April 4: When you take a walk in the streets of Canada’s largest city, Toronto, you will probably come across people who hold out their hats for money. At least this is what a Reuters report in The Indian Express says.
Though Toronto is a prosperous city, there are many homeless, sick and destitute who have made the streets their home. To avoid running into them, the city’s richer citizens have gone underground. Literally.
Here is where they are: Toronto’s underground is made up of 27 tunnels, that are about 10 km long. These tunnels are collectively known as ‘The Path’. The Path occupies more than four million square feet of space. It connects the city subway with 48 tall office towers, six major hotels and 1,200 stores.
The subway is an underground railroad running on electricity. It is a crucial feature of the transport system in several cities in industrialised countries.
Thanks to these underground tunnels, many people can avoid the main streets completely. These are the ‘mole people’ who get to the subway through the basements of the posh apartments they live in. They take the Metro (underground rail), and then pop into their steel and glass office towers. The whole idea is to avoid meeting beggars and other poor people on the way.
Since they get back home the same way, they also live for days without seeing the sun or feeling the wind on their faces.
Around 200,000 people – bankers, lawyers, stock brokers and support staff – use the underground daily. The corridors of the Path are lined with everything from food shops and office supply stores to upmarket clothes stores and dentists. They are lit by fluorescent bulbs and the endlessly corridors appear to be out of a sci-fi movie. Most newcomers get disoriented there.
In fact, even regular users are sometimes confused by the absence of common street names. This is despite the presence of signs hanging from every Path junction.
But not everyone is happy with this state of affairs. City planners and architects feel that the underground is monotonous, it lacks character and has stale air. This is in contrast to the bustling, colourful look of uptown Toronto. Several people blame the underground for having sucked the life out of the streets.
But, how did these tunnels come about? In the 60s and 70s, Toronto was expanding and experiencing a building boom. The Path started off with good intentions as the city planners decided to provide underground links between the office towers and the subway. They thought that this way people could avoid the bitter winter chill while going to and fro from work.
Now it seems that these tunnels prevent people from ever going out in the open. This situation seems to have turned a theory in The Time Machine, a classic sci-fi novel written over 50 years ago, upside down.
In the novel, HG Wells said the future earth would segregate into two classes: the rich and delicate Eloi who live on the surface, and the savage, poverty-stricken Morlocks who live underground in the sewers.
Well, the location for the rich and the poor may have gone wrong, but the segregation theory seems to be too true for comfort.