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GREENINGS (MARCH 2017): Kellie Leitch was right

March 22nd, 2017 · No Comments

It’s hard to borrow a cup of sugar…but the problem isn’t Toronto

Kellie Leitch is reportedly getting packets upon packets of sugar in the mail as a response to her comments that in Toronto, you can’t walk next door and borrow a cup of sugar. She’s right, to an extent…just not in Toronto.

In my, extremely walkable neighbourhood of the Annex (with a walkability score of 97), I know all my immediate neighbours, know everyone within a dozen houses with kids, and know all the avid gardeners between my house and the subway station. Last weekend, when a friend came to teach me how to make borscht, I realized too late that I was out of bay leaves. A quick phone call later, and a neighbour four houses to the south rang the doorbell with three fragrant bay leaves in hand.

Though she just won’t admit it, what Kellie Leitch is really criticizing is the unsustainable lifestyle of “the American dream”.

A very good friend of mine lives in Mississauga. He knows his immediate neighbours, but that’s about it. When a family with a child roughly the same age as his son walked by, he asked if they would like to play. The parents flatly said “no”.

The key difference? Mine is a walkable neighbourhood with few driveways and lots of destinations to walk to. His is a get-in-the-car-and-drive-away neighbourhood. While I’ve met, and received gardening advice from, every avid gardener on the street, my friend simply drives past, admiring gardeners planting in the sun.

To Kellie Leitch and her supporters, “Toronto” is everything from Milton to Pickering and right up to Barrie. Given the popularity of trashing Toronto, it isn’t surprising that she’ll accuse everyone in the Greater Toronto Area of being colder than mediocre beer.

The people she’s really talking about are the suburbanites; those who dwell in drive-through neighbourhoods and have a weakened sense of community. As Vox, the American news site, reported in 2015, “our housing choices make adult friendships more difficult”. How we live determines how strong our community bonds are. And for once, I actually agree with Leitch.

The dream of a big yard and a white picket fence is all about having a personal piece of paradise away from others. In that case, who needs to borrow sugar? We have everything we need. When we live in McMansions of four-garage homes and individual swimming pools, who really meets friends at the community swim? When we have a gigantic back yard with an individual swing set, who needs to head to the local park and meet other parents? Losing the ability to have spontaneous interactions is the number one inhibitor of making new friends.

Though she just won’t admit it, what Kellie Leitch is really criticizing is the unsustainable lifestyle of “the American dream”. Ironically, that is also the demographic where she likely draws her support. If we want to make sure we don’t have communities where we can’t borrow sugar, we need to break our addiction to big homes and SUVs. In those “Toronto” neighbourhoods of the suburbs, it really is hard to borrow a cup of sugar! What we need is good public policy that gives us tight walkable communities, communities which are also less energy-intensive. What we need is a leader who understands the implicit value of walkable neighbourhoods and the strength they bring to Canada. I’m afraid that leader isn’t Dr. Leitch.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths.



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A green, meaningful Christmas (December 2016)

Force the focus (November 2016)



Tags: Annex · Columns · Life