Thirty-four big ideas to improve our city.
HOLD A BLACKOUT HOLIDAY TWICE A YEAR
For a whole day, maybe a Saturday or Sunday around the solstices when heating and cooling systems aren’t so integral, the city should shut off all power, leaving it on only for street lights, hospitals, and other health and safety essentials.
Why? Remember what happened in August 2003 when we had that power outage? People got out of their homes and shared food with neighbours. Some described it as giving them permission to not do work after leaving the office that weekday afternoon. If everyone in the whole city had the same expectation of logging off, slowing down, and connecting with real people, we would crave the blackout as a holiday and relate more to each other.—Carlyle Jansen, owner, Good For Her sex shop
HAVE AFFORDABLE HOUSING EVERYWHERE
Affordable housing fails at creating vibrant communities when it’s segregated. One of the main things that the City of Toronto does is decide what goes where and what can be built where, and the city imposes all sorts of requirements on developers: having a certain amount of affordable housing units in any new project should be one more requirement. It won’t deter development, but it will deter dumb development, and it would help to eliminate the massive backlog of much-needed affordable housing units.—Chris Tindal, blogger/former city council candidate
BUILD A BEAUTIFUL MOUNTAIN (OUT OF GARBAGE)
Toronto needs a mountain. Where Vancouver and Montreal can gaze off into the distance from lofty peaks, we have to settle for the CN Tower. But how to build one?
Toronto produces close to 400,000 tons of residential garbage every year. By comparison, 450,000 tons of rock were blasted off of Mount Rushmore to create its presidential contours. So what if we diverted all that garbage over a few years to the Billy Bishop airport and built a mega-mountain for skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and all the other great activities only made possible by a true point of elevated land? State-of-the-art technology like gas-collection wells would ensure that the toxic and smelly dimensions of the challenge would be met much differently than in the ’60s, when we built our other garbage mountain at Centennial Park in Etobicoke. You could even build the airport into the mountain—a garbage runway might make for a softer landing. What better way to boost our own environmental profile than to divert all that waste from those who don’t want it and turn it into something amazing?—Paddy Harrington, executive creative director, Bruce Mau Design
TRANSFORM COMMUNITY-HOUSING BUILDINGS INTO DESTINATIONS
Whether it’s downtown or uptown, east or west, there are all these Toronto Community Housing towers that have only little tiny convenience stores—if that—etched into their bases. But imagine what a city would look like if next to that was also a hairdresser, a little takeout restaurant, a daycare, or someone selling computer parts.
We need to explore opportunities to create micro-enterprises in this city, and the bases and parking lots of apartment buildings in particular are amazing spaces to start small businesses or provide goods and services to a community. Creating hundreds of little businesses now will create thousands of jobs soon, and if you did that, you’d see a social and economic transformation in pockets of Toronto that are kind of dormant right now and, at times, falling behind. It may even give people who never go near a particular building or neighbourhood a reason to.—Adam Vaughan, city councillor, Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina)
MAKE OUR VOTES COUNT
In an election, a ranked ballot lets you rank your preferences—your first, second, and third choice—rather than just checking one box. If any candidate gets more than 50 per cent of the first-place votes on the first count, then they win. It’s over. If no one reaches 50 per cent, then we have what’s called an instant run-off, where the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is dropped, and those ballots are transferred to whomever the second choices were on each. That system repeats until someone has a majority, and wins.
Right now, Toronto’s political culture is an insider game. New voices get accused of “splitting the left” or “splitting the right” and are often asked to drop out. If they stay in, their campaigns suffer further from strategic voting. That wouldn’t happen with ranked ballots. As a voter, you’d get more choice, you’d always get to vote with your heart, and you wouldn’t have to vote strategically.—Dave Meslin, campaign director, RaBIT.ca
BUILD AN UNBORING MUSEUM OF TORONTO
There are a lot of museums in Toronto, but no museum of Toronto.
Serious proposals to fix that have been floated for at least half a century, at sites ranging from St. Lawrence Hall to the Horticulture Building at the CNE to the grain silos at the foot of Bathurst Street. Geographically and symbolically, though, you can’t beat the courtyard hidden inside of Old City Hall. A report by city staff last year [PDF] suggested that a standalone museum could be constructed there, and entered through the building’s main doors on Queen Street West.
The key thing would be reprogramming exhibits all the time to keep people interested. So, for example, the 50th anniversary of New City Hall is coming up, and there were 510 entries in the competition to design it. Wouldn’t it be great to have a show where you could see all of those? And then you would move on to something completely different, like the music scene in Yorkville in the 1960s, or the history of alcohol in the city. You could have an exhibition on the Rebellion of 1837, and actually have the banner that the rebels rallied under right there. And because it’s the history of our community, going to a communal place to learn about it—not only learn about it, but discuss and debate it—is inherently different from sitting by yourself and looking at something on a computer or in a book.
We’ve got the artifacts, the location, and the population to support it. All we need now is the will to make it a reality.—Mark Osbaldeston, author, Unbuilt Toronto and Unbuilt Toronto 2
BANISH ALL OUTDOOR COMMERCIAL ADS
I think many people find advertising quite invasive in Toronto. But imagine what Yonge-Dundas Square or Queen West would look like without any commercial advertising—without any logos, without any ads, and without any slogans. Imagine, instead, seeing the buildings you weren’t able to before, seeing the sky and green spaces, or even, in the case of the new Astral info-pillars, seeing where you’re walking, cycling, and driving. Imagine not being bombarded by messages that you’re not seeking out. On the business side of things, banning outdoor commercial advertising would actually force companies to think of different ways to get people to buy their product or support their brand, such as improving the quality of products and services, rather than putting that money into getting bigger and louder.—Sean Martindale, public intervention artist
SHOW US THE WAY AT SPADINA STATION
The morning commute via the southbound Spadina streetcar is a terrible user experience (or “UX”), but it doesn’t have to be. Inside Spadina Station, three long, snaking lines of people wait for southbound streetcars, blocking the flow of commuters exiting the northbound streetcars. A few hundred dollars in vinyl floor signage could indicate the optimal line-up configuration so that people wouldn’t have to guess. Built into this signage would be strategic gaps where perpendicular commuter traffic could pass through the line. This is not rocket science—just a bit of design thinking.—Ryan Bigge, digital content strategist, Nurun
GIVE OUR RECREATION OPTIONS SOME BALLS
Public tennis courts: Toronto needs more of them, everywhere. Joining any of the city’s swish racket clubs requires major bucks and, over the years, Toronto’s public courts have dwindled in number. Though there are still a few oases in the downtown core (check out the beauties in Wychwood Park at Christie and Davenport), most are broken-down, cement-cracked, glorified parking lots with metal fencing parading as nets. Barbaric! Dangerous! Inexcusable.
I was so inspired by Tibi Tibi Neuspiel and Geoffrey Pugen’s The Tie-break at last year’s Nuit Blanche. An outdoor tennis court right in the Financial District? Amazing. Or look at Bickford Park at Harbord and Grace. It doesn’t need two baseball diamonds. Reduce it to one, keep the soccer field, and throw in two outdoor courts. Indoor courts are just as important when the weather stinks, too. Why not have bubbles, like Eglinton Flats at Eglinton and Jane, across the city? That’s the Toronto I’d want to live in.—Nobu Adilman, co-founder, CHOIR!CHOIR!CHOIR!
PULL CARS OFF THE ROAD
It’s time to ban parking on the main streets of Toronto and use the space left over for bicycle lanes, physically separated wherever possible. This would improve the flow of car traffic, which would please drivers, and create much safer conditions for cyclists, which would please them. Parking would instead be available underground or in above-ground parking garages so that neighbourhood streets would not be affected. Think of Yonge-Dundas Square, which is actually the roof of a subterranean parking lot.
Merchants would be initially opposed, of course, but in fact, less cluttered streets and an increased number of bike riders and pedestrians would enhance business wonderfully. Cities as varied as Copenhagen and Calgary have designated pedestrian-only streets and have found that foot traffic is better for business than parking, even when it’s cheap. Besides, arteries like Bloor, College, Dundas, Queen, King, Jarvis, Bay, and Yonge are too important to be blocked day and night with parked cars.—Christopher Hume, urban issues columnist, Toronto Star
Next page: bridging the downtown–suburbs divide, and ditching the Gardiner for good.