If I were Mayor, I would aim to make Toronto the city where the world meets. My campaign might be called something like “One World, One Toronto”, or “We’re For One Six” (get it? It’s a pun. Okay, maybe I’ll get someone else do branding, but I digress). Toronto is one of the most, if not the most, multicultural cities in the world. We have people here from almost every country, speaking almost every language, representing the entire swath of human experiences, perspectives, and cultures. That said, the city has grown very rapidly, and we have not done a very good job of bringing together all of those people with all of their diversity into all that this city has to offer. My top priority as mayor would be to break down the silos and divides and propose a vision for a more integrated and intercultural city that is actually for everyone.
I came to Canada at 14 and my immigrant family of course chose to settle in very multicultural apartment building in North York. I grew up in North York and Scarborough and then moved with my family to Markham, before moving out to live downtown and now midtown. Having lived in various parts of the city – inner suburb, outer suburb, core, what have you – I know firsthand that we are not so different in our values and goals as the media makes it sound. The greatest threat to our city is not going to be whether or not the Gardiner should stay or go – it’s the perceived split between the “downtown elites” and the “angry suburbanites”. I think we need a new story about this region, one that can unlock new ways of thinking and organizing and collaborating. There’s no way we’re going to solve the actual problems by competing against each other. We need to be working together to build proper regional plans (and I mean actually regional, not municipal) to tackle transit, housing, policing, income inequality, and environmental sustainability.
There’s one more thing. I don’t believe any of this can happen with just one person at the top – it needs an entirely new slew of leadership (councillors/CEOs/boards/people in power) that reflect the diversity of today’s Toronto. There is a staggering difference in the type and quality of life you have depending on which part of the city you find yourself in, such as the colour of your skin, how much money you inherited or didn’t, and these differences are especially pronounced across neighbourhoods that often border each other. These inequalities and divides have compounded over the years, so that we now have a city with a 51% “minority” population, yet 90% of councillors are white and represent a relatively small range of experiences. We already have all the expertise, energy, and potential to do better, but it can’t happen if we don’t bring new voices and ideas to the table.
Having travelled to or lived in many big cities, I really believe that Toronto has all the ingredients to be amongst the greatest places to live. For some, it is already, but we have more to do to make it so for everyone who calls this city home. As our challenges become more complex, the most important job of our civic leaders is going to be to bring people together and to unite, not divide. That’s a vision we can all get behind.
The “If I Were Mayor” blog series profiles the ideas of youth and rising leaders from across the GTHA as a way to add their voices to the municipal conversation. Posts have been curated by CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network, For Youth Initiative, Laidlaw Foundation, Toronto Youth Cabinet, Citizen Empowerment Project, Young Women’s Leadership Network, and the Centre for Community and Immigration Services. The views contained in this post are the author’s and are not reflective of CivicAction or the CivicAction Leadership Foundation.