By: Natalija Fisher
David Hulchanski’s “Three Cities Within Toronto” was the inspiration behind the workshop that sought to capture the vision and needs of a city facing growing income disparity and varying living experiences across neighbourhoods.
On March 31, 25 community builders, activists, writers, and engaged citizens came together at the Centre for Social Innovation in Regent Park – Canada’s oldest social housing initiative and a vibrant neighbourhood that has been undergoing an intensive revitalization process since 2003.
Focusing on the voices of neighbourhoods outside of the immediate downtown core led to a more diverse conversation than the roundtable that my co-hosts Dana, Alex and I met at. The usual suspects of green spaces, green infrastructure and transit reappeared but other priorities surfaced, including mental health services and stigmatization, representational equity, youth employment, affordable food and housing, racialized policies and criminalization of youth. In addition to facets of urban planning, the discussion drew upon the need to improve social, public, and health services – together this painted a more comprehensive image of the city that citizens want to live in.
Key themes that emerged from the thinking hats exercise were:
Accessibility to transit, jobs, food, decision-making, and art.
The desire for a needs-based approach to planning emerged naturally. Ideas generated by participants reflected this and included learner-centered education, supportive and affordable housing, and spaces designed to meet the needs of all ages and abilities.
Affordability of housing, food, and transportation.
Diversifying transit options was one idea for making 20-minute commutes both affordable and possible. Urban gardening was another idea that emerged to promote urban food security.
Inclusion of citizens, youth, the elderly, and people with lived experience.
Ideas for engaging citizens across all demographics included participatory budgeting, ranked ballots, and improved public consultations. This was linked to feelings of being connected, supported, and safe in your community. Roundtable participants felt strongly about removing barriers to run for public office by revisiting the qualifications for these positions and financing structures, as well as providing impactful opportunities for youth to become civically engaged.
Even though it was late on a Tuesday night, everyone was passionate about creating a more liveable city and finding ways to bridge the divide between neighbourhoods. We are excited to see the ideas formed and connections made take root and blossom!