“Downtown Core – Toronto”

TORONTO – I was born in the city of Manila, Philippines, and have been a city dweller ever since.  When I immigrated to Toronto in the early 70s, a relative offered me lodging in the suburbs, but I respectfully declined.  At the time, I was juggling two jobs.  Both were in the city.  And I was not about to add an exhausting commute to the picture.  What figured into my decision was the knowledge that living in a city, whether in the Philippines or any country for that matter, has more advantages than disadvantages.  Work opportunities are within reach.  So are churches, supermarkets and schools.  On a serious note, if there is a medical emergency, you can be transported to a downtown hospital within minutes. 

Toronto has changed over the last 40 years. And I welcome this change. When I first moved here, I found this city to be somewhat laid back. Now, there are condos being erected on what once were idle lands. We have become a Tourism hub.  Something to be proud of. 

Unfortunately, with progress come glaring changes that I cannot ignore. Driving in the city has become a nightmare. This is a very noisy place with deafening sirens. There is a perpetual traffic jam stemming from the volume of cars and endless road constructions. Road closure signs appear overnight, all the more confusing motorists.  Four-lane roads dwindle to two lanes; the rest, overtaken by cyclists and parking spots.  I am a cyclist too, but I am not about to be sideswiped by angry motorists.  Bicycle vs. car – not a fair match.  Oftentimes, the end result is lethal.

Yonge & Queen has become the new Yonge & Eglinton, with subway construction that is anticipated to stretch on for 4 years.  And with that, two blocks along Queen have been lopped off.  Might I add that the quoted 4 years is a projection at that.  Lest we reminder ourselves that it has taken 12 years (and counting) for Eglinton construction to come to completion.  Meanwhile, local residents and commercial establishments continue to suffer.  Another change in our city that is hard to swallow.

Homelessness.  We cannot discuss the state of Toronto without addressing the elephant in the room.  This issue is not unique to Toronto, as it exists in every major city in North America.  With the rise of condos, came the rise of homelessness.  One has only to cast a glance at Allan Gardens Conservatory downtown to witness the despair of people who are living in tents, even in coldest of weather.  Where all of these people are coming from is anyone’s guess.  They could be new immigrants, refugees, victims of trauma, etc.  The bottom line is that the growing divide between the haves and have-nots is becoming a gaping chasm.  From sleeping on a hard sidewalk, on the stoop of a vacant store, to even taking over that narrow space on concrete islands that divide major streets – there is not a corner in downtown Toronto where you look and not see a homeless person.

From traffic jams to homelessness to now, drug use.  Cocaine was a thing of the 70s, emerging in major cities.  Today, there are opioids.  Safe injection sites were established by our municipal government to put this crisis in check.  Notice that Yonge & Dundas Square has changed?  You can thank the safe injection site just around the corner for that.  And where exactly is it located?  It abuts Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU, formerly known as “Ryerson”), a place for students, in what is meant to be a family-friendly zone.  Now, we must look over our shoulder when passing through this area.  In all honesty, the safe injection site has done little in addressing the true underlying origins of drug use in Toronto.  Like the homeless, I see addicts popping up everywhere downtown, at all hours of the day, panhandling for money.  If not addicts, then the mentally unstable, who scare pedestrians to their wits’ end.

Without a doubt, Toronto continues to grow.  But with great progress come even greater problems.  It is time for our new Mayor to address the traffic jams, homelessness and drug use that plague what is supposed to be our beautiful City of the North.  A place certainly worth visiting by tourists. 

Pics by Ricky Castellvi