BY EDWARD KEENAN
First, an admission: Ever since New York magazine offered a ranking of its city’s neighbourhoods on livability back in 2010—compiled by still-reigning stats guru Nate Silver—I’ve wanted to do something similar in Toronto. But given time and labour restrictions, we’ve never been able to settle on a methodology and presentation we really liked. So it’s sat there on the idea reserve list waiting for a call-up ever since.
So let me congratulate Toronto Life on making it happen—its cover story this month is a ranking of all 140 neighbourhoods in Toronto. This is fun stuff, raising some eyebrows (Malvern ranks higher than The Annex?), causing some eye-rolls (Rosedale is a good place to live—who knew?), and generally awakening a stirring in the micro-civic breast to want to gloat or argue (my own beloved Junction—the best place to live in the city, by any reasonable standard, ranks a dismal 89th out of 140). A big high-five to my friends at Toronto Life on an expert bit of pot-stirring: water-cooler conversations around the city owe you a great debt. Even if you are wrong about The Junction.
Besides starting arguments, the list also presents an opportunity to readers who believe its rankings—a quality-of-life arbitrage play. Clearly, if these criteria are accurate, there are a lot of undervalued neighbourhoods in Toronto: just within the Top 10 you can see that an average house in #2 ranked Banbury-Don Mills goes for $527,900 while in #10 ranked Casa Loma you’d be paying $722,500. Hell, check out #6 ranked Wexford-Maryvale where an average house is only $376,300—a super premium neighbourhood quality of life at about half the price of an average home in Toronto. A bargain.
That’s if you trust the rankings, and that’s my complaint, a bit. The kind of above evaluation of value for money is possible because the criteria doesn’t seem to include affordability. The “Housing” criteria Toronto Life used mixes house appreciation (which I guess is a measure of how much equity homeowners in the neighbourhood are gaining by living there) and the ratio of price to household income, (which would show, if I’m interpreting right, how affordable it is for the people who already live there). But for an average person trying to gauge how affordable one neighbourhood is versus another as a place to buy or rent, I’m not sure how useful those measures are.
I’m not sure, in part, because they didn’t publish their full methodology—or haven’t yet, at least. And that’s my second complaint (one I’ve seen others—@AdamCF, for example—complaining about on Twitter). Because just eyeballing things, it’s hard to see what their methodology for some criteria would be: When you use their online checklist to rank the neighbourhoods by “Transit,” for example, you see that High Park North, which contains four (I think) subway stations and is a quick walk to a GO station and has ready access to a couple downtown-bound streetcar lines at it’s eastern edge is ranked 24th while The Junction area, from which you need to ride buses through High Park North to get to those subway stations and the GO Station and etc., ranks 10th. What? How the heck—still on transit rankings—does Lambton-Baby-Point, which has Jane subway station in it, rank way down at 96th while Malvern, which is long bus ride from any rapid transit of any kind ranks 60th?
So I have my questions about what went into the topic rankings.
The other component of New York‘s treatment of its similar topic I miss here is what they did online to allow you to customize the ranking. Toronto Life allows you to re-rank the neighbourhoods according to any single criteria. But New York magazine, in a stroke of genius, let you re-weight all the criteria to show a ranking based on your personalized priorities. So if you’re a poor parent who has no car, you could weight all three of schools, affordability, and transit really high while giving little weight to nightlife and creative topics—or whatever. If you are rich and single and like to party, you might care little about health, green spaces, or schools and care not at all about price but want to give a lot of priority to restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. I wish that was here.
Even with those complaints, this is a fun list to look at and think about and start arguments with. And even though I complain about the lack of fine-grained information, that very shortage allows me to wave my hand and justify my own continuing allegiance to The Junction—what do these guys know? And that’s the most fun part of all.