Jane Jacobs & The Neighborhoods of Toronto


"People would ask me after we had decided to stay, "Well, when are you coming back?" "Well, we’re not. We are living here." "Oh, but you can’t just—you’ve got to come back to real life." And I would say, "It’s just as real." This is very hard for Americans to understand and I think that may be the biggest difference between Americans and people elsewhere. Canadians know that there are places just as real as Canada." -Jane Jacobs, on moving from New York to Toronto, from a March 2001 interview by Jim Kunstler for Metropolis Magazine

June 5, 2012, Washington, DC: The late Jane Jacobs is best known in the States for her years as a quintessential New Yorker: Her observations about city living on Greenwich Village's Hudson Street and her vocal opposition to building a highway on the Lower East Side shaped not only the city itself, but influenced the way we think about major metropolises. But the godmother of urban studies would later make another city her home. In the late 1960s, Jacobs, then in her early 50s, relocated with her family from New York to Toronto, where she was actively involved from the get-go both in the city's politics and in the more subtle rhythms of its lively streets. Shortly after moving in, Jacobs helped put an stop to the completion of Toronto's Spadina Expressway, a proposed north-south highway that would chop the city in half, just as she had spoken up against Robert Moses in New York. Various Toronto writers at the time of Jacobs' death in 2006 reminisced about seeing her out and about on Bloor St. in the Annex neighborhood where she lived near Bathhurst subway station and lingering regularly in her neighborhood bookstore, always vigorously participating in her hometown. Jacobs lived in Toronto for nearly half her life and became a Canadian citizen in 1974.

For those of us who believe in Jacobs' conviction that strong, active and diverse neighborhoods are the lifeblood of successful cities, the proof is every bit as evident in Toronto as it is in New York.

Toronto's neighborhoods are distinct and plentiful. The city's residents hail from all over the world, bringing cuisines and traditions with them as they put down new roots. In three short days, we barely experienced a fraction of the flavor of Toronto's neighborhoods, but the few neighborhoods we did see reinforced the many reasons Jacobs and so many of us are fascinated by cities.

In Toronto's Yorkville neighborhood and its surroundings, we saw a city core that is active and alive as opposed to a downtown that stagnates after office hours. It is a core that not only encompasses high-end retail and world-class cuisine, but also academia and intellectualism grounded there at the University of Toronto. The university and its environs near Jacobs' old home adds a new angle to the many dimensions of downtown.

Other elements of Toronto's neighborhoods likewise inspire our penchant for observing and studying cities. The architecture of the University of Toronto, with bright green ivy creeping up old buildings and chapels, stands in striking contrast to the glass and steel structure of crystals that protrude from the nearby Royal Ontario Museum. The juxtaposition exemplifies the jarringly beautiful coexistence of old and new.

A walk through Queen's Park on Saturday and return visit there via Toronto's shared Bixi bicycles remind us of the power of a city's parks. We observe the same man practicing Tai Chi there each morning, intently concentrated on his practice. 47HCVA99JP87

East of Don River Park, The Danforth neighborhood, also known as the city's Greektown, is among my favorite areas of Toronto we experience. Here you get the immediate sense here that newcomers are welcome, that a variety and diversity of ages, nationalities,  cuisines and lifestyles have made this neighborhood what it is.

In some places, Toronto is tall and statuesque. In others, it is low-lying and green. From The Danforth to Moore Park and Yorkville, we watch the rhythms of these lively neighborhood streets, and we wish there was time to see more of them.