By Chrystal Dean, Public Programming & Engagement, Sidewalk Labs
When I moved here seven years ago from Australia, I immediately fell in love with Toronto. Early on, I was lucky enough to make a new friend who was an excellent host, showing me the many vibrant neighbourhoods that make up this city. In my first two weeks, I had joined a choir run out of a boxing club, taken part in an art tour on a bicycle, and was asked to join a curling team, even though I’d never set foot on ice.
Torontonians try things: if someone has an idea, others will show up for it, and that excites me. In the year that followed I noticed another thing about Torontonians, a thing that ultimately convinced me this was the place I wanted to make my home: Torontonians will hold you accountable. They are active in conversations about their city, and in conversations about things that impact their lives. Their voices make Toronto better; they are Toronto. That combination of openness to new ideas and holding ourselves accountable is what I think makes this the perfect place for a project like Sidewalk Toronto.
I am incredibly proud to be part of the Sidewalk Labs team, where my job is to create opportunities for Torontonians to learn about the project, listen to what excites them and what concerns them, and ensure their voices and ideas contribute to the process — not just once, but many times over, as we embark on the iterative process of imagining a new neighbourhood.
Since launching the Sidewalk Toronto Public Participation Plan in February 2018, we have engaged over 21,000 people whose voices have directly shaped the proposal set to be released later this spring. One of the most intensive programs in that public participation plan was the Sidewalk Toronto Residents Reference Panel: a group of 36 residents from every corner of the city and diverse backgrounds, randomly selected from nearly 400 volunteers, who put their hand up after receiving one of the 20,000 invitations sent to Toronto households. Across six Saturday sessions, spread over nine months, and a collective 1,728 hours, the residents received an in-depth look at many aspects of the Sidewalk Toronto project and provided a detailed set of recommendations, helping to shape the plan in the best interests of all Torontonians.
Today, we are excited to share the final report. The recommendations here had a direct impact on our plans and proposals. For example, the residents emphasized the importance of ecological restoration of Lake Ontario, and this input informed our decision to update the site plan to include a naturalized shoreline on Parliament Slip with direct access to water, natural vegetation, terrestrial and aquatic habitat. This is just one example of many that shows how our plans evolved based on direct feedback — and the project is better for it.
“I believe that our contributions capture the views of our fellow Torontonians. I trust that our recommendations will inform the project’s stakeholders and will be taken into account as the project progresses. Ultimately, I hope that our work will be reflected in the development of a new vibrant and forward-thinking neighbourhood on our city’s waterfront.” — Alex Boissonneau-Lehner, Resident
One of the things I am most proud of in the report is that not everybody agrees. In my experience, robust conversation with multiple perspectives produces the most thoughtful and inclusive work. The 36 residents who took part in this process pored over materials, asked hard questions of project staff, and further researched ideas and concepts in their own time — they took this role seriously. For that, I am incredibly grateful. And I’m also not surprised. Because that is the Toronto I fell in love with: one that is aspirational, pragmatic, and not shy to hold you accountable.
Thank you, residents!
“The people were incredible and I feel really special to have had a say in all this. Everybody had so much respect for everybody else and you felt if you had something to say, that somebody would listen. My hope is that they make much better use of the water — whether it’s swimming or skating or just getting closer to the lake. We’re so lucky to have the lake there. We need a plan that celebrates it.” — Diane Chénier, Resident