Toronto a day in the life 13

Are Torontonians rude?
Is it the consequence of living in the big city
What is making us so indifferent to people around us?
By Kris Scheuer

An extreme example of litter during '09 T.O summer strike. Photo by Kris Scheuer/Town Crier.

I am a born and bred Toronto resident who’s called this beloved city home for all my 40 years.
But really people, are we getting ruder?
I am not perfect, by all means, but I TRY to be considerate of others. And I find examples of people in this city who seem so very oblivious to others who share this same public space.
Case in point, and this is something I witness almost daily, littering. I see people tossing items from their hands in such a blatant way that it goes beyond not being able to find a trash can. It’s as if people are making a statement, “I don’t care about the city, environment or anyone around me.”
On Friday afternoon I was on a lunch break and was on the southwest corner of Yonge and Dundas on my way to city hall south.
As I approached the mall, I saw two 20-something women walking towards me when one tossed a water bottle towards the Eaton’s Centre (now Sears).
I thought maybe she was aiming for a garbage can, but missed. As the plastic bottle hit the side of the H&M clothing store, I saw that no there was no garbage can. She never intended for it to end up anywhere but the street. And she did not even offer a backward glance to see where her discarded item landed.

It was not just the littering, which is a pet peeve of mine, that stuck with me. Let’s face it, lots of people litter. The city spends $20 million each year of our tax dollars sweeping it up and emptying street garbage cans.
No it was the attitude that went along with her trashy actions. It was a big slap in the face to everyone around her. She was saying she was more important than the others she was sharing her space with.
And so what if she whipped a water bottle into the air at a busy intersection, with people watching, on a public sidewalk?
But my annoyance is not just about littering.
The reason I mention this one example is it is representative of all the actions I see daily. We push our way onto streetcars, through doors, eat corn on the cob on the Dufferin bus, floss our teeth on the subway, spit on the floor of the streetcar, clip toes nails on Spadina, and so on.
Can someone explain, has our city gone mad?
Or am I the only one disturbed when my fellow residents have such disrespect for the people we share this city with?

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10 responses to “Toronto a day in the life 13

  1. Hey, guys!
    I absolutely love the look on a person’s face when I offer a woman my seat – followed by a semi-loud dissertation on how my grandfather would have clipped my ears if I’d let a lady stand.
    Of course, it’s directed at the misbehaver in question, who doesn’t usually realize what they’ve done…
    If they react well, then I give them a “no big deal” wink and smile – you KNOW it’ll be on their mind as they travel further.
    I call it “infectious good behaviour” – it gets observed, it gets talked about – just like bad behaviour.
    I guess that, given a choice between “the slow boil” or doing something that might or might not work, I’ll take the slim-to-none chance – and go on MY way feeling better about it (even if that IS a litte smarmy!)
    Now, one has to remember, too, that I’m six-feet-one, two hundred and forty pounds, and I look like a cop…so I get some results where someone else might get assaulted.
    Consider the source, and your target, of course. 🙂

  2. Kris, a topic after my own heart! As with you, I ride the rails and bus system daily and am astounded at the way some people behave in the semi-public space of the TTC (ok, sidewalks too but that’s for another day).

    The other day on a crowded subway, a woman beside me was CLIPPING HER CUTICLES. That was bad enough in itself, but it got worse when she BLEW THEM OFF HER … and well, (potentially) onto me. I almost threw up I was so disgusted.

    I can’t take your fellow reader’s advice and take the moral high road and simply smile – wish I could but I’m just too aghast when I witness behaviour such as this. (But I actually don’t do anything; I just sit there and steam as I’m not certain HOW to react without appearing equally rude. I certainly can’t muster a smile, even a smug one!).

    I agree with Mark, though, in part about the city taking more responsibility to educate – but such an effort would have to mean more than lame signs asking peeps not to litter (or “be nice and respectful”). The huge challenge with the TTC and beyond, as I see it, is how to actively foster a culture of respect and community in public and semi-public spaces (TTC is technically private, I suppose, though it functions and is regarded as public space).

    Did you hear about the survey SPACING Magazine out out a few months ago (the results of which must be in the spring edition of the mag)? It was asking people to contribute ideas about what a set of city ‘rules’ would look like — but invariably the majority of comments and suggestions I read tended towards how to address the issue of inconsiderate and rude people sharing the TTC space …. Just goes to show the issue is on the minds of people interested in public space ….

    I’m not sure if the number of inconsiderate people is increasing, or if it’s simply our perception of such people that’s getting more finely honed as we think about an issue that interests and troubles us more and more. But I will say, at the risk of sounding completely cynical and generalist, that I think we are becoming a more self-referential and over-tasked as a society, and that that can manifest itself in many people simply not being AWARE of what they are doing much of the time (blocking the TTC doors, sprawling on seats when the car is full), or, in the case of the girl tossing the bottle, simply not caring (so hard to imagine the mindset … “This bottle has nothing to do with me …”?). And I wonder of there isn’t some sense of entitlement that operates with people who take up two seats with a tote bag that could be put on the floor? It may not be paramount for some to understand the ‘why’ behind how we act in public space, but like you, it’s the ‘why’ that’s intriguing to me ….

    Maybe it’s the people who have trained themselves to see/ask about all sides of an equation, like policy-makers but also journos, who are better equipped at being (and perhaps making others) aware of what’s happening around them.

  3. It’s true, I suppose…how many times can City Hall put out “please don’t litter” posters, etc? The “15-minute cleanups” are a good start; action rather than words…
    When it comes to litterers, etc., in my own space, I’ve long been a master of the “well, aren’t YOU special” smile/look, so that’s my best weapon when it comes to those afflicted with Public Inconsideracy Disorder. 😀
    Your best note was that the majority of us don’t have to be asked to do the right thing. It’s true! Torontonians are still, basically, good.

    • Mark,
      my point was that I see inconsiderate behaviour on the rise by people in this city sharing public space.
      I don’t think we are all a bunch of inconsiderate people. Just that I see this behaviour more, on the rise and also in a very blatant way. And I am wondering why this is?
      It’s not just about littering. But on that point, the city doesn’t do the littering. It is us.
      The city spends $20 million picking up litter, street cleaning and emptying street trash bins. There’s the mayor’s 20-minute makeover, community clean up days, litter fines (rarely given out because people need to be caught in the act), anti-litter posters, additional street trash bins being rolled out over 20 years, etc.
      This is not a failure of leadership on the city’s part. It is residents littering. Yes most of us do the right thing. But I see an increase of rude and inconsiderate behaviour by people sharing public space and littering is just one example.

  4. I see many of the same things – and “smell” the same underlying attitude – as you do, Kris.

    Disaffectation with our city starts at the top with the attitude of our leaders, and voters don’t see anyone who’s going to lead Toronto back to the promised land.

    Since I don’t know all of what’s to blame, I say “let’s look to solutions;” this sounds overly “peacenik”, but you’d be amazed what a well-targetted smile can do;

    – When that person flips that bottle, be right behind them to clean it up – with a smile for anyone around. That will call attention to the problem; even if the litterbug doesn’t get it, someone else will see – and follow.

    – When you see someone spitting, or flossing their teeth – or clipping their nails, which I hate, the sound even makes me cringe – then smile at everyone else around you who’s noticed – “Yep, don’t worry. ”

    That will send the message, both to the other person and yourself, that you’re not alone; that (as I believe) the MAJORITY of Torontonians don’t like or engage in this sort of behaviour.

    Eventually, most of those grebes will get the point; in the meantime, smile and do everything but pat them on the head – like the child who doesn’t quite “get it” yet; “Oh, it’s okay, honey. You’ll grow up one day.”

    • Mark,
      sure leadership in government helps. But my dismay is at us, residents the ones who litter, not with the city.
      And in terms of residential leadership and setting an example. That makes sense. If you clean up someone else’s litter, the person who litters may not get it but others see it and may be less likely to litter. And yes the majority of Torontonians don’t engage in that behaviour, for sure. The majority of us do the right thing without being asked, so I am happy about that.

  5. You are not the only one that is upset with the disrespect you see.

    I see more people that care for our environment and and neighbours. Hey…. life is not perfect but the sun is shining….the birds are singing and the grass is green. So smile and enjoy.

    • Nussy,
      thanks for the encouragement. And yes I have had a chance to witness and see many people who do care about the environment and show it much more than I do.

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