Toronto falling from grace? Yeah, right. Canada’s No. 1 city is soaring

Ignore the naysayers. Toronto is booming like never before.

Toronto's Financial District, looking north to Old City Hall. (Photo: mark.watmough/Flickr)

Toronto’s Financial District, looking north to Old City Hall. (Photo: mark.watmough/Flickr)

In a keynote address at the Toronto Region Board of Trade last week, Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak pitched Toronto as a city “falling farther behind.”  Receding, he said, “from its rightful place as a leader in North America.”

The notion that Toronto is falling from grace, perhaps much like Montreal did in the seventies, even found its way into the prestigious pages of The Economist. “Toronto has work to do to keep its position as Canada’s leading city,” the magazine said in December.

Both Hudak and the magazine referred to problems with the city’s transit. But The Economist was more critical of Toronto’s mayor and political gridlock, while Hudak complained about the city’s high unemployment, which, while comparable to Montreal’s, falls behind Canada’s other major cities. Of course, Toronto still has lower unemployment than New York, L.A. and Chicago.

Sure, the complaints about Canada’s biggest city are mostly valid. City Hall is a mess. Our transit is overburdened. And our unemployment should be lower. But the notion that Toronto is somehow any less great than it used to be isn’t just wrong—it’s outrageous.

The truth is, in spite of its problems, Toronto is booming like never before. And it’s not getting the credit it deserves.

First of all, no city in the Western Hemisphere is putting up more high-rises than Toronto. In October, the city had 147 under construction, over twice as many as New York, and well above the next-highest Canadian city: Vancouver, with 21. Indeed, in only two years, Toronto’s skyline will show off an impressive 44 skyscrapers that reach over 150 metres –over triple the 13 it had in 2005.

Ontario’s capital also continues to be the most popular city with immigrants by a large margin. And even despite its already great size, Toronto remains one of Canada’s fastest growing cities. Between 2006 and 2011, Toronto grew 9.2% to 5.6 million people. Compare that with Calgary, No. 1 at 12.6%, but for only 1.2 million. In other words, in sheer numbers, nobody is growing more than Toronto. Certainly, nobody is catching up.

But it’s not just growth, development and an increasingly spiffy skyline marking Toronto’s success. Last year, PricewaterhouseCoopers ranked Toronto 3rd after New York and London on its Cities of Opportunity list. Meanwhile, KPMG said Toronto is the second most business competitive city in the world, up from 6th in 2010. And in April, Startup Genome claimed Toronto is the 4th best tech startup hub—again, in the world.

Then there are our banks, spreading more and more internationally. While Scotiabank grows in Latin America and China, TD has seen success in the highly competitive U.S. market. That’s good news for Canada, but even better for Toronto, where they’re headquartered.

So it’s no wonder The Big Smoke has seen a boom in luxury hotels in recent years: the Shangri-La, the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, the Trump tower. Toronto’s place on the map has become more pronounced than at any other time in history.

Not just economically, but culturally too. Indeed, according to Time magazine, the Toronto International Film Festival is now “the most influential film festival, period.” Which is why last year Soho House premiered its latest locale in Toronto. The celebrity-frequented private club, with branches in London, New York, Berlin, Miami and Hollywood, opened alongside TIFF in September.

All of which is to say, Toronto is not a sinking ship. In fact, it’s sailing marvelously, often through rough water, sure, but that’s true of every city. The grass is always greener, as they say. It’s time more people gave Canada’s leading city the credit it deserves.