There is a big (and stupid) tempest in a teapot going on right now in our downtown, as a very small group of owners of an extremely charming cluster of restaurants along one particular block in the very heart of the city have been complaining that the new streetcar-priority policy on King St is “killing their businesses.”
The owners are directly and deliberately appealing to a longstanding political faction made up of drivers who don’t actually live in the city, and have always been in favour of plans that ignored city living, in favour of their maximum convenience. They wanted to kill my beautiful old ‘Annex’ neighbourhood back in the 1970s, with the Spadina expressway – and the citizens movement which organized to stop this plan was a great milestone in the international drive to keep downtowns livable for their residents – people-power won a big victory against the brutalist visions of the industrial technocrats (see Jane Jacobs for much more on this file – and a great deal of inspiration, besides).
To be clear – there are serious unidirectional cross-town arteries just north and south of King – which have favoured impatient drivers (and endangered pedestrians and cyclists) for decades already.
But let’s also note precisely where this particular restaurant-row is sited, and in proximity to what. I took this shot from right across the street, standing in the doorway of the glittering new(ish) and quite wonderful headquarters of TIFF – the Toronto International Film Festival (year-round, an absolutely superb multiplex, for all those who adore the medium and it’s rich history).
Cross the street in the other direction and you get to the landed spaceship – Roy Thompson hall – which, despite having the acoustics of an over-baffled toilet-bowl, still proudly hosts our excellent Toronto Symphony, along with a great many international acts which draw crowds from the whole region.
Across from that – the Princess of Wales and the Royal Alexandra Theatre – two of the best attended in the entire city – also the irony-incubators where we frequently pioneer a show, send it off to New York or London, and then have it come back to us again for a ‘Triumphant engagement as recently seen in New York or London”.
Silly stuff, but sort of cute, too – and we have long been this way. Even local bands do much better, when they come back to us from somewhere else!
(To truly understand Toronto, is to get very deep into negative-conceit and passive-aggression indeed – as I mentioned before, we’re still suffering after-effects from a creepily persistent Calvinist hangover). ;o)
Anyhow – I do actually have much sympathy for restauranteurs – it’s not an easy business in which to stay afloat – and further, I’m very aware that when things are tight, they frequently economize by reducing their workers take-home pay – my peeps, and not to be messed-with, as far as I’m concerned.
But not one of those major theatres has complained about this new plan – they are still filling their seats every night without any problem. So if what those few grumpy owners (just out-of-frame above – because I didn’t feel like giving them any free publicity) are saying, is that they can’t stay afloat with the super-rich trade from the banking towers for lunch, and the cream of the theatre crowds before and after dinner every single night, then I’d have to say, maybe it’s time to do some resume-polishing.
This city has in fact steered teeming millions with open wallets right to your door – if you’re so foolish and ungrateful for that, that you’d conspire with those who hold the city in-contempt – why not open a nice little suburban strip-mall restaurant instead, and let someone else enjoy your privileged location?
No doubt you’ll be much happier out there with like-minds – and all the car-access, easy parking (and crickets) that you could ever possibly want!
One King-car, to rule them all
For all the frustrations attendant, Toronto has actually done an extraordinary job of redeveloping our industrial lands for new housing and whole new integrated neighbourhoods (we take this success for granted, far too often – but if you look at cities around the world, you simply cannot).
And yes, sorry, this does mean that things like transport adequate to new and highly car-less neighbourhoods like Liberty Village still needs some work.
This is a genuine problem, and there will be many more teapot-tiffs before it’s sorted – but it is the right sort of problem to have, compared to the alternatives.