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It’s time to build our city again

October 8th, 2014 · No Comments

Ex-candidate for federal seat eyes city seat

By Joe Cressy

Toronto is a great city. Survey after survey ranks Toronto amongst the top cities in the world.  And we have much to be proud of: unique and engaged neighbourhoods; a diverse population; financial and innovation hubs; a thriving arts and cultural industry; and green spaces that rival those anywhere in the world.

And yet, and yet … there are so many problems still to be resolved: gridlock, ageing infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, high youth unemployment, and the challenges of preserving a healthy environment.

Sadly, during the four years of Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor, none of these problems have been tackled with any consistency. Instead, Toronto’s reputation has been sullied and we have been forced to fight against short-sighted ideas like downtown casinos, cuts to valuable services, and jets at the island airport.

It’s time to re-engage our communities in tackling our big issues, and to invest in city-building once again.

One of the exciting things about local government is the ability to incubate new ideas, pilot new projects, and make changes that directly affect people’s lives.  If you can see it, smell it, touch it, or feel it, it’s municipal. And it’s why I’m running for city council: I want to work with our community to make changes now. Here are just three examples:

Transit.  We can get our city moving again by investing real dollars from real government commitments into buses, street cars, and light rail transit. But, it’s got to be done based on research and expert advice – not political calculations and slogans. In downtown Toronto 41% of residents walk or bicycle to work, 34% take public transit, and only 25% drive. In our downtown communities, we can reduce congestion not by building more roads, but by investing in pedestrian and cycling lanes that are safer and more convenient.

Affordable housing. That shouldn’t be a dream but, right now, it feels that way. The average house price is over $1 million. The average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is $1,700/month. And, according to Statistics Canada, 45% of Toronto adults aged 20-29 live with their parents, many because they cannot afford to move out. What can we do? Well, we can continue the transformation of public housing like the Alexandra Park revitalization project. And we can make sure that new developments have affordable housing included.

Environment. Yes, Rob Ford and Stephen Harper have their heads in the sand around climate change. But, in our local neighbourhoods, we have already experienced the effects of a changing environment, and the Annex Residents’ Association has already acted to improve the situation. Their TreesPlease program works to survey, protect, and expand Toronto’s tree canopy thereby providing more shade, removing industrial emissions from the air, and increasing property values. This is a win-win situation, improving our environment and beautifying our neighbourhoods in the process.

Three problems. Three good ideas to start solving the problems. And always ones that involve local residents.

Like many of you, I’m proud to live in Toronto. I’m also proud to live in downtown Toronto. Together, we can tackle the big issues at the neighbourhood level. It will take political will, an engaged and supportive community, good ideas around generating revenue, and a commitment to invest in our city again.

As residents and citizens — not just consumers and taxpayers — we are all participants.  We all have a role to play in shaping and building our city.

So, let’s get started. Let’s build our city again.

Joe Cressy is a candidate for city council in Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina. He is a former senior advisor at the Stephen Lewis Foundation. He lives in the Annex with his wife, Nina.

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