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2016: three city experts on the year ahead

Toronto should make the most of its diversity, enhance civic pride, keep carbon low and infrastructure aims high

bird's-eye photo of Toronto

Infrastructure issues are bound to dominate Toronto debate in 2016, experts say (photo by Sam Javanrouh via Flickr)

Inspired by politicians like John Tory who look to U of T for expertise and advice, U of T News asked several experts in civic affairs to suggest areas where Toronto should take action in 2016.

They are Shauna Brail, appointed by President Meric Gertler last July as his adviser on urban affairs; Patricia McCarney, director of the Global Cities Institute and Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor of geography and an expert on transit and infrastructure.

Five Ideas from Shauna Brail

photo of Shauna BrailContinue to build civic pride

Keep doing all the things that make Toronto work and that make people proud to call Toronto home. Relatively small things like the 3-D Toronto sign, showing playoff games in the bird’s nest, encouraging civility on council and among city hall staff, and willingness to attend events across the city and engage with people throughout. 

Affordable housing and transportation

When the Mayor recently announced a city building tax, he signaled that two key priorities would be affordable housing and transportation. These align well with recent federal infrastructure commitments; furthermore, the provincial government is also clearly invested in the supply and delivery of infrastructure, especially as it relates to regional transportation.

By working collaboratively, the city has an opportunity to address the significant shortfall of affordable housing, the repair backlogs and the insufficient funding and supply of public transit. Investment in these two areas also addresses job training and community development goals through job creation and the implementation of community benefits agreements.

Parking on Dundas between River and Parliament

It strikes me as odd that one can park for free on a main thoroughfare with access to an aquatic centre, a cultural centre, shopping and parks. The city could share the parking income with Regent Park residents to support additional access to swimming lessons and cultural activities. Also, the city should think ahead about the contribution of parking income to the city’s finances. This income is likely to decline as fewer young people use cars, as alternative transportation options increase – particularly in dense urban neighbourhoods – and as technology shifts towards autonomous vehicles.  

Ensure that Toronto City Hall looks like Toronto

Because it’s almost 2016, and because Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world, Council and staff should reflect our diversity. Currently, City Council includes 32 per cent women and 14 per cent visible minorities. The Mayor’s executive committee has 13 people, among them four women and two visible minorities. The ward boundary review process could have the potential to improve representation across the city, depending on which approach is chosen. In addition, staff hiring processes have the potential to be more responsive and flexible than electoral ones.

Draw on resources and talent outside of City Hall

This wealth of resources includes universities and colleges, civic organizations, and think tanks. We are in an era of unprecedented interest in cities. This shift presents an exciting but also daunting opportunity, given the challenges. The city should rely on expertise and strengths outside of City Hall. These resources can help develop dynamic, innovative, evidence-based and globally informed policies and practices that address urban challenges and necessary change. 

Three Ideas from Patricia McCarney

photo of Patricia McCarneyA low-to-no-carbon city

For Toronto to take a leading role in moving the needle on carbon emissions, the city requires massive infrastructure investment to expand public transportation and to create low-carbon mobility solutions, to build low-carbon energy solutions for buildings with a movement towards a city powered by electricity from renewable sources. The city must scale up local renewable energy production and improve energy efficiency in buildings, and expand and innovate waste management practices. High calibre city level data should drive this investment. 

Multi-level governance on climate

City progress on the climate agenda depends heavily on collaboration with senior levels of government. Actions on climate by provincial governments across Canada support city climate targets.

For example, Ontario’s policy to phase out coal power reduced Toronto’s emissions from electricity production. Toronto’s data on electricity from renewable sources places it in the highest ranks among global peers at 29 per cent.

Moving forward as a global leader

Toronto has lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per capita (at 7.33 tonnes per capita) than, for example, Boston (10.8 tonnes per capita) and Los Angeles (13.39 tonnes per capita). However, relative to other European cities, Toronto produces higher GHG emissions per capita than Barcelona, London and Amsterdam (which range from 2.36 to 5.5 tonnes per capita).

Seven Ideas from Matti Siemiatycki

photo of Matti SiemiatyckiRapid transit priorities

With transit projects on the drawing board far exceeding the amount of money available, in 2016 the city will have to start coming up with a list of priorities. SmartTrack? Scarborough subway? Downtown relief line? Sheppard LRT? Which of these projects make sense and which should be built first are important questions to resolve in the coming year.

Affordable housing

Toronto has an affordable housing crisis, characterized by a tight private rental housing market and over 78,000 households actively on the social housing waiting list. In 2016 can city council come up with creative ways to fund new public housing units and expand the size of the affordable private rental market?

Addressing climate change

Cities around the world are taking a leadership role in implementing policies to combat climate change. Can Toronto keep pace with the most ambitious cities and implement policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Immigrant settlement

In 2015, Toronto, and Canada, opened their doors to Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their home country. Can their arrival be used as an opportunity to ensure that the city is welcoming to all newcomers in the future?

Control cost overruns on infrastructure

With the new federal government promoting infrastructure and the city set to embark on many new large projects over the coming years, implementing strategies to control cost overruns should be an important priority for 2016.

Waterfront 2.0

With the development of the eastern waterfront well under way, attention in 2016 will turn to getting activity started in the Port Lands. This will require creative thinking and political manoeuvring to fund the necessary flood protection, land servicing and transit, and get building started in the area.

Uber vs. taxi

Mayor John Tory and City Council will be under pressure in 2016 to come up with a solution to the conflict between conventional taxis and ride sharing services like Uber. Can they come up with a resolution that is acceptable to all the industry players and passengers?


Photo above by Sam Javanrouh