I grew up in small-town northern Ontario. Parry Sound, Muskoka to be precise. It was a quaint area with a little more than 6,000 people living in it at once. Everyone knew each other or at least knew enough about each other to act like they did, and we were all connected in one way or another. Small businesses grew just by word of mouth while partying, snowmobiles and ATV’s were the biggest past times.
For 18 years this was my reality. Then I moved to Toronto, four hours away, and experienced a mild culture shock.
You won’t witness or be a part of a stabbing every week
In Parry Sound, people made comments about Toronto as if the whole city turned into a street gang war zone every night. I’ve invited friends to come visit me and the response I usually get is a wide-eyed look and a, “but I don’t want to get stabbed” or “I don’t want my car to get stolen.” But I mean, no one is going to steal your 2007 Subaru when there are people driving BMW’s and Mercedes Benz’s around my neighbourhood.
The reality of the situation is that Toronto in the safest city in all of North America and eighth safest in the world, according to the Safe Index from 2015. So if you plan on moving from a small town to a city and fear is holding you back, Toronto is literally your eighth safest bet.
The housing market is on the way to the trash – so roots are hard to plant
If you do move here, you might be walking straight into financial instability.
Ontario has the highest rate of post-secondary enrollment than any other province – more than 800,000 full and part-time students province-wide – the majority of which go to schools in Toronto. These are young professionals taking their first steps into career and adult life. That life isn’t going to be spent in Toronto if they can’t even pay for a permanent residence.
Luckily the market is getting a little better thanks to a 30% rise in house listings and a foreign buyer’s tax, but condos and rentals are still seeing a hard hit. Condos are almost 5 per cent more expensive than they were a month ago and rent hikes are becoming a problem to the point of strikes being held in Parkdale – for which tenants were threatened with eviction.
When first moving to Toronto I saw a world of opportunities. Yet, those opportunities start to get blotted out by trying to manage money I don’t have, finding a more affordable place and failing. Toronto needs to think about how they’ll make residency more attractive and affordable for the young professionals who want to move here and eventually stimulate the economy with their fresh ideas and family plans – because right now it just isn’t.
Businesses are less homogenous
Speaking of fresh ideas, businesses in Toronto have a lot of them. Which, in part, is thanks to the city’s diversity.
More than 140 languages are spoken in Toronto and 20% of all immigrants in Canada live here while 47% of citizens say they are part of a visible minority. This ultimately leads to more diverse businesses – big and small.
In a way, the ethnic diversity of a business can directly influence the intellectual diversity as well. People from varying backgrounds and upbringings are guaranteed to bring different perspectives that might not be brought to the table otherwise.
This a huge element of social entrepreneurship. Being able to identify a need in the world based on personal experience is what makes businesses more in tune than others with the cause they associate with. Without principles like this Toronto wouldn’t have companies like Haween, a sewing business with a focus on teaching immigrant women in Canada.
Humour is much more restrained and respectable
That diversity, in the workplace and out in the streets, has pushed a much needed social reform for newcomers and less sensible people alike.
In my hometown, you can’t go a day of socializing without hearing some kind of racial or sexuality based slander. It’s almost second nature to use the gay expletive as a punchline.
Moving to Toronto, that kind of humour isn’t acceptable. If you were to say any kind of discriminate slur in public, even in private, you will either get called out or given dirty looks to put you in your place. This is with good reason – you’ll either be offending someone of the identity you’re mocking or be provoking one of their friends.
This all contributes to a more refined sense of humour. One that doesn’t constantly seek laughs at the expense of others. It’s much better living in a city getting laughs at the expense of individual personalities, rather than at the expense of an entire generalized group of people. Calls for more wit too, that’s a nice bonus.
People don’t socialize outside their friend groups enough
It isn’t commonplace in the city to introduce yourself to a stranger in a café for a possibly interesting conversation. But when someone does this the majority of people would feel uncomfortable.
I still go back to Parry Sound every once in a while and I have to condition myself back into waving and smiling at everyone I pass on the street. Nor was it awkward to start a random conversation with a stranger about anything. In Toronto, there’s just too many people to be waving and smiling at all the time. I went from somewhere everyone knew each other, to a place where this is physically impossible.
It’s the one thing that disappointed me about Toronto.
Move somewhere filled with people who don’t like new people. There’s a short film from Toronto that touches on this very concept, COLD (2013), directed by Waseem Shaikh. It’s recommended for anyone who wants to be inspired to warm up to strangers more often.