Travels with daughter enable fresh look at community
By Mike Layton
Growing up in our neighbourhood, I thought I knew it inside and out, but I’ve spent the last year seeing it through a new set of eyes. Joined by my daughter, Phoebe, I have developed a new understanding of our community. You may have seen me with Phoebe in her carrier or stroller singing or crying as we pass. While I have lived in this community my entire life, these journeys with her have opened my eyes to a world I had not seen before.
Our community is exploding with children. Phoebe’s classes will be full and she will have no shortage of friends within walking distance from our house. This became apparent in our struggle to find childcare. While on every local wait-list since well before Phoebe was born, we only managed to secure a spot when she was 11 months old, just weeks before my partner returned to work.
“Phoebe and I spent sunny spring afternoons playing in our parks, hot summer evenings swimming in Christie Pits, rainy and cold days spent in one of our neighbourhood drop-in centres.”
Once you find that child care space, you have to pay for it. Infant care provided by the City of Toronto is $107 a day, which amounts to $2,140 a month and over $25,000 a year. That’s more than many people spend on rent. By comparison, in Quebec, it’s just over $7 a day, which amounts to $150 a month or $1,800 a year. That means we pay $23,000 more a year in Toronto for infant care than they do in Quebec. Toronto can and should be doing better.
We do have great public services in our community. Phoebe and I spent sunny spring afternoons playing in our parks, hot summer evenings swimming in Christie Pits, rainy and cold days spent in one of our neighbourhood drop-in centres. Friday mornings are spent at the song circle at the Palmerston Library and Friday evenings at moms’ happy hour (dads invited) at a local pub. The stroller lineup for infant play circle at Artscape Shaw’s College Montrose Children’s Place is enormous, but well worth it.
It’s not just children enjoying our services. Our parks, libraries, pools, and community centres are bursting with people of all ages socializing, staying physically active, and enjoying themselves. These services are critical to a prosperous and healthy city and not all neighbourhoods have access to what we have in the downtown.
One thing that is painfully clear when you walk around our neighbourhood with a stroller is just how inaccessible our community spaces can be. While it is easy to manoeuver a stroller over a curb to avoid obstacles, this is not always possible for people with other mobility constraints.
Garbage and recycling days are often the most difficult. Even when bins are arranged properly, the width of larger bins can constrain many sidewalks and render them completely impassable for several blocks. This problem can be easily solved if those arranging the bins ensure that there is necessary space for others to use the sidewalk.
Speaking of sidewalks, as we enter the winter months we can help people use the sidewalk in front of our homes safely. Five minutes of shovelling can help improve the lives of hundreds of people as they pass your house. And trust me, it gets noticed. Be nice, clear your ice!
My family relies primarily on the TTC to get around (now that Phoebe is one, we’ll switch some trips to our bikes and get more use out of the Bloor bike lane). If you’ve ever been frustrated by a stroller taking up vital space on a busy subway, please don’t blame the parent, they are having an equally frustrating trip. Many stations still don’t have elevators making stairs a particular challenge. The new buses are great, but the older streetcars are a nightmare for dragging a stroller up and down.
These little daily challenges that I would not have noticed just a year ago, have become a serious factor in travel choices. Yes, as a parent I have options, but this brings to mind those who do not have options and are forced to spend extra hours to get around our city to ensure they have access to where they need to go. We need to do a better job in making our city accessible.
All of this is to say that my experience as a new Dad has really opened up my eyes to a completely different life in a neighbourhood that I have lived in for decades. This has been a great lesson in empathy and has reinforced for me, as an elected official, the importance of trying to see the world through the eyes of others.
Mike Layton is the Toronto City Councillor for Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.
READ MORE BY MIKE LAYTON
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FORUM: Happy New Year from a new Dad with a new perspective (January 2016)