The Two Torontos

Toronto is one of the most unique places out there. It’s the most diverse city in the world and its cultural influence is growing [1].

Alex Danco had one of the most interesting takes on Toronto that I’ve heard. A native of the city himself, he tells the contrasting story of two Torontos: The wealthy, hollow inner city and the diverse, soulful suburbs.

Check out his conversation with David Perell on the North Star Podcast and his newsletter for a summary of the full episode.

You can see this effect clearly in Toronto and its surrounding suburbs. There are really two Torontos. There’s the Inner City, which is dense and rich, and embodies the first stereotype you’ve probably heard about Toronto (that it’s a giant real estate bubble.) Then there’s the Outer City, which is the more interesting part.

The outer city of Toronto - Scarborough, Northern Etobicoke, North York, plus the surrounding cities like Mississauga and Pickering - is where you’ll see how Toronto is the most diverse city in the world. It’s young: there are kids everywhere, and you get an unshakeable sense that they are the future. It’s also an environment originally built around the car, although many current residents don’t have one. So there’s an aspirational romanticism around the freedom of driving that’s straight out of 50s Americana, although you’d never mistake it for a Normal Rockwell painting.

The Toronto Sound” expresses this landscape really well. It’s a different branch of hip hop and R&B compared to American artists, best exemplified in the sound and aesthetic of two record labels: OVO (Drake) and XO (The Weeknd). It’s slow, moody music that’s crafted to sound good while driving. In the podcast, I share my belief that the most important aesthetic inspiration in Toronto culture - even more important than the Raptors - is the 401, the massive highway that spans the outer city.

Toronto is a city that has a hard time telling its story, mostly because it’s such a young city, and still growing up. A third of the new immigrants to Canada come here, and the average Toronto experience”, if there is such a thing, is distinctly inner-suburban: oriented around distance and sprawl, as before, but hardly homogenous or middle-class. The best place to experience it is at a suburban strip mall: surrounded by windswept concrete and utterly unfriendly, but filled with dozens of family businesses and hundreds of people from every possible background, making up a complete community that you’d never find in the Jane Jacobs-branded downtown neighbourhoods. It’s hard to describe. You should just go.


[1] At the time I’m writing this the top 3 most streamed artists worldwide are from the Toronto area (Drake, The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber respectively).

May 19, 2020 · Toronto · Cities · Culture

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