PHOTO: TANNIS TOOHEY/TORONTO STAR
Doug Holyday, the deputy mayor of Toronto, is a generally decent, polite—one wants to say almost genteel—person to deal with most of the time, but something about speaking in the council chamber brings out his cranky yelly old man. The standard joke among City Hall watchers is that he turns into Grandpa Simpson, but he also reminds me of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man from Saturday Night Live, which you cannot apparently view on video online if you live in Canada, otherwise there’d be a hilarious and cranky trip down memory lane embedded here.
Anyhow, today Holyday let loose with a humdinger of a rant, from what I understand, about how the downtown is no place to be rearin’ children–it’s not safe, you see. “Where’s little Ginny? Well, she’s downstairs playing in the traffic on the way to the park!” he said, according to Daniel Dale of The Star.
So are the suburbs, as the voice of the 1950s tell us, really a better place to raise kids?
Last year, Tamson McMahon of Postmedia reported on studies showing that cities are safer than suburbs:
While many parents worry that city living could mean their children will be abducted or caught in the crossfire of a gang shooting, it is exceedingly rare for children to be harmed or murdered by strangers, says William Lucy, a University of Virginia urban planning professor whose studies on safe communities are most often quoted by parents arguing for city living. Perceptions about urban safety are still “lagging well behind reality,” Lucy says. In reality, the greatest risk to children is car crashes, which are more likely to occur in the suburbs, where children spend more time in cars or playing next to busy roads. “In terms of traffic fatalities versus homicides by strangers, it’s almost a 13-to-one ratio,” he says. His 2009 study analysing Virginia’s major cities, suburbs and rural areas found that lower-density areas were the most dangerous, while the safest communities, for the most part, were high-density cities. Not only did low-density communities have more traffic fatalities, but they were also the most dangerous places for stranger homicides.
Police in Ontario reported in 2009 that both violent crime and fatal collision rates were lower in Toronto than in neighbouring suburban Peel and York regions. A series of reports from the Ontario Injury Prevention Resource Centre showed that compared to its suburban neighbours, Toronto had the lowest rates of emergency room visits for motor vehicle collisions among the province’s seven health districts, along with the lowest rates of ER visits for cycling accidents involving children and the second-lowest rates of emergency room visits for violent crimes against children. A 2005 report from the Ontario College of Family Physicians warned of the “growing body of evidence (that) suggests there are significant public-health costs of spread out urban development.” Its research is based mainly on a 2003 study from Rutgers University of 450 American cities that found people were five times more likely to die in car crashes in a sprawling community compared to a tightly packed one.
And then there’s this report from the Ontario College of Physicians on the social and mental health impacts of urban sprawl [PDF]:
Sprawl impacts negatively on well-being by eroding social capital, robbing people of all ages of the opportunity to have a balanced healthy lifestyle, degrading the surrounding natural environment,and increasing the stress of commuting, which not only impacts on mental health but also physical health.
Research shows that living in car-dependent areas with high traffic affects children even before they are born. A study in Los Angeles County showed that pregnant women who live near busy highways and roads have a 10-20%increase in risk of having premature and low birth weight babies. A Denver study showed that children living within 250 yards of a road with 20,000 or more vehicles per day using it are eight times more likely to get leukemia and six times more likely to get other cancers because of exposure to car exhaust pollutants associated with cancer.
So yeah. But Holyday sure can be entertaining.