There are a lot of places I love in the world but so far nowhere has outdone Toronto enough for me to want to move there. What do I love about the city? That’s an easy question. Here are 10 things I love about Toronto.
1) Toronto is such a diverse city in nearly every way: ethnicity, religion, sexuality, and so on. We see it all here. One of the best side-effects of this is that the more we see people who are different from us the more we understand, accept and appreciate each other.
2) The diversity of our city means that we nearly every kind of food in the world is available here. In most cases that means not only finding it at a restaurant, but even better for me is that I can find it at a grocery store.
3) I love our transit system. I can walk across the street, wait 3-5 minutes and 25 minutes later I’m in the heart of downtown. And while I do it I can read a book, listen to music and even drink a coffee. An added bonus is that it is quite common to run in to friends as I travel and then you can hang out together and catch up. This feels like magic in a city of nearly three million people.
4) Toronto is a pretty great city for cycling. There are a number of protected bike lanes, bike trails and quiet streets. For me this means that I can get around almost as quickly as I can by car and get exercise at the same time. And there really is something about experiencing a city from a bicycle versus a closed vehicle. As you go through a neighbourhood you can hear snippets of conversation or music as you pass and many parts of the city are filled with the delicious smells of food. And if you want to enjoy some of it yourself, you can pull over immediately, lock up your bike and have some. Parking your bike is usually quite simple here.
5) Summers in Toronto are amazing. Every weekend day whether it’s a neighbourhood festival, cultural festival or just a day where we close the streets to enjoy having fun in them without cars, it’s a great place to be. I was always so pleasantly surprised the first few years we lived here. Every time we went somewhere in the summer we would happen upon a street closure, live music and food. It is wonderful.
6) There’s a slogan that says “Toronto, a city in a park” and this is no exaggeration. Every time I fly over the city I’m amazed at how many trees there are. Most neighbourhoods have small to medium sized parks while some have very large ones. The disaster that was Hurricane Hazel back in the 1950’s ensured that the ravines in which the Don and Humber rivers flow are now closed to real estate development and will forever be parks. At the southern part of the city is the Leslie Spit – a large, man made land mass that goes out in to Lake Ontario. It is still used for disposal of clean landfill (dirt and bricks from demolished buildings for example) and as the area grows, it becomes wetlands that support so much life including many migratory birds. And these are parks designed to be used. In recent history the city even posted signs that said “Please Walk on the Grass” to ensure that people get out and spend time in them. And spend time they do. Some parks have even gone to a new level. Our park has North America’s only public tandoor oven which is used to bake fresh naan every summer Friday. Another one hosts a farmer’s market, community suppers, theatre and dance performances and even has two fire pits you can book to have your own campfire in the city around which you can relax with friends, cook, and tell stories.
7) We are next to one of the Great Lakes, “Lake Ontario”. During the summer, people swim, fish and boat in it. There are lots of beaches and picnic grounds near it as well so you can sit next to it and enjoy the cool breezes blowing off of it.
8) No list like this would be complete without my including our wonderful libraries. We’ve got 100 of them scattered throughout the city – and as you know I’m in the process of visiting them all. You can read all of the entries here.
9) There are so many great organizations here that work together to make the city a better place. There are social service organizations, groups to help make life better for cyclists and pedestrians, groups to help newcomers, to teach adults and children to read. If there is a need, there’s likely an organization in place to meet that need. And sometimes, you’ll get a group like Not Far From The Tree (NFFTT) that address several issues at once. This organization started because many homeowners in the city had fruit trees they didn’t want to maintain. Some even tried to have them cut down because “the fruit just drops on the ground and makes a mess.” The organization has a simple formula: instead of cutting down trees that are literally growing free food, find volunteers to harvest it. And so they do. Homeowners sign up and let NFFTT know when their tree has ripe fruit. Volunteers who have signed up to be notified when trees in their area will be ready get an email and can sign up to pick the tree at a given time. The tree is harvested, and then the harvest is split. 1/3 is shared between the pickers, another third goes to the homeowner, and the final third is given to a charity organization that can use the food. The harvest is brought to them by cargo bike. On one occasion I was the delivery person and brought about ten pounds of fresh berries to Sistering, an agency that serves women who are homeless or at-risk of being homeless by offering a number of services including drop-ins, harm-reduction services and meals.
I’m a huge fan of organizations like this that seem to do so much at once: giving volunteers free fresh fruit, helping homeowners keep their yards the way they want them and giving food to those in need. To me this is community symbiosis.
10) I see so many people here just doing things when there is a need. Sometimes, like in the case of NFFTT they start an organization. Other times, they do “guerilla bike lane” installations, highlighting the need for safe infrastructure. Other times like with Burrito Project Toronto, people just get together to make a huge batch of burritos to hand out to people on the street. And sometimes individuals like my friend Savoy Howe of the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club, just dive in and get their hands dirty. For her that means having a food bank at her boxing gym, or sometimes that means giving food and clothes to people on the streets. Over time she’s inspired many others via social media and now many people are working together to help people in need. Winter is one of the hardest times due to the cold weather and she kicks it in to high gear around that time gathering donations from friends and bringing them to shelters and directly to people on the streets. And this year, she tried to arrange holiday dinners for 25 needy families in the city. As you can see she was even more successful than that.
There is so much to love here that I feel lucky every day to wake up here. At night I look out at all the lights of the city and think how grateful I am to share this wonderful city with so many amazing and interesting people.
Of course I know this city isn’t alone in being great. What are some things that make you love your city?