This Thing You Are Saying My City Looks Like is Not What My City Looks Like

So I might be feeling a little touchy today, for a couple of reasons. And that may in part have led me to post a, well, more or less of a rant on Facebook after discovering a video (via a BlogTO article, “How to Fall in Love With Toronto from 50 Storeys High,” which is the one I quote from below) which is meant to be a love letter to Toronto (“City Rising”), and which kind of entirely misses the point of the city.

But instead of carrying on further here, I’m just going to crosspost my Facebook update on the matter, with the video in question posted below the quoted text. Thought about cleaning it up a little before putting it on here, but fuck it:

Sharing this not because I agree with the assertion that this is “Toronto at its prettiest” as the article states, or, really, even representative of Toronto at all. This video completely misses the feeling of Toronto.

For all that the city is, in parts, a thing of towers and structures creeping skyward, that is the artificial Toronto. The Toronto in lived spaces is small and quiet, possessed of vast spaces, and at times no room to breathe at all. Even when full to bursting with people it is so much emptier than more populous cities. It is a sprawl measured in shifting landscapes between boroughs, the kind of change you can see walking ten minutes down any street as one neighbourhood yields to another and so on in tripping reel. As greenery becomes desolate piss-poor creep, and back again — in back alleys and graffiti and the rundown at war with the new. In the way the subways flow and connect and divide the city, inadequate and half-measured though they are. It is a city of disconnects, and of variations. Of how things fit together in jigsaw frame, radiating out from the lake in radial pattern northward. As towers and the flash of money gives way to lower and lower skylines, until you have only vast swaths of green broken by sparse structures, and homes, and interstitial landscapes in the northern, western, and eastern corridors outside of the downtown core which we spend so much time focusing on.

The homogeneous landscapes and swirl of lights presented in this video offend me. This is an imposition of a false city, the fable we use to sell our city to the world, over the reality on the ground. This is the tarted up heart of the city, sheened in chrome and steel. It belies the city built of homes and storefronts and towers and ravines and gullies and spillways and patchwork parklands. Of bridges and overpasses and long stretches of highway and small businesses that turn over within a couple of years. Of empty wounds where institutions long in memory and tooth stood, and the gaping wounds felt but not yet made where still more institutions of the city will be ripped up in short measure. It fails to address how Yonge Street splits the city like a backbone, barely holding together its too-heavy halves on either side.

It is a city of crushing poverty and rampant homelessness crashing up against the tidal breaks of money and obliviousness everywhere. Perhaps most noticeably in the Financial District, down along Bay and Front and elsewhere, where it’s not just the men in three-piece suits that actively ignore the homeless begging change from doorways and sidewalks or over grates shedding heat from the subway vents.

This is not a slick city. It is a contradiction. Always under construction, always rebuilding and reshaping itself. Condo towers rising in skeleton arc from the bones of the pavement. It is *ugly* in its revision of itself, in its willingness to forget and pave over. And beautiful still for its denials and its truths, and for its constant seeking to re-engage with the past it is actively denying. History is a complicated thing here. A political statement as much as an actual act of preservation.

I have lived all my life thus far in this city. I can find no measure of familiarity in a video like the one linked below. I can come closer to seeing the city I know in another video mentioned in this article, “Toronto Tempo.” But still, they are both of them spending too much time looking down at the city. The only way to see Toronto for its beautfiul, ugly, conflicted self is to look up, feet planted on the ground, and to walk its contours, with the weight of the city folding in over one with every step.

Apparently it was a day for a rant. Who knew?

And the video in question, “City Rising” (created by Tom Ryaboi – for more information):

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