(1103) Frontier City [Book Review]

Frontier City. Toronto on the Verge of Greatness
Shawn Micallef, 2016
Signal $29.95 hard cover
272 pages
Frontier City is about political events in Toronto mid decade and its author’s mission to understand his massive city.
By political events, of course we mean Rob Ford and his train wreck of a mayoralty.
Micallef is a writer, academic and walker.  He’s a believer in seeing for himself. Starting with a Ford Nation barbecue (where lots of people were apparently perfectly nice!) he then goes off into the Los Angeles-scaled sprawl from where Ford drew so much of his resentful strength. It took a couple of years of this direct experience, getting around to the far flung wards of Toronto and walking them in the company of twelve political underdogs from the 2014 election, to get the job done. A worthy effort, indeed. If you want the real thing as to how political and social reality work together in the super-sprawl of the GTA nowadays you won’t do better than Frontier CIty.
Of course, this blog would like life to be simpler than Micalleff’s findings. We admit our emotions would be more satisfied by a deeper hatred of Big Rich Rob and his whack job performance as ‘mayor’.  Frontier City is why we have (and need) public intellectuals. Bloggers can do only so much of the heavy lifting.  Micallef sorts through a huge number of things within the realms of history, planning, economics to create a picture of where Toronto is at.
The picture is disturbing and tough to balance. After decades of looking to the future many of us can be forgiven for wondering why the present is so crap.
Consider the 3-billion dollar single-stop subway for Scarborough. That’s just one self-inflicted thing driving us crazy and showing us our faults as we try to realize our potential. Things ought to be so good here that electing a fucked up slob like Rob Ford ought to have been the last thing on anybody’s mind. That guy cancelled Transit City at the cost of $65m dollars. And his thing, apparently, was saving money? We really may be on the edge of a dark age and a vast nobody-to-blame-but-ourselves wastage.
Public transit issues appear again and again in Frontier City. All the really cheerful things that suburban-poverty.com trades in are found, too, from bed bugs to tower blocks.  Anyone looking into the recent history of Canada’s biggest community will find this book a worthy read. I would have liked an index, maybe a further reading list as well and a map.  These handy things don’t cost much and they up the value and relevance of hardcover books – objects that typically now cost several hours pay at minimum wage.
Even more, I’d have liked at least one chapter on solutions going forward.  A more direct consideration of neoliberalism, the grand grinding ideology of our inequitable times might have helped as well.  The passage about infrastructure and storytelling was great, powerful and could be a book someone ought to write.
Frontier CIty isn’t quite angry enough for us but we really liked this one and think you will, too.
See also:
(808) The New Urban Agenda [Book review]
(664) Brunch is the new crystal meth [Book review]