We Built Toronto with People’s Needs at the Forefront

TorontoSkylinefromIslandIn honour of World Town Planning Day on November 8, I’d like to highlight a couple of city changing insights beyond the ‘bricks and mortar’ projects that I think helped build the City of Toronto.

My passion has always focused on how urban change affects people and vice versa. And, that’s why Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) pays so much attention to public consultation and the social, cultural and socioeconomic impacts of projects.

First spotlight on socio-economic and cultural changes in the suburbs

Early in my career, I was actively involved with the Scarborough and then Metro Social Planning Council.  The Metro Social Planning Council published what I felt was a ground breaking “Suburbs in Transition” report in the late 1970s.  This report prompted many of us to change our thinking about how our City was growing differently than its US urban counterparts.  In contrast to the poverty in the inner core of US cities, it highlighted how Toronto’s suburbs were becoming immigrant reception centres with working class characteristics.

Prior to this report, planners directed city building investment dollars toward the inner City, which is where they considered most poverty existed. Fortunately, these perceptions are changing but slowly.  It’s still hard to get people to see that denying the suburbs the same resources that wealthy core Toronto neighbourhoods benefit from, such as subway transit, can hinder socio-economic advancement across the City.

Fast forward to a recent weekend in mid-October when our Rotary Club sponsored a career education workshop for 22 high-achieving Scarborough secondary school students, where I spoke to them about careers in urban planning.  In the 1960s to 1980s, most students attending this type of educational event would have had European backgrounds.  This year, all the students had South Asian or Caribbean roots.  I asked the kids if any had parents who were professionals or business owners.  Only one student put her hand up and her mom owned a restaurant.  All of their parents are essentially striving to help their children have a better life.

When I speak in other cities I point out that as Torontonians, we take pride in our multicultural diversity.  We don’t have race riots, sectarian car bombings or inner city ghettos.  Toronto (from the Rouge River to Etobicoke Creek boundary) has all races, creeds and cultures working together as city builders to create a better life for their children.  Efforts are made to be inclusive. Shouldn’t all cities be like this?

Affordable living for everyone

Second, in the 1970s, I was also actively involved with the Federation of Metro Tenants and sat on the board for a short while before Jack Layton took over as President.

The City was becoming like many US, European and Asian cities where the rental housing market was spinning out of control and rents were in some instances going up 25 to 75 per cent in one year.  There were a number of us ‘community organizers’ who helped to organize tenant associations across Toronto and in the suburbs. (North York  had its own tenant Council, which became quite powerful.) Together they pressured the Province to bring in ‘Rent Control’ and a full package of tenant rights.  While work must continue, Rent Control meant that the City would no longer be ‘gutted’ of affordable housing.

The role of the urban planner must extend beyond the bricks and mortar by taking steps to ensure that a broad spectrum of people, with varied socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures, can thrive for the long-term.

Happy World Town Planning Day to all my colleagues, particularly those who pursue bold, people-focused initiatives that make their cities affordable and viable places for everyone to enjoy a high quality of life.

Dave LowerRes Oct 2013David Hardy is a Principal of Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL).  He is a Registered Professional Planner and trained facilitator and has extensive experience in these areas. Dave has participated in over 125 environmental assessments. He has also facilitated close to 1,000 strategic planning meetings and public consultation plans for public and private clients; conducted multi-stakeholder consultation and mediation in many sectors; and completed environmental planning assignments for a variety of water and waste water projects.

About Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited

Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) is a multidisciplinary strategic planning and public affairs consultancy, focused on environmental and land use planning, stakeholder relations (including communications, facilitation, public consultation and engagement), socio-economic impact assessment, communications, engineering and related services. We have the expertise to predict and decipher technical and public policy issues, and significant experience mitigating them, building consensus and attaining even the most complex approvals. For more information, visit www.hardystevenson.com
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