38 Small Ways To Make Toronto a Better Place (and counting)

As I was scrolling Twitter a few weeks ago, I chanced upon @kylebaptista’s tweet. Having just read a piece on Curbed, on 50 Small Ways to Make NYC a Better Place, he tweeted that he loved it. I did too, for what it’s worth,—and then thought about what this list would look like if it was written for Toronto.

You didn’t ask for it, but look no further. In no particular order and in no absolute definition of the word “small”, here’s my take:

  1. Make a call to your representatives.
  2. Support and attend BetterTO’s events and events like them. Living in basement apartments that you’re paying a premium for? Have a landlord that doesn’t give notice before they walk in? It doesn’t have to be like this (…I tell my younger self). Come find out what you can do about it.
  3. Donate to small, local businesses and charities.
  4. Borrow from the Toronto Tool Library.
  5. Self-publish your history of the city. Guys, I can’t say this enough. Toronto reference library is the best.
  6. Donate your old phone. A tonne of places across the city accept old cell phones, including Ryerson’s Digital Media department if you want to donate your old cell phone to ~(social) science~.
  7. When referring to Toronto using imagery, use pictures that aren’t the C.N. Tower or the SkyDome. Scarborough bluffs anyone? Regent Park? Christie Pitts? There’s so much beauty in the city, and such a vast expanse, that images with the C.N. Tower can’t even begin to depict.
  8. Listen to the city. You’ve seen that green metal ear around the city? It’s the murmur project. Call up the number, and listen to someone wax poetic about the city.
  9. Reusable bags. Toronto Public Library has some great ones, so does Spacing, and my favourite: this one from @DrunkFemFilms.
  10. Listen to (and make) local podcasts. Faves include Detangled CIUT, The Imposter, Safe Space. We hear something exciting is brewing from the Toronto Youth Cabinet too.
  11. Join your local BIA. Imagine knowing the date of the large tiger reveal at Christie Pitts before a n y o n e.
  12. When you see a homeless person in the cold, call up the closest shelter or emerge (depending on the situation). And vote for those who fund safe spaces and resources for them.
  13. Use the neighbourhood Little Free Library
  14. Shop at Absolute Bakery (and other bakeries like it)
  15. Volunteer. Anywhere. Everywhere. If you have two hours to spare, I recommend it. Here’s where to start.
  16. Be a poll worker on Election Day.
  17. Close the books for one day and learn from people who’ve read all of them (or most of them). Hart House hosts the Human Library Project frequently, don’t miss out. It’s your chance to hear about why Toronto was called Hogtown, and what it looked like before the C.N. Tower came up, and what North Korea is like (really.)
  18. Vote local & have your say. Let’s cut to the chase, who you vote for determines what type of city you live in. Don’t take it for granted.
  19. Depending on how old you are, join the Toronto Youth Cabinet or the Toronto Senior’s Forum. I don’t have analytics set up on this, I won’t know which one you clicked on. Promise.
  20. Take an Indigenous walking tour of the city. Feeling intimidated? There are a lot of self-guided ones like this one & this other one to list a few. Did you know: Spadina wasn’t always pronounced Spah-dyne-ah? More gems like this one on these tours.
  21. Show up to a CivicTechTO meetup. And meet the coolest people. While you’re at it, joining a local campaign — democracy and a better city starts in rooms like these.
  22. Depute at a local committee meeting. Have a penchant for all things garbage collection? Don’t we all. This is all the meetings at City Hall, and once you see something on the agenda that you have a thing to say about, email the clerk (at the top-right of the page) to tell them you’d like to depute. (WiTopoli R.I.P wrote a great primer: https://witopoli.com/resources/deputation-guide/) Performance anxiety? Go just to watch. Some of my favourite times have been spent in Council Chambers watching three people debating e-petitions. I have a life, I swear.
  23. Write a letter to the editor.
  24. Stay up to date with Toronto politics. I swear it’s exciting! It’s pretty easy… it starts with following the #topoli hashtag.
  25. Request a tree in your neighbourhood. You can plant one yourself, too. But not any of these.
  26. Sit on a municipal board. And make decisions on all the things!
  27. Run for office. I said “small” was a loose term to define this list.
  28. Bike. I hear Bloor bike lanes are swanky. Also, if you’ve already biked on Bloor, take the survey and tell the city what you think.
  29. Take some more city surveys. This one’s about short-term rentals like AirBNB and VRBO.
  30. Join the Young Urbanists League; they have even more surveys.
  31. Raise money for a local food bank or Planned Parenthood or your favourite charity or cause.
  32. Want to make it social? Do it at a bar or at a friend’s house.
  33. Pitch something at Creative Mornings.
  34. Join a community garden (or grow something in your house.) The apocalypse will not be discerning, fend for yourself. These folks might put this in better words. And these ones are nice too.
  35. Tell indie88 to play more artists of colour.
  36. Create a community child-care hub. Live in an apartment with other mothers? Take turns taking care of the kids or cooking or doing the chores — in many communities across the world, self-guided community programs come into play when the city or government doesn’t
  37. And vote for councillors who support it.
  38. Believe women. And tell everyone to too.