By now we’ve all heard about the Syrian refugee crisis and listened to the arguments for and against welcoming high numbers of refugees into our countries. Municipal and regional governments must also consider how they will adapt to hundreds or thousands of new residents in their cities.

By the end of this year, Germany will welcome over a million refugees from Syria and at least thirty percent of them will be formally accepted as refugees. For a variety of reasons, German mayors have been overjoyed to add these new residents to their population base–to rebuild their labour and tax base, repurpose abandoned housing or other surplus buildings, or take advantage of new funding for housing designated by the national government. Germany has an aging population and one of the lowest birth rates in the world.

Short-term housing needs are at the top of the list of considerations for municipalities and regions–in cities like Berlin, sports arenas and even airports have been used for emergency housing. German ministers recently met to rewrite the country’s rigorous building code to allow hundreds of thousands of prefab public housing units can be built in mere months–up to 35,000 this year and another 35,000 next year. Housing Minister Barbara Hendricks pledged $270 million for this rapid construction and also doubled municipalities’ existing $770 million budget for public housing.

Refugees are allotted into cities by quota, depending on cities’ size, labour market, and demographics: for example, the less diverse a city, the more likely it will receive a higher number of refugees. Berlin is obliged to take 5% of all refugees. There are 16 German regions, and special trains from Munich allow refugees to travel to their new homes.

Shrinking cities, like Leipzig, see the incoming refugees as both a responsibility and and an opportunity for renewed growth–with labour market shortages and BMW and Porsche factories, there are ample opportunities for newcomers. Other cities, which may have surplus housing leftover from booming economic times but no real industries to offer jobs, are in weaker positions. Cities such as Neukolln, where half of the population does not speak German as a first language, have not been assigned any quotas because they are already diverse, and likely to attract refugees and immigrants in the second wave of migration because they have a variety of economic opportunities and ethnic communities.

While there are obvious problems with trying to resettle refugees in areas that may not offer them the cultural, language, and other support they need to thrive, these issues could be partially addressed through targeted service provision in addition to the new housing. For example, providing resettlement and counselling support to those who have fled intolerable political persecution, employment support, language classes, and opportunities for children and youth to socialize and learn about their new country. Offering micro-loans to accepted refugees who would like to start their own businesses may help in the establishment of ethnic grocery stores, credit unions, and other services for the Syrian community. While these efforts may not be enough to keep refugees in German cities cities that do not offer long-term economic or social inclusion opportunities, they would be critical in preventing isolation, frustration, and the development of income-enforced enclaves (where people live because they feel have no other economic or socio-cultural ability to move out). While it’s natural for ethnic communities to form around social, religious, or language needs, people should be able to work, go to school, or do everyday activities with members of other ethnocultural groups. Extraordinary efforts also need to be made in cities/regions that had previously been shrinking: they would have to supply more teachers, more health care workers, more public transit service to serve the increased population.

This is assuming that the German public accepts the long-term integration of refugees, which could be a problem. Like many countries, short-term economic integration (like their “guest” worker category for Turkish men from the 1960s and 1970s) has been accepted, but long-term is another story. It was just this year that the German Parliament passed legislation to allow children of migrants who were raised or educated in the country to adopt German citizenship, while keeping their own. It remains to be seen whether Germans will accept the influx of Syrians in the long run.

gardinerexpressway.jpeg.size.xxlarge.letterboxToday, Toronto City Councillors received a staff report that could have major implications on a longstanding issue: what to do about the Gardiner Expressway. Built during the heyday of highway infrastructure, the Gardiner has become an expensive and dangerous piece for the City to maintain, costing millions each year. Chunks of the concrete have fallen onto roadways below the expressway in recent years, and the Gardiner has become emblematic of North America’s lagging postwar faith in technological solutions to urban problems.

Removing the Gardiner Expressway completely has never been on the agenda, at least not in realistic terms, even though cities around the world are struggling through similar decisions. The City is at the end of an extensive environmental assessment process that looked at options for repairing, replacing, or maintaining the section of the Gardiner that runs from Jarvis to the Don Valley Parkway. This 1.7km stretch of the expressway handles only 3% of peak hour trips to downtown. During the morning rush, about 5000 trucks and 500 cars use this stretch every hour. The EA process has spanned six years and consulted over 3,500 stakeholders, but did a thorough job of investigating each option using cost estimates over a 100-year life cycle. The transportation projections used in the evaluation of the options included the assumption that transit alternatives to the expressway will be in place by 2031, including the waterfront LRT, the downtown relief line, and improvements to GO Transit; this would negatively impact demand for the expressway.

The three options currently being discussed are:

  • Remove and replace. An eight-lane boulevard from Jarvis to the DVP would replace the Gardiner This is the cheapest option but you can imagine how long and disruptive the construction would be–it’s estimated at six years but this is Toronto, so figure on a decade–and there would be detours for at least four years. It’s estimated that 75% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $326 million in capital costs and $135 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($461 million). This was the City’s preferred option back in 2013–and it’s still the cheapest.
  • Maintain. The City spends millions on maintaining the Gardiner each year because it’s near the end of its lifespan–and because like many cities, maintaining existing infrastructure isn’t exactly a sexy budget expenditure. The cost would be $342 million in capital costs and $522 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year cycle ($864 million).
  • Replace with a hybrid. This would involve building a new connection to the DVP. Construction is estimated at six years–but would likely be much longer and involve traffic rerouting as well. An estimated 90% of driving trips would not change. The cost is estimated at $414 million in capital and $505 million in operations and maintenance over the 100-year life cycle ($919 million).

City staff is now conducting what is likely the final round of public consultation on the options (never say never) and will present a final report to Council on June 21st. If the selected option is approved by the Province, construction could begin in 2018.

Update: Chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat came out in favour of the Remove and Replace option on May 22nd, although Mayor John Tory favours Maintain.

 

Election maps are hot, but this one shows what happened in a lot more detail. Web developer and designer Pete Smaluck and policy analyst Tom Weatherburn have developed a map that disaggregates ward results in Toronto down to the neighbourhood level. The map allows the user to scan subdivisions based on three key characteristics at a time (from education, income, occupation, transportation to work, religion, immigration, and visible minorities) to see the percentage of votes John Tory, Doug Ford, and Olivia Chow got in last month’s election. The map shows a much more nuanced picture than the “divided Toronto” we’re always hearing about.

Here’s what the map and analytics look like if you choose mode of transportation taken to work, immigration, and visible minorities–hover over the riding to see the trends broken down by neighbourhood.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 7.08.12 PM

imagesJohn Tory hasn’t been sworn in as mayor yet, but he’s already trying to undo some of the damage Rob Ford did to the transit system in the past four years. War on the car? Let’s talk about a war on transit.

Don Peat of the Toronto Sun and Oliver Moore of the Globe and Mail reported today on the cuts Ford imposed to bus service in 2011 and 2012, which saved the TTC around $18 million but resulted in significant service reductions on 41 bus routes and a further reduction along 63 other routes. Loading standards were also rolled back to 2004 levels, which is no surprise to anyone taking transit in Toronto today–the level of overcrowding is almost unbearable on many routes. Today’s TTC service is bursting at the seams with increased ridership, yet they have boasted budget surpluses in recent years reflecting their decreased spending on services. Does this make sense?

Tory has already asked TTC CEO Andy Byford to look at ways to restore these services and source the necessary vehicles, in order to have an immediate impact on the city’s transit problems. Funny–I think I remember someone else campaigning on a promise of increasing bus service because it would have the most impact on users for the lowest cost. Oh right–it was Olivia Chow. Interesting how nobody took her seriously on this except the TTC, which proposed 10-minute service on a network of bus routes in its extensive service improvement report, quietly released just before the election. The TTC also proposed solutions like time-based transfers and all-door boarding, two user-oriented options that other cities have been using for years.

Tory has also asked Byford to investigate whether it’s possible to move more quickly on the new signalling system that will allow subway trains to run more frequently (every 90 seconds), now scheduled for completion in 2020. Improvements to the system, as well as track upgrades, currently cause frequent daily delays on the subway. Tory has asked for a cost breakdown of the TTC’s proposed service improvements, and advice on which ones could be implemented quickly.

Quick wins will be necessary for Tory to prove that he is serious about improving transit, his key election promise.

 

In what was surely the most-anticipated municipal mayoral race of my lifetime, October 27th marked the finish line: election day. With Rob Ford registering his intent to run again on January 2nd, the 10-month race was on. Ford’s two foes in this race, John Tory and Olivia Chow, were the only others in that mattered–although dozens of other candidates ran for mayor. The debates were focused on these three from the get-go–and when the Ford brothers’ shocking last-minute switch occurred on September 12th, Doug Ford merely stepped into his brother’s place as Rob ran instead for the Etobicoke North riding he had represented for a decade (2000-2010). Would Ford Nation embrace Doug as they had embraced Rob?

Tonight’s results were a resounding “No!” With a record-breaking 60% voter turnout, Toronto has chosen John Tory as mayor.

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city

From the Globe and Mail: Voter turnout last night was highest in the central and west sections of the city. Turnout was markedly higher in Toronto than its adjacent cities–just 38% in Mississauga, 36% in Brampton, and 26% in Oshawa.

How did Tory win? Or rather, how did the Fords lose? The public had gotten sick of the drama that was city hall, ironically from a mayor who was elected to reduce government waste and inefficiency. For many, the last-minute substitution of one Ford for another was simply too much to take. Suspicious voters turned out in droves to force the Fords out–but only in the mayoral race. Rob has been re-elected as city councillor in Ward 2 Etobicoke–cancer treatment and all. Olivia Chow entered the race strong, but many analysts and journalists say that she began to lose traction in the summer–for reasons nobody has been able to figure out. Tonight on CBC, journalists said she ran “too sensible” of a campaign, “always took the high road”, and noted that the twin spectres of racism and sexism had reared their ugly heads during the past few months; ironically a female journalist covering the results criticized Chow as “too nice”, a descriptor that would likely not be applied to a male candidate. Indeed, in the male-dominated arena of debates (or shouting matches), it was difficult for an intelligent and sensible woman to win over two candidates who alternately proposed pipe dreams and vague ideas with equal amounts of bluster–difficult, as well, to withstand members of the public who taunted her ethnocultural background or gender. By summer, the race had become about one issue: transit. Tory introduced his SmartTrack idea which, although vague and lacking a realistic funding strategy, gained remarkable traction with the public over Chow’s simpler, cheaper plan–by the time Doug Ford developed a plan for relieving congestion, late in September, the voters had already decided.

Those voters who may have liked Rob Ford’s fiscally prudent promises the first time around, but blanched at his drug and alcohol abuse issues, may have also been drawn to Tory as a fiscal conservative. In this area, leftist Chow stood no chance–even though in many cases her proposals were fiscally responsible (more so, in some cases, than her opponent Tory), the public knows her as an NDP Member of Parliament, which in their eyes means spending on socially relevant causes instead of balancing the budget. As Toronto Star columnist Royson James wrote, “They wanted Ford without the drama.”

Finally we have the polls, which beginning in August, have traced Tory’s rise to power. In many races in recent history (including the 2011 federal, 2012 Alberta provincial, and 2014 Ontario provincial elections) polls have been wildly inaccurate. It is worthwhile to note that polls did not correctly predict the winners of any of these major races–but they did tonight. Those who remained undecided until around Labour Day, which in Toronto circles seems to be when the race shifts into high gear, were subjected to a barrage of convincingly scientific-sounding polls that told them Tory was in the lead. Numerous articles urged Chow to give up the race in order to avoid splitting the vote, and many urged Torontonians to vote strategically against Ford.

Tory was the least controversial in comparison to Chow or Ford. Freelancer John Barber calls Tory “as boring as Nebraska” under the headline “Boredom replaces noise and strife at city hall.” Like others before him, Barber describes Tory’s program as “comfortingly vague, building on his natural strength as an inoffensive character.” As so often happens in politics, it was an election based on who the public didn’t want in office, rather than who they did want. As many have written, this race always had to be about getting rid of Rob and restoring Toronto’s internationally tarnished reputation–the highest voter turnout since Toronto’s 1998 amalgamation illustrates this. Neighbouring municipalities, with less spectacular, media-hogging candidates, had voter turnouts as low as 23% tonight. Tory inherits the difficult task of bridging a divided Toronto–less divided than in 2010, perhaps, but divided nonetheless–a task he promised to undertake as the Great Healer.

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory's support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green

The Globe and Mail published this election results map showing John Tory’s support in blue, Olivia Chow in purple and Rob Ford in green. Ford largely swept the eastern and western suburbs with 34% of the vote, leaving Tory and Chow to pick up the urban votes (40% and 23% respectively).

Toronto map 2010

Four years ago, the urban-suburban divide was even greater than it was today, showing almost exactly the divide between the pre-amalgamation City of Toronto (in purple) and the suburbs that joined it in 1998 (East York, Scarborough, North York, York, and Etobicoke, in blue).

Funding shortfalls are common among cities, as this year’s municipal elections have shown. While many governments are turning to public-private partnerships to fund expensive projects, they also work with community organizations, social enterprises, and non-profit groups to implement projects and run programs such as affordable housing for seniors and job placement services for youth. Crowdfunding could represent another aspect of cost-sharing that municipalities could use to help pay for services and projects that have strong support of municipal staff and the public. I’ve written before about participatory budgeting in Vancouver, Calgary, Guelph, and Toronto and posted last month about a crowdfunded bus proposal originating in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

RaiseanArm.org is a civic crowdfunding website created by Abdullah Mayo and the Hamilton Stewardship Council to give the public more of a say in public spending. Building on crowdsourced models common among start-ups and entrepreneurs which allow innovative ideas to find funding from many small donors online, the website aims to allow citizens to suggest ideas for the city. Spacehive in the UK, the world’s first civic crowdfunding site, currently has 359 projects such as recreation facilities, public art, and building restoration projects–50 are now fully funded. Citizeninvestor in the US features projects from $2,500 bike rack installations or tree planting all the way up to $200,000 public parks.

RaiseanArm has worked with the City of Hamilton to investigate the feasibility and legalities of crowdfunding in Ontario. RaiseanArm staff will bring ideas to the City to find out if the project is feasible or already being done in the Hamilton. If the idea were approved by the City, the project would be posted in the website and citizens would be able to pledge financial support or volunteer their services to get the project completed. While Mayo is excited to begin with local projects, he would like to gather support from across Canada and eventually expand to projects across the country.

According to the 2014 Home Location Preference Survey, conducted in the Toronto area by Environics for RBC and the Pembina Institute, 81% of home buyers would prefer more walkable, transit-oriented housing. The survey builds on an earlier version (2012) exploring the same issues.

Not surprisingly, seniors and the 18-35 demographic were most likely to prefer these types of locations–they are also the most likely to take public transit. And increasingly, these are the groups that developers should care about; the size of the families-with-children age cohort, the traditional market for suburban, single-family housing, has been decreasing for some time now. One of the report’s more surprising findings was that even among those with three or more children, 60% said they would trade off a larger house in a suburban location for rapid transit, walkability, and a smaller house.

Affordability plays a major role in housing decisions–82% of respondents say that they live where they do because that’s what they could afford, and 45% said affordability affected their choice “a lot”. When respondents were told that they could save $200,000 over the cost of a 25-year mortgage by giving up one car, 60% said they would choose to live within access of transit even if it meant a smaller home. The survey adds to a considerable body of literature demonstrating how much latent demand exists for transit-accessible housing (check out this one from Canberra, Australia and this one from Southern California). Now if only developers, municipal councillors, and lending institutions could get on board…well, maybe RBC can lead the way.

The survey was conducted in May with 1,014 respondents in the Toronto area. You can download the full report on Pembina’s website here.

A couple of enterprising folks are proposing a crowdfunded bus from Liberty Village to Union Station in Toronto, to provide an alternative to the overcrowded 504 King streetcar. The King line, the busiest streetcar line in Toronto, carries 60,000 commuters daily.

Taylor Scollon and Brett Chang have founded Line Six, aiming to run a pilot project from October 6-10th. In less than a month, they have raised $1,450 of the $2,500 cost of bus insurance and rights. The TTC has exclusive rights to charge for transit in the city, so Line Six will not charge a fare and will operate as a chartered service would. This type of “bottom-up” service aimed at solving a pressing need that the transit authority cannot (or will not) address is common in other parts of the world. For example, in the Philippines, two-wheeled and three-wheeled vehicles, as well as larger jeepneys, are family-run businesses that run informal routes throughout metropolitan areas, even in rural and suburban settings. They offer an alternative to the extensive bus and train network in larger cities. New York City’s dollar vans were born during a 1980s transit strike. Many of the routes are set up to meet the needs of immigrant workers in the metropolitan area, operating in areas where gaps exist in existing transit–they are not permitted to pick up passengers on MTA’s bus routes. Journalist Zoe Rosenberg (Curbed) reported in July 2014 that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has issued 481 licences to dollar vans since 1994, and many more operate without licences. When Hurricane Sandy forced the MTA to shut down operations, dollar vans kept running.

Such solutions can be legally difficult in Canada because of monopolies. Two years ago, students set up a cheap bus service for students to get from Toronto to Kingston during the holidays. They were forced to stop because Coach Canada has an exclusive contract for bus service between the two cities. When the students aimed to start a Toronto-London service they received a sternly-worded letter from Greyhound Canada, which holds the exclusive contract. Years before, a student-established bus service eventually resulted in a new Greyhound route to the University of Waterloo.

However, private solutions can work–residents in a group of condos on Queens Quay pay for shuttle bus service to various destinations within the city through their condo fees. The service has been around for 30 years. Employers in far-flung locales have also been known to pony up for shuttles if their employees all live far from the area–Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s headquarters on Montreal Road in Ottawa once offered this service to employees.

Municipal elections are still over a month away, so voters have plenty of time for a little light reading. I thought it important to highlight a few key resources for Torontonians caught up in the Ford-Tory-Chow- race for mayor. This past month has yielded a wealth of information that should inform your political choices for the largest city in the country.

  1. The City of Toronto is very financially healthy. To quote a report released a couple of weeks ago from the University of Toronto Institute for Municipal Finance and Governance, “Toronto does not have a spending problem.” For those who don’t remember, in his bid to “stop the gravy train” Mayor Ford commissioned independent audits of the city’s services. Internationally recognized firm KPMG found that most city services were mandatory or essential, and there were few opportunities to cut costs without cutting services. The rhetoric that we must constantly cut costs and avoid spending on essential services or projects has had a damaging effect: it has caused us to delay spending on important infrastructure, services, and projects necessary to the city’s functioning. All voters should check out IMPG’s report, Is Toronto Fiscally Healthy? A Check-up on the City’s Finances, an excellent primer on municipal governance and finance, answering questions like “How much influence do politicians have on the economy?” (Answer: Not much).
  2. Toronto Star comparison of the candidates' transit plans

    Toronto Star comparison of the candidates’ transit plans

    Public transit has emerged as the leading issue in this mayoral race. Every newspaper has spelled out, in mind-numbing detail, the plans of each candidate: here’s a summary from the Toronto Star. The Toronto Sun went so far as to break down each of Rob Ford’s campaign promises in “10 problems with Rob Ford’s transit plan.” Yeah, that’s right–the Sun, people. Voters need to be informed on what are realistic plans versus empty promises. Do your homework and don’t be distracted by the beautiful technology.

  3. What this city needs is a long-term vision. If you want to see what a transportation vision might look like, check out TTC’s August 19th report Opportunities to Improve Transit Service in Toronto, which outlines their futuristic vision for Toronto. Read about The Big Move at Metrolinx. Think about your own needs, and those of your family members, ten or twenty years in the future. Check out the Toronto Board of Trade’s discussion paper, Build Regional Transportation Now, to get some ideas of how municipalities could work together to achieve common goals. Among the more revolutionary of their suggestions are: reviewing governance options for improved coordination and integration of transportation related planning, management and operational functions; integrating transit route planning and creating one regional network, fare system, schedule and public transportation brand; depoliticizing transportation decision-making; applying dedicated revenue tools to manage transportation demand; and including fairness and equity in the application of revenue tools. In terms of a housing vision, most candidates haven’t gone into much detail: Toronto Life examined Olivia Chow’s affordable housing plan in “Would Olivia Chow’s affordable housing plan work as advertised?”, particularly the concept of inclusionary zoning.
  4. Don’t read too much into opinion polls: they are often inaccurate. Polls did not accurately predict Kathleen Wynne’s majority win in June, as the media often portrayed the difference between Wynne and Tim Hudak as merely in the single digits (the result: Wynne won 48 seats, Hudak 28). The same thing happened in Alberta two years ago, when the race between Conservative Alison Redford and Wildrose Party’s Danielle Smith was considered too close to call (the result: Redford won a majority with 62 seats compared to Smith’s 17 seats). Vote for the candidate who has the best chance of fulfilling your vision for Toronto.
  5. Look for overlapping goals. Canada doesn’t have an Obama, a leader whose 2008 election strategy focused on pointing out shared ideas and beliefs, and suggested “yes we can”. Increasingly, Canadian politics are divisive, pitting owners against renters, old against young, the native-born against immigrants. Voters have to look for common goals themselves, e.g. the fact that even Rob Ford, a poster-boy for conservativism, is spending his final weeks before the election coming up with plans for public transit tells you something about this city. The fact that the city has needs far greater than it can address with its own paltry revenue streams (e.g. infrastructure, housing) says something about the division of powers between municipalities, provinces, and the federal government. Voters need to be reminded that we do have common struggles, ideals, and aspirations: politicians are extremely skilled in wiping these commonalities from our memories as they try to define themselves and their platforms.

 

I urge all who are able to vote to register or just bring identification with your local address on voting day, October 27th. Students, you can vote in the city where you live as a student, or in your hometown.

A couple of months ago, I reported that vehicle licensing rates among youth and young adults in British Columbia had decreased. Now Alberta is reporting a similar trend (“Driver’s licenses not a priority, say young Albertans,” CBC News, August 5, 2014). Alberta Transportation reports that the rate of licensed drivers aged 15 to 24 has decreased by 20% in the past 20 years, from 90% to 75%. While this isn’t as great a decrease as that seen in BC (ICBC reported a 70% decrease among 20-24-year-olds from 2004-2013), it’s pretty big news in Canada’s oil-producing province.

As in other younger populations, Alberta researchers have cited the prevalence of social media for interacting with friends and the higher cost of living that today’s young people must incur in rent and tuition. But access to transit is also mentioned, aligning with the results of several high-profile studies in the US, Great Britain, Japan, Sweden, and North Korea. Rather than just suggesting that car ownership is merely delayed a few years while millenials establish themselves, Dr. Alex de Barros from the University of Calgary suggests that young people may opt for more sustainable transportation options now and in the long run.