Welcome to a world apart. Divided by resources, Toronto has become a desperate place. Womyn and men of vision stalk both sides of the chasm, each with their vision for a greater future – each with their hang-ups and insecurities.
The world was shaken economically by the massive crash of the Asian stock markets in 2017. The reverberations were felt around the world with North American markets particularly rocked due to their reliance on primarily Chinese investors. With capital in a panic, the housing bubble, grossly over-expanded in Toronto, finally popped.
Everything changed. Within months, our heavily indebted society began to fall to pieces. The near mythical “middle class” largely disappeared overnight. The city core, home primarily to students & young professionals began to change quickly.
As frustration began to boil over and reveal itself in the streets of the city, the young professionals still lucky enough to have jobs began to move. Whether moving to private communities in the city’s outskirts or into the “Zone of Commerce” (a private security patrolled area stretching from Bathurst to Yonge Street and from the Water to Queen St. West) those with resources largely fled the city – a rainbow echoing of the “white flight” of the American 1950’s and 60’s.
With the tax base shriveling up there has been less and less dollars to spend on municipal matters. Social programs have been cut and slashed. Arts and Cultural programs eliminated, Parks & Recs gutted. What’s left is “Essential Services” – Fire, Ambulance and Police.
Life has become a lot more immediate for the citizen living outside the “Zone of Commerce”. Still some communities have bounced back and demonstrated resiliency in a number of surprising and exciting ways.
Communes have started to form, organically for the most part, with people recognizing the need for a physical community again. Urban gardening and even farming have started to become major realities as communities struggle to feed themselves. Cooperative grocery stores have been born out of the farms. Certain communities, growing increasingly distrustful of police and security forces but recognizing that crime and justice is a real issue have taken to replicating the city of Vancouver’s Community Police and Community Courts model.
Urbanization, Crime, Community, Autonomy, Health Care, Immigration… everything is real. Everything is imagined. Welcome to the struggle.
Welcome to Rawluck.
Municipal politics has been fraught in scandal and incompetence. To be fair, the city’s tax base itself has wilted in recent years and Toronto’s war chest, let alone its operating budgets, have been reduced to a fraction of what they once were.
A series of scandals has left two consecutive Mayors with criminal charges within a year and a half in the City of Toronto. With an exhausted public and a tapped out elections fund, the Provincial Government has made the decision to suspend the position of Mayor until the next scheduled municipal election. In the interim, a City Comptroller has been installed.
Still, men and women of vision stalk these halls – courting philosophies of the future in hopes of marrying themselves into the city’s legacy. With the position of mayor temporarily suspended until the next election 2 years hence, it is the Provincially appointed City Comptroller who administers to the city.
Coming towards the end of the long recession in 2020, Federal and Provincial money taps started to turn back on and pour infrastructure development resources into the major municipalities. Their aim, to jumpstart local economies in cities and bring pride and investment back into the blighted urban landscapes.
A former commercial and residential development magnate, the Provincially appointed City Comptroller has been heavily invested in supporting and growing the city’s “Zone of Commerce”.
Contracting an international private security firm to supplement the efforts of local police in patrolling and securing the “Zone of Commerce”, the City Comptroller is rumored to have either turned a blind eye to the disappearance of some of the city’s most ardent civil rights agitators or have been a willing accomplice.
With the stock market crash happening in tandem with the housing market imploding, the city was rocked by a series of hard hitting economic events.
These events sent shock waves throughout the greater area. Many families lost their jobs and then their homes shortly after. Toronto’s once healthy middle class quickly fell apart.
Ironically, it is of course exactly as the city’s tax bases shrivels up that the most social support is needed from municipalities. With government funds becoming increasingly lean, city council voted to start accepting more corporate partnerships in previously public sectors and spaces. Effectively selling off many of the Parks and Recreational Facilities and Programs to different businesses and corporations. As various corporations “invested” in the city, their interests began to become increasingly intertwined.
The “Zone of Commerce” is held up and heralded as a shining oasis of investment and progress to encourage confidence from international investors and serve the local elite. It is from here that the City Comptroller believes “The Great Rebuild” of Toronto shall emerge and spread from.
As frustrations have boiled over from homes and apartments and into the streets, an increasingly mano duro approach is being tried to quell the expression of the people.
As the city’s elite largely retreated to the privatized suburban communities or to the city’s “Zone of Commerce”, lines started to become more clearly drawn. In 2020, City Council voted to turn the “Zone of Commerce” into a safe zone. With this motion, the City opened the way for an international private security firm to help patrol and secure the zone. Included in this motion was the highly controversial decision to issue “Resident Cards” to the citizen’s of the “Zone”.
While anyone can come and go in the daytime, the “Zone of Commerce” effectively goes into curfew from 9pm-7am for anyone without a “Resident Card” or in possession of a “Guest Visa”.
Getting caught in the “Zone of Commerce” without “Resident Cards” after 9pm generally means an overnighter in the Toronto Jail. Repeat offenders get longer stretches.
To be homeless in the city is a difficult thing. This is especially true 6 months a year when the weather alternates between raining, cold & freezing.
With the food banks overcrowded and people able to spare less and less throughout the day-to-day, nourishment is a constant issue. Add to the fact the numbers of people living without homes in the country’s urban centres has grown dramatically since the beginning of the crash, and the issue becomes an increasingly visible one.
Out of this terrible situation, an interesting movement of community-based communes has started to garner some attention…
With the middle class further and further eroding so too did the city’s tax base. With less tax dollars coming in, social programs began to get cut. Beginning with Arts and Cultural dollars, the city soon began making slashing cuts to Parks & Recreation and non-essential services.
The most controversial of the cuts have been to the food banks. Frequented by a growing number of citizens, the food banks now effectively serve to supplement the existence of a third of the cities residents. Effectively sub-contracting the food banks to large corporate food distributors, the food banks exist primarily via the cheapest of canned goods and otherwise damaged product unsellable in the market place.
As a result, some citizens within the core started a massive local food security movement. Reclaiming abandoned public space around the city and repurposing them as community gardens – the group’s largest victory came when they reclaimed an abandoned low-rise building in lower Parkdale and refitted it as a year round urban farm.
Through the resourcefulness of the people, the local food bank now distributes fresh vegetables and herbs along with the canned food discarded by the corporations.
Broken Windows x Broken Promises…
Much has been lauded about “The Great Rebuild” – the promise of a new future. But this city has had so many promises…
As the promises of social security were broken, so to was trust – the trust between existing power structures and the citizen.
Students and young professionals largely populated the inner city for many years. As rapidly constructed condos sprung up across the city circa 2007-2017, young people flocked to the promise of the city. When the market crashed in 2017, one of its casualties was the housing market. Condos that were bought as investments quickly became liabilities. As the units flooded the market and motivated sellers grabbed at the offers that were made, entire neighbourhoods quickly began to change.
With the economy in the garbage and more and more people unable to find jobs upon graduating school, doubt was further sown into trusting the conventional wisdom.
As social programs were cut, the people impacted were not just their beneficiaries but the entire working class that once ran and administered these vital services. Often a fertile ground for students and young graduates to earn a living while gaining real world experience, with the social sector slashed, whole worlds began to collapse.
“Another day, another struggle…yo…”