Three ways we can make Toronto a little better for outsiders

It’s hard to know what to expect when you pack up your life and plop it into the middle of Toronto.

Hogtown, The Big Smoke, T-Dot … call it whatever you like, it’s an intimidating place from the outside looking in. There are big buildings, lots of people and, in general, lots (and lots and lots) of everything.

Many challenges of being a newbie in Canada’s biggest city are like the challenges of being a newbie anywhere else — you can’t find the spice aisle at the grocery store or, for that matter, you can’t find the grocery store.

Other challenges are entirely different, mostly because they’re magnified by a hundred, just like everything else in Toronto.

You feel great when you figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. Then you realize there are 100 other ways to get there, and yours is the most inefficient. You give yourself a pat on the back after finding a bank branch blocks away from your apartment. Then you realize there’s one a hundred feet from your front door.

All in all, my 44 days here have been a gigantic lesson in a lot of things and a chance to turn a fresh eye on the city you think you know so well.

These three things stand out most:

1). Where the *%#@ am I?

I know the CN Tower’s south, Bloor Street is north and Spadina is west.

I’ve spent countless hours staring at maps to fully understand the lay of the land between my east-end apartment, my downtown office and the rest of the world.

But, when I climb out of a subway station in a new part of town — which for me is pretty much anywhere outside Yonge south of Bloor — it all goes to hell.

North could be west, south could be east and up could be left for all I know. (For the record, I’m told this also happens to people who’ve lived here longer than a minute.)

My suggested solution: Way-finding info at every (note the every, as in ALL) subway exits.

It could be as simple as a sign telling you what street you’ve emerged on, what direction you’re facing and what’s nearby. Or, it could be as elaborate as the bronze compasses with street names embedded in some New York City sidewalks.

2). One for all.

I’m pretty sure I know why Toronto is so divided. It’s because there’s nothing that connects us all.

It’s really all a bit chicken-and-eggish, but the solution could be simple.

Every neighbourhood should be inundated with information about neat things to check out in other neighbourhoods, even if they are a whopping 20-minute streetcar ride away.

Maybe it’s a Tourism Toronto initiative. Maybe all the neighbourhood associations should get together and hatch a plan. Or, maybe the TTC (possibly the institution that knows most about what’s where) could play a role.

I don’t know whose lap it falls into but, fact of the matter is, I’m a heck of a lot less likely to go see something if I don’t know it exists.

3). Share the love. Careful, now. This may shock you:

Toronto has a bit of an image problem elsewhere in the country.

The city is broadly painted as a pushy, rushed, self-obsessed place where you’re just as likely to get trampled as you are to get overlooked.

I’ll admit, I used to think that. I pictured your average Torontonian as a crazed rush-hour commuter willing to sacrifice life and limb to beat the third chime. Those people do exist and (back to that magnification by a hundred factor) there are a lot of them.

In reality though, Toronto is just like every other place in Canada — a city with a lot to offer, a lot of problems to solve and a lot of people who are just plain nice.

Remember that the next time you venture outside the city. Hold the door for someone in Arva, Ont., or help someone shovel a driveway in Hadashville, Man.

Then, mention you’re from the centre of the universe. Or, maybe just say “Toronto.” We wouldn’t want to give them the wrong impression.

Angela Mullins is the assignment editor at Metro Toronto. She has lived in small-ish towns all over Eastern Canada and the United States, and recently moved to Toronto from London, Ont.

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