Checking Toronto's Vital Signs: 2014 Edition
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Checking Toronto’s Vital Signs: 2014 Edition

An annual report on the well-being and needs of Toronto gives both reason for optimism and cause for concern.

Every year, the Toronto Foundation releases Toronto’s Vital Signs Report [PDF], a thick document billed as a snapshot of the trends and issues that define the city. It’s a means of measuring the pulse of the city and assessing the quality-of-life outcomes for different communities, demographics, and the city as a whole.

Much like last year’s report, this one offers reasons both to celebrate Toronto’s performance and to be concerned for the city’s future well-being. The temptation is to think of the ideas and subjects it covers as discrete and separable, but they’re part of much larger structural challenges that see the successes of the city enjoyed by some while the additional pressures and stresses brought about by its growth are largely placed on others.

First, the good news: as a whole, Toronto continues to grow economically by almost any measure. There are 147 buildings of six storeys or more currently under construction—the most in North America. The city sees annual population growth of about 80,000 people. Rental vacancy rates are under 2 per cent, indicating the high desirability of living in the city and the difficulty developers are having in keeping up with demand. Personal bankruptcies have declined 45 per cent since 2008. Toronto consistently ranks near the top of independent “quality of life indices,” for what that’s worth.

These are all visible signs of Toronto’s growing economic prosperity and maturation into a major global city.

But while there may be cranes in the sky and the city may be booming according to traditional economic metrics, the tide of progress that Toronto has seen over the past decade has not lifted all boats.

At over 17 per cent, the youth unemployment rate remains much higher than the national average. The number of people with diabetes continues to increase, particularly in communities that are not walkable; a 2011 City of Toronto public health report estimates that diabetes-related medical costs amount to $550 million a year. Torontonians who identify as belonging to a racialized group had significantly worse health outcomes than the city average.

Some workers are also more vulnerable than others: women and youth are far more likely to earn minimum wage, and, according to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Ontario, the gendered pay gap has increased to 31.5 per cent. The average woman would have to work 14 more years to make the same amount of money as the average man.

Affordable housing is also a growing issue. The report notes that Toronto has again slipped in international rankings for housing affordability and that the average rent for a one–bedroom apartment in the Toronto region accounted for more than 40 per cent of the income of an average youth.

Toronto Community Housing, which disproportionately houses low–income seniors, also faces unprecedented challenges in maintaining its housing stock and meeting the growing demand for units from a waiting list that sets new records each month. The report notes that Toronto has immense infrastructure needs and that, unlike cities such as New York and Berlin, it lacks the financial and political power to address those issues directly.

The Vital Signs Report paints a picture of a city that has a lot to celebrate. As a whole, the economy is doing well, and construction is booming—there are reasons to be proud of the city’s progress.

But there are also significant grounds for concern. If the city is doing so well according to traditional metrics, then why are some people and groups not benefitting proportionally from its progress? It’s a question that gets at the fact that, for all of its positive qualities, Toronto has structural and systemic inequities that keep it from reaching its full potential—and needs to work toward addressing those gaps.