Yes, we’re getting some of the big things right, but Toronto is also facing big challenges. This could be the short summary of the Toronto’s Vital Signs Report 2013 released by the Toronto Community Foundation on October 1.
For many of us who live in this city, it doesn’t come as a surprise that The Economist ranked Toronto as the fourth most liveable city out of 140 from around the world; or that we have the lowest rate of police-reported crime among Canada’s top 33 metro areas. It is a good place to live – with many parks, cultural activities, and clean beaches.
But we cannot ignore the warning signs.
In particular, the report highlights the following:
- Youth face dismal job prospects. In 2012, the Toronto youth unemployment rate averaged 20.75%, and for recent immigrant youth in Canada less than 5 years, it was 29%.
- More than one million Torontonians live in low-income neighbourhoods and the polarization of wealth and poverty is deepening. Parts of Toronto experienced an even more pronounced shift. In 1970, 96% of Scarborough neighbourhoods were middle-income. Today, they account for only 13.6%.
- One in 8 households in the Toronto Region (12.5%) experienced food insecurity in 2011. The growing problem of food insecurity – running out of food, compromising quality or quantity or even going days without meals – has complex causes, but is primarily rooted in lack of money to buy food.
- Food insecurity remains a challenge as food bank usage in Toronto is still close to a million visits this past year. There is a particular challenge in Toronto’s inner suburbs where usage increased 38% from 2008.
- The Toronto Region still ranks as “severely” unaffordable in a survey of 337 housing markets. A standard two-storey house in the Toronto Region averaged $640,500 at the end of 2012, requiring a qualifying household income of over $130,000. 62% of a median household income would need to be spent on housing costs. 30% is considered affordable.
- These changes are especially challenging for Toronto’s population of seniors (65 +). This population is projected to grow by one-third – from 376,570 in 2011 (14.4% of the total population) to almost half a million (17% of the total population) by 2031.
So, what should be done?
The Toronto Star in its editorial, “Toronto needs strong leadership to stop its decline,” writes:
Toronto and the province need a more aggressive approach to combating youth unemployment, to speeding up job-creating infrastructure projects including affordable housing and transit, and to encouraging cash-hoarding businesses to invest. Without dynamic and creative leadership no city can prosper.
At the report release, Rahul Bhardwaj, President & CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation, challenged the attendees to move Toronto forward in five areas:
- Ensure connectivity between neighbourhoods
While we are a city of unique neighbourhoods, we have to look at them as a network of neighbourhoods. Over the long term we all rise or fall on the strength of the network. Thinking and acting like a network is key to Toronto’s future success. This also means to have public transit that works and connects.
- Have an affordable housing strategy
We need to find new ways to encourage private participation in affordable housing development so that the supply of affordable housing is meeting the needs of households who currently face low vacancy rates, high rents and stagnating incomes.
- Create more public space
While there are close 1,600 parks for residents to enjoy, more most be done to ensure equitable and affordable access to public space – so vital to building strong and healthy neighbourhoods.
- Put a dent in our youth unemployment
We have to do better to connect Toronto’s young people to jobs. We need to look at other places, including Germany’s apprenticeship model, to figure out what could work here and get a commitment from all levels of government, employers, community colleges and others to find a solution.
- Build the Toronto Brand
To remain an attractive place to live, work and visit, we have to clearly understand and communicate who we are as a city and what we stand for.
While none of the solutions will come easy, and will require collaboration by all sectors, we have no choice but to act.
The Toronto Star editorial concludes:
As [foundation chair John MacIntyre and CEO Rahul Bhardwaj] write, Toronto needs change, a reboot. The status quo isn’t an option. “The real peril lies in staying the course,” they point out. Granted, no city can solve every economic problem on its own, without buy-in from higher levels of government. But the creative thinking can begin here, where the people live and work.
The Vital Signs report should be a call to action for those who recognize that we need to keep building this city. In the run-up to next year’s municipal election, we have a lot to talk about.
- Toronto Community Foundation: Toronto’s Vital Signs
- Toronto Star: Vital Signs 2013 special section
- Toronto Star editorial: Toronto needs strong leadership to stop its decline
- Yonge Street Media: Vital Signs report paints a new portrait of Toronto’s growing population
- Metro News: Toronto’s “Vital Signs” healthy but it’s not time to get cocky