The 8 things I love about you Part-2

I have already told you about the first three things I love about Toronto. Here are the rest..

  1. People/Multiculturalism   

Toronto is a multicultural city. In fact, the most multicultural city in the world according to BBC. I didn’t know that when I moved here. I had a subconscious expectation that it would be a city teeming with white people – an extension of my general view of the West (I learnt more deeply about colonization, settler violence, and native peoples after coming here).

To my surprise, even the white people I met here were immigrants. My ex-roommates were immigrants from Russia and France. Then there were other white people I got to know who had migrated from smaller places in Canada such as New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Only recently have I come across a few born-and-bred Torontonians. It felt like a rare species sighting.

It would not be wrong to say that Toronto is a city of migrants1 – internal as well as external. So it never felt like I was trespassing into a place I did not belong in. I belonged instantaneously.

I encounter a very diverse city whenever I go around town. People from all hues walk this city and call it home. My interactions with the city have all been multicultural – the employment consultancy I worked with, my job, my hobbies.

It has made making Toronto my home that much easier.

Toronto is a microcosm of the world where people from all over the globe co-exist peacefully. The tensions that exist between different groups cease to exist here, or perhaps move to the background. I could casually be having a coffee with a Pakistani one day and a Sri Lankan the next – divided by borders, united by Tim Horton’s!  

Little India and Little Pakistan coexist on the same street in Toronto
  1. Ease of existing as a woman

I feel safe in subways. I feel safe in crowds. I feel safe at night.

I dreamt of living in such a place after being in Thailand for just a week back in 2017. And the universe gave me Canada.

I feel safe regardless of what I am wearing. I have seen women here going about their day comfortably donning clothes over the whole range – from barely there to a burqa. Neither raises an eyebrow. Both are acceptable attire in Toronto.

I can access public spaces without feeling like an interloper. There are no separate compartments for women in the subway. And I have not felt the need for them. I can go for a swim at a public beach, lie on the grass in a park and stare at the sky – basically just be – without attracting unwanted attention.

I feel safe from my Uber drivers, from my bus drivers and as someone who has travelled alone extensively and is used to being on high alert, this is a big relief. Many times, my bus driver turns out to be a woman, and that is instantly comforting. But even without that, I feel super at ease using public transport.

I am able to do much more and be much more with the freedom that comes with this safety.

  • I went on a solo hike through the Rouge National Park, which is near the city. I feel safe enough to undertake such adventures.
  • Relaxing at the beach
  • Chilling at another beach. Spending the days lounging on the beach is one of the joys of summer.
  • Toronto Pride is a crowded event. Over a million people were forecast to attend this year. It still was a safe place to hang out - no shoving or grabbing.
  • I love pushing my sartorial boundaries, now that I don't have to worry about attracting unwanted attention.
  1. The extensive connectivity

I still haven’t started the process of getting a driver’s license. The reason being that Toronto is well connected by public transport. I don’t have to worry about how I will reach some place.

  • Toronto has a subway system, a tram/streetcar network, and a bus network. A tram or a bus can be hailed at the subway station itself in case a change has to be made. One ticket works for two hours and is valid for all modes- subway, tram, and bus – so I just spend three dollars for a two hour interval wherever I want to go in Toronto. It’s economical, safe and fast. 
  • Toronto also has an extensive network of bike(bicycle) lanes – separate lanes for bikers. There are bike rentals available every few metres. Bikes can be picked from any stop and returned at any other. Easy-peasy.  I like walking so much that I hadn’t used a bike until last month. When I did, it was a day-long pan-Toronto joy ride. I covered 30 km at the minimum. I definitely want to bike more moving forward.
  • There are pedestrian paths throughout the city. As someone who loves walking and exploring, it’s a blessing to have my own separate lane everywhere to do that safely.

There are disparities in access between different parts of the city. I was living in west Toronto last year. The connectivity there was excellent. Buses and trams arrived every 10 minutes. This year I moved to the eastern part – here the bus frequency is once every half hour on the two routes nearest to me. It is still better for me to use public transport since I work-from-home and don’t have to go out on a daily basis. I spend more time waiting for transit than last year for sure.

I was in Berlin this past winter and I wrote this point before my visit. Berlin has a far more advanced transit system than Toronto. We could surely do with upgrades.

  1. Thoughtful urban design

I had to travel a certain distance to avail a rideshare for going to the meditation camp I mentioned in my last blog. I thought, maybe, I should take a taxi since it may be uncomfortable to travel with a big suitcase in public transit. The taxi prices were experiencing a surge at that time and I decided to try my luck with public transport. That’s when I experienced for myself how well the city is designed.

I used to live five minutes walking distance from the subway back then. I rolled my suitcase till the subway. It was easy as the pedestrian paths were extremely conducive to a suitcase with wheels. The transitions from the pedestrian path to the road when making a crossing were smooth. At no point did I have to “carry” the suitcase.

Once I reached the station, there was an elevator till the platform. The same at the destination station. When I got out, there was a designated path for pedestrians to reach the car parking of the station, where my rideshare was waiting for me.

People carry strollers, their wheelchairs, and bikes on to public transport.2 The buses have a platform that opens up to allow people with wheelchairs or kid strollers to get in. They also have a bike hanger at the front.

The city is designed to integrate disabled, old, and low income people as well as people with young children.

It makes me feel like the city cares. It feels great to live in such a city.

  • Toronto subway - not the best looking one, but it gets the job done.
  • Such elevators at the subway stations made it easy for me to carry my suitcase in public transport.
  • In case assistance is required while in the elevator, the "Phone" button can be pressed to talk to an assistant. If you notice carefully, all the instructions are also written in Braille.
  • As you move from the pedestrian path to the road for crossing, the pedestrian path has a gentle slope so that suitcases/wheelchairs/strollers can comfortably cross.
  • The public buses and streetcars have accessibility built-in. The yellow outlined box on the floor of the bus door is the ramp that opens up when needed.
  • The buses have bike racks at the front, so that cyclists can easily use public transport as well.
  • Toronto streetcars - they snake through busy neighborhoods and are a sight to behold. This pic was clicked outside the TIFF Bell Lightbox.
  • The "Bike Share Toronto" bike. It has the distinctive green logo at its front. This is from the day I went on my first (and only, till now) bike ride in Toronto.
  • The bike day started with a guided tour of the Toronto Harbourfront. I clicked this at one of the stops.
  • Such bike stations are there throughout the city, totaling 625. A bike can be taken from any stand and dropped at any other. The bikes are rented through an app. As can be seen in the picture, the bike station is powered by solar panels.
  • A bike lane and pedestrian path. They are usually side-by-side throughout the city. This bike lane is elevated.
  • Another bike lane in the downtown core of the city. This one is not elevated. The street sign clearly states where the bikes should go. The TTC sign on the red background in the back marks a subway entry point.
  1. An alternative paradigm of companionship

Last year, I was looking at matrimonial matches. I kept my mind open and expectations low but it just wasn’t feeling right. Thanks to Toronto, this year I had an epiphany, “Why I am trying to force this?”

I had taken the societal pressure to get married as a universal phenomena. Toronto said –na ah. I discovered that it is much more an Indian thing than a universal thing. My non-Indian friends were amused with the brouhaha. It made me do a double take – what? You guys are chill about marriage? No parents badgering you about “biological clocks” and “what will people say”?

I went in deep with a Canadian friend. She had gone back to her hometown to visit her family. I asked her if her parents goaded her to get married. She looked at me like I was asking something ridiculous and went, “no. that does not happen”.

I also talked about this situation with a mentor. She was so appalled that she advised me to break up with my parents!

People here do want a partner, but they are not rushing against a mental clock to do it. Atleast not as fast as Indians do! So there is that distinction.

The societal paradigm that I come from tries to shame me about my age , about my friends and peers being married, about basically not hitting the life’s milestones. I was wasting precious mental resources in trying to fit into these constructs.

Toronto gave me the space and challenged me to reflect on what feels right for me. Putting artificial timelines on the process was leading to frustration. I had to let that go. It eased a burden from my back. It also put a responsibility on me – to look for a partner for the right reasons.

Toronto prodded me to question my worldview and make adjustments. That’s a good reason to love it!

Conclusion

That folks is a wrap on things I love about Toronto. There are some things that I am not so enthused about as well – the steep housing market, the long wait times in the medical system, the endless winters. Still figuring out if these gripes deserve their own blog!

Footnotes

1 Toronto demographics
2 TTC streetcar features

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