Back from Europe – my rant.

An old saying goes that travel broadens the mind and my wife and I have been lucky enough to have spent a month on a tour of the eastern Mediterranean. We visited Italy, Greece, Turkey and Israel. On returning to Toronto, a few things are apparent in spite of the negative press regarding the economic and political situations there.

Appearance:

Toronto has far more beggars on the streets than Rome, Athens or Jerusalem (we didn’t make it to Istanbul). Why is that? We have a welfare state as do most countries in Europe yet beggars persist in Toronto and have done for decades. Surely there is a solution but if there is, it has evaded our politicians.

I accidentally came across this year’s Weston Santa Claus Parade when I went for a walk along Weston Road. It was admittedly a drab day and I didn’t see much of the parade but I’m not sure what a bunch of grown men wearing a fez and driving noisy polluting clown vehicles have to do with the birth of Jesus – or even Christmas for that matter.

A Weston parade.
One of the participants in the Weston Santa Claus Parade.

I know that Christmas has become secular and Santa now ranks with the Easter Bunny in religious significance but I can’t fathom the purpose of the Santa Claus Parade let alone what half of the participants were doing there. At one time these parades were held by department stores to kick off the buying season. Since most people shop for their Christmas gifts outside of Weston, what’s the point? We can and should do better. Perhaps Weston’s Business Improvement Area people can spend their grant and subscription money on something more lasting. The police overtime bill alone must have come to a handsome amount.

A Parade in Argostoli, Greece celebrating resistance fighters in World War II. All schools participate in the parade.

Housing:

Excellent densities are achieved in Europe with mid-rise buildings. It is apparent that planners in other parts of the world seek to beautify their surroundings rather than achieve maximum density. Buildings are substantial with beautiful stonework. They fit nicely into their surroundings.

There is little in the way of attractive architecture in Toronto. The suburbs are even more blighted. Developers have been allowed to demolish heritage buildings and erect new ones cheaply without regard for the impact that they will have in the decades to come. Incidentally, why is almost every wire in the city strung on poles for all to see instead of safely underground?

A marina in Marmaris, Turkey.
The marina in Marmaris, Turkey. Note the attention to detail and cleanliness.

Walkability:

Nearly every European city has major year-round pedestrian concourses. Toronto lacks this despite several areas that have the potential (the Distillery District doesn’t count as it’s on private property). It seems the car must have access to every street at all times or else business will grind to a halt, vandals will take over and heaven forbid, someone might be late for work.

The pedestrian walkway between downtown Athens and the Acropolis.
The pedestrian walkway from downtown Athens leading to the Acropolis.

Transportation:

Transit in Europe is cheaper, faster and goes more places. A ticket from the port of Civitavecchia to Rome’s central station costs under $10. The train covers the 82km distance in just over an hour. Check out the Guardian’s transit quiz to see how Toronto’s threadbare subway system stands out.

Summary:

I’m not saying we do a terrible job here. Well maybe I am. Toronto has traditionally been a place with the ‘not invented here’ mentality. The car is king while taxes are thought of as evil. Toronto’s transit system is underfunded and impractical over long distances. Thanks to strenuous lobbying, a greater proportion of property taxes has fallen to homeowners and lowered for business. Despite that, Toronto’s property taxes are about 30% lower than those in the 905 area. Imagine the improvements to infrastructure that could be achieved with a comparable tax rate in Toronto. In addition, our system of local government gives incumbents an advantage when seeking re-election. We laugh at some other countries and their bizarre politicians. Toronto City Council has more than its fair share of buffoons who are re-elected term after term and whose main focus is their own re-election.

What I am saying is that we can do better. A lot better. Why does Toronto’s planning department promise wonderful things yet allow its own guidelines to be overridden by paltry contributions from developers? Why are there tax dollars for rich neighbourhoods yet areas like Weston have to go begging for crumbs after being made to sell off precious land?

Surely we can learn how to create a liveable city by using successful ideas from other countries? True, those ideas were not invented here but they could work to create a better life for the people.

Shouldn’t that be the bottom line?

6 thoughts on “Back from Europe – my rant.”

  1. I am always struck by the same thoughts, as if electric trains, good public transit, taxes put to use making cities liveable, and attractive are ideas that just can’t cross the Atlantic.
    This is sobering and sad. And we can do so much better!

  2. You definitely sound pretty cranky about the parade. It’s a tradition and if people didn’t like or want it – they wouldn’t show up. The purpose is not to promote businesses although they could do that – it’s to foster a sense of community.

    1. You’re right about cranky – it’s one of my many faults but it does help to provoke intelligent responses such as yours. You make a good point about the traditional aspect of the Weston Santa Claus Parade and its fostering a sense of community. There was a good number of people out to watch too which reinforces your point. I might offer a suggestion though and that if it’s not about promoting business, maybe hold the event during the actual Christmas season – possibly in mid-December. It might be nice to do something about the dismal state of the streets at that time of year. Additionally, if parades bring us together, why not make Weston a parade town and have for example a Weston Canada Day Parade or a Thanksgiving Day Parade etc? It might just be an incentive to spruce up the place (no Christmas pun intended).

    2. Please, the “Weston Parade” is a sad excuse for a parade. People attend because there is nothing else to do in the area other than watch old men drive down a street in go-karts. This is a result of poor planning by local politicians. Your comment only supports the status quo.

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