Vancouver and Toronto take different paths

Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Vancouver

This is a tale of two cities.

One is Vancouver, which wants to be the greenest city in the world. The mayor and his team of Visionaries are busy building homeless shelters, dedicated bike lanes and community gardens. They encourage residents to raise chickens and even keep bees at city hall.

Toronto, on the other hand, is going thataway. New Mayor Rob Ford considers cyclists “a pain in the ass” and the moment he was sworn in cancelled a vehicle levy, declaring “the war on the car” over. Ford has told more than one protester to “get a job,” and the only bees are in his bonnet, at least according to his critics.

Not too long ago, Toronto had, in David Miller, a mayor who was pretty much indistinguishable from our own Gregor the Good. Not that it seemed to do Toronto much good. A recent report shows the middle class is being squeezed out of Canada’s biggest city and low-income residents have increased to 53 per cent of the population.

The issues are much the same in both cities — only the well-heeled can inhabit their gleaming towers. At the same time, there are fewer well-paying jobs, so working families have to move to Maple Ridge or Langley near Vancouver, Brampton or Orangeville near Toronto. Everyone else ends up in substandard housing. Or on the street.

Rob Ford’s response to all this is to assemble a giant time machine and take everyone back to 1970, where cars ruled the road and the standard response to social unrest was: “Get a job.”

Here in Vancouver, it’s full speed ahead. We can’t get any more progressive, but that won’t stop us from trying.

So we have this giant, national social experiment and I hope I’m around long enough to see how it turns out. I just have to be careful when stepping off a downtown curb. Those bicycles are silent and deadly.

Who knows? Mayor Ford may be right — he’s certainly right wing — maybe the antidote to crime, homelessness, unemployment and other forms of urban decay is to “get a job.”

Or maybe the genie has been out of the bottle too long, and if we’re going to combat pollution, alienation, hopelessness and poverty, what better champion than the man from Happy Planet?

I get the feeling that it won’t be too long before the answer comes our way.

I just hope I’m in the right city at the right time.

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