The City as a Character

I love to write about Toronto. I’m not alone; Dionne Brand, David Chariandy, MG Vassanji, Margaret Atwood, Barbara Gowdy, and many others have situated their fiction in this city, often making setting a character.

What makes this city such an inspiration is it diversity. That might sound like a line from a tourist brochure, but I haven’t been anywhere else where so many different people bump up against each other everyday. It’s a place I feel home with all my various identities, a place where I can find community with people who share varied interests, politics and ancestries.

I’m thinking about the city a lot these days. My second novel, Six Metres of Pavement (Dundurn, 2011) takes place in my neighbourhood and all across Toronto. It’s about a middle-aged South Asian man who recovers from the worst mistake of his life through unlikely connections with a Portuguese widow and homeless young queer woman. Toronto facilitates unlikely connections, in my opinion.

I’m also thinking about the city because of our upcoming municipal election. Municipal politics are not always seen as all that important, but it’s this level on which we feel much of our quality of life. It the level where decisions about our libraries, rec centres, transit, parks, local businesses and festivals take place. It’s the level that makes all the difference to neighbourhoods.

Toronto City Council doesn’t currently represent the city’s diversity. There aren’t enough women, or people of colour, or other marginalized folks there. There isn’t anyone there who is vocal about championing the arts. I really hope this changes when Torontonians go to the polls this October.

I’m excited to hear about some new candidates, all women of colour, who are running as independents: Hema Vyas (Ward 18), Karen Sun (Ward 19), and Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27). It’s also exciting to see two transwomen running in Ward 27: Susan Gapka and Enza Anderson.

These elections will define Toronto’s direction in the coming years. Who knows what kind of character our city will be in the future?