Thirty-four big ideas to improve our city.
Sometimes it seems like we get a bit stuck when it comes to what our city should look like: More subways! More bike lanes! More food trucks! Less gravy! But what about thinking a little bigger? The Grid asked some of Toronto’s smartest people—experts in everything from urban planning to food to technology to comedy—just one simple question: Whatever the cost, and however hard or easy it would be to make it happen, what’s your one brilliant idea to make Toronto better? Here’s what they told us.
CREATE A CITY-WIDE NETWORK OF PARKS
Let’s do New York City’s High Line one better. Toronto should start turning some of its streets into linear parks so that we can have an entire system of green spaces cutting through the city. We could fill these parks with grass and trees and benches and chairs, and have separate paths for pedestrians and cyclists. People out for a stroll, those who want to walk to work, cyclists, roller-bladers, dog-walkers, and everyone else could have safe, accessible green space, which our city is dying for. If we transformed an average of just one in 20 streets, that would be plenty.—Richard Florida, director, the Martin Prosperity Institute
GIVE PEOPLE A BETTER WAY TO PAY THEIR DUES
What if Torontonians who were struggling to make ends meet could pay their taxes with in-kind goods or services that would give something back to their city? An artist living below the poverty line could create a work of public art, college and university graduates with student debt could man polling booths at municipal elections or plant trees in parks, seniors on social assistance could restock books at libraries or staff public zoos. The system would be set up in such a way that the value of those goods and services would compensate for the decline in tax revenue. Some people who took part would gain new skills, others might increase their social capital, and many would feel a greater sense of community pride.—Seema Jethalal, managing director, Artscape’s Regent Park Arts & Cultural Centre
GET PUPPY MARSHALLS ON THE TTC (PICTURED ABOVE)
Put one dog in every subway car on the Yonge line during rush hour. Just as some medical institutions and graduate schools keep canines around to relieve general stress, so too would the least endurable and most claustrophobic stretch of our transit system benefit from exuberant furriness. Pets, like bikes, are currently prohibited on the TTC during rush hour, but that’s when they are needed most.—Jonathan Goldsbie, journalist
MAKE TORONTO’S FLAG COOL AGAIN
The blue-and-white flag, which features the shadows of the twin City Hall towers with a red maple leaf nestled in its crotch, was designed by Rene De Santis, a 21-year-old George Brown student, back in 1974. Today, it has no presence: Our cultural trademarks are the CN Tower and OCAD University on stilts. Toronto needs to get less corporate, more campy, and fly our flag everywhere.—Nadja Sayej, ArtStars* art critic
Get Mike Holmes to work on a renovation that matters: the bathrooms at Lee’s Palace.—Nick Mount, U of T English professor; fiction editor, The Walrus
MAKE PARKING SMARTER
Right now, parking in Toronto is a miserable process. It takes forever to find a spot, and when you do, buying a ticket is a pain. It would be amazing if city parking was electronic instead. Ticketing could be charged by the minute as soon as you pull into a spot and billed to you later, since you shouldn’t have to buy 15 minutes of parking when you only need two. Just as up-to-the-second traffic information is now available in our navigation systems, available parking spots could be digitally represented as well. All we’d need to start is the Ministry of Transportation adding radio-frequency (or RF) tags to our licence plates, which would cost just pennies for each one.—Adrian Bulzacki, founder, digital- display company ARB Labs Inc.
TURN OUR ALLEYWAYS INTO CULTURAL HUBS
Toronto has miles of hidden alleyways and laneways waiting to be reclaimed and transformed into lively public spaces. Here, when people think of laneways, they think, “Oh no, they’re dirty, there are drug dealers there.” But all you’d have to do is clean them up. We could hold weekly markets with vendors and even food stands. We could hold concerts, or film screenings, and would be perfect for pop-up restaurants. In Toronto, there’s almost no more land that you can actually develop. Why can’t we re-use underused space instead?—Jim Chan, manager, Toronto Public Health Food Safety Program
DULL THE WAITING-ROOM PAIN
For emergency waiting rooms, hospitals spend money on televisions, magazines, chairs, sofas, and fake plants. But what the user really wants and needs is information: How long will I have to wait to see whether I have good reason to be as scared as I feel now? When will I hear about my loved one who’s with a doctor or in surgery? What are my options other than waiting here? One thing the TTC has gotten right is adding that little item on screens at stations telling us how long it’ll be until the next subway train arrives. But that’s not nearly as important as information in a hospital emergency room.—Roger Martin, dean, Rotman School of Management
Next page: a better way to vote—and a mountain made of garbage.