This ran recently in The Walrus – a short letter in response to a longer, very interesting article by my esteemed University of Toronto colleague Mark Kingwell. It is just this kind of dialogue that is so very important and needed to make Toronto – and all cities – better, more prosperous, and more just places. I am delighted to be part of such a vibrant, challenging intellectual milieux.
Mark Kingwell offers up a compelling diagnosis for the declining state of social justice in Toronto (“Justice Denied,” January/February), and it could not be more timely. Recently, my colleague J. David Hulchanski of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies released a landmark report on the splintering of Toronto into three separate cities, defined by increasing economic polarization.
But if Kingwell gets Toronto right, he gets me wrong. Perhaps it is because he has been too heavily influenced by certain critical reactions to my ideas. I do not think that cities should be made into playgrounds for what one neo-conservative critic called “homosexuals, sophistos, and trendoids.” My work is based on the premise that every single human being is creative. I note that in advanced countries like the U.S., roughly 30 percent of the workforce is currently engaged in creative occupations (playing a role more or less equivalent to that of the working class during the heyday of industrial capitalism). But I take great pains to point out that this arrangement is untenable in the long run, in that it neglects the creative talent and energy of the remaining 70 percent.
I share Kingwell’s concern about unchecked economies. Global market forces, left to their own devices, are leading to greater economic disparity between countries, regions, and cities, including Toronto. As our city becomes bigger, wealthier, more productive, more innovative, and more of a global player, it also becomes more stratified.
Kingwell rightly points out that this offends our notion of social justice.
But I am interested in identifying not just the problem but the solution, which has led me to look at the laws of motion that power societies. And this, believe it or not, is why I am hopeful. Quite possibly for the first time in human history, the growth of the economy requires further development of human creative capabilities.
I bet on Toronto (moving my family and academic work here) for a reason. While our city is far from perfect, I believe it is the city in the world that is best prepared to engage in this shift, building a society that honors and integrates the creativity of all its people.