Three big ideas to transform the city

Build the city around its people

What if . . .

. . . Toronto was a city that planned around its people? What if politicians truly fought for the families that live and work here, the young people who go to school and look for work, the parents and grandparents who worry about them and need some help themselves to pay the bills or just get around?

A city is not just an aggregation of budgets and programs; it is a physical thing, which ought to be designed with its residents in mind. For a city to work properly, politicians, bureaucrats and voters must always put people first.

How would your big idea transform the city?

As we continue to build the city, we must follow universal design principles to ensure, for example, that doorways are wide enough for both wheelchairs and the monster prams that are so popular now. Expressways should not be allowed to tear through neighbourhoods just to get commuters through town more quickly. Public health and social services should be placed in community hubs like underused schools so that local residents can walk to get the services they need, to use the gym or attend a political meeting. Construction schedules should follow some kind of logic that the average commuter can decipher and accept.

How much would your idea cost?

It costs nothing to think about people first and it could even save us money. Take seniors. If sidewalk furniture, slower crossing lights and vibrant community hubs encouraged them to get out more, they would become healthier, less socially isolated and more engaged in their community. Since this could reduce demand on health care and nursing homes, the province should want to fund such measures.

The denizens of any city, no matter how cosmopolitan, should feel that they come first.

Susan Eng, Vice-President, Advocacy, CARP

This article was published by The Toronto Star on March 10th, 2014. To see this article and other related articles on their website, click here.

Use public-private partnerships to solve the transit crisis

What if . . .

. . . private/public partnerships were the key to solving our transit crisis?

There seems to be no shortage of ideas for ambitious and visionary public transit projects in Toronto. What is in short supply are ideas about how to effectively make them happen.

Several comprehensive transit plans have emerged recently ; but each faces two high hurdles: lack of financing and incompetent delivery organizations. Every proposed revenue tool for public transit ; whether road tolls, gas, sales or property tax increases ; has been squashed by a lack of political will. So we flounder from one parochial scheme to another. Meanwhile, it is hard to find anyone in the know who has confidence in either the TTC or Metrolinx to build anything on time or on budget.

We need to look at entirely new funding models and implementation strategies. In Toronto we have seen the great potential of public/private partnerships to efficiently develop hospitals, courthouses and prisons. The citys housing arm is redeveloping three huge public housing projects with private sector partners. Why not public transit?

How would your big idea transform the city?

The most exciting precedent is Hong Kongs privately owned transit company. That citys system puts Torontos to shame. Passengers enjoy fantastic service in modern rail cars. The governments operating involvement is limited to providing land and the right to develop it.

Ottawa is planning to use a similar mechanism to build an LRT, but Toronto provides a much more dynamic opportunity. The TTC alone owns huge amounts of real estate. Why, for instance, is the former bus depot land at Yonge and Eglinton still vacant? Underused city-owned land is everywhere.

Imagine a consortium of our best corporations given the rights to a build and manage a new Toronto transit network. We have the engineering, technical and construction experience ; companies like Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin are providing expertise and hardware worldwide.

How much would your idea cost?

We have no shortage of corporate money looking for good investment opportunities. The government role would be primarily to contribute land and real estate rights. The consortium would take over from there. If a private company can give Hong Kong one of the best transit systems in the world, why not Toronto?

Break down barriers to regional solutions

What if . . .

. . . we started acting more strategically as a region? What if we broke down the silos that limit our ability to solve irreducibly regional issues ; like gridlock and job creation ; that require truly collaborative solutions.

How would your big idea transform the city?

In a word ; progress!

There is no one solution to making our city more vibrant, economically successful and livable. But without regionwide collaboration, nothing will work.

Take transit and economic development. In both these areas we have many players, but no clarity regarding authority or accountability.

In the case of transit, we cannot improve matters without a regional organization with the ability to pool resources and the clear authority to make and implement decisions. We need a framework that wont allow partisan politics or intergovernmental finger-pointing to delay progress. This requires leaders at all levels to build this new structure and summon the fortitude to support it. Rather than talking endlessly about possible solutions, we would see concrete gains. Imagine that.

Same with economic development. Our region currently has a plethora of agencies, which often get in each others way even as they pursue the same ends. There is enormous overlap among these agencies and a lack of clarity regarding leadership and decision-making authority. Theres no doubt that we need to accelerate job-creation in our region, but we cannot do that in the absence of functional economic clusters. Of course this will require resources, but more than that, it requires the will to collaborate. Thats what we need to get our economy moving.

How would your idea be funded?

Clearly we require new revenue streams to fund the transit solutions we need. The province and municipalities are doing their share. We must work on predictable contributions from Ottawa.

Meanwhile, economic development is supported by all levels of government, as well as the private sector. The challenge is bringing these investments together to support a regional, silo-free strategy. Thats the only way forward.

Howard Cohen, Architect, Context

Anne Sado, President, George Brown College

© The Toronto Star