City-Builders Are Failing The Future Of Toronto
It all starts with space. Space to gather, innovate, grow and thrive. Space is a fundamental pillar to building civic engagement capacity and amplifying the voices of residents in the City of Toronto. People need spaces to organize and strengthen our democracy.
However, for a city like Toronto that is rapidly growing, we are severely lacking social innovation in city building. The conventional approaches of planning, design and governance of public spaces are not working to serve the residents of Toronto. With that said, the next few years will be critical to the future of Toronto.
Most city dwellers are familiar with the housing statistics–including 5 to 7-year waiting lists for social housing. Yet we are simultaneously failing to acknowledge other innovations and additional services we urgently need. Toronto’s child poverty rate is higher than other cities in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Nearly 4 million Canadians are battling food insecurity, racial divisions and their consequences. Increasingly, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour are being socially and economically segregated in Toronto.
All this to say, it is deeply alarming to see numerous infrastructure projects dismissing these conditions in their proposals. The residents of Toronto should not be an afterthought and exploited for economic gain.
Toronto’s Port Lands presents an unprecedented and remarkable opportunity for bold decision making – this project is an opportunity to first and foremost prioritize underserved residents of the city. This does not disregard technological innovations, building materials, infrastructure systems; it is simply enhancing the planning process to engage a wider community. City-builders often seem to be comfortable to have risk and uncertainty in technologies but not social services - housing, daycare, urban health.
Toronto’s self-prescribed thought leaders, changemakers and influencers are not seeking difficult conversations, especially involving inclusive city-building decision making. Rather, they leverage deeply flawed systems in city-building to better serve their interests.
All city dwellers should be mindful of the true changemakers working in grassroots organizations, those who educate and equip the residents of Toronto as active citizens in city building. These initiatives combat the recurring barrier in addressing colonialism, racism, ableism, patriarchy, homophobia and the increasing white supremacy movement. These organizations are often underpaid, underappreciated and burnt out. The precarity of this line of work directly results in developers, large institutions and influencers becoming the “go-to” talking heads and decision-makers for city building.
Yes, big cities need to take risks but said risks can not be at the expense of underserved and marginalized communities. The current top-down, “come to us consultations” approach is failing and city builders need to consult non-traditional spaces to meet people where they truly exist.
Social innovation in infrastructure must be the starting point for development, not an afterthought or something to supplement development proposals. We must start with an equity centred participatory approach in city-building for inclusive city-building and address the systemic exclusion of low-income residents in city-building processes by large institutions, developers and social-enterprises.
The future of Toronto will not be for the current residents of Toronto if city-building is not reflective of the diversity of lived experiences of its residents. No matter how great the challenge, no matter how many systems we must rebuild, the future of Toronto starts now, what role will you play?