Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Is Toronto progessing towards its own destruction?

Anyone who has studies the nature of ecosystems in Biology knows what happens when an environment becomes overstressed. From the bacterial level up to mammals, the results are consistent. When population density is below or at optimum levels, the organisms remain healthy and relatively peaceful and stable. Once you overcrowd a system, a variety of consequences occur. Disease, violence, psychological stress, increase in homosexuality happen; all part of nature's way of ensuring that population levels revert to sustainable numbers.

Of course all this is a slow process, the speed of which is inversely proportionate to the sophistication of the type of organism in the ecosystem. From the standpoint of individual creatures within it, environmental upheaval can be extremely unpleasant.

For some reason, our urban planners and municipal politicians foolishly behave as if humans are immune to the rules that govern every other living being on this planet. Toronto's Municipal Plan calls for an extensive increase in population density. Metropolitan Toronto's population is already four times as large as it was in the 1970's. The streets are vastly more crowded, and we have gang crimes of a type this city has never known before. Growing up downtown, I used to see five or six regular panhandlers, as we used to call them, or "bums" before that term became politically incorrect, in the entire area bordered by Bloor, Bathurst, Yonge and Harbord/Wellesley Streets. You got to know them and most were pleasant, if unusual characters. One particularly memorable street eccentric was a heavy-set blond woman of Amazonian stature who wore a harem outfit and a sash with lettering that said "Swedish MP." Generally, these people were quiet and never bothered anyone. Now you can't walk thirty paces on a major street downtown without encountering some aggressive street person demanding money from you.

Toronto now has the distinction of having the worst traffic congestion in North America. A recent study showed it takes longer to get a mile by car in our fair city than anywhere else in the continent.

So what do our politicians and urban planners want to do? What they usually excel at - making a bad situation worse. The plan is to build more and more condominiums along every major artery in the city, blocking out the sun from residential neighbourhoods, putting greater demands on the infrastruture, making our public transit more crowded and less desirable, while traffic becomes a nightmare. While this is happening, public housing has multi-year waiting lists and the city can't control it structural deficit caused by having to pay welfare and disability payments to vast numbers over which it has no say.

The real solution is to manage population growth. Toronto receives about half the immigrants coming to Canada. But the city isn't capable of sustaining that growth and maintaining the safe, small town-like big city feel that distinguished Toronto since its inception.

The federal government wants to keep immigration numbers high, but in doing so is creating crises for the major urban centers who cannot accommodate them all. A new immigration policy that would direct immigrants to less overpopulated centers for the time prior to attaining citizenship would go a long way to alleviate the problem. Canada also needs to look at the idea of building new cities in the 21st century, and not just push out the borders of the old ones.

Is this where Toronto is headed?
We should heed the lessons that biologists have learned from observation. Because if we don't come up with a solution, nature may find one for us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Once you overcrowd a system, a variety of consequences occur. Disease, violence, psychological stress, increase in homosexuality happen; all part of nature's way of ensuring that population levels revert to sustainable numbers.

WHATS WRONG WITH TOLERANCE!!??!?!!

Seriously, I'm not sure this is nature's way so much as just a catastrophic failure of the whole system, nature's way and all. At least, in Calhoun's original experiments with mice, the dysfunctional behaviours that emerged at high population densities didn't disappear once the population fell back to manageable number. In fact, the whole colony eventually died out.

Here's an excellent ultra-right commentary from Udolpho:

http://mpcdot.com/forums/index.php?/topic/155-the-limits-of-human-scale/

Quote:

While the rat [actually, mouse] population stabilized far below capacity, once rat density crossed a threshold Calhoun observed a nonlinear increase in dominant male aggression and deviant sexual behavior, including exclusive homosexuality and hypersexuality, and on the part of many rats passivity and withdrawal. Some males became completely solitary and focused on eating, sleeping, and self-grooming. Cannibalization and maternal neglect also rose dramatically (not entirely unexpected for a rat population). Most unusual was the development of what Calhoun termed a "behavioral sink", whereby the mass of subordinate rats stayed huddled togther in the center of the rat pens.

Udolpho connects modern internet nerd-dom to the "behavioural sink".

Original paper:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1644264/pdf/procrsmed00338-0007.pdf

Cennbeorc