Jane Jacobs is dead. Pass it on
A few months ago, I squared off with Richard Florida when I ridiculed his syrupy fawning over Toronto in the pages of the Globe and Mail. Florida’s riposte went like so: “I have been wondering for some time now why people like Preville are so negative and insecure about what Jane Jacobs said is North America’s greatest city… People like Preville are all too ready to rip into this town at the drop of a hat.” Ever since that exchange, I have been wondering precisely the opposite: Why is it that people not like Preville are so insecure about Toronto that they need to be constantly reassured about its tremendous qualities?
Personally, I find it far easier to ignore people who, like Richard Florida, pull all their punches by couching their criticism with of-course-I-love-this-city hymns of praise to the status quo. Effective criticism never softens its sting. Heaven knows Jane Jacobs never softened hers, yet her name has largely become synonymous with sickly I-love-Toronto sentimentality. If this has become her legacy—her name invoked reverently so that people can display their urban correctness—then we ought to do her a favour and leave her out of it. She has earned her rest.
Here’s another urban riddle for you: Why doesn’t Toronto have a better sense of humour about itself? Wit, pun, snark, cheek and parody are the only sensible responses to Rob Ford, the TTC’s union, the new black hole–size recycling bins, the CN Tower’s transformation into a glow stick, the coming real estate meltdown, Richard-Florida-mania-o-rama, and so much more. They are also the only coping mechanisms that will get us through the coming 40 years during which the Maple Leafs will surely fail to win the Stanley Cup. Humour is a great way to celebrate, and also to shake off collective embarrassment. It’s also the most enjoyable means of prodding public figures into action.
City State—like its sibling blog, Spectator, by the chronically mocking (and self-mocking) Doug Bell—will try to take some of the piss out of this town. City State will chronicle the foibles of the city’s bickering political class at all levels of government. It will gossip about them, too. It will also venture out into the streets to talk about architecture, urban form, transit, sprawl, crime and social behaviour—the odd set of unwritten rules that governs Torontonians’ public conduct.
It is often said that Toronto is on the cusp of a transformation. To me, it’s as though the city sits atop a normalized bell curve—slightly better than average!—and it’s about to roll down. But which way? Will it speed along the slope that leads to greatness, or recede into has-been-ness? Or will it continue to hover up there at mediocrity’s pinnacle, where it has been since the recession of the early ’90s?
The latter would be the dreariest outcome, yet it is also the most likely. Unremarkable, self-effacing competence is Toronto’s comfort zone. That’s why we call it Toronto the Good rather than Toronto the Great, or The City That Works instead of The City That Conquered Facebook While Screwing Around at Work (which would be more true, and also more ambitious). But it’s not my comfort zone. I know which path I want this city to take, and I intend to give it a crisp shove from behind with a shit-eating grin on my face.
Welcome to City State.
3 thoughts on “Jane Jacobs is dead. Pass it on”
Recourse to scatological profanities cheapens blogs, IMO.
Please please have a go at Dick.
It seems our local media are so eager to validate the siren song of a guy who’s never actually lived here as he blows hot air up the collective waz of a city that has little clue of how normal it really is and has an eggshell ego. Never believe your own press, especially in the age when that city rests and basks in it’s real estate bubble-free status – we’ll see about that.
Not as uptight as it once was? Yes
Still too wimpy to actually do anything of note? Absolutely
On the precipice of anything great? Hardly
So here’s the thing, hipster 20-something doofi for whom anything good is, by definition, bad: you’re wrong.
Toronto IS good in ways that I think living there obscure. I lived in Toronto most of my life. I left, lived in the States and I’m coming back to Toronto. I’m coming back because it’s a GREAT city, one with which those who wish to can have a relationship.
I recognize that when you have to do your laundry and buy toilet paper and stuff in any place, it can mar its coolness. However, I would ask you to look deep into the bottom of your soul-patch and remember what Toronto can be. Where it fails, it fails at least in part because those who are assessing it fail. I’ll be the first to admit that I have romanticized the city in my absence but I have been back a dozen times a year and have maintained a social and family network in Toronto. I know this city. It’s not wimpy, we are. Too wimpy to think we deserve greatness. Richard Florida, Pier Giorgio DeCicco and Jane Jacobs, and all the creative city proponents can only seem ‘flowery’ to someone who feels they’re undeserving of receiving flowers.
Hey, quit rolling up the rim on your Timmy’s cup for long enough to realize what you’ve got. Let me frame it up for you via this poignant-though-brief dramatic scene:
Though you only learned those three guitar chords to get chicks and you sometimes take ‘shortcuts’ in the shower, you managed to get a girlfriend. She actually seems to dig that knit Rasta-hat you wear on your whiter-than-white head, even in the summer. She has shown you stuff that you didn’t know about ‘in the bedroom’. Her dad is cool and on the rich side. It’s going really well, but that’s what scares you. Is she really that great? She can’t be, right? I mean, she’s going out with you. No, no. Shut up! Her dad bought you those Pearl Jam tickets and if you break up now you won’t get to go. You’ve been together for a few years but maybe that’s not good. Comfortable isn’t the same as good. Besides, you have been getting a nice return on your flirt with the pierced chick that works at the cheap sushi place. . .
And. . .scene.
Cast of Characters:
You’re you. Toronto’s your girlfriend. Man up and commit. We all get that you’re too cool to “like things” much less the place you reside. But give it a try, if only for the rest of us whose vision of what Toronto can be is being clouded by your tragic hipness. Try to get engage with your city and take ownership for what it is AND what it can be. Enjoy it. Enjoy something. Celebrate existence rather than assigning it some arbitrary (but less than perfect) score on your “pretense-to-cover-my-insecurity” scale. If you manage some of that, it might make you slightly less insufferable.
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