According to a new survey, Toronto is the country’s least-liked city. This comes as no surprise. In The Walrus’s November cover story, “How Toronto Lost Its Groove,” John Lorinc shows Canada that its most mega metropolis indeed has a problem, but it ain’t Rob Ford. Lorinc wisely avoids the reductive “blame the mayor” argument by which many Torontonians (myself included) have been so easily seduced. Toronto’s plight comes from decades of narrow vision, relapses in policy tragedy, and the mass mediation of misinformation. So who’s to blame? Well, everyone. Lorinc reveals that what lies behind Toronto’s curtain is not a man but a mirror. That is, Torontonians past and present, urban and suburban, are responsible for the city’s current state. This is not a point of despair: if we have the power to hurt Toronto, we have the power to nurture it as well.
Implicit in Lorinc’s piece is that there exists a morally Good way to run this city, one guided by empathy, reason, and foresight, or as I call it, virtue. Intuitively, we know the city can be better; if we fostered and internalized this virtue, then Toronto would take care of itself. However, although we are bound by the knowledge that civic virtues exist, we rarely comport ourselves accordingly.
Frank Cunningham is the former director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Ethics and a senior advisor at the school’s Cities Centre, a multi-disciplinary research institute with the mandate to network and embolden cities of the world; promoting civic virtues is his life. I met Cunningham as a second-year U of T student enrolled in his introductory philosophy course. The professor was forward: “If you don’t read any of the material,” he said, “you can still come out of this class with a solid B!” I later realized that this joke was an inverted lesson about reflection, the day-to-day thinking that drives us to do meaningful things. (“Reflection involves the always incomplete attempt to make sense of who we are, trying all the while to live better,” committed Torontonian Mark Kingwell has argued.) During the course’s last lecture, Cunningham encouraged us to visit him should we want to continue the discussion about virtue. Four years later, I took up his offer. (more…)