I never gave much thought to what exactly it is that makes up the Toronto I love. That is until it all came under attack. To be sure, there have been various levels of government who have made cuts that affected me in the past (the Harris years in education come to mind), but with every increasingly public and divisive decision, it feels like Rob Ford and his “Nation” have chipped away at what I now understand are the fundamental aspects of my beloved city.
Some of my earliest memories involve the Leaside branch of the Toronto Public Library, a haven of childhood exploration and discovery. I remember when I first started looking at books in the adult section - one of the first steps I took towards growing up. The constant auto-dialed notifications for “the customer with the initials T.S.” were a good reminder of just how much the library was engrained in my family’s life. When my partner and I bought our first home, we were so excited to find that it is two blocks from a library and seven blocks from another. To think that hours might be cut back or collections compromised, it’s like Ford Nation is depriving me from raising my children with the wonder of reading that I learned in my childhood at the library.
Right next to the Leaside library is Trace Manes Community Centre, where, among other locations, I worked for the City Parks and Rec department for ten summers. I started as a camp counsellor-in-training, worked three years as a camp counsellor, and at 19 became one of the youngest Day Camp Co-Ordinators the region had ever had. I ran various camp programs for three summers, earning enough to put me through university (which, I paid for entirely on my own) and learning so much about teamwork and working within a bureaucracy that undoubtedly prepared me for my career in teaching. I owe a lot to Toronto Parks and Rec - my summers spent applying sunscreen, taking large groups on the TTC and the Island ferry, playing “Duck duck goose” and bonding after work with my co-workers were some of the most formative experiences of teen years, and I’d hate to think the community centres where these programs were based are now under attack as well.
I own a house now, and I have a very stable job. But I’m a public sector employee, always have been, and I attended public schools. I use community centres three or four times a week, and I would hope to do so even more when we have children. The contention that Doug Ford posited, that “homeowners don’t use community centres and don’t want to pay for them”, has never held true for me, and frankly, is insulting. Even though I was raised in a nice neighborhood, my parents couldn’t have afforded private camps for me as a child, nor swimming lessons, and I wouldn’t have had ten years of formative work experiences without community centres.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that my Toronto is under attack. It started with bike lanes and continued with transit, my two only modes of transportation, the ways I was raised getting around the city in a one-driver family, and the way I had planned on getting my children around, too. With their war on bike lanes and by slating the TTC for service reductions, Ford Nation seems to have implied that my chosen modes of transit (which I also use out of necessity, as we couldn’t afford two cars) are less than valid. Doug Ford spoke malignantly yesterday about Metro Morning, lumping CBC listeners with Toronto Star readers with “wine-sipping elitists” and “tabloid trash”. I don’t know how to respond to that kind of victimization, other than to say it feels like a direct attack on everything I love about this city. I’ve been labeled elite, despite the fact that I’m clearly not, and been branded a left-wing kook, despite the fact that all I want is to preserve what I perceive to be basic human rights.
Ford Nation threatens the fabric of what makes Toronto vibrant - the community programs, the support for families and seniors, the parks and pools where I had hoped I could give my children the kinds of great experiences I had as a child in my hometown. Say nothing of Toronto’s less fortunate - the school snack programs, bookmobiles, community outreach programs and more that seem to have been deemed “gravy” are more certainly more crucial than the cuts I’ve mentioned. I’ve hemmed and hawed and retweeted my complaints since Ford was elected, but this last week has been an eye-opener. I can’t just be a Champagne Socialist about these issues any more. If I (we?) want to preserve the city I live in, want to keep it from being ugly, it’s time to raise a little hell. When there are marches, meetings, and protests, I will be there. I can’t stand idly by and watch the city I love crumble.
(This song is about Vancouver, but it still fits: http://www.last.fm/music/Young+and+Sexy/_/The+City+You+Live+in+Is+Ugly)