Sprawling Toronto: where's the leadership in this?
We scribblers at CityCaucus.com disagree on some things. At times, our disagreements make this site interesting and illustrate that we do not hold homogeneous opinions. I know that some people come to read us, confirmation biases firmly entrenched, disappointed that we don’t all think the same, but our differences become our strengths (or something like that. I think a drill sergeant yelled that into my face once).
However, there are two things that make most on the CityCaucus.com Crew furious and melancholy: sprawl and unsustainable living.
This isn’t an ideological issue; rather, Daniel, Mike and I embrace evidence. The preponderance of scientific evidence finds that there are anthropogenic causes to climate change (and to ignore the preponderance of scientific evidence removes one from skepticism and dumps one in the camp of ideological deniers); that potable water supplies are not unlimited; that oil and gas are finite fossil fuels; that airborne pollutants augment and foment chronic disease, particularly respiratory disorders; that sprawl is an environmental catastrophe. You don’t have to be on the left or right to recognize what science is telling us.
Unfortunately, the scientifically illiterate (e.g. those who don’t dispute the physics keeping an airplane aloft but feebly try to rebut evolution without a shred of scientific proof or understanding) are boisterous, well-funded and know the public’s appetite for good stories.
Humans wrestle with probability and statistics but love a ripping yarn. This is why people buy lotto tickets or hear one story (the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine “causes” autism) and statistical proof or empirical evidence don’t easily change their minds (the MMR-autism issue has been so thoroughly debunked, it’s sad to see it persist. Those who “believe” it to be true are victims of a logical fallacy called post hoc ergo propter hoc).
So when we are told that we need to reduce our carbon footprints, that we need to make our cities more habitable by reducing cars on the road and improving cycling lanes and public transit, that we need to staunch sprawl, that we need to stop wasting water, there are a few chest-thumping libertarians who simply will not be told what to do no matter the evidence.
This was supposed to be a short intro for this excellent opinion piece by the Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume titled "Wake Up and Smell the Exhaust." But it got away on me. Here's a sample of Hume's argument:
Let's look instead to cities that lead, cities that are reinventing themselves as places where people live because they want to not because they must, places that are remaking themselves in the image of a human being, not a car, places that offer quality of life not just low taxes.
Cities as disparate as New York, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen and now Sydney, Australia, are moving to reclaim their public realm for people. Historic squares that were turned into parking lots in the years after World War II are now being returned to pedestrians. Café life in Copenhagen, for instance, which didn't exist 40 years ago, now flourishes. And, yes, they know what winter is.
Whole precincts in these communities and others have been set aside as pedestrian zones. And local merchants notwithstanding, business prospers in these designated areas.
Toronto, meanwhile, has been too scared to do anything more than close off a street here and there for a day or two.
So in the spirit of a more relaxed August-minded (august?) urban affairs blog, I strongly urge that you read the Hume piece in its entirety. And of course come back to CityCaucus.com for more thoughtful debate about sustainability.