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Torontonians have a hard time defining their city. It's culturally diverse, to be sure, but this, the city's most touted trait, is the polar opposite of a unifying characteristic. So what exactly is Toronto all about? It's a bit confused. Americans call Torontonians friendly and the city clean, while other Canadians say its locals are rude and egocentric. Toronto is often touted as "livable," a commendable if dull virtue. Admittedly, Toronto is not as exciting as New York, as quaint as Montréal, as glitzy as Los Angeles, as outdoorsy as Vancouver, or as historic as London. Instead, it's a patchwork of all these qualities. Toronto is the complete package. And comparatively (despite what Canadian compatriots believe) Toronto is clean, safe, and just all-around nice. Torontonians say "sorry" when they jostle you. They recycle and compost. They obey traffic laws. Toronto is like the boy next door you eventually marry after fooling around with New York or Los Angeles. Why not cut the charade and start the love affair now?
Toronto is one of the most immigrant-friendly cities on the planet, and the city's official motto, "Diversity Our Strength," reflects this hodgepodge of ethnicities. More than half its population is foreign-born, and half of all Torontonians are native speakers of a foreign language. (The "other" national language of French, however, is not one of the most commonly spoken languages here, trailing Chinese, Portuguese, Punjabi, and Tagalog.) In a few hours in Toronto you can travel the globe, from Little India to Little Italy, Koreatown to Greektown, or at least eat your way around it, from Polish pierogi to Chinese dim sum to Portuguese salt-cod fritters.
A City of Neighborhoods
Every city has neighborhoods, but Toronto's are particularly diverse, distinctive, and walkable. Some were once their own villages, and many, such as the Danforth (Greektown), Little Portugal, and Chinatown, are products of the ethnic groups who first settled them. For the most part, boundaries aren't fixed and are constantly evolving: on a five-minute walk down Bloor Street West you can pass a Portuguese butcher, an Ethiopian restaurant, a hip espresso bar, and a Maltese travel agency. In the ’70s and ’80s, areas such as Yorkville and Queen West were transformed by struggling-artist types and have since grown into downright affluent, retail powerhouses. In the last decade once run-down neighborhoods including West Queen West and Leslieville, have blossomed into funky, boho areas with enviable shopping and eating options with housing prices to match. Barring a change in fortune, gentrification is set to continue to more areas.
Canada's Culture Center
The Toronto International Film Festival, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada’s center for magazine and book publishing, national ballet and opera companies, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra—these are just a handful of the many reasons Toronto attracts millions of arts and culture lovers each year to live, work, and play. On any given day or night, you'll find events to feed the brain and the spirit: art gallery openings, poetry readings, theatrical releases, film revues, dance performances, and festivals showcasing the arts, from the focused Toronto Jazz Festival and the North by Northeast indie rock extravaganza to events marrying visual and performing arts, like Nuit Blanche and Luminato.
On the Waterfront
Lake Ontario forms Toronto's very obvious southern border, but residents who live out of its view often forget it's there until they attend an event at the Ex or the Harbourfront Centre. It's one of the city's best features, especially in the summer, providing opportunities for boating, ferrying to the Toronto Islands, or strolling, biking, or jogging beside the water. The lakeshore is more of an attraction than ever, with ongoing initiatives to revitalize the waterfront and create more parks, beaches, and walkways.
There's no shortage of amazing restaurants in this city, and local and fresh produce is all the rage. Celebrity chefs like Lynn Crawford, Mark McEwan, and Jamie Kennedy give locavores street cred. Toronto's cornucopia of cultures means you can sample almost any cuisine, from Abyssinian to Yemeni. Nowhere is Torontonians' love of food more apparent, perhaps, than at St. Lawrence Market, where you can pick up nonessentials like fiddlehead ferns, elk burgers, truffle oil, and mozzarella di bufala. In warm weather, farmers' markets bring the province's plenty to the city.
What's Hot in Toronto Now?
Torontonians’ were bemused to find their gaff-ridden mayor, Rob Ford, reaching new heights of scandal and making international news when an alleged video of crack-cocaine taking was revealed. Whether it was an effective sting or an even more effective cover-up has yet to be revealed, but somehow Ford remains in office, and could technically be re-elected. Meanwhile Torontonians wait resignedly for the next scandal to hit. Most of Ford’s senior staff resigned or were fired, and city council often freezes him out of discussions. The effects of the crack scandal on the city’s administration and governance, let alone reputation, have been damaging.
After years of continuous condo construction and a recent building boom that included a bevy of luxury hotels, Toronto’s distinctive skyline is becoming a blur of glossy high-rise buildings. The CN Tower still stretches above it all, making the loftiest architecture appear pretty insignificant.
In preparation for the 2015 Pan American Games, an Athlete’s Village is springing up on the vacant Don Lands, where the Don River meets the lake, which will give Torontonians access to another swath of previously off-bounds shoreline. Just before the games begin, the UPExpress train will start running between Pearson International Airport and Union Station—a much needed direct link from downtown to the city’s main airport.
And speaking of airports and shoreline, the controversial Toronto Island Airport, squeezed between the edge of Toronto Island and Harbourfront, is pushing to add more flights and bigger planes. That would provide local jet setters even greater convenience, but annoy the lakeshore’s residents to no end.
The subway is being extended into the northern suburbs where so many Torontonians live, and a light rail line is under construction along Eglinton, through North Toronto’s cosmopolitan hub.Updated: 02-2014
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