Scenes from a broken city

By Ben Bull –

am looking out from the 30th floor of a downtown office tow­er. It’s lunchtime on Thursday.

The traffic is crazy. York Street and Front is snarled. Pe­destrians weave around the cars blocking the crosswalk, and tip­toe into oncoming traffic.

On the other side are six po­lice officers, huddled together, looking the other way. Those whistles and hi-vis vests could probably help the poor mum froggering her way across.

Oh well.

I shake my head and sip my tea. Pedestrians don’t matter in this broken city. The car is king; everyone else is a pathetic serf.

This makes sense. Drivers vote, especially in the suburbs where most city councillors live.

There was another pedestrian death two weeks ago in mid-town. You may not have heard about it – if it’s not new, it’s not news.

A blur of motion down be­low catches my eye. It’s a crane whipping a rusty bucket over the top of the Union Station train shed. The bucket stops over one of the tracks and opens up its claws.

Whoosh. That is a lot of grav­el. How much more until we’re finished?

The claws clench back into a fist and swoop around again.

I thought Union Station was done. I don’t pop in very often but the last time I ran for a train the place looked nice.

I guess that’s the thing about a broken city: It’s never finished.

I squint over to the east and spy the new condos at Front and Sherbourne. That’s a whole city block of towering condos. People are already moving in. Across the road is another brand-new condo and another tower is breaking ground across the road. Where will everybody go?

There’s something odd about dodging early morning joggers and pools of dog pee as I trudge into work. People with pets used to live outside the city centre. Now every stanchion, lamppost and limbless tree is a bathroom for somebody’s labradoodle, puggle or pomsky.

It is good – theoretically at least – to have more residents in the city. I remember visiting New York’s Wall Street district after dark a few years ago and finding the place deserted. It was 7 p.m., and everybody had gone home. A city needs a con­stant flow of foot traffic to thrive. But so many of our downtown neighbourhoods do not thrive. There are no cafés or plazas or restaurants at the corner of Yonge and the Esplanade, and yet two new condos are there now.

Perhaps the condo is the prob­lem. The towers are so tall that once you’re in you’re in.

A streetcar catches my eye – the 504. I used to catch the King car to watch TFC games at Ex­hibition Place. By the time we’d reached Yonge Street we were down to a crawl. I would pick a random pedestrian and race them to the next intersection. It was a fun game, sort of like the Poohsticks game with people.

I turn my head to the north and squint eastwards again. I can’t see it but I know that Tent City is there. Allan Gardens has never been so popular. How do we solve the problem of home­lessness? Can’t we just take all the vacant city land and build mixed-income condos and co-ops? We know that ghetto hous­ing doesn’t work – we’ve been busy knocking it down for the last 15 years – so let’s build another Regent Park and pack these tents away.

Come on Olivia! What’s the plan?

The Union Station crane-claw sweeps around again and snaps me out of my trance. I look left, right, up and down – so many cranes. Maybe that’s why we can’t build affordable housing – there are no spare cranes.

We’re doing a lot of building in this city. It’s a shame nothing ever seems to get fixed.