The last subway leaves Osgoode subway station, at Queen and University, at 1:53 a.m. Last call at the nearby bars in the Entertainment District is seven minutes later.
Any stumbling drunk can point out the problem here. And yet there’s nothing new about it — anyone who’s grown up in Toronto will just consider this fouled up situation normal. Many of us who’ve lived in the suburbs have the $60 cab receipts to prove it, or the memories of three-hour trips on all-night bus routes.
If you want to be a city that can say it takes its night life seriously, there’s a place to start: provide decent transit service to people who are out working or playing in the wee hours.
A new report on Toronto’s “Night-time Economy” that will be considered by city council’s Economic Development and Culture committee April 13 makes this point, thank goodness: “There were repeated calls across all stakeholder groups for an increase in transit service.” It makes some other good ones too, including a call by the same “stakeholders” for more public toilets. As someone who spent a lot of good years partly nocturnal, working and playing at night, it strikes me as good that someone is considering these kinds of things.
The report was actually commissioned by city council to look into whether the city should have someone consider these kinds of things as their main job. That is, whether or not we should have a “Night Mayor” — a bureaucrat whose job is to act as a liason to the industries and city service providers who do business at night, and deal with resident considerations like noise and safety. Similar positions exist in other cities.
On the night mayor question, the report’s author’s suggest the answer is no. At least partially for reasons that become obvious if you say the job title out loud. “Everyone consulted in Toronto did not like the term ‘Night Mayor.’ It was repeatedly observed that it sounded like ‘nightmare,’” it says. Further, there were concerns about new layers of bureaucracy and giving the title “mayor” to an unelected official.
Still, the concerns are worth taking on. Many people work at night. Most of our entertainment and cultural industries (not just bars and restaurants, but theatres, cinemas, and sports teams) do the majority of their business after regular business hours — in the times between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. that the report looks into as the night-time economy. Strangely, there are no reliable statistics available about how big a part of Toronto’s economy this is — the report recommends beginning to gather such statistics — but you’ve got to think it is substantial. “manufacturing, food processing plants, late-night office work, cleaning services, goods transportation, goods delivery, and emergency health and safety services like hospitals,” are among those doing a lot of business in traditionally off-hours, the report says. It concerns itself primarily though with “nightlife.”
And for too long, this is the kind of stuff — most of the good stuff in life, really — that the city has treated as an afterthought. Try to get a bylaw inspector to hear out your noise complaint about a nightclub at night — which is the only time you’re likely to have a noise complaint about a nightclub — and see how much the city has failed to consider anyone might need service outside standard business hours.
This blinkered view of the darker hours, as the report goes on and on about in its dry bureaucratic language, leaves cash on the table for the economy. Tourist business booms at night, people spend a lot of money partying, and so on. “Time of day is the new competitive edge for global cities,” the report begins. “Amsterdam, Berlin, London, New York City and Paris are all introducing measures to develop the night-time economy.”
True, true. But there’s more to it than that. The hours we’re talking about are the times when most people are not at work — these are the times when they do important things in their lives. Dates, parties, bull sessions at the local bar. Fancy dinners, playoff games, transcendant experiences on the dance floor. This is the time when friends are made and loves are found. It’s half the day. At least half of the life. The stuff that often defines the good life.
And the fact that the city doesn’t think to provide something as basic as decent transit service for large chunks of that time, when people are still out and about, says a lot about how little official regard we’ve given to that part of life.
The report recommends against a night mayor, but suggests having the head of the economic development and culture division basically take on the thinking the job would entail. Someone ought to. And if it takes worrying about “competitive edge for global cities” to prompt that thinking, so be it.
Just let us have a good time when we’re out, and let us have a safe way home when we’re done.
Ed Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire