Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Toronto vs. New York City

I grew up in Toronto, and while I don't live in New York City, I've gone out of my way to really experience the city while living in Westchester. Thanks to Pidgin, I've kept in touch with quite a few friends back home, and also had a bunch visit me... Yes, a lot of the discussions focused on New York City and what a cool place it is, and some led to comparisons between Toronto and New York.

It's impossible to objectively rank cities, but I've noticed quite a few people saying "NYC is better than Toronto" as if that was a commonly held belief. This bugs me. Why is Toronto so bad? Or... Why is New York City so much better?

Before I go into a rant on why Toronto isn't bad, I want to say that I'm not saying one city is better than the other. All I'm saying is that Toronto has more to offer than some people realize... Do I have a preference? To be honest, not really. I can see myself settling down in New York City, but also like Toronto and would be happy there. Regardless, I'll be in England for two years, and things might change quite a bit.

So, for those faint-of-heart when it comes to Toronto... Do you read blogTO or Torontoist? Have you been to the Linux Cafe, or hung out at Kensington Market? Have you had a classy evening at the Panorama (at the Manulife Centre), or taken a date to the distillery district? Have you had a slice of Massimo's famous pizza, or gone to the wrong Green Mango on Yonge & Bloor when meeting a friend?

"Ah," Toronto detractors may say, "These are all locations. What about people?"

What baffles me about New York City is the amount of people that eat alone at restaurants (I've written about this before), and the large proportion of single women in the city... But forget this, let's not bash NYC but rather let's continue looking at the positives of Toronto. So, fellow detractors, what's your poison? (Does that date me?) People come in different groups and forms. Investment bankers and founders of start-ups? Head down to the regular investors' meetings on King Street, or start reading the Canadian startup blogs that discuss the Mesh Conference, MARS, StartupCamp, and so on... Do you prefer parties? SummerCamp, NewLoveMindspace... Wear your underwear on the train, have a pillow fight, and freeze yourself (okay, okay, so much of this is based on New York events, but at least we have them too!). Hang out with the punks at the Kathedral, if you're feeling on the wild side, or pop in at the Centre for Social Innovation and learn a thing or two about non-profits... And that's in Chinatown, so while you're at it, buy some dumplings or head on over to the smallish (now) Polish area nearby, where you can buy pierogi instead.

I will admit that what Toronto lacks is size -- whereas New York City will have about a dozen technology events every week and a few dozen parties, Toronto has a lot less. But who goes to all those events anyway? There's enough to have fun, and if you talk to anyone outside of the city, you'll probably hear that Torontonians are just as self-centered as New Yorkers. :)

I believe that growing up in only one city is both a blessing and a curse... A blessing because you get to know parts of the city intimately, but a curse because it's easy to fall into complacency... "I've been here all my life, I know this place better than anyone," you may think. And this is true. But if you don't keep up with mailing lists, grassroots groups, and local artists, you're bound to miss a lot more than you realize.

This is why I'm glad I've spent so much time away from Toronto, and am grateful that I'll be back for at least two solid months... Ironically, I've learned more about the inner cultural workings of Toronto while in NYC than I realized, by reading blogs, following Toronto-based startups, and missing my friends.

As T.S. Eliot said, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."

Of course, this isn't the first time I've realized how great the city is... If you haven't read Cory Doctorow's Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, then read it right now. Based mainly in Toronto, you actually read about the city, and sometimes, having someone else describe the place you live in with affectionate and creative terms is all you need to fall in love with it (or fall in love with it again).

Note: click on images for credits.

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