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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Number Two and Trying Harder.

A couple of those comparative studies that fascinate me indicate that Canada is"the second happiest country" in the World and Toronto is "the second best city world wide" (behind New York City). Who would have thought it? As one who is always aware of the shortcomings of my country and the city I grew up near, I wonder if this is as good as it gets for surely we could do a lot better. And what about all those other countries lined up behind us, who need to do better for their citizens. It is depressing when you think too hard about it. How bittersweet a reality it is for this Canadian.

Oops! I am supposed to be a happy Canadian and want to move to Toronto. I forgot for a moment.

The study on happiness of countries is interesting. I am genuinely surprised that Northern Countries with the challenges of weather would be the happiest. I guess challenge in life is not a negative factor. Denmark is the happiest country and several other Northern Countries are among the top group. What surprises me is Venezuela , with all it's social problems is sixth seemingly out of place in the list and ahead of the United States in twelth place among the nineteen counties that are above 50% in the "thriving" category. I correspond with an email friend in Venezuela who has made me aware of life in that Latin American country with 80% of it's population being poor and 20 % being privileged. (They are the ones who can afford a car and enjoy state subsidized gas at 14 cents a gallon). There are large Barrios that house the poor in the hills around Caracas, a city that has a record of gun violence that rivals the most dangerous cities in the United States. Under the political leadership of Hugo Chavez, that my friend despises and I admire, the country's politics is volatile as grand social experiment in improving the lives of the poor. Is it in spite of or because of, that they rank high on the happiness scale.

As I have come to expect in these studies, the United States is lower on the list. Americans like to think they are doing OK and some even claim to be the best country in the World when on almost any scale in various studies they are not. As an admirer, (and critic) of the United States, I know it has the potential to be so much better than it is if it could only start pragmatically tackling its problems rather than ideologically deny them. The United States and Canada, to a lesser degree, are moving in the direction of Venezuela with a very large underclass and a small privileged class. Perhaps, the growing awareness of this explains the lower "Happiness" position in the "thriving" category for the United States. This study is fascinating to read and dissect to understand the reasons for the differences. I leave that for those interested in such things.

Here is Toronto's modern day skyline. I find the virility and productivity (fertility) of the city symbolized in the iconic phallic CN Tower and the egg shaped skydome beside it, respectively.

I like Toronto and think it is a wonderful city with much to offer but seeing it ranked as the second best city in the World is a little startling when I think of all the great and historic cities there are. As a city, Toronto is an upstart. It has only become a Metropolis since 1950. It was not even the largest city in Canada in that year. It had just over 1 million people ( Canada had 12 million then). It now has about 5 million (Canada is at 35 million.) All of this in my lifetime. It has been a great transformation.

Until the early 50's Toronto had been a largely provincial city shaped largely by English protestant values (held over from the Victorian age.) It was called "Toronto the Good" back then.(Need I mention; few restaurants were open on Sunday and bars had entrances for "ladies and escorts). In so many ways it was hardworking, pious and dull. Often Toronto was contrasted with "Montreal, the Bad", which by contrast was French-Canadian Catholic, fun loving and had a vibrant "joie de vie"; home to a rich jazz scene and night life, where African Americans could come and find an acceptance they did not enjoy in many of their own cities. Toronto has come a long way in the past 60 years. It is a culturally rich city, with a very diverse population made of up large groups of people from virtually every country of the World. Somehow the ethnic mix of the city works, groups getting along and add to the rich cultural mix. Few cities are as cosmopolitan, as safe and as clean. I am not quite sure why. The transformation has been dramatic and Toronto stands as a testament to the great contribution immigrants make to a city which embraces them.

Speaking of Toronto the Good, here is an article by an American who moved to Toronto from sunny California and her positive impression, "Try Great"

Before I get too strong in my praise there is another study that says Toronto is the "most miserable" (unhappiest) city in Canada. It scored 4.15 out of 5 on the scale of this study while the happiest city Sherbrooke ( the city that just sent a 19 year old student to parliament as it's MP) scored 4.37 out of 5. The only explanation of this is that the study failed to differentiate very much between the highest and lowest on the scale. It seems that Toronto is made up of the unhappiest people in the the second happiest country, but not a great deal less than Sherbrooke, the happiest city.

This is the skyline of Toronto, in my youth, in 1950. It had a lower profile in many ways then. It greatest claim to fame might have been the Royal York Hotel, once the tallest building in the British Empire. It is now dwarfed by not only the CN Tower but also all the banking skyscrapers and even the downtown condominium apartments. In its short history there have been many changing views of the Toronto Skyline since 1980.

I hope Canada and Toronto will always be number two in the World as a country and a city. This recognizes them as something to be proud but also something that can do better. There is much room for improvement to make our country a cherished place for all the generations yet to come and our great cities as places which meet human needs and enrich our lives as well as house of bodies. As for me, I will continue to find the countryside as a place to feed my soul while still enjoying the occasion sojourn into the wonderful city of Toronto.


At 4:38 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

I wonder if a city has to reach a certain size to be in that study.I am guessing that most Canadian cities would not have been considered. So, maybe there is no discrepancy; maybe TO really is unhappy in Canadian terms but happy in terms of the world's large cities. But this is sheer guesswork on my part.

At 12:06 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

The skyline is gorgeous; I felt a flow of peace as I looked longer. I could sit by your knee and listen to you speak for a long period. You make a good teacher. Thanks, Philip. Appreciate you very much.

At 7:38 a.m., Blogger possum said...

I guess most people think THEIRS is best, whatever it is. And it is unpatriotic to NOT think so. I have many friends in other countries, and they almost all think their country is the absolute best.
As for cities - I hate them. I might make an exception for Istanbul, but it is more of a living history book than just a city...
As for Canada, I can find only one fault with it - it is too cold for my thin blood!

At 8:04 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

You are absolutely right when you say that we , the Americans, can do so much better. It seems to me that there's a lot of boasting about our great USA but little done to earn.

At 11:02 p.m., Blogger Rachel said...

Interesting post. I agree with what Ginnie said. We do need to tackle our problems. Seems finding good leadership is not an easy thing.

I would love to visit Canada someday! I'm sure it is a beautiful place!


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