5 Ways To Make Toronto (Or Any Big City) Feel Smaller

Nathan Philips Square at Toronto City Hall
Nathan Philips Square at Toronto City Hall

Ever feel like Toronto is getting too big, too busy, and too hard to get around? Well, you’re not alone. In 2016, the census metropolitan area of Toronto was almost 6 million and is growing at a faster rate than the national average. In fact, Toronto ranks as North America’s 4th largest city in terms of population, according to the Economic Intelligence Unit, after Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles.

I love living in a big city. There are always new exhibitions to see, restaurants to try, and quaint neighborhoods to discover. In fact, I often feel there are so many options to choose from, and that I miss out on some fantastic opportunities because I just can’t be in two places at the same time!

One of the things that I’d like to share more with you, the readers of my blog, is how to live slow and intentionally. I didn’t realize there was a term for how I like to live. I’m an emotional person, love connecting with people, and tend to overthink things. But I also appreciate all the things life has to offer, the big and the small, the material and the immaterial. I like being alone as much as I like being with others. And, I like walking outside as much as I can, enjoying nature and just feeling a part of the world. Yes, even in a big city, you can experience much of mother nature.

One of many paths in Toronto
One of many paths in Toronto

But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the traffic and the crowds on the subway, I get it. In the past few years, I’ve had reason to walk rather than drive and I’ve loved it so much. It’s helped make the city feel more cozy, alive, and familiar. If you’re looking for that intimate feel, then consider the following suggestions to make Toronto, or wherever you live, feel like a smaller, quieter city.

5 Ways To Make Toronto, Or Any Other Big City, Feel Smaller

Dutch Dreams ice cream parlour in St Clair West, Toronto
Dutch Dreams ice cream parlour in St Clair West, Toronto

1) Live close to your home
This means shopping locally for groceries and as many services as possible. Find a barbershop and walk-in clinic near your house that you can walk or bike to. Find a nearby gym, flower shop, health food shop, auto garage, and aesthetics salon. Dine at local restaurants. Walk to the local ice cream store. Use your local library and tailor. A few years ago, I broke my elbow and couldn’t drive for 6 weeks. I was so grateful that I had conveniently chosen a nearby physiotherapist, drugstore, hairdresser, and dentist.

Yorkville on a quiet Sunday morning
Yorkville on a quiet Sunday morning
Downtown Toronto on an early Sunday morning
Downtown Toronto on an early Sunday morning

2) Choose odd times to run errands
By this I mean start early or end later. If you’re an early morning riser, you’ll get the best spots at your local coffee shop, patio, and playground benches. The sooner in the day you do something, the calmer it is and the more it feels like times are simpler. Thinking of going to the mall? Get there when it opens and be home by lunchtime. Not an early bird? Head out for a productive weeknight of grocery shopping, bookstore browsing, filling your car with gas, and hitting the local library or gym. I often run these errands in the evenings and get parking right at the front door!

Toronto's Beltline Trail
Toronto’s Beltline Trail
Quiet Toronto side gardens
Quiet Toronto side gardens

3) Get on a path
Toronto dubs itself ‘A City Within a Park’ which means you should be able to get on a trail very close to your home. Go for a run or long walk. Get your bike, skateboard, or scooter out and enjoy an afternoon with family, friends and pets. Make it a picnic. Whenever possible, choose a way or a drive home through a park or tree-lined street. Look for interesting flowers or landscaping and just enjoy that connection with nature.

The Farmer's Market at Wychwood Barns in Toronto's St Clair West neighborhood
The Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns in Toronto’s St Clair West neighborhood
Summer music in the city of Toronto, outside the Royal Ontario Museum
Summer music in the city of Toronto, outside the Royal Ontario Museum

4) Attend local activities like Farmers’ Markets, street festivals, and community activities 
There is a definite trend towards supporting local businesses and farms, and that makes sense. It’s better for the environment to source and buy things closer to where they’re made and consumed. Farmers’ Markets are great for this. In my neighborhood, in St Clair West, the The Stop Farmer’s Market runs at Wychwood Barns every Saturday, year-round. How great is it to walk there in the morning and buy your groceries for dinner that night?

Street art on Queen St West in Toronto
Street art on Queen St West in Toronto

Another way to live locally is to pretend you’re a tourist and consult neighbourhood publications, visitor magazines, and city blogs for happenings. This is such a great way to discover street festivals, special exhibitions, new restaurants, and local, often free, concerts. Check your local councillor’s and local MP’s web page for upcoming community gatherings where you can get involved and meet new people. Go on a family afternoon where you explore the city’s street art. And, consider a staycation in your own city — you can check out my post on our Toronto staycation, here.

Cedarvale Ravine in Toronto's St Clair West neighborhood
Cedarvale Ravine in Toronto’s St Clair West neighborhood

5) Get to know your neighbours 
Nothing makes a big city feel smaller than being able to connect with people you see on a regular basis. You probably see the same people walking on a nearby trail or going for a run. Say good morning and smile. By taking time to get to know your neighbors, even if it’s briefly seeing them on the street or in the elevator, you feel like part of a community of people who frequent the same places and share the same experiences.

Toronto's High Park Gardens
Toronto’s High Park Gardens

I’m sure there are other ways that you’ve figured out how to slow down and enjoy your city and neighborhood and I’d love to hear about them in the comment section below. It’s these little changes and social connections that leave us happy and feeling like life’s a bit quieter and more intentional, in our small neighborhoods within the bigger city of Toronto — or wherever you live!

In front of one of the 12 portraits from the Faces of Regent Park, a downtown Toronto  neighborhood (By Toronto artist Dan Bergeron)
In front of one of the 12 portraits from the Faces of Regent Park, a downtown Toronto  neighborhood (By Toronto artist Dan Bergeron)
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