken City bugs me every day. First let me say that Toronto still has so many good things going for it that make it a great place to live. The city itself is incredibly cosmopolitan, a lot of fun, has great architecture, cool politics, good bars and lots of beer choice, a fantastic & accepting attitude, top-notch universities, some great hospitals and doctors, there are diverse neighborhoods, tons of interesting private and public spaces, great walking places, and lots and lots of great people. But this is increasingly becoming a difficult place to live because it is overloaded with people, the prices are way too high, and most of all the public services we are (over)taxed for simply aren’t being provided. It’s a very poorly run city. My many American friends who live in the mighty Land of the Free, you may have gripes, but at least your cities are well-run, organized, and your politicians generally accountable (arguable, yes, but you haven’t seen the other side). Toronto is full of potential, but it’s a fallen city, sinking deeper into the dregs every day.

Here’s my latest gripe. The one that sent me completely over the edge. A couple that we socialize with was telling us that, about a month ago, a huge tree branch fell onto their car. The car was parked on a city street, under a city-owned tree, on a clear day, and this massive branch just cracked, split, and fell on top of the car. It totaled their car. Done. Kaput. They are still driving a loaner vehicle as the shop tries to figure out if they can fix the car or should trash it.

Here’s the mismanagement part. The city of Toronto does not take care of its trees. They don’t prune them, trim them, inspect them, or cut them. After every storm of any windy significance, the street is littered with fallen tree branches–many of them honking huge–all along the sidewalks and streets. Some streets are blocked for days, because they city also takes its sweet time cleaning them up. So there is dead wood hanging all around us. Yes, I mean the politicians and city workers too.

And here’s the kicker. If you wanted to trim the tree, if you had the extra time and inclination to do it, guess what. You can’t. It’s illegal. It’s on city land. So you just need to wait for those dead old branches sitting over your house to topple. They could fall on your car, your house (we know someone that this happened to), your dog, or God forbid your kid. It is insane.

How about this? If you want to cut your own tree, yes, your own tree in your own backyard that you paid for and still pay lots of taxes to own, you can’t. It’s illegal. The city requires you to get their permission and pay for permits even to trim branches off your own tree. You might hurt the tree, they say. This is an environmental move that makes no sense to me. It starts to confuse environmentalism with some sort of urban fascism. And that’s bad for environmentalism, because it radicalizes it and builds resentment.

When I lived in Chicago, we just dialed 3-1-1 if a tree needed trimming. The city came out and did it, free of charge, usually within the same day. Done. Your tax dollars at work. I never felt bad about paying my Chicago city taxes, or my American income taxes for that matter. There was always value there. I’m a consumer, and I got my money’s worth out of the quality public services in Chicago. Why can’t the Toronto government provide value for its (grossly inflated) tax dollar Why can’t the Canadian government? Why don’t Canadian consumers demand more? Is this what happens when you never have a Revolution? You know what? It’s Revolting!

  • Why can’t the Toronto government create decent parks for our kids to play in, instead of dirty, weed-filled, run down patches of land, constantly under threat of being developed into high-rises?
  • Why can’t the Toronto government do something about the incredibly bad traffic gridlock on the road here? This city wasn’t built for this many people. The public transportation is overcrowded, with rush hour congestion almost unbearable. The public transportation is overpriced and poorly serviced. The car and truck pollution stinks. Getting expensive bi-annual emissions certification for ten million cars isn’t the answer–having far less cars on the road is. We need solutions to move people around this fine city. We need them yesterday.
  • Why can’t the Toronto government clean the streets when the snow falls? Or when the leaves fall?

It’s pathetic, this broken city. It once worked so well, It could work well, with some willpower and proper organization, a reduction in bureaucracy and some motivated workers it could easily work again. But Torontonians and Canadians need to start demanding more of their “leaders”–there is no leadership, no accountability for the poor state of this city.

  • Why can’t we get a decent bike path here?
  • Why can’t we get proper garbage service? Why do the garbage collectors leave the trash bins all over the road? Why do they pick and choose which garbage they will or won’t take?
  • Why can’t we order things from other countries without being taxed on it? Why won’t mail order businesses like Amazon and eBay work properly here? Why is the mail service so terrible?
  • Why can’t we get mail every week day? Instead, we get it every other day. In the USA, we get it every day but Sunday, regularly. Why is that?

I won’t even talk about the Health Care House of Horrors here. That’s a full enough topic for another blog. Or two.

Yes, I’m confusing Toronto issues with Canadian issues with Provincial Ontario issues. Hey, I’m griping. In expanding and ever-widening circles. Broken city in a broken country. It’s dismal and sad to see.

It is broken, broken, all broken. And the shame goes to the people who run it, and the people who live in it and let it be run into the ground in this way. What can we do, together, to change it?

Today, the Canadian dollar broke through and made it to parity with the US dollar for the first time in 30 years. But have we seen the significant savings of the Canadian dollars climb? The cost of imports from the USA has sunk 15 percent since the beginning of the year, but the savings have not been passed on to consumers. They’ve been kept by Canadian businesses. Why? Because the country is run by oligopolies and local monopolies, and complacent Canadians and the weak government here won’t compel businesses to do what’s right. They never do. American wouldn’t take that sort of nonsense, not for very long. Canadian have become highly proficient at it.

All that needs to happen in for Torontonians and Canadians to start to organize, to say things aren’t right, and to start to put their own houses in order. I hope, I truly hope, that we do it, and soon. When should we meet to get this going?I hope it’s before the next branch falls on one of us.

2 Comments

  1. Jeff Podoshen September 23, 2007
  2. rasputin7 October 1, 2007

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