Happy Canada Day...

It is my patriotic duty to inform you...

…even though it’s now the 4th of July. :-P

My mom and brother came down this weekend and it was good. They were having a good time shopping at all the stores that they don’t have back in Ottawa and enjoyed a tour of Steam Whistle’s Brewery.

This has gotten me to thinking, though. I’ve been to several European cities now, including London, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, and Amsterdam. I’ve also been to Montréal, Miami, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Willemstad (Curaçao), Ottawa, and many more minor cities. I’ll be heading to Chicago and NYC later this year, as well as possibly Mexico. I plan on seeing many more.

I’ve realized that Toronto has it pretty good for shopping. We’ve got stores that cater to certain niches that are nice to go to when you want something of quality from that niche. We have stores that cater to restaurants, cameras, coffee, etc. There are several nice shopping areas like Kensington Market, Queen West, the Eaton Centre, Chinatown, St. Laurence Market, St. Clair Ave. West, Bloor St., Yorkville, and many more.

When you have independent retail that can serve such markets, you know your city has reached a certain critical mass. The fact that these stores have people who understand what they’re selling, can sell them cheaper, and sell better quality than impersonal big box stores makes shopping not only a much more satisfying and enjoyable experience, but enhances neighbourhoods and the cities they exist in.

It’s too bad that modern cities don’t evolve like this anymore. Newer cities merely build tourist traps or preserve tiny strips in a sad attempt to create an historic flair or mimic world cities. Cities like Calgary or American Midwest cities which are comparatively young, mostly large suburban malls and box stores, and with a few yuppie streets designed to look like historic streets of the past. This is a poor top-down design that ignores the fundamentals of what makes the city cosmopolitan and naturally functional.

I shouldn’t feel too smug in my city though. The poor redevelopment of the Toronto Waterfront is a prime example of how politicians don’t even understand the principals of cities. Most of Toronto’s councilors live in suburban homes themselves, and fight anything truly urban. Their salaries put them in upper class lifestyles and crowds of people make them feel lower class and uncomfortable. I look at the development of new condos, which could have retail space at street level, but instead have “grand entrances” or are pushed away from the street with a parking area installed. The fact that designers design around the automobile instead of people shows how many North American cities declined in the 20th century.

City Council often will not even allow construction of buildings unless it can have a minimum parking level, whether or not the development is serving a car market or not. Public transit meanwhile, a well developed service that is fundamentally necessary in order to have a world class city at all, is often not even taken into the equation at all. This despite the fact that it can deliver many more people in a much more efficient manner!

As the price of gas increases and the cost of owning a car becomes more burdensome, I can only hope that people start to realize this folly.