By Kris Scheuer
(Column written Oct 16.08 for Town Crier.)
Toronto the Good is not perfect.
The Toronto Community Foundation’s Oct. 7 report Toronto’s Vital Signs paints a mixed picture of how our city is faring 10 years after amalgamation.
Sure we are producing less waste, consuming less water, our beaches are cleaner, transit usage is up, arts
are doing well, but some disturbing trends muddy this rosy picture.
For example food bank use is up and wait times for subsidized daycare and housing are on the rise. Our
city’s debt load is also increasing.
But two of the most disturbing aspects of the report are 40 percent of residents don’t feel a sense of
belonging in this city. And there’s an increasing gap between rich and poor, especially for new
So this begs the question — Just how livable is our city?
Toronto is pretty great but not for everyone, the foundation’s CEO and president Rahul Bhardwaj tells
“What we need to take away is good news,” he says. “More than half of residents feel a sense of
belonging, but Toronto is still last in Canada among major cities.”
The report cited the 2005 Canadian Community Heath Survey, which indicated nearly 60 percent of
Toronto residents feel a strong or somewhat strong sense of belonging in their local community. But that’s
still 10.6 percent lower than the Canadian national average.
To become more connected Bhardwaj suggests going out and finding out more about what is going on in
Even though I’m a born and bred Torontonian and a community newspaper reporter, there are still many
neighbourhoods I’m not familiar with.
One thing that helps me connect with this city is exploring and participating in it. I attend many of the
city’s free events such as Nuit Blanche and Irie Music Festival. I also enjoy going to communities events
such as the Taste of Little Italy. In fact my favourite aspect of the city is its diverse neighbourhoods,
which is a main attraction I tell visitors to explore.
But no matter how many neighbourhoods you visit, you will still feel shut out when you are struggling to
make ends meet.
Here are just a few disturbing stats from the report:
In 2005, one fifth of Toronto households lived below the poverty line cutoff of $38,610 for a family of
On average rents have doubled in the last decade.
The social housing wait list is now 15 years.
Food bank use increased by seven percent in the last year to almost 800,000 users.
Clearly when we don’t invest in the social needs of our most vulnerable, some will become desperate,
“With higher poverty levels, as long as that continues, you will see increasing frustration.”
And this can lead to isolation – the definitive opposite of belonging.
Bhardwaj is optimistic but cautions that people are being left behind in this great city.
Without question there is a role for all three levels of government to play in increasing funding for
education, jobs, environment, transit, housing in order to make Toronto a better place to live.
But as residents, if we want a better city we need to be better local citizens. The more we reach out to
other residents, care what happens to them and advocate for improved conditions for all – the more
reasons we will have to celebrate Toronto.
Toronto Tourism’s tag line for visitors is “you belong here”. Surely, we can hope for no less for those of
us who chose to make Toronto our home.