If you build it, they will come

Toronto native says all world-class cities have exceptional transit systems in common


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Taras Grescoe is hooked on Paris. Who isn’t though, right? But what makes Grescoe such a fan isn’t the Louvre or even a healthy dose of croque-monsieurs. It is the impressive transit system, growing cycling infrastructure and the fact that even though the legendary Metro is a feat unto itself, the city is still expanding its system. 

Toronto should take note.

In his award-winning 2012 book, Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile, Grescoe surveys a sampling of cities around the world: some better (Montreal), some worse (Phoenix) and some off the charts (Shanghai), as well as offers a special serving of reverence for that rare, pedestrian-friendly wonderland of Paris, France.

“Most of Europe and Asia have a long history of catering to transit. Shanghai, for example, has built an entire subway system, and it now has the world’s largest in only 18 years,” says Grescoe.

“European cities, you know, are famous for making car-free life a possibility for most of their citizens. Most mega-cities seem to realize transit is the only thing to keep them moving in the future. North America is a bit more problematic.”

Some are getting it right, most notably New York City, Chicago, Montreal, Vancouver and even Los Angeles. Even Toronto is expanding its system with a massive investment in light rail transit; though, Grescoe refers to both the Queen and King streetcars as “special challenges.”

Amen to that.

But, the bottom line is that even the current expansion isn’t enough.

What is really needed, according to Grescoe, is a national transit strategy as the precursor to steady funding for cities that is earmarked specifically for transit.

“There is a big change happening,” Grescoe explains. “There is a real urban revival.”

And, if Toronto doesn’t get its transit issues under control, the city risks missing out on the benefits that could come its way.

Grescoe was born in Toronto. His parents were journalists who met at the Globe and Mail. His family moved to Burlington and then to the West Coast where his parents helped found Vancouver magazine.

After completing his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia, Grescoe started his writing career at the local Georgia Straight newspaper.

After a sojourn in Paris in the ’90s (hence the love), Grescoe settled in Canada’s most European city — Montreal, where he lives, car-free, with his wife and young child.

Straphanger, which recently won the Quebec Writers’ Federation Literary Award and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, is Grescoe’s fifth non-fiction title and the follow-up to the award-winning Bottomfeeder, about the global seafood industry.

For more information, go to www.tarasgrescoe.com.

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