Why Toronto needs to talk about the inner suburbs

Why Toronto needs to talk about the inner suburbs

#TorontoIsFailingMe: Editor's Note
(Image: Derek Shapton)

The seven-year-old girl above, Amal Syed, came to Canada three years ago from Abu Dhabi. Her father is a computer analyst who left everything behind to give his daughter a first-rate Ontario education. Like many new immigrants, they settled in the inner suburbs, and he enrolled his daughter at the local public school. He was bitterly disappointed to discover what long-time residents of Toronto have known for years—that many of the buildings where we send our kids to learn are old, overcrowded and in desperate need of repair. Amal’s school is an extreme case. Her Grade 2 class is held in a portable—one of 14 at her school that were meant to be temporary but have been there for two decades and are falling apart. Parents complained to the school administration and the TDSB, but to no avail.

Toronto is failing Amal and her classmates, just as it’s failing so many people, mostly new immigrants, in the inner suburbs. “For all the talk of priority neighbourhoods,” Amal’s father, Nayamath, says in his memoir (which you can read here), “we’re obviously not a priority.”

And who could argue with him? The story of Toronto over the last decade is one of rapid growth, gleaming condo towers, bidding wars and the regular appearance of the city on international “best of” lists—for style, quality of life and other creative-class prerequisites. But it’s all happening downtown, away from the inner suburbs whose residents are physically and spiritually cut off from the city’s good fortune.

During the October municipal election, Doug Ford, whose big promise to the electorate was to fight “downtown elites,” garnered 34 per cent of the vote. John Tory, to his credit, refused to take the bait and pledged to unite the city as One Toronto—a laudable goal. But can he pull it off? No matter how much you might like the new mayor, or approve of his vision, he is ­undeniably a member of the downtown elite. Tory has close ties to some of the wealthiest and most influential Toronto ­families—including the Thomsons and the Rogerses. He and his late father helped build some of the city’s most prominent institutions. You don’t need a PhD in Marxist theory to understand why he provoked a city-wide conversation about white privilege.

Downtowners’ perception of the inner suburbs is often informed either by ­headline-grabbing events—like the Dixon tower raids—or by sugar-coated immigrant success stories designed to counter­balance the news. In this cover package, we wanted to avoid both familiar narratives and instead give readers something fresher and more revealing. We invited residents of ­Thorncliffe Park, Jane and Finch, ­Malvern, and six other neighbourhoods to give us unvarnished accounts of what life is like for them. Together, their stories, which we’ll publish online over the course of the next two weeks, help explain the resentment that is ­bubbling up around the city’s edges.

We are also inviting readers to participate in the story­telling by sharing their own perspectives on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #TorontoIsFailingMe.

Why does all this matter? Mohamed Farah, who lives in one of the Dixon ­towers and whose story will appear later this month, put it this way: “If the issues of neighbourhoods like Dixon aren’t addressed now, they could escalate into a situation like the Ferguson riots.” No one will give you a better reason to work toward One Toronto than that.