Toronto Star



Experts offer advice on how to unite Toronto, such as engaging the suburbs and fixing transit woes,

During Toronto’s municipal election, John Tory ran on the idea of “One Toronto” — an election platform based on trying to unify a divided and fractured city. Now, as the election dust settles, many are hopeful that Tory will live up to his promise. But how ? We asked experts and those with an eye on city hall to offer the new mayor some advice.

IDEA: Engage the suburbs

The tension between the suburbs and the city of Toronto can be explained by the simple garbage can.

“The garbage bins that were provided to everyone in the city all of a sudden became standardiz­ed so that people who lived in the larger houses in the suburbs had large bins, but they didn’t fit in the smaller houses in the city,” said urban designer and former City of Toronto director of urban design and architectu­re, Ken Greenberg.

“When everything got pushed together, and people were all looking for one-size-fits-all solutions, it ended up with things that didn’t please anyone,” said Greenberg. Like the garbage bin. He believes Tory should work to “restore a greater level of autonomy and civic pride to the different parts of the city.” Greenberg says New York offers a good model, where almost 60 community boards have real decision-making authority. “In Toronto, we have a community council, but there isn’t a lot of decentrali­zation of power,” he said.

Burale says engagement of the inner suburbs should begin with something very simple: Tory spending some time there.

“He lacks street cred. Almost everyone I talked to had a story about the time Ford came to their house to fix something, or called their mom. It appealed to the Etobicoke voter,” he said.

IDEA: Fix city’s transit woes

The number one piece of advice from everyone we asked: fix transit. But more specifical­ly, in the quest for quick transit fixes, don’t forget subways.

Even before he was officially handed the keys to city hall, Tory hit the ground running on his SmartTrack plan. It’s a good start, says Anne Golden, co-chair of Ryerson’s City Building Institute.

“Implementi­ng SmartTrack will help to unify because it benefits both the inner suburbs and the downtown core,” said Golden. Tory’s SmartTrack plan, which proposes surface trains run on electrifie­d GO Transit tracks to create an additional 22 stops over 53 kilometres, may sound convincing. But it’s not enough to win over residents who have been promised subways, say local councilors. City hall veteran councillor Raymond Cho, Ward 42, Scarboroug­hRouge River, says his residents will support whoever fulfills their subway dreams — something Tory also promised during the election.

“They voted for Ford because all he ever said was subways, subways, subways,” said Cho. Rookie municipal councillor Jim Karygianni­s, Ward 39, Scarboroug­h- Agincourt, agrees. The two wards had among the lowest turnouts in the recent election, with an electorate that overwhelmi­ngly supported Doug Ford.

“Scarboroug­h residents feel like they are looked upon as second-class citizens,” said Karygianni­s. “Priority number one in this part of the world is the subway,” he said.

But Idil Burale, who ran in the municipal election in Ward 1, Etobicoke North, said subways are just one part of the equation.

“The push for subways symbolizes something bigger than just the subway. I think it’s really about, when do the inner suburbs get their fair share back in tax returns invested back in their community,” said Burale.

“It’s a political movement rooted in neglect.”

IDEA: Restore confidence in city hall

During the Ford years, Toronto citizens were constantly looking for the gravy at city hall. Many essential services, staff and programs were deemed excess by Rob Ford, and he was infamously known for voting down — often as a lone vote — any increase in funding to social programs.

“In a way, the Fords were running against government – their solution to everything was to cut programs, cut staff, cut taxes. The truth is that we need those services, as the city is growing rapidly,” said Greenberg. “The main thing city hall and Tory has to do is to restore people’s trust in the competence of city government to actually do things well,” he said.

But how do you actually do that? That’s the million-dollar question, it seems. Those we talked to agreed that it’s a suggestion with a difficult fix. Taxpayers need to be educated to understand why services are important. And they also need to see proof, to see how they are getting value for their taxes.

“That’s a tougher task, but you have to demonstrat­e to people right across the city the importance and value of government services,” said Golden. “You have to convince them why services like fire, parks, police or the library are important, and worth spending their taxes on.”

She believes educating citizens about the services, and encouragin­g citizen engagement in community groups and local government, would be one step towards that.

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