Amalgamation isn’t over.
District-centred development is only natural.
Toronto is an amalgamation of many municipalities. The original shared government for the greater Toronto area was York County, then the Regional Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, and now the City of Toronto. At 640+ square kilomentres, ‘Toronto’ is a massive City-region made up of hundreds if not thousands of different-sized places. Many were formerly recognized Villages, some were small but mighty Municipalities like East York, while others such as North York and Etobicoke are better conceived of as Townships. Our City has emerged from this quiltwork of caretaking and conservation into the mega-City we know today. But.. the pressures of a constantly growing Toronto are straining our monolithic governance structure created in the 1990s. Unifying the overall governance of ‘GTA’ from the Humber to the Rouge was a sensible historical development that now feels inevitable. From many municipalities into one, contraction was the social algorithm of the 20th century. Now that we’ve unified executive decision-making across ‘GTA’ (ie City of Toronto), a new algorithm is taking root based on the converse. With a central planning regime in place, Toronto the City-region is freed up to begin a new form of decentralization, safe in the knowledge that a formal entity called City of Toronto will keep the family together as we head into unchartered water.
What does decentralization mean?
At the moment, Toronto is governed through one central Council and four ‘Community Councils’ responsible for overseeing development activities in our four official ‘Districts’: Etobicoke/York, North York, Toronto/East York, and Scarborough. This full description of Toronto escapes many residents, due to the under-emphasis on Districts by politicians and media. This under-emphasis might also be due to the government-oriented naming of the Districts (eg “Toronto/East York”). Perhaps a more enduring way of referrring to these major zones is: West, North, Central, and East.
Toronto became 1 in name & budget but is formally a family of “4". Our beginning point for discussing Toronto’s future governance is the composition of the central Council and the existing four Districts Councils it supports. In order to begin imagining a newly-organized Toronto we need to start asking a few key questions.
- What responsibilities should Toronto’s future Mayors have?
- Should the Mayor of Toronto sit on City Council with local Councilors?
- If the Mayor’s Office is re-formed should [City] Council be too?
- What responsibilities should Community Councils have?
- If the ‘powers’ of Community Councils are altered or increased, should we re-form these councils into ‘District Councils’ in line with the existing formal designation of these ‘planning territories’?
If we look at decentralization from 40 years ahead, what additional questions or conclusions show themselves? Is a movement outward, toward District-centric development the last step in Toronto’s re-organization? Or, is the formation of District Councils just a ‘preparing of the ground’ for the chaotic challenges and changes that lie ahead? Announcing that amalgamation isn’t over is one thing. Declaring that amalgamation is likely never-ending is something totally different. But isn’t this second claim in line with the ongoing immigration and growth that we’re witnessing? If we’re not simply moving toward a New York City model of City management, then what is Toronto’s unique path to future prosperity?
What if District Governance turns out to be the pre-condition for the re-emergence of micro-municipalities within the City of Toronto?
What is the long-term role of Village Planning and Village Area Governance inside the City?
How do we make official room for overlapping systems of shared responsibilities?
Where you from?
Formal government isn’t everything. It’s just a small part of what makes a City-region work. While the muddiness of government often divides us, the lattice of local governance boards subtly binds our diverse, diffuse communities. Government and governance are best conceived of as the platform or ‘supports systems’ that enable local life to function and flow. The driver of daily life and of personal decision-making centres around places and zones within the city. This is generally called ‘pride of place’. This pride builds family houses, starts businesses, inspires art, and fuels storytelling. Place is the crystal that unlocks investment and civic initiatives. But with the mega-City as it is, localities are left to grow naked within the mega-grid rather than within the arms of one of its Districts. There is no correspondence between a village or neighbourhood and the City. Local belonging requires a broker and our historically-based Districts continue to serve that role culturally. Where you from? Weston! Scarborough! North York! Downtown! Parkdale! Beaches! Highland Creek! Don Mills!
If Toronto is to grow big and tall it has to equally promote root growth. The roots of belonging are the villages, neighbourhoods and districts that makeup the mega-City. It’s time we end the charade of Toronto as the chief source of our civic affection. I don’t love Toronto*, not in the way that I’m told to by the media. I love Scarborough because I live here. I eat, work and pray here. I plant here. On the other hand I promote and serve the City of Toronto because I live within its great borders — because it is the greatest municipal project worth supporting. What global city besides Toronto has the legitimate mandate for global leadership? The globe is growing in both population and problems. Why shouldn’t Toronto be the brains of ‘the operation’, considering that present within our city is the most diverse collection of minds ever assembled on Earth? We are the meeting place.
To make room for the future we need to act more like a family. Or perhaps more like a forest. Our current self-image is more akin to the CN Tower. We are propping up an old outlook, and a downtown-based design. It’s time we slash and burn a bit, make the soil fertile again and create the conditions for global greatness in innumerable pockets between Humber and the Rouge.
Toronto doesn’t need a Big Answer. It needs a bigger framework for a future that is grander & more global than its old guard has thus far imagined.
Feel free to fill in the blanks, The future is open source and wide, wide open.
Love for Thy Neighbourhoods [& Villages]
Visions of the Good City-region
Local Creative Generators
Producing the Capital of Today and Tomorrows
Open Sourcing the City’s Operation Systems
Focusing on Formal lexibility
Preparing for Innovation-inducing Impacts
Bracing the City for Betterment
Taking the Helms
Guiding the Armada
Praying for Nice Weather