1 year out: Toronto leaders talk about the biggest challenges facing our city

It's one year until the next municipal election in Toronto. That means we'll be hearing lots from candidates, councillors and residents in the coming months, but what do leaders in our community think we should be focusing on in an election year? We asked developers, police, community organizers and city planners to weigh in.

City planners, developers, police weigh in on what Toronto's priorities should be in an election year

Some of Toronto's most engaged residents and leaders weigh in on what needs to be the focus of the 2018 election, one year out. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

It's one year until the next municipal vote in Toronto. That means we'll be hearing more from candidates, city councillors and residents in the coming months, but what do leaders in our community think we should be focusing on in an election year?

We asked developers, police, community organizers and city planners to weigh in. 

Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief planner for Toronto

"Do we want to be a 21st Century city that is sustainable, that is focused on walkable places where you can cycle, where you have great access to transit? If that's what we want to be then we need to be investing our money in a fundamentally different way," says Keesmaat. 

"We've already accepted ... a tremendous amount of density in this city and that's a good thing," she says. "But there's another part that's all about the public space in the public realm; ensuring we have the park space to support all of those people, ensuring we have the amenities such as schools, such as recreation centres, in order to support that density and ensure that we are a livable city over the long term." 

Brad Lamb, Toronto developer

"I think there's plenty of challenges facing the city of Toronto going forward. I think that infrastructure is probably the largest problem we have; there's not enough sewer capacity. As a developer we're constantly having problems with our developments because of that," says Lamb.

"There's this massive anti-development sentiment within the city of Toronto, within the public sector of it and there's this bizarre fear of height." 

Lamb says in an election year he wants people talking about growth, and educating the public on rules around zoning and intensification in the city. 

Kaltuma Haji, Somali community worker

"The biggest challenge I'll say that's facing my community right now is mostly the language barrier and not knowing how to navigate the system, not knowing who to connect with when they come to the country as a newcomer," says Haji.

"I want to see more community centres built," she says. "I think the city really needs to focus to see what the youth are doing. Are we creating community centres for them where they can burn off their energy?" she asked. 

"The youth dying, it's because they're really idle. They are walking around the streets doing nothing. So I want the city to really look into what we're missing." 

Andy Byford, Toronto Transit Commission CEO

"This is a growing city, a global city, a 24-hour city," says Byford. "That does create problems and challenges for us as the transit provider." 

"We need to continually build the TTC out; add more subway, more LRT lines ... so we can continue to serve what is a growing city." 

"[The candidates] have got to be  transit friendly. They've got to understand that transit is really the life-blood of Toronto," he says. 

Byford describes the challenges facing the TTC in Toronto as three-fold.

"We have aging infrastructure trying to carry ever-greater customer numbers on limited funding. The TTC still is the lowest subsidized transit in North America," Byford says. "A real plea for me would be to move away from what is a bit of a hand-to-mouth, year-over-year budgetary process."  

Olivia Nuamah, Pride Toronto executive director

"Certainly the most vital thing for us is equity and ensuring that everybody has the same opportunities in this city, regardless of who they are or how they identify." says Nuamah. 

"I would love to see a more rigorous approach to collecting data, I would love to see a more rigorous approach to understanding exactly who makes up the communities of this city, their income levels and their quality of life," she says

"We would like to see equity policies and anti-discrimination practice that gets much, much, much lower to the ground of people's real experiences." 

James Ramer, acting chief, Toronto Police Service

"From our policing perspective, security is a big issue for us," says Ramer. 

"We're constantly monitoring what's happening around the world, including what's happening here in Toronto to ensure we're doing what needs to be done to ensure the community is safe."

"There's been different security enhancements taken across the city and I think that's something that's a huge priority for us." 

Ramer says in addition to public safety at events, taking the time to implement the police's plan to modernize needs to be a key focus of the city moving toward an election. 

Jared Kolb, Cycle TO executive director

"I think the number one issue that is facing Toronto is a growing road safety crisis," says Kolb.

"We live in a city where a pedestrian is hit every three hours of every day of the year and a cyclist is hit every six hours ... Our most vulnerable are being most impacted," he says. 

"I seriously believe this city has got to come to grips with its road safety crisis and commit to bold action to solving that crisis."

Kolb says there are many changes the city could make to ensure the roads are safer, but one idea should be implemented right away. 

"On the pedestrian file a city-wide reduction of speed limits is top of mind." 


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