Shedding a preconceived notion can be a difficult and disconcerting thing, especially when that notion turns out to be more than just a notion, but a deeply held personal belief. Like a superstition or a phobia, it may not be anchored in logic, but in your bones you know it to be right and true. After three decades of living in Vancouver, I knew one thing to be true: It was the best city in Canada.
But after my fourth summer working in Toronto, I have changed my mind.
As much as it pains me to admit it, Toronto is better. In fact, it's so superior in so many ways, it's hard to count them all.
But let's try:
Roadwork: Toronto really knows how to do roadwork. They don't mess around. None of this rerouting-traffic-with-detours or limiting-travel-to-two-lanes stuff. They go big. Major downtown intersections are torn up for weeks at a time with fleets of construction equipment unapologetically churning out diesel exhaust as they smash through the blacktop. And they do it all at once – at the height of the summer when everyone but lower and middle-income Torontonians have fled to their cottages. It takes guts to paralyze an entire downtown core for a calendar month.
Transit: As well as a bus and developed-world-class subway system that is popular with commuters when it works, Toronto also has an integrated network of streetcars. These 22-tonne, lumbering, traffic-snarling, industrial-age behemoths remind citizens of a bygone era, especially when their bells clang merrily and they rumble past your recently purchased downtown condo at night.
Density: Toronto is pushing to densify its downtown. It may be late to the game, but it's making up for it – big time! Condo towers are rising skyward at a dizzying pace. And tearing a page out of the Vancouver development book, no one is letting a lack of public amenities like parks or schools get in the way of progress.
Affordability: An 800-square-foot, two-bedroom downtown condo can be had for $640,000 (not including the $560 monthly maintenance fee and the $3,000 in annual property tax). Talk about a deal! It's cool indoors: Most of Toronto is air-conditioned. For several months each year, this eliminates the need to breathe Toronto air.
Sanitation: Many downtown Toronto businesses put their garbage out on the sidewalk in the evening, stacked up in bags. As with the streetcars, it gives the city an old-timey feel, like Sesame Street. In the morning, some of the bags have even been picked up.
Cycling: Torontonians are avid cyclists even though they are offered few incentives and their mayor hates them. They are brave and free-spirited, weaving in and out of traffic, defying traffic signals, riding on sidewalks, and the wrong way up one-way streets – all the while avoiding car doors and streetcar tracks. No one had to build a dedicated bike lane or even paint lines on the road for these two-wheeled warriors (who are not required by law to wear helmets). Toronto also has a bike-share program that the city has been generous enough to support because contractually it has no choice.
Scents: People in Toronto smell nice. Almost everyone wears some kind of perfume or cologne. It's like walking through Holt Renfrew.
Attire: People in Toronto dress up and they aren't afraid to wear business suits while walking in ridiculously gigantic neon-green running shoes.
The Humidex: Toronto has a way of confirming exactly how uncomfortable you feel right now.
Taxis: Toronto taxi drivers are eager for your business. Unlike Vancouver where cabs are few and far between and taxi drivers routinely refuse fares, Toronto cabbies compete fiercely for your transportation dollar. They often know you want a cab even before you do. So committed are they to getting you where you're going they may follow you while honking their horns and gesturing to let you know they're available for hire.
Donald Trump: Has already been here. The Donald left his mark on the city more than six months ago in the form of the Trump International Hotel and Tower, which led to the crash of thesaurus.com as members of the Toronto media scrambled for alternatives to the word "opulence."
Food Higher Up: Toronto's revolving restaurant is higher in altitude than both of Vancouver's revolving restaurants combined.
Less Weed: Not everyone in Toronto is stoned all the time. They're far more likely to be drunk.
Rob Ford: The mayor of Toronto has never been busted for underpaying on transit or dinged for going through a red light on his bike.