Ex-Torontonian (now a Montrealer), TARAS GRESCOE, <PHOTO – Erin Churchill>, has written a new book, “Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile”, <Harper Collins/320 pages>, bound to be a hit amongst city dwellers everywhere.
Grescoe set off on a trek around the world, exploring public transit and urban life in Canada, Japan, Europe, the US, South America and elsewhere. If you love cities, it’s a must-read. 17 pages are devoted to TORONTO.
He makes many excellent points. Just a few:
1. Suburbs have failed. Frank Lloyd Wright got it wrong. “My parents tell me they bought the (suburban Burlington) house as a short-term investment, but if they were hoping the suburbs would be a healthier setting than the city, they seriously misjudged Southern Ontario . . . My parents lasted two years in Burlington, before giving up on the land of loops-and-lollipops and bundling my sister and me onto a westbound train.”
2. Car-dependent suburbs are going down – fast. Grescoe uses PHOENIX and its “slumburbs” as a worst case example. One day “people will look at aerial photos of PHOENIX and other capitals of sprawl and see all the parking lots, strip malls and overpasses as the manifestation of a pathological addiction to cheap fossil fuels.” (PHOENIX, Arizona is the size of the State of Delaware, encompasses more than 20 cities and towns, has built a 20 mile-long $1.4 billion lightrail and subway system).
3. “To an outsider, it is clear that TORONTO is in the grips of a culture war, one that culminated in the election, late in 2010 of ROB FORD as mayor . . . How did a guy like Ford happen to a nice place like Toronto? . . . The rise of the Ford nation (actually, a myth) and the gridlock and transport paralysis that are sure to ensue, became inevitable when TORONTO’s future was handed over to its suburbs . . . That should be more widely known – if only to prevent it from ever happening again.”
4. “TORONTO has the largest street railway system in the Americas.” But amalgamation and “the dissolution of Metro, the rise of car-dependent fringes and the inability of transit to keep up with the spread of the megacity” explain how we got where we are.
5. “Thanks to a decades-long tradition of regional planning and governance, metropolitan TORONTO still sprawls half as much as North American cities with comparable populations.”
6. “TORONTO has never questioned its urban birthright. The ‘City That Works’, as impressed visitors used to call it, has long been seen as a Mecca for urbanists, and a shining example of rational transportation planning . . . but in just over a decade, TORONTO has lost its lead as a global model for well-planned regional growth, and the Toronto Transit Commission is on its way to becoming a case study in how to quickly squander a hard-won legacy of decent transit.”
He has hope for TORONTO though, now that City Council has reined in the Ford Gang. “TORONTO may yet get the economical light rail . . . set out in the original plans for Transit City”. (Metrolinx has just announced that this is their way forward.) However, a bigger worry “is the long-term damage ROB FORD is capable of inflicting on the city.”
TORONTO Star reviewer, Ken McGoogan: “Straphanger is comprehensive, insightful and well-written. Mark my word: later this year you will see it short-listed for non-fiction awards.”
From JOMON on the GLOBE AND MAIL website: “Nice work. And I commend Grescoe for having the foresight to embark on this research. Makes one wonder where the Ford brothers have stuck their heads.”