- Newspaper City: Toronto's Street Surfaces and the Liberal Press, 1860–1935 by Phillip Gordon Mackintosh
What do sidewalks and street pavements tell us about the historical city? In this book, Phillip Mackintosh examines seventy-five years of street improvement agendas in Toronto, paying particular attention to the modernizing bent of the city's two largest newspapers. The liberal press, he argues, was a key actor promoting the ordering and resurfacing of the city's streets, as part of a larger reformist program that was at once civic minded and self-interested. In Newspaper City, these mixed motives are just one of the ironies of the "contradictory city" that is shaped by the clash between communitarian and individual goals under liberal capitalism. Throughout, Mackintosh is successful in using newspapers and everyday infrastructure as a lens for understanding politics and life in a growing, industrializing North American city.
Toronto experienced an unprecedented urban boom in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1861, at the start of Mackintosh's period, Toronto's population was 65,000, and, by the 1930s, it was more than 800,000; urban expansion outpaced the civic administration's faltering attempts to build urban infrastructure. Paving Toronto's streets, like the expansion of the [End Page 144] streetcar network, was in part an effort to correct this situation by integrating dozens of newly built residential suburbs with the more established urban core. However, that did not mean that citizens, even those who complained of being mired in mud or choked by dust, rallied to the idea. As in other North American cities, property owners were wary of street improvements, whether because they did not want to pay for them or because they were concerned about increased through traffic and noise. Anyone interested in locating the Victorian roots of anti-infrastructure, not-in-my-backyardism would do well to read chapter four on Toronto ratepayers' use of deputations and petitions to resist municipal paving plans.
By the late 1800s, Newspaper City argues, the press took it upon itself to champion a vision of a city remade in concrete and asphalt, with considerable benefits for public health, commerce, and quality of life. Like their counterparts in Chicago, New York City, or Buffalo, the editors of Toronto's Globe and Star attacked the glacial pace of progress and the short-sightedness of parsimonious ratepayers who were content with cedar-block pavement or no pavement at all. One of Mackintosh's insights here is that there was more to this stance than liberal reformist ideals. The "newspaper city" presented in the pages of the dailies blurred public goals and private profit in the name of progress. Newspapers had a material stake in urban growth since new infrastructure promised new subscribers; acting as a forum for civic debates also helped sell copy. Of course, in a period defined by efforts to reform nearly every aspect of city life, there were always issues that were higher priority than street surfacing. Mackintosh is sensitive to this larger context and gives the reader a few glimpses of what newspaper editors thought about public transit, slum housing, or youth delinquency.
The battle to order the city's streets did not stop with their paving; there was a process of symbolic construction at work as well. With modern materials came new logics for the management of public space. Concrete sidewalks were regulated by a growing number of by-laws and police interventions to maximize flow and efficiency; freshly laid asphalt roads were increasingly understood as the exclusive domain of motorized vehicles, with pedestrians designated as interlopers and jaywalkers. Early twentieth-century newspapers deplored the deaths of children struck by the city's growing number of private cars, while celebrating the bourgeois mobility this new technology enabled. Initiatives like the Globe's "Just Kids Safety Club" – 265,000 members across Canada in 1928 – which emphasized segregation of users and pedestrian responsibility for road safety, were key moments in the construction of North American automobility.
Newspaper City's focus on...