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The recent statement of Paul Godfrey, the chair of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., that Toronto’s downtown is an appropriate site for a casino because it isn’t a neighbourhood, has been clarified, explained, put back into any context from which it might have been unfairly taken, and all but recanted by the man who made it and by those who share his enthusiasm for casinos.
Quite apart from the fact that there are many people who live in condos, apartments, lofts, flats, co-ops, rooming houses, townhouses, duplexes and houses in and around the areas that Godfrey appears to regard — at least in his initial statement — as desert, his observation raises the question of what a neighbourhood is.
Is it a few streets of homes and lawns and hedges that are customarily kept at least a half-hour car-ride away from the downtown? Is it only where we sleep and keep our barbecues? Or do we, in a city such as Toronto and in a century such as this one, define neighbourhood in a more complex way than what might have prevailed a generation ago.
I suppose we all define our neighbourhoods differently. But when I stopped to think about it I realized that for me the downtown is the neighbourhood of the arts.
That’s not the only thing it is, obviously. And of course the downtown is not the only place for the arts. It may not even be the place where the most exciting and innovative arts prevail anymore. But it remains possible in Toronto to go for a walk through the city’s cultural centre, as I did the other day when the weather was so fine. Going for a walk is what people in neighbourhoods often do.
In my neighbourhood I go to the Angell Gallery on Ossington and the Metivier Gallery on King, and when I walk past city hall, I remember a neighbourhood gathering one September not so very long ago when I stood in a crowd on Nathan Phillips Square listening to the simulcast of the gala concert that opened the city’s new opera house.
In our neighbourhood, I stop in a bar called Graffiti’s in Kensington Market late Sunday afternoons to hear the excellent Michael Brennan and friends perform, because sometimes there’s nothing better than a good voice, a good song and a few well-played acoustic guitars.
And when I’m in the neighbourhood, I go to performances of the National Ballet because sometimes there’s nothing better than grand, exquisite beauty.
Once, in the neighbourhood, I stood with everyone else in Roy Thomson Hall at the end of a late-night performance of Beethoven’s 9th.
In our neighbourhood, I love the buzz of excitement of an opening night at the Tarragon Theatre or Passe Muraille. And let me tell you: the neighbourhood really comes to life during TIFF, and the International Festival of Authors and Luminato.
We are a neighbourhood. That could well be Toronto’s motto.
And if anyone should be leading the protest against the insertion of something as lifeless as a casino into the city’s downtown fabric it should be the leaders of our arts institutions.
They are the ones who most benefit from a vibrant city. And they are the ones who have the most to lose when, through municipal carelessness and greed, the neighbourhood starts to go.