Wednesday, November 6, 2013

FAQ Scarborough

So I wasn't planning on writing a blog post today, but as usual, I read something and it pisses me off, prompting a blog post.

Today's candidate is Michael Bolen and his piece in the Huffington Post about my 'burb, Scarborough. Super generalization about Scarborough

Now I grew up in downtown Toronto for most of my life. I spent my preschool years in Scarborough, and then moved downtown, and moved back when I was in my 20s. I admit, it took some time to grow on me, and I being of small downtown mind just assumed that every white person on my street was a horrible bigot who would just as soon spit on me and that there were no people of colour, or same sex couples, or young people.

Holy wow, I was wrong big time. In the past 15 years I have lived and worked here, I have been humbled from my downtown assumptions and haughtiness by the mixed and wonderful and sometimes quirky community that makes up this great, but underrepresented region of Toronto.

So let me tell y'all a thing or two about Scarborough.

It is not a wasteland. There are people who live here, nice people, raising their nice families, working hard at their jobs (not always nice). Their kids go to school, they watch hockey (yes, us minorities), they visit friends and family and all in all try to make a good life for themselves. Yeah, I know, Scarberia. It's huge, we often get snow when downtown doesn't get any, there are huge tracts of forests in the middle of communities, but there are people here, lots of us!

There is culture. I loathe it when people say there is no culture in Scarborough, that it's just a bunch of big box stores. If you define culture by boutiques where you can buy a necklace hand crafted by some hermit who lives in a cave in Jordan, or a coffee shop that only sells coffee made by llama babies culture, then yes, that's pretty hard to find. What's easy to find is millions of stores, restaurants, events from a myriad of cultures. See, culture is not just a eurocentric thing, it doesn't look a certain way and it doesn't show up in only certain spaces. If you're willing to walk into a plaza and check out the stores, you'd be surprised.

I'm not dodging bullets. Very few of us are. Look at any crime map and you'll see the rates of crime are pretty similar to other areas of the city. Like Toronto, North York, Etobicoke etc. we have our areas which see more crime than their fair share, I grew up in such an area downtown and can go into a big explanation about socio-economics and crime, but that's best saved for a paper which I'll receive a grade for. Seriously, the biggest uproar my community has had in the past five years is some neighbour ratting everyone out for minute bylaw infractions. Not criminal, annoying yes, but not criminal.

We're not all right wing. My riding showed the most support for Rob Ford in the city. Want to know who our city councilor is? Glenn De Baermaker. Not exactly someone you'd call right wing. Again, why the juxtaposition? Because Glenn routinely listens to, and delivers and people thought Ford would do the same. The big issue? Yep, you guessed it, subways.

Don't get all huffy, this isn't the first time a mayor candidate zeroed in on a single issue and ran with it. Many campaigns rely on finding that hot button issue, picking a side, and hoping it resonates with the city. Why? Because voters aren't thinking about huge complex issues and problems and political allegiances. They think about their lives, their frustrations and what has or hasn't worked for them in the future. Now I didn't vote for Ford, however I can see and feel and understand the issue of not feeling heard by a lot of rich white people downtown, many of them purporting to be left wing. "Oh, I've ridden the subway a few times from Scarborough and back, it was fine" they say. Okay, try it every day, on top of a 40 minute bus ride to actually get to the subway. See how many delays there are. In my class, which is downtown, there is a definite trend every day, which end of the city will be late because of a train delay. Those who live in Etobicoke, or those in Scarborough.

These people trek into the city day in and out, frustrated and voicing their concerns, and they're dismissed by downtown city councilors and the mayor of the time. Rob Ford, the opportunistic guy he is, sees that, and boom! He has himself a campaign. People finally feeling like they're being heard, and to a degree they are, even if he's helping people with one hand and robbing them with the other. I'm not trying to portray suburbanites as stupid either. I'm just saying that voters across the board everywhere, don't usually look at the whole picture.

We're not all conservative. I mean in more of a social sense. My church was affirming, there are plenty of young female leaders here, and people are generally accepting, or they just don't really care about things like that, only if you're a nice person and good neighbour. Yes, there are people here who aren't as supportive of things like rights for LGBT communities, or who believe that only one religion is awesome, or that women have their place. Bolen blames this on immigrants and minorities. Newsflash, people like that are EVERYWHERE. I don't have too go far in my mom's downtown community to find a white guy who has no problems dropping the n-bomb everywhere. How many people in Rosedale or Cabbagetown are interested in having a homeless shelter in their vicinity? I grew up in Regent Park, it's surrounded by rich, mainly white communities. Trust me, there's plenty of bigotry to be had downtown. I'm writing this bloody post because of bigotry, and really, as I see it, a lot of it stemming from classism.

We're not all old. There is a good senior population who have lived here since the beginning of Scarborough (pretty much) but there is a tonne of young families. There is a tonne of youth. I know this because I work with children and youth.

We're not all white. Seriously I have to explain this? Have you even been to Scarborough in the past 20 years? Scarborough is one of the most diverse areas of the city. I know this surprises some people, but really, if you come and spend some meaningful time here (not just to try and win a seat in a by-election *cough* Giambrone *cough*) you would know that.

We're not all rich, nor are we all poor. There is a huge collection of incomes in Scarborough. We have our rich neighbourhoods, our poor ones, and a hell of a lot of mixed ones. I know movers and shakers who live here, I know awesome car mechanics who live here, in my neighbourhood. It's an eclectic mix, but that's a healthy sign.

We do have cars. I love my car, I love to drive. Most Scarberians love cars. Wanna know why? Because it's hell to get around here via TTC. I'm sure Etobicoke feels very much the same way. My youngest goes to a preschool which is about 10 minutes away via car. Via TTC, it would be an hour away, assuming no construction, no traffic snarls, no TTC issue. See why I love my car? People say we're crazy drivers, nope, I'm throwing Etobicoke under the bus for that prize...sorry, you're awesome in many other ways.

There also seems to be this pervasive belief that we don't have communities. We just tend to our lawns and go inside our homes and don't talk to our neighbours. This is bull. We have community gatherings, we talk to people in our neighbourhood, we watch kids grow up, and often move back when they are able to. I can't tell you how many people have moved back to my neighbourhood. Honestly, I feel a difference in people when I come back to Scarborough, maybe it's related to a lot of the cultures that live here, but things seem to go a little slower, a little more chill. On a nice summer day, it can take me an hour to walk around the block because you have to stop and talk to your neighbours.

We have good schools. They may not be RICH schools, but they are good. The things I consider a good school, is a good culture among the staff, a good culture respecting people and students, work is being accomplished and mainly, people are happy. I want teachers who are happy to be there, who love education. I want CYWs in my kids school who jump at any problem ready to go. I want a principal whom I can run into in the ICU and we can support each other through very difficult times (true story!). School should be a big part of the community. I brag about my kids school, shamelessly. My son's grade 3 teacher has already done some mind blowing stuff academically, but is also a CYW's dream in his classroom culture.

There's no good food. What??? What???! Anyone from Scarborough who knows their way around would just stare at you, or have you medically examined. Scarberians love to debate where's the best place to get a patty, oxtail, dim sum, doubles, coffee, cannolis, fish and chips. If you know how to find it, the food here is damn good, and the best thing is, they are little treasures that we keep to ourselves, unless you ask nicely, then we'll tell.We have farmers markets, we can drive for 20-30 minutes and just go to the farm ourselves.

There's nothing to do. Admittedly, if you're looking for a lot of nightlife, galas, clubs, things going on, downtown hubs, it's a tough sell. A lot of time, activities include going to the park, playground, talking with your neighbours, going on a hike, going fishing, going to the beach (yes, we have them too! And the sand is much softer.) Getting ice cream, going to the community centre etc. It's not a terribly flashy place to live. People mistake this for a lack of culture.

So there is modern day Scarborough in a nutshell. It's a long post, but it's a big place. I wouldn't have much to write if I were in a homogenous community. I'm not saying you have to love it, but I am saying to not lump us all in preconceptions because chances are, you're way off.

1 comment:

Stacey Bourgeois said...

Great post! People always dump on Scarborough but I loved my neighbourhood and the life there. It was a great place to live and I'd take that over downtown any day.

I miss my Chopsticks at Ellesmere and Midland and still go there when I can because their singapore bean curd is amazing.

I now live in Ajax which some people would criticize in a lot of ways too but if you don't live there, you don't know. I LOVE it here and the community feeling and fresh air--lots of green. Best thing in the world. I'd take that over a crazy night life any day. Besides, a train ride is all it takes to go out in downtown Toronto. :P

Commuting on the TTC was not great--especially when you got stuck underground and couldn't actually let anyone know you'd be late. I prefer the GO as it was rarely delayed and it was nice and above ground so I could call folks if it got delayed.