My City Was Gone


“Living just enough, just enough, for the city.”

The Big Cities of the past weren’t for everyone. In the hardscrabble days when I was growing up in Montreal or in Toronto, a city rat could always make ends meet, somehow, some way. There was always that neighbourhood where you could find a deal, that part of town where, while it might not be pretty, but, be it ever so humble, you could find a place to crash if you were short of dough. Or a place to score if you wanted to get high. You might not have a Rolex, but you could find a knockoff for a couple of bucks. k market 1976

When you’re really hungry, a bag of smelts tastes like caviar. And back then, the smaller, inner city groceries, run mostly by the children of immigrants, could always be counted on as somewhere to find something cheap and cheerful to feed the belly of the hungry.

 

 

But getting older often means learning the hard way that the city you once knew is gone forever, for good or for ill. Cities change, landmarks disappear, and the people’s needs change. Progress seeks to whitewash the reality of the poverty and the needy that always lurk in a big city’s depths. Your need to find a little corner of the metropolis to call your own won’t necessarily be fulfilled when you most need it, even if you’re willing to bend to nearly breaking point, just to stay where you’ve lived most of your life.

Life in the big city was never gonna be easy for everybody, but for those of us who came here chasing a dream, there was a time when it was easier to make it work. These days, the city rats have to give way to the up and coming high tech mice, who have the wherewithal to pay the big rents, the big mortgages, and who have enough of the ready to enjoy the best of the city that wants to be world class.

for sale signsWhen we sold our home in 2016, we didn’t worry about where we’d land up next. Surely we’d come up roses on a nice, new place to rent, someplace where we could keep our ‘stuff’ and exist comfortably for the foreseeable future.

But our search was far more difficult that we’d thought, and we didn’t find a cubby hole to curl up in straight away – there were a lot of twists and turns on the journey. And once here, the drawbacks of this particular rental surfaced, meaning that this isn’t where we’ll be staying long-term either.

But where we were lucky was in having a good credit rating, reasonably good health, and a couple of bucks in the bank. Not that any of that guarantees you’ll find a decent living space, but when you put them all together, it will help make the search just a little less frustrating.

There are several reasons why living in the bigger cities of North America has become harder for the lower to middle class. We’ve lived through decades of foolish governments who hung on to power by failing to increase taxes enough to keep the city running. Our infrastructure has been strained to it’s limits without the injections of cash needed to keep the trains going, or the hospitals able to handle an aging society.

Those same governments, as a rule, also tended to side with commercial leasing entities over renters, allowing businesses to take huge tax write offs on over priced properties that could stand vacant for months and even years, until a lessee with big dollars took occupation.

Real estate prices have soared in the last decade, until even the tiniest, most rundown, residential property in the city starts at a million dollars, and goes up into the stratosphere from there. Real estate agents are becoming the nouveau riche. Who can afford to buy those properties?

And yet the ‘for sale’ signs go up, and in days, come down, with the replacement sign reading, ‘sold over asking.’ How many of these buyers are house poor, I wonder? And how will they pay the overblown mortgage should one half of a couple lose their jobs or become ill?

straight outta scarboroughGentrification has been excising the more interesting parts of the city for at least the last thirty years. Within another three to five years, Yonge Street south of Bloor will be as nondescript as a Scarborough mall, packed with chain stores, fast food franchises, Starbucks, and a Shopper’s Drug Mart on every corner.

If I wanted Scarborough drab .. I’d go to Scarborough. “Cleaning up” Yonge street really means erasing our sense of history and place, and of sanding down the grit of People City, leaving behind the sort of bland, generic playground that is fit only for the children of the very wealthy.

dying from exposureI know that this is no longer the city that I came to conquer back in 1976; there are new generations coming up behind me, young and hungry, and eager to prove themselves in their fields.

But how are they to survive, when those with the ability to raise them up, choose instead to shackle these young spirits with internships and exposure? Where exactly are they to find the bootstraps these strugglers are supposed to pull up?

And most importantly… where are these young tyros supposed to live? And how are they to eat? When living is reduced to just surviving, there’s little time or will to create.

Once upon a time, those who yearned to enjoy and participate in Canada’s culture flocked to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, and took their chances, clawing their way to success, or falling by the wayside. But international big money has taken that option out of the equation.

If you didn’t buy real estate twenty years ago, you’re going to have to be in rarefied company to be able to afford to buy today. Even your ability to rent in a ‘better area’ of the metropolises is an iffy proposition.

Globalization, gentrification … we’re moving from the end of the industrial age into the fullness of the digital, high tech world. And our cities reflect that change, just as at one point they reflected the scions who traveled in horse and buggy.

The cities have begun to depend upon video, cellular communications, artificial intelligence, and eventually, a robotics industry that will force countries to accept a basic income that will keep the lower and middle class in just enough financial stability to stay alive … though that life may not be what many would have considered livable even a decade or two ago. The digital elite will own the residences; the rest of us will vie for the privilege of renting.

tent cities 2018And those who fall between the cracks will live in the tent cities that are now springing up to house the homeless.

The cities, as we knew them, are changing. Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, are already gone. and it could be argued that Vancouver is next, with Toronto not far behind.

As much as we may yearn to keep this from happening, globalization is inevitable, and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

And, for many, that wave is washing away the possibility of aging in place in the Big City.

 

Climate Change? What Climate Change? Part One


Wouldn’t it be great if we knew what our regrets will someday be, before the fact, and when we still had time to do something about preventing them?

what me worryThe single biggest issue facing the planet right now is climate change. Inequality would be second, but without a globalized approach to climate change, inequality is moot. As is war, reproductive rights, trophy hunting and gay marriage. Everything – no matter how deeply you care about it – is nothing but condiments to this picnic, issues to keep the population squabbling amongst themselves, and oblivious to the coming storm.

The wars in the Middle East are braided into the reality of climate change; Climate change drove the Syrian uprising, as drought and rising temperatures hurt agriculture, and pushed desperate people into conflict and exodus. With the cities already suffering from poverty, refugees from Iraq poured in and open conflict was inevitable. As was the migration of refugees pouring into Europe, fleeing war and starvation.

climate_change_inequality_mapIn every South American country, concern over climate change is above the 90% mark, with this level of worry shared by Mexico, India, Tanzania and Morocco. Japan is one of the few highly advanced economies in the world to have a population as concerned about the risks of climate change.” (The Guardian, July 2015.)

francis_climate_two
The Eastern Mediterranean countries are drying out; East Africa, Somalia and Sudan are nearing crisis, and, closer to home, parts of Central America, especially Mexico, are short of water in countries reliant on agriculture.

If you still don’t believe in climate change, and mankind’s place in accelerating it, then you are not only uninformed, you are part of the problem. The people who mock the idea of their own personal impact on the planet, who brush aside 98% of established scientific fact as ‘junk science,’ are the same people who leave their litter behind in public parks; who carve tGlobal-Warming-bushheir initials into bridges and railings; and who graffiti monuments. These people are incredibly selfish, and believe that the world revolves only around them, right this minute. In a childish fit of pique, they deny what’s happening globally, because it’s not currently affecting their well-being. They are, in a word, greedy. They not only want it all, they want yours as well, and see no problem with taking what they desire from others. What happens elsewhere is of no concern .  If they can’t see it, if it doesn’t impact on their personal satisfaction, then they just don’t care.

Their numbers are dwindling, but they are a vocal group. They are the fools who toss a winter’s snowball on the floor of the Senate to prove their ignorance. They are the politicians who strip away environmental protections from their country’s resources, and pocket the blood money corporations funnel into their party’s war chest. They are the brainless citizens who look at all of the research and data showing irrefutable proof of ecological damage, and choose to ignore what they see.

In large part, this is because they either lack the imagination to imagine a world where water replaces gold as a standard, or because they understand just enough about what’s coming for their minds to simply shut down, unable to process such a scenario.

hurricane-sandy-hits-new-jerseyIt is not until their trailer parks are swept into the ocean, or their crops dwindle to nothing that they finally see what bull-headed opposition to reality has wrought. . And then they blame everyone else for the destruction, and expect the government to pick up the tab.

Many will say there is no point in just one country tightening it’s belt on carbon emissions. After all, they’ll say, it’s China that’s really doing all the polluting, so why should we suffer while they profit?

GlobalGHGEmissionsByCountryLast year President Obama signed a pact with President Xi Jinping of China. China leads the world in overall carbon dioxide emissions, but Americans per head are the greatest generators of greenhouse gases.

This doesn’t guarantee that these two nations will keep their promise to reduce fossil-fuel use within a realistic timetable, but it does mean that corporations and free market capitalism, which look to make the most money in the shortest time, will find legal stumbling blocks to continued fracking and pumping crude oil. Investors will look to the next profitable venture, hopefully in renewable energy and green technology.

kiribati-630x420_edit2The world’s best scientists have tried to tell us for years that we are at a tipping point. It may already be too late to turn this situation around. Those countries around the world that we don’t think or care about – they are already suffering. Temperatures are soaring in India, small island countries are being assailed by sea-level rise and tropical cyclones. Droughts are no longer rare – and in America, California is entering it’s fourth year of drought, it’s deepest ground water almost completely depleted.

Some will tell you that what we’re seeing is the tail end of the Ice Age, which began somewhere between 18,000 and 80,000 years ago. The climate is always changing, it’s cyclical.

cat climate changeThe climate has changed before; fossils and archaeology tell us that there have been previous periods that appear to have been warmer than the present despite CO2 (greenhouse gasses, but mainly CO2 and methane) levels being lower than they are today.

But what’s happening now is accelerated. When CO2 levels jumped rapidly in the past, the global warming that resulted was often the cause of mass extinctions.

CO2 levels, rising global temperatures, ocean acidification, and rapid carbon emissions are generally known to decimate life on Earth.

climate change apathyToday we are emitting prodigious quantities of CO2, at a rate faster than even the most destructive climate changes in earth’s past. The Rain Forests, nature’s lungs, which have played a huge part in clearing our air, are being decimated. Thanks to human activity, we seem to be on the verge of another mass extinction, and sooner rather than later.

I’ve stopped arguing with those who deny climate change. Life is too short. But I have to wonder … who profits from encouraging disbelief in scientific fact? exxon-mobil climate change

See Part Two.

https://frustratedboomers.com/2015/08/13/climate-change-what-climate-change-part-two/

and Part Three

https://frustratedboomers.com/2015/08/20/climate-change-what-climate-change-the-aftermath/