The Message

One place, One peace: In it together

RKB-JB-Credit-Michael Salem-Final-a

 

For Toronto, this was a record-breaking year.

We hosted the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, a spectacular series of events around the GTHA and beyond. The Games were a big win for Canada: our athletes won 385 medals. And a big win for Toronto, too: a civic “aha!” moment when we realized what can happen when we work together toward a common goal.

The Games gave us a chance to see our city through others’ eyes. Visitors and international media gave us top marks for our quality of life. At a time when the environment is paramount, Toronto’s green spaces got the nod. At 445 hectares per 100,000 people, our parks, ravines, backyards, and green roofs keep us 4 degrees cooler on average and remove airborne particulate matter equivalent to the output of one million cars.

For those tuned into global culture, Toronto’s concerts and museums, galleries and festivals won ovations. And residents seconded that emotion in record numbers. Attendance at City-funded or -programmed events reached 19 million and 71% of us regularly attended an arts- and cultural-related event, program, or place.

And the Games built on last year’s tourism records. The Region drew the highest-ever number of overnight visitors. This city is also a beacon for immigrants: just over half of Torontonians are foreign-born, with one-third of Torontonians having arrived in the last 25 years.

All of this international attention adds up: Toronto’s economy continues to grow. Overall employment was up 1.5% from 2013 to 2014, with 20,850 new jobs and more than 5,000 new businesses. We’re building more high- and mid-rise buildings than any other North American city. On-location filming hit a new high of $1.23 billion, and the 2014 World Pride Festival contributed $313 million to Toronto’s GDP. Plus, we continue to win accolades. For the seventh year running, the Economist has declared Toronto as the fourth most liveable city in the world.

Yet, as gratifying as these numbers are, they don’t tell the whole story. Almost twenty years after amalgamation, Toronto remains tenaciously divided. The gap between the richest and the rest in our Region is the second largest in Canada (next only to Calgary) and, after 25 years of steady growth, the income inequality gap in our city is increasing at twice the national average. We’re becoming more polarized geographically, too, as illustrated by City Hall debates on the Gardiner, “carding”, and subway-versus-LRT.

The question on everyone’s mind is how do we transcend these destructive divisions and move forward?

By wholeheartedly rejecting the divided city and embracing a new vision. By seeing ourselves as one city. A city where 140 diverse neighbourhoods pull together as one. Where Toronto is the driver of a thriving global city region.

We must become “One place.”

“One place” is a new way of thinking, working, and living together. As “One place” we will devise city-wide solutions to city-wide problems.

Like traffic. The Region’s congestion crisis continues, boasting the second longest round-trip commute – 66 minutes – of any North American city.

Like affordable housing. Toronto’s house purchase prices have tripled since the 1970s. We are the 13th least affordable major housing market in the world.

And like our health. Just under half of our young people are active and 50% of adults are overweight or obese. And while most residents (70.5%) report very good or excellent mental health, 262 people took their own lives in 2013 (that’s more than four times the number of homicides and quadruple the incidence of auto accident deaths).

As “One place” we will deliver a more effective response to those most at risk.

Like seniors. One in five Torontonians 55-plus lives alone; for those 85 and older, it’s 44%. And the numbers are rising: today, 14.76% of us are seniors; by 2036, one in four Canadians will be.

Like “the precariat.” Last year, 22.7% of us depended on temporary and contract work. Two working parents with two young children must each earn at least $18.52 an hour to make ends meet. The impact? Close to 80,000 on the active waiting list for affordable housing. More than 890,000 visits to food banks. Lowest-income men are 50% more likely to die before 75 than those with the highest income, while the poorest women are 85% more likely to have diabetes than their wealthiest counterparts. And 29% of Toronto’s children live in poverty.

Like the next generation. In 2014, youth unemployment was almost 22% in Toronto, and young people were the fastest growing homeless segment in Canada. Is it any wonder young adults don’t feel connected to their city or aren’t politically engaged? Just 39% of 18 to 24-year-olds voted in the 2011 federal election – a startling contrast to the 80% of their parents’ generation who did so at the same age.

How will we know when Toronto is getting it right? When “One place” leads to “One peace” for this city’s residents.

When we have the peace of mind that comes from knowing our youth feel optimistic about the future. The peace that comes from knowing you can make a good life for your family. And that you can age with dignity.

In fact, Toronto is already getting it right in many ways, and the 2015 Games are a case in point. They provided a platform for people to come together to do something good for the entire city. The physical and social legacies created will endure long after this summer. Even better, we now have solid proof of what we can achieve by thinking and working together.

The need for cities to get it right has never been greater. By the middle of this century, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. Toronto is one of the fastest-growing regions in Canada, so the challenges we face will only intensify.

Toronto is uniquely positioned to build the inclusive and sustainable city of the future. A great place for people to live. And a model for cities everywhere.

And who will build the “One place” of the future that will offer “One peace” to its residents? People like you.

From this day forward, you are the “One.”

 

JB Signew

John Barford
Chair
Board of Directors

RKB Signew

Rahul K. Bhardwaj
President & CEO
Toronto Foundation