Have you started reading Ethnic Aisle yet?

Remember when this happened at our Jane Jacobs’ Toronto event? As reported on Twitter:

  • Sewell, on the downtown/suburban divide: “Urban form helps to set your politics.” Low-density living de-politicizes people.
  • York professor (Ute Lehrer?) interjects to register her offense at Sewell’s generalization.
  • Crombie firmly reminds us: “It is entirely possible that there are some people who like to live in the suburbs.”
  • Crombie argues suburbanism is a legitimate form of living. “We are doing more harm by assuming we’ve got the answer and they don’t.”

Photo by Flickr user Sean_Marshall
That was just one of the many times this year that people have raised the importance of dialogue between the downtown and the suburbs. It is one of the many reasons that we’re so pleased to see the emergence of The Ethnic Aisle, a shared blog by non-white, non-newcomer Torontonians who “actually hail from those mysterious diverse communities you hear so much about.” Recently, they’ve been talking about the downtown/suburb divide.

Here’s a sampling of their recent posts:

Ethnic Aisle Asks: In the Matter of Suburbs vs. Downtown, What Is the Role of Race? by Jaime Woo:

We also wondered about the use of language in discussing the divide—language which often implies that living in the suburbs is lesser than being downtown. About a quarter of the attendees were former suburbanites now living downtown, and many shared the feeling that they had to defend the suburbs from stereotypes—conformity, sterility, and dullness—or act as translators between suburbanites and those who’d only ever lived downtown.

What is often missing from the conversation—though Toronto Standard (and former Torontoist) writer Navneet Alang touches on it here—is that the common perception that suburbanites are most typically Caucasian. Rare is the article that, for example, examines the similarities and differences between the Indian residents in Brampton and those in Little India. Some in our group on Monday, wondered whether the Toronto media, all located downtown, were even interested in suburban culture. When critics of the suburbs (media or not) decry the lack of culture, attendees wondered if that reflected an anglocentric perspective, one which focuses on symphonies and plays but neglects, say, Markham’s bustling Hong Kong-style cafes or ubiquitous DVD shops that not only sell pirated versions of Hollywood flicks, but also Chinese films and television programs.

Why White Scenesters Hate the ‘Burbs by Navneet Alang:

The funny thing about being a immigrant is that it’s quite possible you have had more ‘authentic’ experiences than you know what to do with. Affluent white westerners might find the thrall of Mumbai or the crowds of Hong Kong or the heat and dust or Iraq thrilling and somehow true; they might also like the more moderate downtown Toronto version of that bustle for the same reasons.

But once you leave those places, the appeal of the North American suburb is precisely what we are supposed to hate: you have your own space in a clean, uniform neighbourhood and you drive your own car to an air conditioned office. What white hipsters call ‘sterility’ and ‘emptiness’ is the appeal of the suburbs for many immigrants.

When “suburbs” doesn’t mean “white” by Kelli Korducki:

Incidentally, when my parents first drove me up to Toronto from Milwaukee that fateful September weekend in 2004, we stayed overnight at a relative’s friends’ house the night before my dorm move-in. I didn’t know the city at all back then so I couldn’t tell you exactly where, but I do recall someone mentioning that it was nearish York University–another school I had applied to. The Salvadoran family we stayed with gushed about how lovely Toronto is, chirping heartily about the “Bastantes Centroamericanos!” that lived in the area. After I moved into my dorm the next day at the corner of St. George and Bloor and walked around my neighbourhood, I wondered where they had gone. It took me a few years to figure out I was looking in all the wrong places.

The best party is in… Woodbridge? by Renee Sylvestre-Williams:

The same night Ethnic Aisle was hosting our first event on the urban vs. suburban divide, I was in a car heading up to Woodbridge. Woodbridge. In the suburbs.

Just last week I wrote a piece for Ethnic Aisle stating my case for why I live downtown. I was adamant about my choices. Quite frankly the suburbs don’t really register except for the odd moments when I have to go there and then I mutter about the inconvenience of getting there and the general lack of things to do.

Just as the 40-plus people discussed the misrepresentation of the suburbs as bastions of blandness, I was experiencing what was one of the best parties I’d been to in a very long time. Oops.

Hungry for more?

You can find more Ethnic Aisle goodness at their website, by following them on Twitter at @ethnicaisle, or by picking up the Kindle edition!