July 18, 2014
Novae Res Urbis
With 14 weeks to go until the municipal election, many candidates are busy releasing platforms and knocking on doors.
While candidates are selling their ideas to the city’s voters, many of the city’s non-profits and advocacy groups are monitoring the platforms and pitching ideas.
Toronto Environmental Alliance released its Green Action Agenda, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation has sent out a survey to candidates and Parks People is distributing its Park Platform to candidates and its network of voters. And this is just the start of the conversation in anticipation of this year’s municipal election. While the groups’ mandates differ, they are all trying to engage residents and help set the agenda around which voters will make their decisions about who to elect.
Last month TEA released its environmental report card for councillors. The current council has been divided on many issues—such as bike lanes, investments in public space and public transit—and it’s no different with regards to the environment. While 17 councillors received an A+ grade, just as many received Fs.
“In our opinion, due to the last four years of inaction, the next council has lost precious time to deal with the mounting environmental problems facing Toronto,” TEA campaigner Heather Marshall told NRU.
While there has been no action in some key areas, Marshall said council has made a few strides forward on the environmental front.
“I think part of it is the reality of climate change. The fact that we’ve had some severe weather that is in the summer and the winter time has required city council to react to extreme weather,” said Marshall.
However, she said it needs to be more proactive. Council needs to show leadership on the environment. Climate change is having a greater effect on the lives of Torontonians, in the last year basements have flooded, trees fallen and transit shutdown. Residents want to see council take positive action and not simply wait to respond as issues arise.
The Green Action Agenda focuses on five areas: preparing for severe weather and climate change, improving air quality, improving the TTC, reducing waste and detoxing Toronto. TEA has developed a questionnaire for council candidates based on its agenda, which will be distributed later this month. The alliance will then evaluate the submitted responses and develop a status report to show how the candidates are performing. The candidates’ responses will also be posted on TEA’s website.
“This will give us an indication of what issues city council could come together on in the next four years,” said Marshall. “But it will also give us some red flags about how divisive environmental issues might be in the next four years.”
The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation is also using a questionnaire to help voters differentiate among the candidates. It partnered with TEA, Cycle Toronto, Walk Toronto and Canada Walks to develop its election priorities, which are organized around cycling, walking and transit.
One of the areas TCAT is focusing on is creating slow zones in residential areas to improve pedestrian safety. Its election platform, Building a Toronto that Moves, calls for reducing speed limits to 30km/hr on residential streets and creating distinctive signage and infrastructure to better identify the zones.
“This one is a particularly critical one to get moving on,” said TCAT director Nancy Smith Lea. “We know most pedestrians are killed on roads marked 50 kilometres or higher.”
The idea of slow zones is likely to be discussed by candidates throughout the campaign, following the July 16 death of a seven-year-old child who was hit by a car in Leaside. Slow zones have been adopted in other provinces.
Both Smith Lea and Marshall said creating support for a minimum grid of protected bike lanes is also very important in this election and they hope candidates will agree. TCAT will be releasing the results of its surveys in September, to date 99 councillor and 23 mayoral candidates have responded to the survey.
The Park Platform is another place candidates can find ideas for improving the city. Parks People created its platform through feedback from its network of park friends.
“What we would really like to see is more open and collaborative partnership between the city and park volunteers, particularly park friends group volunteers,” said Parks People policy coordinator Jake Tobin Garrett. While the city has improved partnerships in recent years barriers remain, such as permit fees charged to volunteer groups.
While improving community engagement is important, it is just one way the city could improve the park system in Toronto. Revisiting the parkland acquisition strategy also is important, particularly in areas that have limited land with which to create new parks. While the city developed its own parks plan in 2013, the acquisition strategy was created in 2001. The city’s park plan recommends updating the strategy.
“Having that updated strategy will really allow the city to make those smart investments where they should be acquiring new parklands,” said Garrett. This will particularly help in the downtown, which has seen dramatic development since 2001.
“Within a new parkland acquisition strategy you really need to highlight the downtown and new strategies for the downtown,” said Garrett. These strategies may differ from those in other parts of the city, which is important since the built form is much different in the downtown than in other parts of the city.
Park People’s platform has been distributed to both candidates and the park friends network.
“We really want this to be used as a tool for both candidates and residents to address issues around parks in the city,” said Garrett.
Candidates can draw ideas from these platforms to generate their own policy positions, while residents can use them to target ways to differentiate candidate platforms.