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Recently elected Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow speaks to media outside City Hall in Toronto June 27.Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press

Olivia Chow officially took office this week as Toronto’s 66th mayor. She has a lot on her plate. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time in the city’s recent history when a mayor faced so many urgent problems all at once.

A long string of violent crimes has shaken the city’s sense of security. Only last week a mother of two just walking along the street was struck by a stray bullet and killed.

The vibrant downtown is still struggling to recover from the pandemic exodus, with office vacancy rates hitting their highest point in close to 30 years.

The transit system is straining to lure riders back to its buses, streetcars and subways. Ridership is still only around 70 per cent of what it was before the pandemic. The Toronto Transit Commission is out hundreds of millions of dollars in fare revenue.

That shortfall has helped blow a huge hole in the budget. City hall faces a deficit of $900-million this year.

Add in a homelessness crisis, an opioids crisis, a mental health crisis and an affordable-housing crisis and it’s no wonder some residents worry that Toronto is entering a doom spiral like that of American cities in the last part of the previous century.

Naturally, the new mayor will need to show that she takes all these problems seriously and is ready to roll up her sleeves. She has already made a good start, convening a series of community meetings to talk about some of the most pressing issues.

But Ms. Chow has an another, equally important task before her: putting Toronto’s troubles in perspective. Because despite everything, it remains a healthy, prosperous, dynamic metropolis, with little resemblance to the smoking hell pit the headlines sometimes suggest. The Economist Intelligence Unit ranks it among the world’s most liveable cities, number 9 in a list of 173.

A recent report found that nearly 250 construction cranes were at work in Toronto, the most for any city in North America. In fact, it has more active cranes than New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington combined. That is a visible sign of confidence in the future of the city, whose skyline grows more impressive with every year. Though many floors in its office towers are empty, apartment and condominium towers continue to rise all over the city, including downtown. Just look at the dramatic changes overtaking the King-Spadina district, which is beginning to feel like Manhattan north.

The city is building new parks, schools and community centres to accommodate all the new residents. Love Park near the waterfront, with its heart-shaped pond, is just the latest example, and it’s a beauty (even if a mechanical malfunction turned the pond water temporarily green). The enormous Port Lands development on the east side of the harbour is beginning to take shape, creating a new park-lined mouth for the once-foul Don River.

After years of equivocating, the city is finally bringing in zoning and rule changes to open up more of the city to new housing. That will make it simpler to build more densely in existing neighbourhoods and along major streets, easing the housing crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of newcomers continue to stream to the Toronto region, good news for the economy and another sign of confidence in the future.

Though Toronto loves to complain about the dear old TTC, often with good reason, the city’s mass transit network is finally expanding to match its growing transportation needs. If the project ever gets finished, the new Eglinton Crosstown line will carry commuters back and forth across the city’s midsection. The Ontario Line, now under construction, will provide a new route through downtown.

The recent spate of crimes is disturbing, especially the random acts against innocent bystanders. But Toronto has had 32 homicides so far this year. Similarly sized Chicago has had more than 300.

In her inaugural speech, Ms. Chow invited Toronto to “imagine what’s possible.” If it unites to tackle its problems, she said, “our city can find its feet again. Find our swagger. Give ourselves the permission to believe that together we can move the needle of progress.”

That hit just the right note. Part of Ms. Chow’s job is to be head cheerleader for the city, even – perhaps especially – in tough times. Fortunately, there is still lots to cheer about.

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