Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[LINK] "To Brand T.O."

Andrew Barton, ex-pat Torontonian in Vancouver (the Facebook meme said so), finds a certain amount of hope on mayor-elect Ford's getting that the streetcar is such an iconic item for Toronto. Literally iconic

Forty years ago, Toronto had a problem. Back then, before the possibility of an independent Quebec sent Canada's captains of business and industry charging down the 401 to the shore of Lake Ontario, it had no pretensions of being a world city but was instead, as Unbuilt Toronto puts it, a "second-order metropolis" - occupying the same niche as, say, St. Louis or Cincinnati. It didn't have much to distinguish itself from its competitors. That's where Buckminster Fuller came in with his ambitious Project Toronto, which included a commercial district enclosed within a glass pyramid, a covered arcade parallelling University Avenue, and entire villages afloat on Lake Ontario.

Ultimately, of course, none of this got built. Politicians in the 1960s were no more willing to take leaps into the future than they are today. But the result is that Toronto has continued to flounder, and today is obsessed with whether or not it's really a "world city." Sure, it's got the CN Tower, but communications towers are not exactly uncommon. Even really tall ones. What Toronto really needs is a wide-spectrum campaign to establish itself.

It won't all have to come out of nowhere. I think Toronto already has the germ of part of such a campaign - its streetcars. Back in 1969, when popular wisdom saw streetcars as obsolete and the official TTC plan was for the last streetcar to have run by 1980, it wouldn't have been a consideration - and not particularly unique either, as at that time there would still be plenty of people who remembered streetcars on the streets of Chicago, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Montreal, London... so on and so on. At that point, it's easy to conclude that they weren't anything special.

Forty years later, the pendulum has shifted. Now they _are_ something special, if only because they're the only transit streetcars, as opposed to heritage railways, left in all of Canada. Even expanding the view to all of North America, it's still not too common, and even then the exact types of streetcars the TTC uses are in service nowhere else in the world. They're part of Toronto, something it doesn't share with any city anywhere else. Torontoist has it the right way - the four silhouettes that site chose to represent its city were the CN Tower, City Hall, the otherworldly box-on-stilts of OCAD, and... a streetcar.
Tags: cities, politics, toronto, ttc
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