Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why should the TTC museum be controversial?

The Toronto Transit Commission has problems -- funding, customer service, labour relations, construction overruns, inadequate subways, what have you? -- but the fact that its new headquarters will include a TTC museum is not one of them.

The TTC is an integral part of Toronto and of Toronto history. The building of the subway in the 1950s was a transformative moment for the city. The building of the Don Valley Viaduct, subway potential included, decades in advance, makes a crucial and appropriate appearance in Michael Ondaadje's novel of Toronto immigrants and labourers, In the Skin of A Lion. The fight over ownership of the "street railways" way back in the early twentieth century was one crucial battle between public ownership and private monopoly in Canadian public life. The TTC even trades on traditional "Red Rocket" imagery to persuade us that streetcars are an adequate substitute for our missing subway routes. (And as someone said in the press recently, the TTC's flimsy paper transfers and aging architecture make every subway station seem like a living museum anyway.)

The history of the TTC matters. It ought to conserve and make available its historical material as a matter of course. Museums and archives should be understood as an obligation, not a frill or a diversion, in every significant public institution.

The suburban boobosity that seems to run Toronto since the megacity amalgamation is in hysterics about this wasteful spending. A museum? What's worse is that even those who ought to be urban thinkers and politicians seem to be running scared.
Mr. Smitherman said he's not opposed to the idea of a transit museum, but given the choice, he'd scrap the project....
If you glance at Toronto city politics from afar and wonder why on earth a nasty clown named Rob Ford seems to be doing well in the current mayoral race, there's the answer in a nutshell. If the main urban candidate wants to be all downtown and progressive, but goes all Rob Ford lite whenever an issue arises, why not?

[Image: Toronto Star via Google Images.]
Follow @CmedMoore