This is a defence of Toronto and the people who live here.

The city engaged in frenzy of self-recrimination over the recent mugging of a 79-year-old on the Bloor-Danforth subway line and the apparent failure of other passengers to come to his aid.

For the record, police officials in the days after the incident described the attack on Yusuf Hizel as a “blitz” and a “split-second” robbery executed in the seconds before the subway doors opened. Other passengers, they say, had little time to respond. And one of those passengers insists he did press the yellow alarm strip, though nothing happened.


None of this, however, stopped critics from weighing in on the uncaring, apathetic, chicken-hearted nature of Torontonians. On newspaper websites and talk radio, urban dwellers were condemned as complacent, self-centred and mean-spirited. One resident described Toronto as a city defined by “NDP, Birkenstock-wearing tree huggers, cycling people who simply do not care about others.” A commentator on the Toronto Star website insisted “this would NEVER be allowed to happen in any town north of Hwy. 7.”

There’s a long tradition of believing the worst about cities and their inhabitants. European social theorists in the late 19th and early 20th century saw cities as places where the togetherness and kinship bonds of villages collapsed, leading to social isolation, murder, juvenile delinquency and a preoccupation with wealth and individual advantage rather than collective good.

We’ve clung to these perceptions despite subsequent research by sociologists who found that, in fact, cities are characterized by a thick web of relationships between people based on neighbourhoods, common interests ranging from poetry to lawn bowling, and even secondary relationships with everyone from the local butcher to the owner of the nearby corner store.

Yes, bad things happen. And yes, people can behave rudely, callously and even viciously. But that’s the exception. Civility is more the norm.

Strangers stopped to help my mother when, during a visit to Toronto, she tripped and fell on Bloor Street. A homeless man returned my purse after it was stolen from the back of my chair in a bagel shop near the University of Toronto campus. I recently helped an elderly woman carry a heavy box of oranges across the street to her car when I saw her struggling with the carton outside a fruit and vegetable vendor in Koreatown.

This is the city I know, naysayers be damned.

– April Lindgren teaches at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism, where she specializes in local news and urban affairs reporting;

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