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How Toronto lost its groove

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Lorinc, John
Publication Date: 
11 Oct 2011



The city of Toronto is stumbling toward the end of 2011 mired in a deep civic funk. Mayor Rob Ford, a renegade small-c conservative from the suburban ward of Etobicoke North, bulldozed his way to victory a year ago on a simplistic pledge to slash municipal waste. His mantra: "Stop the gravy train." While he has yet to identify instances of reckless spending, he has ordered city officials to extract almost $800 million from Toronto's $9-billion operating budget, the sixth-largest public purse in Canada. This punishing and potentially ruinous process may entail shuttering libraries, firing police officers, and scaling back everything from snow removal to grass cutting to transit. Municipal services - such as public housing, environmental advocacy, and even zoos - that don't conform to the mayor's narrow vision of local government may be eliminated, privatized, or significantly reduced.

Toronto's woes, however, go well beyond the mayor's fiscal populism. The Greater Toronto Area - a 7,100-square-kilometre expanse of 5.5 million residents who live in a band of municipalities extending from Burlington to Oshawa to Newmarket - finds itself increasingly crippled by some of North America's nastiest gridlock, congestion so bad it costs the region at least $6 billion a year in lost productivity. Sprawl, gridlock's malign twin, continues virtually unchecked, consuming farmland, stressing commuters, and ratcheting up the cost of municipal services. Without reliable funding, transit agencies can barely afford to modernize, much less expand, straining the GTA's roads and highways to the bursting point.

The GTA's problems have a social dimension as well. With some of the country's highest real estate prices - now more than $450,000 for an average single-family dwelling - affordable rentals remain scarce, while tens of thousands of families who earn as little as $20,000 a year languish on waiting lists for often-substandard subsidized housing. In Toronto's so-called "inner suburbs" (the city proper consists of an older core dating to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, surrounded by a ring of "outer suburbs" built between 1945 and the early 1970s), poverty has become more prevalent and concentrated. And ethnic: while Toronto has more foreign-born residents than any metropolitan region in the world, many newcomers struggle to find decent work, even if they arrive bearing university degrees.


-reprinted from The Walrus

Entered Date: 
11 Oct 2011
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