Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Ten Questions with John Lorinc

Share |
Ten Questions with John Lorinc

John Lorinc is a journalist who specializes in urban/municipal issues, business, politics and culture. He is a former national affairs chair of PEN Canada and a founding member of the Canadian Coalition for School Libraries. His book, Cities, was published this fall by Groundwood Books.

OB:

Tell us about your latest book, Cities.

JL:

It’s a short and high-level overview of how cities grow and function, as well as a survey of some of the major issues facing 21st century urban regions, both in the developed world as well as the developing world. I’m biting off a lot with the book, as it deals with everything from classic notions of urban citizenship and the history of sewers to sprawl and shanty-towns. The connective tissue, however, is the fact that as of 2008, for the first time in human history, there are more urban-dwellers on the planet than rural residents, which means that the health of cities is becoming increasingly a discussion about the health of the species itself.

OB:

How did you research your book?

JL:

I’ve written for many years about municipal politics and urban affairs, and have become a kind of cities geek in the process. My last book, The New City, looked at the pressures facing large Canadian cities. With this project, I broadened out to examine cities around the world, and so I drew on all sorts of sources – online materials, my library of city books, as well as my travels to cities such as New York, London, Vancouver, Istanbul and Cairo. Also, one can’t write about cities without being something of a flanneur. I love being in cities, walking, watching, listening and soaking it all up. That’s the best way to research cities.

OB:

What are the greatest challenges facing North American city dwellers in the 21st century?

JL:

Weaning ourselves of a lifestyle that’s become literally addicted to fossil fuel. It’s easy for someone like me to be smug. I live in the middle of Toronto, near a subway station, within walking distance of schools, and so on. My wife takes the TTC to work, and I have a home office. So there are many days when the car doesn’t move. But there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians for whom such freedom and choice isn’t available, as they live in low-density, car-dependent suburbs. The great challenge of the 21st century is figuring out how to retrofit our cities to make them far less dependent on non-renewable energy.

OB:

In Cities, you state that we continuously "debate what it means to 'live well' within the context of the city." How would you define living well in a city?

JL:

I don’t presume to know the answer, because cities are wonderfully diverse places with a multiplicity of correct answers to that question. Perhaps the best way to approach the problem is by asking what it means to not live well. Of course, that means poverty, and all the associated urban ills – poor air quality, humiliating housing conditions, lack of access to municipal services, etc. But I’d argue when cities can’t provide choice – in housing, transportation, culture, recreation, and so on – their residents experience crowding without diversity and vitality, which are indispensable ingredients for healthy cities.

OB:

What was your first publication?

JL:

When I was six or seven, my sister and I published a newspaper and sold it in front of the house. My first paying job was writing for the Toronto Business Journal, which no longer exists.

OB:

Describe your ideal writing environment.

JL:

A coffee shop with a hotspot, good chairs and not too many strollers.

OB:

If you had to choose three books as a “Welcome to Canada” gift, what would those books be?

JL:

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordechai Richler; Dance of the Happy Shades, Alice Munro; Trudeau and Our Times, Vol 1& 2, Stephen Clarkson and Christina McCaul.

OB:

What are you reading right now?

JL:

High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby.

OB:

Describe the most memorable response you’ve received from a reader.

JL:

I wrote a personal memoir about Passover for The Globe and Mail this past spring. After it came out, a neighbour of my mother’s told her that he wanted to liven up his own Passover meal, which had grown a bit stale, and so decided to bring along copies of my essay as a way of sparking discussion about the meaning of this particular Jewish holiday. I found that very moving.

OB:

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as a writer?

JL:

If you see something that interests you, it probably interests someone else. This was the advice I got from the first reporter I ever worked for – the city editor of The Varsity, at the University of Toronto – and it works because it keeps you both curious and humble as a reporter.

OB:

What is your next project?

JL:

I can’t yet say this is `my next project,’ as I haven’t figured out how to do it, but my goal is to write a book about the lives of City of Toronto works commissioner R.C. Harris and medical officer of health Dr. Charles Hastings, two civil servants who transformed Toronto into the city is it today.

Cities Read more about Cities by John Lorinc at the Groundwood Books website.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

Dundurn

Open Book App Ad