Skip to content

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E64: The Greatest Point of Relevance with Alex Bozikovic

alexbozikovicIn Toronto’s Christie Pits neighborhood, Colin Marshall talks with Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic, who also writes for such publications as DwellWallpaperToronto Life, and Spacing. They discuss whether Honest Ed’s has any architectural significance to go with its social significance, and what its imminent disappearance says about the urbanism of Toronto’s future; its Los Angeles-like interest in becoming a “more walkable, more urban, more interesting” city; how it nevertheless went high-rise early on, even in its suburbs; the cognitive dissonance of Canada, an urban country that insists upon its rurality; whether the critics of downtown condos have it right when they call them dull; the ways Jane Jacobs’ spirit still animates Toronto; its reputation as a city of “great second-rate buildings”; the deal with the Castle Frank station; whether Frank Gehry counts as more of a Torontonian architect, or more of an Angeleno architect; what it means that Toronto will soon get its own high-profile Gehry project, commissioned, no less, by the family of Honest Ed himself; the struggles of a new-wave coffee shop to get permission to open in a “quiet” neighborhood like Christie Pits; how he got interested in both architecture and the city itself at the University of Toronto; what to keep in mind for an architecturally rich view of the city; whether Canadians believe their culture, cities, and neighborhoods more fragile than they really are; what he learned from his time in New York, the city where “public space is the most robust”; the “anti-urban resentment” that holds back Canada and other countries as well; who fights for the preservation of the Sam the Record Man sign; the nonexistence, in Toronto, of “a magical place you drive to”; Toronto as “a bit of a mess,” aesthetically; the important difference between prettiness and vitality; how Toronto  has only just entered its “greatest point of relevance”; and how complaints indicate a city’s greatness.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Guardian Cities: Old White Guy for Mayor in Toronto

If I entered Toronto’s heated mayoral race, I would pledge to ban the United Colors of Benetton from the city. While I have no objection to the company’s shirts, coats or knitwear, their advertising, with its image of glossy diversity, must feed the insecurity Toronto feels about its own. As a white male (albeit a non-Canadian one), I bet I’d even do quite well in the election, given the stultifyingly un-diverse leaders that this city of immigrants – its population is 48.6% foreign-born – always seems to vote in as mayor.

Toronto will almost certainly do the same again today, when the third most multicultural city on the planet (after Luxembourg City and Dubai) will likely vote to replace the white, middle-aged, disgraced Rob Ford with the white, middle-aged, as-yet-undisgraced John Tory. It’s not for lack of options: a reasonably varied range of candidates have entered the running. And although many urbanites I spoke to declared an intention to vote for the Chinese-Canadian Olivia Chow – widow of leftwing icon Jack Layton and lately the subject of some racially charged abuse – they also admit to having little confidence in her ability to do the job.

So Tory it probably is for Toronto, a city that proclaims itself the zenith of multiculturalism. It’s a concept that has come to represent the city more than anything else – more, even, than the similar-vintage CN Tower, which for 34 years stood unchallenged as the world’s tallest freestanding structure. “Multiculturalism!” exclaimed Jan Morris in a 1984 essay. “I had never heard the word before, but I was certain to hear it again, for it turned out to be the key word, so to speak, to contemporary Toronto.” It was a city, she wrote, that ostensibly offered “all things to all ethnicities”.

Read the whole thing at the Guardian.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E63: Mementos Mori with Keith McNally

keithmcnallyOut with the raccoons on the closed second-floor balcony of a Toronto bar, Colin Marshall talks with Keith McNally, the podcast auteur behind the shows XOI Have a Ham Radio, and The Vinyl Countdown. They discuss the function and imminent disappearance of Honest Ed’s; podcasting as a 21st-century means of hanging out with “friends” and having man-to-man conversations; why he felt such elation at leaving New York, and how a combination of Keith and the Girl and Ayn Rand drove him there in the first place; how he felt/feels that, in Canada, “we’re just not driven”; what forms ambition does take in Toronto; his discovery of the disorder known as misophonia, his own probable misophonia, what misophonia does to urban life, and how he came to make an elaborate podcast about it; Toronto as a 20-percent Japanified New York; his hometown of Frederickton, New Brunswick, how it now looks like a disused movie set, and what it means when you start calling it “Fredeekton”; how his projects run the gamut of podcast production, from tossed-off to made like a watch; which of his fixations have become XO episodes; the lowbrow manner in which he discovered the tragic tale of Roger Swan, an American in Japan; how and why he turned Adam Cadre’s piece of interactive fiction Photopia into an XO; his attraction to extremely personal works that he can convert into his own, even more personal works; Youtube bodybuilder Eliot Hulse‘s advice about getting over a breakup; the Canadian secret about Nickelback; how “there’s no shortcut” out of hard work, so you “might as well do what you want to do”; and the search for mementos mori that keeps on drawing him to the stories of those who die young.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E62: Nothing to Declare with Amy Lavender Harris

amylavenderharrisIn Toronto’s Junction, Colin Marshall talks to Amy Lavender Harris, geographer at York University and author of Imagining Toronto, a study of the city as depicted in its literature. They discuss the psychedelically-illustrated, Toronto-centric poetry of Dennis Lee with which so many Torontonians grew up; how it took her thirty years from her Lee-reading days to come to understand the full scope of Toronto literature; In the Skin of a Lion, Michael Ondaatje’s much-named, little-read novel of city-building; how she first went about creating a university course on Toronto literature; her “personal fetish,” the narrative of place; multiculturalism as Toronto’s foundational myth; why Torontonians falsely believe the United Nations declared their city the world’s most diverse; the “eternal haggle” of life here; how she’s come to agree, at least halfway, with the description of the city as “a place where people live, but not where things happen”; why, in Canada, everyone has a hyphen; her non-Canadian-born husband’s appreciation of the country as one where “people have nothing to declare”; Torontonian manifestations of Stanley Fish’s “boutique multiculturalism” and Charles Taylor’s “inspired ad-hocing”; why hating Toronto became such a literary and social tradition; no longer talking about achieving “world class” status as a sign of having achieved it; what about Toronto architecture makes people call it ugly, and why buildings that make people talk have already succeeded; the significance of the ravines in the Torontonian consciousness; 1960′s suburban satire The Torontonians and the Canadian “flourishing of cultural production” that would come later that decade; Canada’s thoroughgoing urbanness against its imaginary self-conception as a rural country; and the important elements of Toronto — remaining, vanishing, and gone — identified in one particular Dennis Lee poem.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E61: Publishing Crushing with Alana Wilcox

coachhousebooksNear the University of Toronto, Colin Marshall talks to Alana Wilcox, Editorial Director of Coach House Books and author of the novel A Grammar of Endings. They discuss the past twenty years’ boom in Toronto writing; what factors, including an embarrassing mayor in the nineties, made “mythologizing our own city” possible; why Coach House prints right there on premises, “giving cultural producers access to the means of production”; the technological palimpsest of Coach House’s offices; the origin of their uTOpia series, which envision the Toronto of the future and which began when “you simply didn’t publish about Toronto”; the broadness of the ideas about the city that surprised her, as well as the number of its “civic nerds”; how Coach House pushes for “adventurous” writing, such a recent book on surveillance, a novel about Andy Warhol’s Sleep, and Christian Bök’s Eunoia; their shifting relationship over the years with the printed book; how she got interested in Toronto herself; what she shows students who turn up on field trips; her lack of worries about the future of the printed book, and how she finds readers process information differently depending on the physical medium of the text; their paper equivalent of 180-gram vinyl; how dominant bookselling chains have persisted in Canada, and the effects of that; Coach House’s own books involving the city, like Maggie Helwig’s blind-photographer novel Girls Fall Down and an upcoming study of the Ward, Toronto’s first slum; her first novel, the second novel she put away, and what writing taught her about publishing; Coach House’s “Exploded Views” series, which includes Shawn Micallef‘s book on all-consuming precarity The Trouble with Brunch and David Balzer’s Curationism; shopping by publisher, and how she started doing it herself almost right away, acting as a consumer on her “publishing crushes”; how much of an enemy to consider Amazon; the literary figure from whom Coach House’s bpNichol Lane takes its name; her lack of fascination with “CanLit”; the multiculturalism she doesn’t see in Toronto; and how the city has lately tired her out.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles, the City in Cinema: Model Shop (Jacques Demy, 1969)


By the late 1960s, some Angelenos had already written their city off. But the European filmmakers who’d only just started to find material there hadn’t; Jacques Demy, for instance, still found Los Angeles a place of sun, sky, youth, cars, and, given the era, counterculture — a place of pure potential. Model Shop, an early cinematic act of Los Angeles appreciation, follows the feckless, almost parodically automobilized adventures of an unemployed San Franciscan architecture school graduate who, his life having fallen apart and the threat of the draft looming, becomes obsessed with a mysterious Frenchwoman in white he encounters at a parking lot.

The video essays of “Los Angeles, the City in Cinema” examine the variety of Los Angeleses revealed in the films set there, both those new and old, mainstream and obscure, respectable and schlocky, appealing and unappealing — just like the city itself.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E60: Having the City for Dinner with Corey Mintz

coreymintzIn Toronto’s Kensington Market, Colin Marshall talks to Corey Mintz, author of the Toronto Star column “Fed” and the book How to Host a Dinner Party. They discuss what makes a dinner party a Torontonian dinner party; the city’s “uptight” reputation; how he bottomed out in his initial cooking career, winding up working the kitchen at a dinner theater; how he converted to writing and also found a way to take a friend’s advice that he “should host dinner parties for a living”; the time he made lunch for Ruth Reichl, and what his editor appreciated more about the blog post he wrote about it than the actual column he did; his dinner party with the disgraced head of the District of Toronto School Board, pre-disgrace; what it means when some like what you do and some dislike it for the same reasons; the art of mixing personalities at the table; why to recognize that “important people can be blowhards,” and indeed that blowhardiness often makes them important in the first place; how he keeps the smartphones in peoples’ pockets; “Toronto” versus “Toronno”; how he came to regularly invite the city, whatever the pronunciation of its name, into his home for dinner; his food-paradise neighborhood of Kensington Market, which through accidents of history now exists “outside reality, a little bit”; his questioning of his Councillor at dinner about why the neighborhood doesn’t have trash cans, and what he learned from the attempt; how Torontonian multiculturalism translates into food; what took him into the secret VIP room of a suburban Nigerian restaurant; and whether he considers his dinner parties the revival of a lost art.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E59: Walk, Don’t Brunch with Shawn Micallef

SONY DSCIn Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village, Colin Marshall talks to Shawn Micallef, editor and co-owner of Spacing magazine, Toronto Star columnist, and author of such books as Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto and The Trouble with Brunch. They discuss his first “long, deliberate” walk in Toronto, which happened by accident; what, exactly, caused this trouble with brunch; his youth in Windsor and his discovery of the middle class in Toronto, which brunches routinely; the death threats his anti-brunch stance has drawn; the difficulty of knowing what class you fit into in the 21st century; choosing flights over children; how Oz-like Toronto looked from back in Windsor; those who stayed behind for the “good money,” and what potential they may not have realized as a result; how he began “unpeeling the layers” of Toronto, and how he discovered that infinite peelability defines a great city; the “magical lightness” he discovered upon leaving his car at home; how Toronto doesn’t quite know what it has, thinking of itself as a midwestern city more along the lines of Indianapolis; how he developed his obsession with Los Angeles (and how Toronto’s 401 freeway surpassed any of Los Angeles’ for congestion); why Torontonians insist upon Toronto’s and “do not own their Toronto-ness”; Toronto and Los Angeles as cities without stories written in stone, because their people write them even now; the ten-year project behind Stroll; why he finds strip malls the most interesting places in the city, and what drove “actual multiculturalism” out to them; Rob Ford as the “kick in the ass” Toronto may have needed; what you learn when you explore a city at walking speed; and his personal mission to get to know his hometown again, not by car, but on foot.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Jim Ruland

I talk with Jim Ruland, founder of the Southern California-based reading series Vermin on the Mount and a columnist at Razorcake and San Diego CityBeat. He is the author of the short story collection Big Lonesome and the new novel Forest of Fortune, the story of three haunted souls — an alcoholic, an epileptic, and a gambling addict — who try to turn their luck around at a decrepit Indian casino.

You can stream the conversation just above, listen to it on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E58: Things Truly Torontonian with Denise Balkissoon

DeniseBalkissoon-300x300At Toronto’s Queen and Logan, Colin Marshall talks with Denise Balkissoon, co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle and writer on a variety of Torontonian subjects from multiculturalism to real estate for publications like Toronto Life, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, and The Grid. They discuss her reputation as an astute observer of the multiculture; what happens at the intersection of multiculturalism and real estate; the wealth flowing into downtown, and the resulting push of “racialized communities” toward the periphery; the formerly working class neighborhood around Queen and Logan and its current, rapid gentrification; the appeal of “tiny little backyards”; how the real estate market’s “ferocious competition” made it an interesting beat, but may yet make it boring; on what levels Toronto has lived up to its multicultural promise, and on what levels it hasn’t; what her Trinidadian family of engineers, lawyers, and medical professionals thought of her choice to go into journalism; exploring neighborhoods through one’s own social links to them, or, alternatively, through the oft-joked about “festival every weekend” Toronto offers; the city’s reputation for a lack of physical beauty, and what preservation problems have to do with it; what you find “out there” in the suburbs, an essential part of modern Toronto’s multicultural experience; the nature of “Toronto’s moment,” including but not limited to residents’ newfound happiness living there and their enjoyment of the Malaysian, Uighur, and Tamil cuisine on offer; what count as things truly Torontonian, if anything does; the always-personal nature of Toronto’s appeal, and what a moment like her husband not eating the heads of shrimp and getting made fun of for it says about that; the Toronto articles she fantasizes about writing, such as studies of housing as a whole, a look at the emergence of “generation rent” as a political force, and the interactions between different waves of immigrants; and whether, after the election, people will still feel like they live between “two Torontos.”

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.