Editor’s Letter (May 2012): the city is in the midst of a cultural renaissance—except at city hall
The spectacle at city hall has become a common obsession, even among people who never before cared much about municipal politics. It’s part comedy, party tragedy, and overall the weirdest show in town. The carnival-like atmosphere reached its apex when Rob Ford jumped on a giant scale and turned his weight problem into a public exhibit. David Miller, for better or for worse, was at least sensible enough to drop his extra pounds before discussing it with the world. In our cover story this month (“The Incredible Shrinking Mayor”), the writer, Marci McDonald, makes the case that beneath all the Ford family buffoonery is something quite dark. And also sad. The portrait that emerges from her sweeping narrative is of a man who would rather be coaching football than running the city. In fact, he’s a failed football player and reluctant mayor, much like George W. Bush was a reluctant president who really wanted to be baseball commissioner. And it’s no fun to watch someone ill-suited to his job struggle on a daily basis, particularly when the stakes are so high.
If you closely follow the day-to-day skirmishes at city hall—over subways, the waterfront, bike lanes, labour unrest—you might start believing that Toronto is hopelessly debilitated, which just isn’t the case. This is, I believe, a great moment for Toronto. The city is more energetic, creative and prosperous today than maybe ever before. In a recent issue of Toronto Life, we ran a profile of the city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who said something that stuck with me: “Right now city hall is completely out of touch with the urbanism and energy that I feel in our neighbourhoods. We’re in a period of cultural renaissance and transformation.”
That certainly seemed to be true in early spring when I attended the packed opening of the renovated Bloor Cinema. In the age of Netflix, iTunes, YouTube and Rogers On Demand, a brave South African–born lawyer named Neil Tabatznik, who has spent most of his career in Canada as a pharmaceutical executive, did the damnedest thing: he bought the well-worn building and turned it into the biggest theatre in the world dedicated to showing documentaries. His financial adviser might be getting ulcers, but the rest of us are rejoicing. What a boost to the cultural life of the Annex—a gift to filmmakers and movie lovers and anyone who cares about the life of the city.
This issue of Toronto Life features several stories that support Wong-Tam’s counter-intuitive assertion. The subject of our Q&A (“The $292-Million Man”) is a guy you’ve probably never heard of who’s making a fortune cooking up digital properties Silicon Valley is desperate to buy. The issue also highlights two exciting, innovative food-related developments: the Toronto Underground Market (Reason to Love Toronto), a wildly popular new event that invites visitors to sample the offerings of home cooks; and the proliferation of pop-up restaurants (“Pop-up Madness”), the one-night-only culinary shows put on by some of the city’s most ambitious chefs. In our Culture section, there’s a story about a U of T philosophy grad named Nathan Morlando, who grew up fascinated by the mid-20th-century bank robber Edwin Boyd (“The Robber Boyd”). After studying his subject for years, Morlando made a film about Boyd, which won the award for best Canadian first feature at TIFF last year and is being released in theatres this month.
Everyone keeps telling me that our real estate market is overheated, and I was stunned to hear about the now-famous Willowdale bungalow that sold for $1.2 million (more than $400,000 over asking). And yet, with everything going on in the city, culturally and creatively, maybe our house prices aren’t so crazy. As this issue illustrates, Toronto is experiencing a golden era. Just so long as you avoid city hall.