Toronto is one of North America's largest cities. Its urban attractions might not be as hyped as those in New York or Los Angeles, but as the center of culture and commerce for Canada, Toronto carries all the assets of a major global city. And global it truly is: Relaxed immigration laws have created one of the most diverse melting pots in the world (49 percent of the city's residents were born outside of Canada).
Toronto's attractiveness is about more than its size. Despite rapid population growth over the past few decades, crime rates remain almost absurdly low. The city has nearly 200 years of history and sits at the epicenter of modern Canada's art, film and music scenes. It's also quite user-friendly, with unique neighborhoods that are easily accessible via North America's third-largest public transportation network (after New York City's and Mexico City's). A respectable collection of parks and natural spaces and a renewed commitment to the environment mean that Toronto, despite experiencing growing pains familiar to any city with more than 2.5 million people, is one of North America's greenest big cities.
Bicycle culture is highly visible here, despite lengthy and frigid winters. A municipal project to create 500 kilometers (about 310 miles) of bike paths in the city is moving at a snail's pace (only 20 percent completed), but the city's government is championing the use of pedal power via an initiative dubbed the Toronto Bike Plan. Bikes are allowed on public transit (during nonpeak hours) and cycling on the roadways is reasonably safe throughout the city.
Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat seeks to create an ideal butterfly habitat with native wildflowers, trees and shrubs. All the plant life is self-sustaining. The goals of this relatively new natural space (it opened in 2002) are focused on education as well as sustainability. The Toronto Parks and Recreation Division seeks to educate the public about the possibility of creating and sustaining urban wildlife habitats.
Toronto is also engaged in an ongoing project to naturalize the city's waterfront areas and create habitats that were previously destroyed by urbanization. Like the Humber Bay Butterfly Habitat, the Toronto Waterfront Naturalization Initiative aims to involve the general public in the process.
The question remains: Why visit Toronto?
Museums like the recently redesigned Art Gallery of Toronto and the Museum of Inuit Art show the broad range of the city's arts scene. Over the past few years, the TIFF (Toronto Int'l Film Festival) has showcased the city to the world via the entertainment media. The epicenter of Canada's contemporary music scene is found in Toronto as well. The city's environmental initiatives are a positive for green-minded travelers and its relative safety and user-friendliness make it a good bet for all tourists.
But it's Toronto's role as the cultural heart of Canada — and to some extent the Americas as a whole — that truly makes it a worthwhile destination.