It's a sad day when you realize your city is defined as being small, inadequate, or culturally second-rate on the global stage. That's what some people outside of Toronto (and Canada) believe. Whether it's true or not -- it is not -- is besides the point. This perception of Toronto is out there. How do we know this? Because whenever somebody considered cool, like Charles Barkley or Jalen Rose, says nice things about Toronto, there's this tinge of incredulity. Like, can you believe it, Toronto is better than you think. It's actually awesome.
Of course it is, dummies.
The NBA's All-Star festivities are taking place in Toronto this weekend. As our favoured son, Drake, would say: what a time to be alive. It's almost always a great moment when your city can play host to grand international events. (I say almost because the Olympics aren't so hot, and the G20 summit was, as you may recall, a bit uncomfortable.) These moments bring inherent attention and prestige to the urban environment, they bring interested onlookers, they bring discourse and discussion, they get people to care. And what they care about is the best part: your home town! Your city! The place where everyone (actually, almost nobody) knows your name! Bottom line, it's fun to feel like an expert.
The chatter lately about All-Star Weekend has been filled with notes of concern. How will we get around? Where will we eat? How will we... survive?
As a lifelong Torontonian (born and raised in Etobicoke, downtown for almost a decade), and, low key, an actual employee of the municipal government, I felt it was my job, nay, my civic duty, to educate the visitors coming to see this great city for All-Star Weekend. Some of you may be coming here for the first time, to which I say: Welcome.
Now let's get to the facts.
As of this writing, the temperature in Toronto is getting ready to plunge to a cold -16 degrees on Saturday night (-22 with our old friend the wind chill factor). Now, for seasoned Canadians this is no big deal. And really, Americans from the north should understand these conditions as nothing new. It's February after all. Still, it's unfortunate -- especially in light of the downright balmy +4 degree temperatures we were riding with in the week leading up to the grand show.
Pro tips: Dress accordingly, wear long johns if you have them, invest in a good winter coat and don't forget to wear some sort of hat.
If you were to ask a Torontonian about how to get around downtown, you'll probably get a wide range of answers and considerations (and complaints). Oh, we love to complain. Toronto's transit system, the TTC, is good, unless it is really bad. It'll get you where you need to go, right up until it won't. Fortunately, the NBA's All-Star plans are centred in a bunch of areas that are well-served by public transit. (Who needs cabs?)
Obviously, the main events are going on at the Air Canada Centre, which you can enter via Union Station after a quick subway ride from, say, the Sheraton Hotel two stops away on the University line. Or you can walk underground through the PATH system which, while somewhat convoluted, will get you into all kinds of places.
But wait, now you're thinking about how to get out to the Enercare Centre or Ricoh Coliseum. Yes, those two places are in the southern Lakeshore area of Toronto (a.k.a. a concrete wasteland). But, you can take a street car -- yes a street car! -- from Union Station right out to the front doors of both those places. And let me tell you, while a street car ride is maybe not as romantic as I'm making it sound here (re: not romantic at all), it'll take you where you need to go, and give you some nice views of all the new construction Toronto has undertaken along Queen's Quay. Isn't that nice?
Pro tips: Give yourself an extra 15 minutes and save some money by using the transit system. It'll keep you out of the cold too!
While the crush of events for All-Star Weekend is fairly relentless, you may want to wander around some of Toronto. It's worth noting that while you'll be in the southern area of the city, there's not a whole bunch there that manages to escape from feeling like a tourist trap. Front Street bars? Forget it. Real Sports? I mean, the screen is big and they have a nice Caesar selection (which, by the way, you should definitely try, Americans), but it's not as special a place as you'd think.
I'm going to make a broad blanket statement here and say this: if you're looking for some place cool to eat or drink or hangout at, just remember to always consider heading north and/or west. The east end of Toronto remains some sort of Bizarro land as it is. And south, as mentioned, is a concrete wasteland. Yep, head north to King, to Queen, to, sure, even Yonge and Dundas Square (not the best, but still something to see). And if you want to get really wild, head out west to the "cool" areas of the city on King, Queen and Dundas. The farther west you go, the more funky it gets.
Pro tips: Repeat after me: north and west, north and west. You'll be fine.
The Taxi Strike
A little tough talk from Mayor John Tory, some extra consideration given and voila, there's not going to be a strike. This was the one real monkey wrench that could have been thrown into the beautiful system that is Toronto. With the taxi drivers placated (for now), it should be smooth sailing (or, yeah, I mean, cabbing).
Pro tips: Sure, use cabs if you have to. But remember, Toronto traffic is, uh, challenging.
This is by no means an exhaustive consideration. I wish I'd had more time to really delve into what makes this city, my city, Toronto, the greatest place on earth. There I said it. Toronto is great. Believe it.
And if you see my on the street, say hi. Now, let's party.