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2007 08 27
Is Toronto Really The World’s 5th Most Livable City?

The Economist city liveability rankings came out last week. You may have seen the results: Vancouver ranks number 1 and Toronto number 5.

In the past I've had felt a certain pride with these results. After all, Toronto as a city is unique in its ability to provide a net for so many of the world's different cultures. We also remain a relatively safe city to live in - in spite of the recently surge in killings. Even better, "Creative Class" guru Richard Florida has become a permanent resident of the city and is now a professor at the Rotman Business School. His move cuts through the deepest cynicism about Toronto's place in the world.

In spite of all this good news, I am starting to lose faith in the city. If we shift the criteria used to judge what makes a livable city then Toronto's rating plunges dramatically. A report by the Pembina Institute will be released today criticising the city's suburban sprawl. According to the Toronto Star's Andrew Chung, the city ranks number one in the province in terms of its sustainability while our edge suburbs in the 905 region are the least sustainable places to live.

We continue to eat up once productive farm lands in order to perpetuate unsustainable visions of the ideal Canadian lifestyle. You know what it looks like. There is the obligatory swimming pool. Three cars sit in the driveway. No one walks. Even if they wanted to walk the closest store is a kilometer away. Those areas of Toronto have populations growing at alarming speed while the so-called sustainable core of the city grew less than one percent in the last five years.

Meanwhile, Toronto continues to fail in its accommodation of the city's cyclists. This bureaucratic negligence over something so obvious and simple kills people. It also means more commuters are forced to drive to work in the city. That causes more congestion and more pollution.

One of Copenhagen's urban squares. Bicycles are an essential part of that city's transit network.

Meanwhile, our federal government says there really is nothing that can be done to reduce our ever increasing production of greenhouse gasses. Cut back! Are you kidding?? We are a world leading exporter of hard to produce, oil sands derived oil. That means conforming to our Kyoto emission agreement is impossible so we won't even try.

So, let's take a moment to review the city's performance under these new criteria. Toronto (and Vancouver) while in the top five of the Economist's city rankings, represent urban lifestyles that cannot be sustained in the mid to long term. We are in denial on every real measure of sustainability. We enable the unsustainability of other industrial economies by providing cheap, "externality" blind oil. Rather than celebrating our Economist ranking, Torontonians might be better off using it as a warning that dramatic action is required. If we don't, we run the risk of quickly sliding into the world's has-been civilizations that were promising but at some point could not do what was required to sustain themselves in spite of the reality of their finite environmental resources.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 08/27 at 01:42 PM

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