EVALUATING CITIES: HOW WE TREAT OUR MOST VULNERABLE CITIZENS
When people and organizations evaluate cities, usually the indicators are around the average per capita income, number of cars per x number of residents, how life is for senior executives of large corporations (The Economist's Most Liveable), flights in and out, etc. The real measure of a great city must be how does it treat its most vulnerable citizens: the children, the elderly, and the poor.
We created 8 80 Cities thirteen years ago based on a simple but powerful concept: what if everything we created in our cities, such as sidewalks, parks, crosswalks, schools, libraries, buildings, public transit, etc., all had to be great for an 8 year old and an 80 year old, as indicator species. It’d be good for all, from 0 to over 100; we must stop building cities as if everyone was 30-years-old and athletic and create cities for all.
When we think of children in Toronto, we often forget that one in four live in poverty! Over 100,000 children and youth who want to register for recreational activities are turned back for lack of space. The levels of physical activity have been decreasing over the past two decades while the rates of obesity continually increase.
From the age perspective, the 0 - 5 year olds are the children most underserved. In Toronto it is less expensive to pay for a child to go to university than to daycare, when it's been known for years that the most important years in the life of a person are the initial ones. The overwhelming majority of parks have activities for children 5 - 12, but nothing for 0 - 5.
We are living longer, much longer. The life expectancy in Toronto has more than doubled in the past 150 years. However, the older citizens are seen as a cost to society when they can be a magnificent asset, people with knowledge and experience, healthy and many wealthy, people who can contribute much to society and live a happier and healthier last third of their life. The population of over 65-year olds will double and people over 80 will quadruple; it’s a great opportunity.
The population of greater Toronto is probably the fastest growing urban region in the developed world, but our leaders do not seem to have a sense of urgency. It will increase by over 50% in the next 30 - 40 years, and if we analyze the communities that we have created in the past 40 years, the overwhelming majority are mediocre; they’re not sustainable environmentally, financially, and not good for physical or mental health. We must do cities radically differently.
Obviously, Toronto is good, which makes many people complacent, not realizing that we are far from great and that large segments of the population are being left behind. We are the most diverse large city in the world, but not well integrated; even in the public sector, the overwhelming majority of senior positions are held by white people, while visible minorities as well as recent immigrants are mostly ignored.
The issues to create a great city for all are not technical or financial; they are about policy (not partisan politics), and everyone must participate. We must develop broad alliances including elected officials from all levels, multi- departmental public sector staff, and especially community, including activists, media, business leaders, everyone.
We are doing this, but we must do more, and faster. It’s important to do things right, but even more important to do the right things. It’s urgent to develop a shared vision, followed by action, action, and more action. We can and should build an equitable city for all, including all social, economic and ethnic backgrounds.