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Can’t we all just get along?

Growing divide between cities, suburbs has implications for HR

By Brian Kreissl

I live in a bedroom community of Toronto called Whitby, about 50 kilometres east of the downtown core. We’ve lived here for seven years now.

Before that, my wife and I lived in an apartment in an inner suburb of the city fairly close to downtown, although, even then, some of our friends who lived downtown moaned about how far out we lived. They didn’t want to come over because it was “too far.” Therefore, it’s hardly surprising some of them were disappointed – downright hostile even – when we announced we were leaving the city altogether.

The reasons why we left the city were complex, but Whitby was essentially a compromise. My wife thought she wanted to leave the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) entirely at the time, while I liked living in the city and would have preferred to live even closer to downtown.

Nevertheless, it was me who recommended buying a house east of the city, since I knew we’d get far more house for our money than if we moved anywhere else. We could only have afforded a tiny or extremely run-down place anywhere else, yet there we were – suddenly finding ourselves the proud owners of a newish and decent-sized detached house in the ‘burbs.

Seven years later, we’re settled here, but we still make frequent trips into the city for shopping, leisure, business, health care and education. Because of this, my wife and I see ourselves as being residents of the GTA and not just Whitby specifically.

While I still dream of living in the city someday, I often wonder how people of modest means can actually afford Toronto real estate prices. I know we couldn’t afford anything but the tiniest condo in the city, which just isn’t practical with a child and a large dog.

In so many ways, I don’t conform to the stereotype of your typical suburbanite. I love the city and all it has to offer, believe strongly in social justice and am a strong believer in walking and taking public transit. (I didn’t even have a driver’s license for years.)

Yet, to many “progressive” downtown media types, we’re all crass uncultured rednecks with no social conscience who drive huge SUVs, live in bland cookie cutter subdivisions, shop only at big box retailers and eat only at chain restaurants. According to the stereotype, we’re afraid of diversity, never take transit and spend most of our time cocooned in our homes.

On the other hand, I know some people who actually do conform to that stereotype. While those people frustrate me and make me roll my eyes, they’re actually no worse than the downtown snobs who hate me just because of my area code. Strangely enough, I find the worst offenders often aren’t even “real” Torontonians, but people from elsewhere who don’t really understand the dynamics of the city and its hinterland.

Implications for HR professionals

What does all this have to do with HR?

I think it’s important for us to be aware of what I see as the increasing tribalism in Canadian society and the widening gulf between cities and suburbs — socially, culturally, economically and politically. We all have our own biases and preferences, and it could be that HR professionals and business leaders are unconsciously discriminating against people because of where they live or where they’re from.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one hiring manager I worked with in the past wouldn’t even consider candidates who didn’t live in downtown Toronto. That thinking was based on a misunderstanding of the experiences of commuters from outside the downtown core — many of whom could get to work via a short trip on the subway.

Companies also have to understand not everyone can live downtown. Because of this, employers should possibly look at having satellite offices, allowing employees to work from home (either permanently or on an occasional basis), having flexible hours and locating near public transit hubs.

Conversely, because of urban intensification, the growing realization that cities offer certain lifestyle benefits and lower property taxes for businesses in the suburbs, the old pattern of living in the suburbs and working downtown is now reversed for many people. Employers located in car-dependent suburbs may therefore need to find ways to attract younger knowledge workers who will increasingly be living in inner cities.

Seasons Greetings from the Consult Carswell team

We wish all of our readers and subscribers and their families, as well as colleagues, friends, contributors and business partners a safe, happy, enjoyable holiday season, and all the best for 2013.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit


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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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