Toronto is a great place. I know this in my heart and I don't often doubt it but it sure is amazing how much this is reinforced when I'm away from home.
I'm in Raleigh, North Carolina right now visiting my fiancée right now who is down here on a work contract for a few months. At home we often think of places like Scarborough and Richmond Hill as being at the bottom of the scale in terms of transit. Or Mississauga and Markham as suburban wastelands built around the worship of the automobile. Let me tell you that these places are transit and pedestrian meccas compared to the Research Triangle of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. I think I've seen all of one city bus the whole time I've been here. There are no sidewalks anyway except in the quaint tourist downtown areas. I've seen one daring cyclist on a multilane roadway (roads here are all more like mini-highways then roads) and I watched a mini-van try and run him off the road. I'm told this is normal and that the few people who dare cycle to work are regularly chastised by their employers and are giving a really hard time about storing their bikes on work property.
Yesterday I thought about walking to the grocery store to buy some stuff. The store is physically closer than most people in Toronto are to their grocery stores. I quickly decided against it when I realized there was no way to really walk there safely. No sidewalks, barely even a gravel shoulder and two 6 lane roadways to cross without pedestrian crossings. I'm pretty sure pedestrian isn't even a word here.
If that weren't enough, I am contemplating buying an extra suitcase to bring home the empty glass bottles and other recyclable packaging I've used while here. As far as I can tell there is no recycling pickup. Garbage collection is mostly up to the community area in which you live and not handled by the city. I hear rumours that there are recycling depots you can go to to make sure your glass, metals and plastics are dealt with properly but details on this are sketchy. Throwing out a bag full of "garbage" that is 90% recyclable materials really hurts. Of course another 8% of that garbage bag was also compost.
The only really positive thing I've seen here is that new developments are made to respect the land to a certain degree. There is mandatory protection of tree roots in certain areas and every sub-division is built around the land and amongst the forests. It certainly would be nice if developers in Ontario were forced to protect a percentage of the forests on the land they develop and if they were prevented from leveling the land to make building easier. It's amazing what a few trees and hills can do to make things feel a little more natural.
Toronto has a long way to go to really be a green city but right now I feel like I'm living in the dark ages and Toronto is a brightly glowing beacon of hope for the rest of the world.