civic identity

Michel Lambeth. Kensington Market 1955

Susan Crean's project on Toronto, research for a book, starts with this statement:  I’m looking for the city that is part of all our lives. Not just the one that exists at City Hall, or in books at the TPL, but the city we carry around in our heads.

In the context of the current issue of On Site: identity, it occurs to me that the gap between what we know and feel as individuals and what we are told is important to know about a place – its brand, its economy, its heroics – is a huge crevasse, a significant alienation.  My instinct is that this gap should be bridged in some way, but the official city reading is shooting off at such a speed that I don't think we can catch up.  Where does this leave us?  Looking at the details, despairing at the 'big picture' and eventually realising that we don't live in the big picture.  Physically, perhaps.  Intellectually, maybe.  Emotionally, no.  The tendernesses in Susan Crean's Toronto are in the past, brought forward to the present by telling the stories.

On Site recently had an article about a large community garden, kitchen and market in a Toronto park, where the sun appeared to continually shine, children were fulfilled, adults wore interesting shoes and glowed with a green organic fervour.  This is the potential of Toronto, to have such a park. The woeful miscalculation of the ascendence of the right wing of the Liberal party with Ignatieff at the helm is also the potential of Toronto.  I am incapable of reconciling these two things as they play out on the civic terrain of the city.  They are narratives that never meet.  

The language of each narrative – the vocabulary, the syntax – is almost unintelligible so freighted are both with ideology, righteousness and history.  Is there a Toronto, or a city anywhere, whose meta-narrative can encompass all fractions and factions?  This is the task of city administrations, supported by media and marketing.  Susan Crean's project pierces the ambiguities and lacunae of official histories by asking for personal considerations of what Toronto is, and it seems this is a story that can only be told in details.