Just One Thing . . .To improve life in Greater Toronto, what would you suggest?

Originally published in the Toronto Star on July 18, 2010. To go to the Toronto Star Website please click here

Vanessa Lu and Barbara Turnbull
Bill King, artistic director, Beaches International Jazz Festival:

“Knowing how much all of us need and celebrate the arts in all of its forms — at this time it is my belief we need a serious infusion of investment dollars to employ and exhibit our artists throughout this grand city.
We need daily concerts, exhibitions, performances of all kinds in close proximity to the public. There are millions fed into short-lived events that serve a certain segment of the populace but have little effect in addressing the continuous cycle of poverty so many of our brightest and most creative endure. New world technology has diminished and continues to decimate the arts.”

—Antonia Zerbisias

Susan Eng, CARP vice-president, advocacy:

Toronto can live up to our self-image. We imagine a Toronto which is a place of harmonious diversity, where new immigrants find familiarity and long-time residents welcome newcomers and everyone has the chance to prosper.

But then we turn ourselves inside out wondering how the Toronto 18 came to be. And ignore the fact that there is very little diversity in the corridors of power.
We pride ourselves on being an egalitarian society but then spend millions on subway lines to nowhere and bypass the areas where people rely on public transit.

The idea of a young couple buying a home or a single older woman finding affordable housing in the city provokes guilty laughter.

We value and respect our elders but call them “bed blockers” when emergency rooms try to free the beds and control budgets.

Once, it was possible for parents with modest education and skills to work in the city, raise a family and send them to university. That kind of work is gone. Our vision of ourselves is still valid but it must become everyone’s reality.

—Vanessa Lu
Michael (Pinball) Clemons, vice-chair of the Toronto Argos, and former star running back:

“For me, when you talk about making life better here, the concept I talk about is raising the floor.

This city cannot get better until the life of those who are most marginalized gets better.
That means raising the basic level of access for every individual because this city has tremendous spirit. It’s wonderfully multicultural. We will continue to build on the experiences of all the people who live here.

But until we make sure that those who have the least access to what our city has to offer, things will not get better. When their lives get better, all of our lives get better.

—Chris Zelkovich
Shelley White, CEO of the United Way of Peel Region:

“Let’s make time in our busy, fast-paced lives to get to know our neighbours. Let’s smile and say “hello,” give a compliment, offer a cup of coffee, provide a helping hand unasked. These small actions can open the door to new friendships, reduce isolation, and increase well-being for ourselves and our neighbours.

Whether we live in a condominium or on a city block, in a suburban development or out in the country, we need to somehow be connected to others. Getting to know the people in our neighbourhood gives us a greater sense of belonging and inclusiveness.

When we interact with our neighbours, we develop a bond. Caring neighbours look out for one another and support each other in achieving goals and overcoming adversity. Vibrant, interactive neighbourhoods have stronger families, create a sense of community, are safer, embrace diversity and nurture tolerance. Knowing and caring about our neighbours is the cornerstone of building strong families, caring communities and a healthy civil society.”

Roy McMurtry, former chief justice of Ontario and co-author of a report on youth violence:

“I’ve been very involved with respect to the issues facing disadvantaged youth in the GTA. I feel very strongly if there’s one thing I could do, that would be to invest in these young people by creating more recreation centres that could provide mentoring and tutoring and give them a chance in life so many of them don’t have.

If I had a magic wand . . . (I’d boost) these young people and disadvantaged neighbourhoods. They have a lack of facilities to occupy themselves and programs that would give them a greater level of confidence and self-respect, which most of all can produce hope. Unfortunately many of them don’t have that.

We are reading about all the school closings and I’d like to see many of these schools turned into community hubs, where programs, not just for the young people, but where people in the community generally can really benefit by this type of assistance. Given that a number of these schools are already closing down or been closed, there are these opportunities, not simply to sell them all for development.

There are significant financial issues associated with them, but it’s worth doing. We have a large number of younger people in particular who can be helped.”

—Barbara Turnbull