In 1992, our Queen did not have a good year. Famously, she said it was “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.” The Queen had a horrible year.
2018 was Toronto’s annus horribilis, a roller-coaster of politics and tragic events that spilled out beyond the city limits.
New Year’s is a soft time when it’s easy to be sentimental about the past and optimistic about the future. Perhaps it’s wilfully naive to have hope, but there’s a risk of being burnt out on GTA politics, especially after the year we’ve had, with so many plots twists that seem like the work of an indulgent political fiction writer.
Wait, who’s the mayor of Brampton now?
When I return to the GTA after being away, for these holidays or other times, I’m struck by how good this place can be. Toronto just feels so lived in. There are people on the street nearly all the time, a critical mass of public humanity spread along kilometres of bustling streets with continuous retail life that so many cities don’t have. I take it all for granted until I leave.
New year. New city council. New chances to get things right.
On Toronto’s half-sized council, I’m hopeful ways will be found to ensure there is effective community representation, perhaps in the form of community councils, in our now-massive wards.
I’m hopeful that the carnage on our streets caused by automobiles will abate. Vision Zero, the plan to end road injuries, has been an abject failure because of the wantonly wishy-washy way our elected officials have implemented it. Despite pedestrian and cyclist hits nearly every day, this crisis did not become a critical issue during the mayoral election, as it should have been. Even if you drive a car, we’re all pedestrians at some point. Solving this makes everybody safer.
I’m hopeful we’ll have smarter conversations about transit, expediting what desperately needs to be built, like the relief subway line that has been planned, in one way or another, for a century now.
I hope such efforts won’t be distracted by needless political diversions, such as Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti’s lobbying to extend the Yonge St. subway into York Region. Right now, in rush hour, southbound subways are already crowded by Sheppard station. Extending it north, before other relief lines are built, would mean residents below Hwy. 401 would watch train after jammed train pass through their stations with no room for them while standing on platforms already dangerously crowded. People will get hurt or worse.
Scarpitti’s jostling is similar to what some Scarborough politicians did by insisting on a subway when other modes would do more good, serving more people and more geography. To Scarpitti I say throw your total support behind all-day frequent GO Train service to York Region and across the GO network and you’ll find thousands of supporters in both the 905 and 416.
I hope there’s a realization that even if you’ve got a stable roof over your head that the lack of affordable housing for low — and, yes, middle-income — in the GTA threatens the prosperity some of us enjoy. If your kids can’t afford to live here, on their own without family assistance, we’re ensuring the next generation of talent, the very people who will keep this place prosperous, won’t live here.
I’m hopeful support for building true affordable housing, like we used to decades ago, will grow to a point where no politician can ignore it. We must build, but also each neighbourhood needs to do its share. Duplexes, basement apartments and small multi-unit buildings can fit into existing neighbourhoods, so-called “gentle density,” but often face intense opposition. Good and desirable neighbourhoods do not exist in a vacuum; their success was connected to their location within the wider city so they must shoulder the “burden.”
Finally there needs to be a wider realization that the prosperity and opportunity some of us enjoy isn’t shared by everyone and an increasing percentage of the population is left out. This divide, a true fault line in our civil society, is connected to the sense of hopelessness many young people feel and the plague of violence we see on our streets.
No one problem exists in isolation, and we’re all in this together. If hoping we can change course on some of these issues is naive, it means there’s lots of work to do.
Shawn Micallef is a Toronto-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @shawnmicallef