The Toronto Community Foundation's annual "vital signs" report searches for the city's political pulse.
“Keep calm and get ready to vote.”
Imitating the popular poster, the Toronto Community Foundation hinted at its displeasure with City Hall on the front page of a special section in today’s Star, dedicated to the release of its annual “Toronto’s Vital Signs” report. Rather than froth at the mouth over minor municipal issues, the report urges residents and power brokers to come up with collaborative, trust-building solutions to the city’s pressing problems.
During a speech in front of the Canadian Club at the Royal York Hotel this afternoon, TCF President and CEO Rahul Bhardwaj stressed that the major problems the city faces—a vanishing middle class, diverging income levels, unaffordable housing, high youth unemployment, health issues related to aging and obesity, and inadequate public transit—are interconnected and can’t be solved using the same ways of thinking that created all these issues in the first place.
Bhardwaj outlined five things Toronto must do to ensure it remains one of the world’s most livable cities:
Enhance neighbourhood connectivity: Neighbourhoods, Bhardwaj said, don’t thrive in isolation. They require connections, like an efficient transit system, so residents can reach work, social, and shopping destinations.
Develop an affordable housing strategy: Considering the current condo glut and the city’s persistent lack of affordable housing, governments and developers need to produce a housing mix to accommodate everyone and combat the hollowing out of neighbourhoods.
Carve out more public space: While the city has plenty of parks, most are tiny. “Our parks are about space, not people,” Bhardwaj said, referring to the tendency of Toronto’s planners to fill the city with tiny parks where people can do little more than sit. He called for parks that better serve the physical, social, and spiritual needs of residents.
Fight youth unemployment: To prevent creating a “lost generation,” Bhardwaj said the City, the province, and employers must intervene by creating apprenticeship training programs that lead to regular employment.
Rebuild the Toronto brand: To attract the best and the brightest talent to settle in Toronto, Bhardwaj said the city must show the world what it stands for—like Austin, Texas does with the South by Southwest festival.
Bhardwaj made several pointed comments that seemed aimed at the Ford administration. “Turning City Hall into a debating society for the deaf won’t get us where we need to be,” he said. “As we’ve seen in America over the last couple of days, turning policy battles into political attacks doesn’t actually get anything done.” He called for political risk taking, regardless of how frightening it might feel. “Our problems are too big, too damaging to ignore by doing nothing, or by hoping the kind of leadership we need will show up at the polls in October 2014. That form of magical thinking we cannot afford to indulge in.”
To help solve the problems raised in the report, Bhardwaj urged the audience to “act like a somebody” and use their influence to re-engage in community activism. They were asked to nurture their own networks, starting with family, friends, and colleagues, and extend trust from there. “It’s time to get to work for each other. It’s time to get engaged with each other. It’s time to get connected through each other,” Bhardwaj said.