“Mapping Literary Urbanism”: An Introduction to Littered T.O., Summer 2014 Svpplement

In 1998, Toronto amalgamated with its five neighbouring municipalities to make the city we know. Today, Toronto is North America’s fourth largest city, but as its borders and population have expanded, has its identity kept the pace? Hundreds of books have been set in Toronto, and it continues to inspire authors. But as soon as these books launch, the city underneath them has shifted. Their locales shut down; their skylines change. Eventually these books become reflections on a city lost to the past.

As the city has grown, its civic identity has come into crisis. Bitter political divisions between the old city of Toronto and its former suburbs have come to resemble an inter-borough culture war, and in many places the city’s skyline is unrecognizable from the Toronto of 1998. Meanwhile whole neighbourhoods have been made over with new facades, fashions, and cultural trends.

The millennium has seen a massive re-engagement in North America with cities and with urbanism. As if in response to Rem Koolhaas’s declaration in 1995 that urbanism had been abandoned, writers like Mark Crinson, Richard Florida, and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, to name only a few, have reinvigorated a fascination with urban centres. Locally, writers like Shawn Micallef and magazines like Spacing have focused on Canadian cities, championing a desire to change the practice of city planning.

Urbanism is an active discipline, with writers refusing to passively watch the city being built around them. Urbanism is also a dynamic discipline, engaging with topics as varied as engineering, city planning and development, population, and recreation.

Traditionally, however, there has been a category conspicuously absent from the urbanist mandate: that of literature and literary culture.

This supplement represents what we see to be a natural extension of the urbanist project, one tethered to a city’s literary architecture.When a city stops building, it falls into stagnation. When we stop reading the city, our understanding stagnates along with it.

To introduce the concept of literary urbanism, we wanted to present the city as a text that perpetually demands reinterpretation. We wanted to showcase work that remaps Toronto’s new civic self, that locates its axes of communication and redraws the city’s cultural lines.

“Littered T.O. is a collaborative effort, attempting to keep up with a rapidly evolving city and its changing, sometimes conflicted identity.

Because the city is a process that is never complete, we chose the name Littered T.O. for all its connotations of casting off, scrapping, and throwing away. Tired of seeing the city only in the background, we sought works that were themselves acts of city-building. The pieces in Littered T.O. were written in collaboration with the municipal imagination. Littered T.O. is a multivocal dissemination of the city that we live in, question, celebrate, and dread.

That Toronto’s first supplement on literary urbanism should appear in the pages of The Puritan is appropriate. A literary journal is closely tied to the city in which it is produced, and while The Puritan traces its awkward infancy to Ottawa, Ontario, it has, over the last five years, come of age farther south, and owes many of its most rigorous rites of passage to the city of Toronto.

The Puritan is the perfect place for a project like Littered T.O. because the literary magazine occupies a unique space in the city’s consciousness—as a public space made available to readers and writers, and as a public forum in which to debate and discuss the work that appears there.

Littered T.O. is a collaborative effort, attempting to keep up with a rapidly evolving city and its changing, sometimes conflicted identity. It presents pieces as varied as the locales that inspired them, bringing together eight authors of differing ages and backgrounds who are nevertheless bound together by an intimacy with the city and a desire to reread and refigure its twenty-first century reality. They have responded to the new spaces that mark Toronto with poetry and prose, dismantling outdated notions of a city that no longer exists.

“Because the city is a process that is never complete, we chose the name Littered T.O. for all its connotations of casting off, scrapping, and throwing away.”

In this supplement you will find work that touches on several fascinating civic subjects. Graham Arnold’s fiction offers an unconventional narrative of refuge and migration that explores the inarticulate space between tragedy and levity. Helen Guri lyricizes the city’s subway systems, rendering a typically mundane ritual into something mystifying, even magical. Novelist and poet Peter Norman revisits Toronto’s literary genealogy with a re-scripting of one of the city’s best loved poems, and Emma Healey presents a tongue-in-cheek treatment of Toronto’s rocky relationship with its current celebrity patron.

An interview with editor and essayist Shawn Micallef deconstructs Toronto’s class divisions and exposes the consumption patterns at the core of its class identities, while essayist and activist Maggie Helwig traces the conflicts over public spaces and the privileges that define their accessibility. Poet Bardia Sinaee considers the constraints the city often places upon its own public space, cataloguing the obvious and not-so-obvious lines that divide Toronto’s citizens. Amy Lavender Harris offers a contemplation of Toronto’s least loved critters, and in a lengthy and engaging interview, surveys Toronto’s evolving literary representations and the changing geography of its fictions.

Our aim with this supplement is to offer a glimpse into a metropolitan space exposed, bringing together the essential voices of contemporary literary urbanism in a city still adapting to its own literary maturity. Whatever your relationship to Toronto and its literary identity, we hope that the work you are about to read serves as an invitation to a new kind of space for storytelling, and captures something of the city it so intimately represents.