Mimi Vamvakas (c) Toronto Public Health vice-chair responds to backlash over Sun column about COVID-19, says her only aim was to ‘promote discourse’
I wrote this column with a call to dialogue, to do what we best do as Ontarians, to work together for a better world. The issue is a hot topic because it’s in the news and because the case is at the Supreme Court of Canada.
I’m writing to clarify some misconceptions and disambiguation because one piece of misinformation has resulted in an inappropriate and unhelpful approach to addressing the issue. While I am not a scientist and I don’t have specialized knowledge, I am an urban-planning economist and former business professional who has spent my career grappling with spatial challenges, and I would like to see this community get to the point where we can talk about these bigger issues without moving backwards or bumping against each other.
Some people believe that because a city is concentrated in the surrounding area of another city, it’s easier to control. They believe that the density of population is largely self-stabilizing. I’m not saying that the two cities are identical, and I’m not saying that one has to be next to the other to have a vibrant urban plan. However, the challenge in Toronto is in the same as all other cities – long-term under-investment in public transit. Toronto is on track to become the densest city in North America. The country is experiencing population growth of 60 per cent in the next 25 years, which will almost all be incremental growth from the suburbs. And one of the first public questions many people ask is, “Where is the public transit?”
This is the heart of the issue. The majority of the urban planning community finds a solution to this by focusing on intensification in downtown Toronto. There are some other modes of transport that we should be investing in as well; for example, VIRTUS Bus Rapid Transit projects in downtown Toronto and along the GO rail corridor. But downtown exists at a far greater density than the public transit systems have been able to serve. Where there’s high density, there’s need for services, and between commercial development, the high density of the low-rise rental rental communities, and the surge in seniors that are moving to downtown, we have a very well-developed and healthy scene in Toronto.
From my perspective, the more we can attract and retain the age demographic that’s moving to the centres of most of the cities in North America, the more we will have an ability to benefit from those growth economies in other cities.
READ MORE: Sun columnist defends short story after being criticized by ‘clueless’ Liberals
I disagree with the phrase that population is the only thing that we ought to be concerned about because it’s a convenient excuse to rely on already-existing mass transit and fix our transportation system with general plans that are already underway and that have already been proposed. If we want a better education system, if we want real-world solutions to poverty, if we want more affordable housing, if we want a much better urban space design plan, we can’t just keep building denser structures without improving mass transit, providing quality services for citizens, and having more effective strategy in the long term to overcome environmental challenges.
“Traffic is inevitable. To address it, we need more people. Cities need more businesses, and higher quality of life and economic opportunities and social stability.” – Jay Carney, former White House spokesman
So that we have greater, denser, more accessible public transit, there needs to be a denser, more accessible population for people to find jobs in the downtown core, and an environment that supports businesses to move in downtown Toronto. There are federal, provincial and municipal sectors that have made investments in infrastructure, but we need to fully take the opportunities that the resiliency planning we have in place and make it work for a better future for our city.
It seems to me that the news articles with innuendo and speculation are unfortunate because they don’t help our case when we are dealing with a high-profile case at the Supreme Court.
In the interest of promoting discourse, I am respectfully asking readers who are interested in urban-planning and development issues to register on the site and comment on the