@Cityslikr may have #TorontoLife’s number, but we’ve got bigger problems than an urban/suburban divide | #TOpoli #onpoli

With his engaging and witty post this morning, my friend @cityslikr (or his associate Urban Sophisticat) is the latest writer to weigh on the Toronto Life cover story wherein Philip Preville tries to squeeze a few more drops out of the old flight-to-the-suburbs lemon.

In that regard, he’s adding to a growing body of worthwhile responses already established by John Lorinc at Spacing, Ed Keenan at the Grid, Denise Balkissoon at Digested, and Bert Archer at the Toronto Standard. Here’s a sampling (and as always, this isn’t meant to be exhaustive):

[View the story “Urban exodus? Toronto Life is On Top of It!” on Storify]

What makes this contribution stand out is that he doesn’t focus all his attention on Preville; the latter half of his post takes issue with the perspective, and presumably the editorial direction influencing the whole megillah, of TL editor Sarah Fulford.

In just a couple of trenchant paragraphs, he takes her to task for what he describes as the political simple-mindedness that’s taken hold at Toronto Life under her editorship. His argument, if I’m summing it up correctly, is that she’s bought into the shallow narrative which holds that everything wrong with Toronto is David Miller’s fault for reckless spending and giving in to the unions. Oh, and not being receptive to grand visions.

The money quote:

If Sarah Fulford is so despondent about the direction Toronto has been heading and is singularly incapable of discovering the real root causes of our present malaise, maybe it’s time she followed Philip Preville’s lead and buy herself a nice house in a small town somewhere. Jettison her high-flying life as a magazine editor and open up a quaint coffee shop or second-hand bookstore. She certainly doesn’t seem prepared to help pitch in and help out here in any meaningful way.

Yep. Easy to sit on the patio, archly sipping martinis and taking potshots from the outside. Try rolling up your sleeves and coming up with something constructive.


Problem is, though, that for all of Urban Sophisticat’s eloquence and smartly marshalled evidence, that, too, is an easy line of attack. It’s a facile way of dismissing one’s critics regardless of one’s political perspective.

Back in grad school a million years ago, I did a bit of work in conflict resolution / consensus-building, ADR, mediation, whatever you want to call it. One of the things that emerged from it was that if you can get the various stakeholders to the point where they can agree on a definition of the problem, you’re halfway there. We’re not holding hands and singing kumbaya yet, but at least we’ve settled on a definition of what divides us. Agreement on framing is half the battle.

So how do we define the problem? Well, that depends on your perspective. Some might argue that it’s lazy overpaid unionized workers, or that city hall has a spending problem, or that traffic can’t move because of all the gravy trains blocking the bike lanes or something like that. 

Others might suggest that it stems from the ill-advised and anti-democratic municipal amalgamation forced upon us by the province more than a decade ago. 

Still others might lament that we’re hostage to a popular culture and political/media message machine that’s elevated vulgarity and yahoo instinct to the status of Holy Writ. 


However you approach this, the idea is that by getting people to agree on a shared definition of what divides them, you’ve established a framework for communication. You’ve placed the goalposts. At least you’ve agreed on the terms whereby you’ll be arguing.

Easier said in a grad-school seminar than done in the grotty arena of municipal politics, of course. It goes back to the meanings of words and control of the discursive turf. In order to find common ground on how issues are framed, you need, at the very least, some commonality in the definitions of your terms. When you’ve got to overcome not just the issues of the day, but a decades-long campaign to strip words of their meanings and repurpose them in the service of a divisive, class-based agenda, that gets just a little bit harder. It isn’t even about the cultivation of ignorance any more. It’s gone beyond that, to the point where we’re not even speaking the same language.

Does anyone seriously think we can bridge that chasm with Team Ford, Team Hudak, their ideological bedmates, and their enablers? Anyone got any suggestions as to how? Because I’m all ears.

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