If we pull the lens out a bit, and take a more global perspective, the reality is that despite our challenges, people come to our city. Many people. 55,000 people a year. Over 50% of our population is foreign born, and you would be hard pressed to find a Torontonian who does not recognize this as one of our greatest assets.
Why do people come? To use the rationale of Doug Saunders, in Arrival City, we do a pretty good job of assimilating new arrivals with a clear sense of opportunity and in spite of the challenges in our priority neighbourhoods. Not only is this a great gift that we offer Canada, but it is a great gift that we offer the world.
Saunders cites Thorncliffe Park in his book as an example of an arrival neighbourhood that works – it is a place that allows newcomers to get a footing in Canadian society and therefore to transition, in one generation, into the middle class.
I believe that this assimilation is a key driver behind our burgeoning creativity (think MaRS), which has landed us in the top 10 of the global Innovative Cities index. Given that Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data has identified innovation as the key driver of economic recovery from previous recessions and downturns for nations, this matters profoundly to the economy of our City. Given that Toronto drives 22% of the GDP, ensuring newcomers find a home in Toronto matters profoundly to our nation.
Toronto is not a stop over on the way to somewhere else.
I believe it’s because many new arrivals slowly fall in love with Toronto as the city reveals itself. Many of our walkable neighbourhoods with avenues, main streets or other retail areas make it possible to shop, go to the doctor, attend an event – all on foot. Having worked over the past decade in municipalities across Canada and beyond, I can assure you, this is the exception, and not the norm.
Despite our continued transit woes, it is possible to live in many parts of the city, without owning a car. We need to continue to deliver on this promise; some Torontonians (particularly youth) no longer aspire to own a car. Not owning a car, for some, is the new status symbol – a sign of a different kind of wealth and an urban sensibility. This reinforces the importance of ensuring as much of the city as possible is well serviced by transit.
Our robust local economy means it is possible to choose from an array of jobs, and as we adapt and grow, our innovation is resulting in unique places such as Evergreen Brickworks, Wychwood Barns, Distillery District, Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park and Downsview Park. We also enjoy a diversity of parks: our 29 mile waterfront (Sunnyside! Sugar Beach!), and our spectacular network of ravine systems, where I like to hide away from the city on my weekend 10km, as defined by the Humber, Don and Rouge Rivers.
But the challenges we face are real. We need to figure out how to achieve more midrise development as envisioned in our Official Plan, to spread some of our density into areas where it is needed most. We drive in traffic chaos. We cannot be complacent about affordable housing. We commute on bike lanes that are sorely insufficient. We squeeze into subway cars that truly cannot contain another soul. Too often, our streets, squares and parks are overused and poorly maintained. We are – all of us – wounded by the ring of a gunshot.
After a week in the job, I can tell you there is so much real work to be done, and so much of it matters both to residents who live here, and to those who are yet to come. I couldn’t be more excited at what lies ahead.