A visit to Toronto -- Canada's largest city -- reveals what urban life can and should be, writes Olga Bonfiglio.
"Imagine that people in the fifth most populated city in North America actually praise themselves for their tolerance of ethnic and racial differences, which are evident everywhere you go. Imagine a place where over 100 languages are spoken and neighborhood utility poles don signs advertising language classes in the expected Spanish and the unexpected Persian, Urdu and Turkish."
"While it's not unusual to hear other languages spoken in a major urban area, it is a delight as well as a shock to walk clean and litter-free streets. Trash baskets are separated into litter, recycled newspapers, and recycled bottles and cans. And when the trash overflows, you see empty coffee cups neatly placed on the top of the container. Recycling bins are everywhere, even next to people's front porches should their home not have a backyard."
"Imagine that 40 percent of the downtown population walks to work or that a clean, safe, and efficient streetcar, bus, and subway system moves 1.4 million passengers each work day. (Curious that there were not many obese people walking the streets either!)"
"The people of Toronto have obviously invested in their city, especially in their neighborhoods, and they are willing to pay the price for the services. For example, some neighborhoods ensure their safety through the protection of private police but the sidewalks and streets of every neighborhood were all shoveled from snow to accommodate walking and bicycling."
"Old houses are beautifully decorated and well-maintained, an indicator of the citizens' respect and appreciation for the past. Downtown buildings sport this same sentiment as the old Victorian brick edifices sit comfortably next to modern office and condo skyscrapers."
"OK, so the Torontoans didn't formulate an urban revitalization plan and the Gardiner Freeway that hugs the lakeshore is an obvious eyesore on stilts. At least developers and city officials didn't wipe the past right off the map as Americans did when we replaced our cities with freeways and glass and steel buildings."
"As far as I'm concerned, Toronto serves as both a model and an inspiration for cities because it illustrates that what it takes to 'make a village' is for the people who live there to summon the political will to determine what urban life can and should be."