Inner suburb, outer circle?

People say Toronto is thriving—there are more cranes here than anywhere in North America, the economy is booming. But the wealth generated by the city’s economic growth has never been distributed evenly.

In 1970, there was more wealth outside the downtown core than in the city’s centre. Today, with the exception of the lakeshore, urban gentrification and the availability of affordable housing has driven those with less means to the inner suburbs. 

It’s a pattern all over North America. And it creates a sense of two different worlds.

Socio-economic surveys, such as the United Way’s reports on Poverty by Postal Code, show a disconnect between the city centre and outlying neighbourhoods. Political maps do as well; it was a defining feature Toronto’s 2010 and 2014 very divided mayoral campaigns.

The city/suburb polarization often takes on the nasty flavour of a culture war, which in turn shapes decisions about the allocation of infrastructure and resources. It’s not a coincidence that Scarborough, both unknown and scorned by many in the urban elites, including the media, has been woefully under-served in terms of public investments in health, education, and transit.

But whether you take a ‘rights-based’ approach, and argue that every citizen of Toronto should enjoy the same minimum standard of services, or stress the admirable resilience and richness of Scarborough’s restaurants, arts organizations and people, east Toronto deserves more. It is an integral part of our city, and deserves to be visited, celebrated and promoted.

Jane Jacobs would remind us that all neighbourhoods should be revitalized, not just those in the inner cities. Toronto hasn’t built many public spaces in the inner suburbs yet. But other cities have. Washington, D.C. is considered one of the most walkable cities in the United States, yet an enormous percentage of that city’s walkable places are in its inner suburbs: Bethesda and Silver Spring in Maryland, Arlington County in Virginia and the Washington Harbour in Maryland’s Prince George’s County.

Toronto’s inner suburbs are rich in green spaces, too, with an amazing, underappreciated lakefront, and in the east, Canada’s first national urban park

As The Toronto Star’s Bob Hepburn said in his column last week, it’s time all of Toronto’s residents “get” this area of our city. Another Star reporter, Royson James, wrote about City Councillor Glenn de Baermaeker’s belief in one city and the importance of making sure Scarborough is a part of it. 

We live in one of North America’s 10 largest urban agglomerations. Toronto is known around the world for celebrating diversity and difference. Let’s make sure we see our city from that lens.

UPDATE - July 15, 2016: The decision this week by Toronto City Council to move ahead with the subway between Kennedy Station and Scarborough Town Centre and to extend the Eglinton LRT is great news. We at U of T Scarborough are very excited about the benefits this will bring to our campus, to the Scarborough community, and to Torontonians across the city.

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