Transit, bike lanes, community interaction, a boost for the music scene ... oh, and did we mention transit? We asked planners, mayors, city-builders and visionaries to share their big ideas to improve the GTA in 2014.
General Manager, City of Toronto Transportation Services
We’re looking to provide personalized information [for drivers]. If we can provide alerts, they have the option of staying later, taking a different mode or taking a different route. I could envision us doing something where [if you drive] maybe northbound DVP from 4 to 6 p.m., if there’s something out of the norm we would give you a text alert.
I’d love to see if we can build on the GO alerts system. What we’d do is roll it out for the Don Valley and the Gardiner as our test. Then we would look to slowly expand it. I think it’s important that whatever we do, we do it on a regional basis and not have Markham doing one thing and the MTO another and Toronto another.
It will cost money. Starting it will likely be in the millions of dollars, and maintaining it would probably be in the millions per year. However, we have a multibillion-dollar problem, so I think this would a worthwhile investment.
Collective Concerts and the Horseshoe Tavern. Mr. Cohen was recently named to the newly formed Toronto Music Industry Advisory Council
Some of us on the council are advocates for deregulation [of the city’s live music industry].
We’re hoping some of the bylaws that are sitting on the books of city hall are going to go through a transformation. We’re talking about municipal licensing and poster bylaws. Certain areas of town can’t have free concerts. So, there’s a movement to have city councillors say more ‘yes’ than ‘no’ in the future.
There’s a push for the government to back the music industry in the way they do the film industry. Thirty years ago, if you wanted to get a shoot on a Toronto street, you probably couldn’t get it. Now it’s fast-tracked. Some people don’t like that. But I think it’s good for the city. It creates jobs. With this new music advisory council, the conversation can start.
Principal of Diamond Schmitt Architects
We have a huge infrastructure deficit. To render us competitive, we have to do two things: one, have an infrastructure as good as anywhere. We used to, and we don’t. The mass transit system lags way behind. And number two, we need the soft infrastructure to support people and families who are living in the downtown core. That means clinics and libraries and parks, but also the development of community, the quality of our streets, the lighting, the trees – all of those things that improve the quality of life.
On the waterfront, what’s been proposed is an airport that is the sixth largest in Canada. A small airport is tolerable. A larger one, to me, is a Trojan horse: everyone will want to compete, once Porter has a runway that can accommodate jets. In cities around the world, you can understand the quality of the city by how they treat their waterfront. We have taken many years to change the waterfront from an industrial zone into a mixed use area. We have invested $1.6-billion in public money, and this would be working against that effort. It’s madness.
Director, Toronto Park People
The city shouldn’t be charging park groups to volunteer to improve their parks. We’ve now got more than 100 park groups around the city. People are volunteering to take care of trees and clean up their park and do all these things that build a better park and a better community.
But the city still has this policy of charging them. If you’re going to take care of the trees in your park or do a garbage pick-up in the park, you have to pay for a permit and insurance. It just sends all the wrong signals. The city shouldn’t put up barriers to the kind of work that park groups do. We’ve helped us go from 40 parks friends groups to over 100 in the last two years. Every year, they have to write cheques to the city, and there’s a worry that eventually it is going to lead to volunteer burnout.
President and CEO, Oxford Properties
I’m totally biased because I was one of the 13 panel members for the Premier’s transit panel, but I think the single greatest problem in our city today is transportation and transit. And I think there’s a solution on the table, which has been articulated by us in this panel, and I do think it is the single biggest opportunity for relieving congestion, for creating some infrastructure investment, for unlocking some of the gridlock metaphorically and otherwise. And it’s a clean simple financing methodology that we’ve stress-tested and would work.
It’s not perfect. It requires drivers to pay a little more in gas tax – although I have to say often from one day to the next there’s a three-cent spread and there hasn’t been an increase in gas tax for a long time. So it does require a little bit of pain for all of us who drive. No solution would be sensible if it didn’t ask companies to do something, because they’re the greatest beneficiaries of increased productivity when the system’s in place. And so a small incremental increase in the corporate income tax at the provincial level is also a piece of the puzzle. It is doable, it is really simple, and absolutely the right thing to do for the region.
President, Ryerson University
My idea for Toronto is to be open, welcoming and supportive to young innovators.
I know from the Digital Media Zone [an ideas and technology incubator] at Ryerson what happens when you trust young people to learn, and give them an environment where they can take a calculated risk on their ideas. It’s a risk because there is no innovation without pushing the boundaries so far you might fail. It’s calculated because the right support systems can make the leap worth taking, help navigate pitfalls, share expertise, celebrate success, and build confidence.
Three years ago, I only had an inkling of what was possible with the DMZ. Today, young entrepreneurs are coming to Toronto because this is where digital media is the model. All we need is the will to do it, and nothing can stop us from having the greatest city in the world, where innovation is our way of life.
Chief Planner, City of Toronto
I’d like to have the private sector champion bike lanes by sponsoring specific stretches.
We know the private sector is very concerned about congestion. This is an opportunity for them to probably have the most profound impact on congestion of any initiative in the next five years. They can contribute to the health of their employees and increase quality of life in the city, which is really important to being able to attract workers, in particular that 18- to 34-year-old cohort.
The size of our planning team that works on cycling is tiny. So let’s double or quadruple our efforts. How? We need money to do the planning and money to implement the infrastructure. It’s about expediting and rolling out on a massive scale the implementation of our new bike-policy framework. I think it would be pretty difficult for council to turn down cycling infrastructure paid for by the private sector, I really do.
York University professor and co-founder of the Greater Toronto Suburban Working Group
My proposal for 2014 is to make a leap forward and try to create councils and roundtables and begin to come together across these municipal borders. [I want] the good people in Toronto – the builders and the urbanists and the community organizers and all the people who have been building this region from the ground up – to receive more attention for what they are doing.
I think it’s important that we look across Steeles Avenue to the north and the people north of Steeles Avenue look south and the Humber River is not so much of a boundary, and on the other side the Rouge River is not a boundary. People should be starting to think of these boundaries as thresholds of conversation rather than boundaries of exclusion. If I had the energy and power and resources to do so, I would, in 2014, stage four to six conversations as trial balloons to say, “Let’s sit together.”
Mayor of Mississauga
What we need is co-ordination and co-operation in the GTA to solve the gridlock problem on behalf of the people of the GTA. We need it to get the job done. [We need] Metrolinx to set the priority and get on with the priority jobs, and the province and federal government to fund the project. We’re moving forward very quickly with our light rail transit on Hurontario Street from the lake up to Brampton, and we’ll be ready when the province has the funding.
Chef/Owner of North 44, Bymark, One, McEwan and Fabbrica
I would love if the city came to the drawing board and said ‘This is our grand plan for the next 20 years: We’re going to build a King Street subway, a Dundas subway, and a Don Mills subway to take the pressure off Yonge Street.’
[Mr. McEwan has businesses at Don Mills, as well as a restaurant in the Financial District.]
I’m not on King Street, I’m on Wellington downtown. And Don Mills is the only likely artery. You could put it on Leslie, but Leslie wouldn’t make a lot of sense. When you look at the city structurally, it would take all the Scarborough traffic and take it to Union station.
When you look at the great cities of the world, they’re all built on a great subway network. If we’re going to grow and continue to prosper and be a really vital, vibrant city, we have to have mass transit.
Director, Toronto District School Board
It sounds very simple, but I do feel that it will have a big impact on the life and the relationships of our citizens in Toronto in every way. And it’s as simple as this: I challenge the citizens and businesses in Toronto to go on a community walk once a month, to really get to know their community, to really get to know the people in their community, the buildings in their community … If you really look at our city, do we know each other?
[I’m] challenging our citizens and our business and our partners to go on walks through the community, 15 minutes or 20 minutes, once a month, take a look at who’s around you, take a look at the buildings, take a look at the sidewalks, and who’s on those sidewalks. You get a chance to meet new people, get to learn stories … If every business and every partner in a community went on a walk, they might say ‘Oh, this is the school in this community, they’re serving kindergarten to Grade 8 students. I wonder what I can do to help?’
It really promotes that mutual respect for each organization within a community. It helps us understand the people, the challenges and possibly tackle any community issues we might have.
Dean, John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at University of Toronto
The City of Toronto logo, the one that has the supposed profile of city hall on it, needs to be changed. To start with, it’s very, very ugly and a poor piece of graphic design. As an architect, I have a particular dislike for this logo because what it does is take a building that is aggressively three dimensional and tries to reduce it to a profile. It’s the wrong symbol.
We need something more inclusive. That building was an important symbol when it was built, but it is no longer that. A very cost-effective way to effect a change in the atmosphere of the public realm is to change the typeface and the quality of the signage, and a new logo would call the eye to those things like signage and street furniture that people get used to, and cause people to become more aware of the quality of their surroundings – and then maybe [they’ll] be better advocates for transforming their surroundings.
President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade
How to fund the Toronto region’s transportation needs is the question of our time. The answer lies in Big Ideas and importantly boldness in carrying it out. Twenty-thirteen was the year of reports. Twenty-fourteen must be the year of action.
The Toronto Region Board of Trade advanced recommendations in March. The City of Toronto followed in April, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and Metrolinx in May, and the Golden Panel in December. Numerous other stakeholders also weighed in. Enough. Our economy and quality of life is being dragged down by gridlock.
The Toronto region needs leadership committed to funding and building transportation in our region and in our time. The public is seeking solutions. Many other city regions around the world have risen to this challenge and we can, too. It’s the Toronto region’s turn. We can turn 2014 into the year of action and beat our gridlock challenge.
President and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Toronto’s pretty good at “Neighborhood.” Now we need to embrace “Cityhood.”
Cityhood demands that we capitalize on our collective assets. It’s not just about green space, pedestrian hubs, bike lanes and transportation infrastructure. It means “Doors Open” every day – parks and buildings that are safe and accessible to their neighbourhood. It means mobilizing invisible ambassadors and hidden advocates: fifth generation citizens whose ancestors created the form and function of Toronto, new Canadians contributing to tone and texture in the city, indigenous people who understood the value of our location and gave us our name.
Let’s stop talking 416 vs. 905; 647 and 289 are way more interesting. Passion for our city lives everywhere. Let’s bottle it and make Toronto a city that shocks your system to life and demands full participation. Cityhood requires a sense of belonging. Cityhood is what I mean when I say “I’m from Toron’o .”
These interviews have been edited and condensed
Compiled by Caroline Alphonso, Dakshana Bascaramurty, Alex Bozikovic, Tara Deschamps, Ann Hui, Gayle MacDonald, Dave McGinn, Oliver Moore, Tara Perkins and Brad Wheeler