As we grapple with this current moment in Toronto’s history, it has given us pause to reflect on what type of city we are, can be and will be.
Leading up to the beginning of the pandemic, most can point to the vibrancy of our city, especially as seen from a global reputation perspective. In late October, Toronto was once again celebrated as one of the top global cities claiming the 13th spot in the prestigious World’s Best Cities Report.
As we move to recovery, we are enthused about what Mayor Tory feels the future may look like for Toronto.
“The fundamentals of all of Toronto are such – with smart people, good education, educational institutions, great industries, great arts and culture, great values – that people will be flocking to come to this city again once the pandemic is over,” Tory said.
That said, we believe while the city tends to be on many top lists of places to live, work, and travel, the pandemic has put a spotlight on what we can do better and frankly what we should rethink moving forward.
That brings us to the current plan recommended by staff at City Hall for Yonge Street between College and Queen which has been the result of a culmination of years of consultations and just passed positively through the Infrastructure and Environment Committee.
This proposal is largely triggered by the fact that one of Toronto's oldest water mains located underneath this section of Yonge Street requires urgent renewal. Since the street will be torn up and put back together, there is a "build back better" opportunity that can be leveraged that will not come again.
That aside, this a destination that has so much history and one historically seen as our “Main” Street. So many memories, so much potential. Or so we are told. Or so we believe. Or so some say.
But let’s all visualize that strip. Let’s really take stock of what it is right now. It is unfortunately a street without greenery, where pedestrians are often forced into the road. A once vibrant business strip is often plagued by empty storefronts and for rent signs. Safety is a concern. The list goes on.
Now, what does its current state say about Toronto? About ourselves?
How is this truly creating a safe vibrant “home” and destination for all Torontonians for today and tomorrow?
And if this is a representation of our city being thought of as forward-thinking, does it align with everything else Toronto is revered for?
Yonge Street needs love. Not down the road. Right now.
It needs to be a place that reflects who we are as people, our values, the best we can be and will be. A calling card for our city when the world is watching.
And it is. We were enthused to receive support in recent days from internationally known figures including Janette Sadik-Khan, former commissioner of NYC DOT and a global advisor on transportation and urban issues, Tudor Alexis, Consul Général de France as well Robin Mazumder, a leading Environmental Neuroscientist. The list seems to be growing by the hour.
We respect the thoughtful and thorough process of consultations and work that City Staff and other stakeholders including the Downtown Yonge BIA, local residents associations and transportation advocacy groups like Cycle Toronto and Walk Toronto have done to date. As has been articulated, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity triggered by an environmental assessment and work that needs to be done now. What is being proposed is a responsible forward-thinking plan with further discussions to follow in the months leading up to the implementation.
We have seen this type of thinking and projects like this work. In other places around the world, and even successful pilots on King St., Bloor St. and the Danforth.
As we imagine what can be, we all visualize the glorious experiences and memories that YongeTOmorrow would create. But let’s not forget about the functional reasons why this makes sense and is needed. Population and commuter increases are slated to grow astronomically in the coming years and decades and we need to have a street and destination that is more than sufficient to address this.
As we know, no plan will be perfect and no one will get everything they want. But it is at these times, we encourage all stakeholders to find all the reasons to say yes to a positive future than to say no. To focus on building bridges and finding a common purpose.
At the end of the day, everyone is in agreement that Yonge Street and the people of our great city deserve a fresh vibrant start. A new chapter. To be what it can be.
To the Councillors, Mayor and other decision-makers, this is a moment for you to support something that Torontonians need right now but generations will benefit from. We need a win. We need hope that something wondrous can happen again. That galvanizes the immense diverse talent we have in our city to contribute to a project like this. That reflects the diversity of being one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Something we all can be proud of. Something that meets the challenges and possibilities of today and tomorrow. Something that shows the world we really are who they think we are.
Yet perhaps more importantly, this is for our children, grandkids and the future generations of this city. And some of these kids have actually written an opinion piece that they hope you will read and listen to.
We, like the rest of the world, were riveted by the wise words and clear call to action from Amanda Gorman at the recent US Inauguration.
“For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.”
To the decision-makers who will vote to move this forward on February 2nd, we hope you see the light in the possibilities of what YongeTOmorrow can bring the Toronto of today and tomorrow. Your bravery is appreciated but should be aided by all the work, evidence-based arguments and data that has been done to date along with having the confidence garnished from key learnings from other like projects in Toronto and around the world.
Most importantly, you are not alone. If you say yes to this, it’s not solely up to you to make it happen. Citizens and stakeholders have been galvanized in massive numbers to participate in this process and have pledged to continue to do so.
We stand with many Torontonians to do what we can to help make this one of the most revered streets in the world.
But most importantly, a street that is welcoming for all Torontonians. A destination that truly reflects who the Toronto of today is. Leaving room to tell the future stories of what this city may and will be.
Toronto The Great, we stand on guard for the promise and potential of who you are.
CO-SIGNED BY THE FOLLOWING
- Richard Florida, University Professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, Author, Urbanist
- Rana Florida, Author and CEO, Creative Class Group
- Chis Fair, President, World’s Best Cities
- Judy and Wil Matthews
- Ken Greenberg, Urban Designer, author of Toronto Reborn
- Eti Greenberg, Board Member 8-80 Cities.
- Tony Gagliano, CEO, St. Joseph Communications
- Kevin and Roger Garland
- Ken Tanenbaum, Chairman- Kilmer Developments
- Tim Shore, Publisher - blogTO
- Krystal Koo, Head of Sales & Marketing - Dream
- Stephen Tapp, VP, Head of Canada - WeWork
- Barry Avrich, Filmmaker/Advertising Executive
- Darcy Kileen, Executive Director - Scotiabank Photography Festival
- Mitchell Marcus, Artistic & Managing Director, The Musical Theatre Company
- Matt Rubinoff, Founder - stackt market
- Steve Kane, President - Warner Music Canada
- Stephania Varalli, CEO - Women of Influence
- Lucy Eveleigh, Executive Director - Toronto Fringe
- Patrick Rogers, CEO - Music Canada
- Les Mandelbaum Umbra, Co-founder/President/CEO
- Alex Josephson, Co-Founder, Partisan
- Janet Zuccarini, CEO Gusto 54 Restaurant Group
- Mia Nielsen, Director, Art Toronto
- Kristy Fletcher - Executive Director, MusiCounts
- Shauna Levy, Founder, Madge and Mercer; former CEO, Design Exchange & Co-Founder, Interior Design Show
- Don Shipley, Executive Producer, Don Shipley Productions Inc., former Creative Director, Pan American Games. TO 2015 and Artistic Director, Stratford Festival
- Hannah Parish, General Manager, Lyft Ontario
- Thomas DeVito, East Coast Policy Manager, Lyft
- Eli Aaron, Budget Lead- Toronto Youth Cabinet
- Marcello Cabezas, Creative Producer/Placemaker/City Builder
*Rendering generously created by Norm Li