Media Releases

How to Love a City with Shawn Micallef

July 10, 2015

How can Toron­to­ni­ans learn to adore their city in the midst of the 2015 Pan Am & Para­pan Am Games? Shawn Micallef writes about Toron­to and urban issues for Spac­ing Mag­a­zine and the Toron­to Star. He’s also authored The Trou­ble With Brunch and Stroll from Coach House Books. Micallef brings his own expe­ri­ences from explor­ing the city – and intro­duces the con­cept of ‘psy­cho­geog­ra­phy’— to help lis­ten­ers remem­ber how to recap­ture a sense of won­der about Toron­to and oth­er glob­al cities. The pod­cast also fea­tures Sarah Khan, explain­ing why she decid­ed to become one of the 23,000 Pan Am vol­un­teers.

More about The Cities Pod­cast:

Orig­i­nal music for The Cities Pod­cast by Jay Fer­gu­son. Also fea­tured, “Min­er­va” by Kris Mag­nu­son.

Debut episode of The Cities Pod­cast fea­tur­ing Shawn Micallef avail­able:



Ep 9 How to Love a City


[Ambi­ent sound of radio music, street sounds]


Voice on loud­speak­er: Okay, Sarah, give us a big wave and smile. Peo­ple on the side­lines, let’s hear some cheers for our torch­bear­ers, they are mak­ing his­to­ry today as we get ready to wel­come North America’s best ath­letes to Toron­to.


[Music fades]




This is The Cities Pod­cast, I’m Bri­an­na Gold­berg.


It’s a beau­ti­ful day, I’m jog­ging next to an ath­lete who’s hold­ing the torch for 2015 Pan Am/Para Pan Am Games. It’s very excit­ing. Sev­en thou­sand ath­letes com­ing into the city from 41 coun­tries, it’s a huge event. Twice the num­ber of ath­letes from the Olympics in Van­cou­ver, in fact.


Not every­one is so hap­py about it. Peo­ple have been com­plain­ing about HOV lane insan­i­ty, peo­ple have been com­plain­ing about streets being closed down. So I thought this was a real­ly great time to dip back into the archives and grab some tape from the cut­ting room floor from my inter­view with Shawn Micallef. He’s an urban issues author for Spac­ing Mag­a­zine, Toron­to Star, he’s writ­ten a few books for Coach House Books about the city. And he told me this great sto­ry about how he came to love the city of Toron­to. So I thought in this time of Pan Am pes­simism, what bet­ter time to go back, learn how to love a city again?


So here we go, as the torch gets passed off from one ath­lete to anoth­er…




Here’s Shawn Micallef on how to love a city.






I first got inter­est­ed in cities grow­ing up in Wind­sor, which is a city that’s across the bor­der and across the riv­er from Detroit. And so we grew up look­ing at the Detroit sky­line metaphor­i­cal­ly and lit­er­al­ly. Detroit news sta­tions came into our house and we sub­scribed to the Detroit free press, that sort of thing. And so we had this real­ly inti­mate rela­tion­ship with Detroit but we weren’t real­ly part of Detroit, we were a lit­tle detached from it. And I think watch­ing Detroit from afar made me real­ly fas­ci­nat­ed by it, I always want­ed to go there. But also the fact that Detroit was kind of a city in this cri­sis of slow and fast decay… with these weird rich sub­urbs. Fas­ci­nat­ing place. And watch­ing it decline was kind of heart­break­ing because you saw the great­ness of Detroit and the peo­ple that lived there and the cul­ture that came from that place and then kind of watch­ing it kind of crum­ble was heart­break­ing, it’s like watch­ing a fam­i­ly mem­ber decline. Being next to Detroit made me fall in love with cities and then as a Cana­di­an, look­ing up the 401, Toron­to always seemed this almost Oz-like city at the end of the road. Shiny sky­scrap­ers, street­cars, sub­ways. Decid­ed­ly not falling apart. So it was the oppo­site of Detroit, it was a city that was grow­ing and had all these lay­ers to it, human and oth­er­wise. It had all the kind of infi­nite mys­tery that is appeal­ing about a city.


I moved here and got a job, a reg­u­lar job that had noth­ing to do with urban­ism. A real job with ben­e­fits and every­thing like that. But then on my lunch hour, the office was at Bayview and Eglin­ton, and so I just start­ed explor­ing for an hour instead of sit­ting in the cafe­te­ria and wast­ing an hour. Eat at my desk before and then go for a walk. Go for a walk to Yonge and Eglin­ton and start explor­ing that and then on the week­ends I would go for long, like five or six hour walks from my apart­ment or house, or take a sub­way some­where and start going for walks.


I real­ized when I got here in 2000 I thought I was mov­ing to a city that I knew because there were many trips up in the 90s, vis­it­ing friends who went to U of T and oth­er­wise, and you come up here for stuff some­times. What I real­ized when I moved here, I only real­ly knew a small slice of Toron­to. I knew Yonge Street, because that’s where you go when you are in late high school or ear­ly uni­ver­si­ty, the des­ti­na­tion is like that arche­typ­al ‘Going Down the Road,’ that movie from 1971 with the two fel­lows from Nova Sco­tia. So it’s kind of like, you have to go to Yonge Street and walk it. And then going to Queen West because that was cool. And then maybe going to the Annex because that’s where U of T friends lived. And going to the Future bak­ery.


And so I got here and I real­ized, I don’t know where Col­lege Street went and I didn’t know what was around the curve as Dun­das curves away. And the city’s vast­ness slow­ly became appar­ent. And so I start­ed explor­ing it, just on my own. And then I slow­ly found oth­er peo­ple who were into the city in the same way, fas­ci­nat­ed in the same way. And start­ed pok­ing around ‘walk­ing the­o­ry’ and found two things.


One was a book pub­lished in 2000 by Rebec­ca Sol­nit who is a writer from San Fran­cis­co, and she wrote a book called Wan­der­lust: the his­to­ry of walk­ing. Became this mag­i­cal bible and it’s like, oh, there’s some­body else who’s into this thing, this walk­ing. And she wrote it so beau­ti­ful­ly. So there’s Wan­der­lust and then I came across ‘psy­cho­geog­ra­phy’ as a con­cept. It was a way of walk­ing around cities, explor­ing cities, that was devel­oped most­ly in the 1960s by the Sit­u­a­tion­ists. Rad­i­cal Marx­ists in Paris who did many things, but they did psy­cho­geog­ra­phy, which was a method of break­ing out of the mod­ern cog in the machine kind of thing, way we go through the city with­out notic­ing any­thing. They had very dif­fer­ent meth­ods, guer­ril­la meth­ods of walk­ing around cities. They would use a map of Lon­don and nego­ti­ate Paris, inten­tion­al­ly try­ing to get lost. They would go on smell walks and oth­er things. The one thing they did that I found real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing was this thing called the derive, or the drift. And they would just drift through Paris, so it would be like walk­ing for the sake of walk­ing, with no des­ti­na­tion in mind. Just what­ev­er inter­sec­tion or fork in the road or what­ev­er you came to. What­ev­er looked inter­est­ing, what­ev­er looked like a mys­tery, you kind of fol­low it down. And that’s how, I real­ized, I was walk­ing in Toron­to. I was just kind of walk­ing.


Psy­cho­geog­ra­phy, I think, is a real­ly fun way of approach­ing the city as an umbrel­la term because it’s essen­tial­ly about pay­ing atten­tion to space and the spaces you pass through and how those spaces make you feel. So the psy­chol­o­gy and geog­ra­phy. Under that umbrel­la you can pull aes­thet­ic issues, archi­tec­ture, you can talk about urban plan­ning, but you can also just talk about emo­tion­al attach­ment. How does this place make you feel? What things have hap­pened here? What is the social his­to­ry of the place? Dip into the his­toric archive of the things in there. So as a writer for the city it’s, I find, a real­ly kind of good intel­lec­tu­al approach, using this the­o­ry with fuzzy bound­aries.




Shawn Micallef writes for Spac­ing Mag­a­zine and the Toron­to Star. He also authored The Trou­ble with Brunch and Stroll from Coach House Books. And Shawn teach­es a first-year course as part of the UC One pro­gram… learn more about that by head­ing to and search­ing for the name Shawn Micallef… I’ll also link to the sto­ry where this pod­cast is found online. You can also hear more about it in my first inter­view with Shawn from the debut of this pod­cast, you can find that in our back episodes.


So now in spite of the Pan Am relat­ed grumpi­ness that’s even been not­ed by the New York Times at this point… you’re equipped to love the city once more. And I’m going to do you one bet­ter, I’m going to con­vince even the pes­simists among you to get straight-up excit­ed about Pan Am…


My office mate, Sarah Khan, is one of the peo­ple behind the voice of U of T’s social media. Sarah is also one of the 23,000 Pan Am vol­un­teers – the largest force of vol­un­teers in Canada’s peace­time his­to­ry. Now, I think Pan Am is well and good but I con­stant­ly ask her why she offered to do this… to spend her spare time help­ing to make the games run smooth­ly. I can’t imag­ine being an awe­some enough per­son to vol­un­teer. But Sarah is legit­i­mate­ly excit­ed about the games… and I’ll let her explain why.


Thanks to Sarah and the 22,999-or-so oth­er vol­un­teers for help­ing to real­ize this giant event trans­form­ing our city and the uni­ver­si­ty, which is host­ing many of the events on both the St. George and Scar­bor­ough cam­pus­es.


Speak­ing of help, I could use yours. Give me a heads up about sto­ries you’d like to hear about on this pod­cast. Tweet with the hasth­tag #uoftc­i­ties or send me an email at


And, if you liked this pod­cast, just copy the link and share it on Face­book or Twit­ter… or tell a friend. I’d be grate­ful. Because the more peo­ple we invite into The Cities Pod­cast the bet­ter I can pro­duce sto­ries that mat­ter to you.


Sub­scribe to this pod­cast on iTunes or fol­low us on Sound­clound. It’s free and you’ll receive new episodes as soon as they’re avail­able… Don’t for­get that you can also go back and explore ear­li­er episodes fea­tur­ing Roman Mars from Radiotopia’s design pod­cast 99% Invis­i­ble, last episode Izzy Ritchie from the Strum­bel­las and music crit­ic Ian Gorme­ly made their case for how Toron­to could be a more music-friend­ly city. We’ve heard from archi­tects, poets, city coun­cil­lors and more.


Today you hear music that friend of the pod­cast Jay Fer­gu­son pro­duced just for us. I also fea­tured orig­i­nal music from Kris Mag­nu­son, he’s part of U of T’s master’s of music com­po­si­tion pro­gram. Addi­tion­al tracks from the Free Music Archive came from Jaz­za­fari and Ket­sa.


This series is pro­duced by me, Bri­an­na Gold­berg, with help from U of T News edi­tor, Jen­nifer Lan­thi­er.


Thanks for lis­ten­ing. And enjoy the 2015 Pan Am/ Para­pan Am Games.