Contemporary cities across North America are in crisis, and Toronto is no exception.

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Contemporary cities across North America are in crisis, and Toronto is no exception. Growing poverty and homelessness, mounting waste, air pollution that impacts residents’ health as well as the environment, inadequate transit, and failing infrastructure are issues that council faces perennially while trying to redress decrease in financial resources. The challenges are enormous. This paper will examine some of the issues facing Toronto today and consider directions for sustainable solutions.

A considerable problem facing Toronto is that of growing homelessness. The city’s solutions have invariably been short-term band-aid solutions that fail to address the underlying problem. The removal of the residents of Toronto’s Tent City in 2002 was accompanied by the offer to provide housing in the old Princess Margaret Hospital (Dunphy, 2000). However, the housing was emergency sheltering only, and under conditions that far below acceptable standards—inadequate toilet facilities, poor air flow, high infection rate for disease, and rampant violence (Crowe, 2000). In addition, the shelter spaces opened at the old Princess Margaret Hospital increased the total number for the city by only 320. There are between 40 and 50 thousand homeless in Toronto. While there are differing estimates of the increase in homelessness, the least dramatic is a rate of 40 per cent over a twelve-year period boom 1988 to 1999 (The state, 2001).

The underlying problems remain unaddressed. Poverty in Toronto is on the increase—8.3 per cent in the five years from 1995 to 1999, even as the city’s economy was experiencing a boom (Kalinowski, 2002). Economic policy shifts and downloading of services by higher levels of government without commensurate increase in municipal revenue sources (Pockets, 2002) have not only helped to create the city’s problems, they further serve to hamper its capacity to deal with them.

However, the municipal level of government is not inculpable. The indifference and intransigence of municipal politicians in dealing with the issues are also part of the problem. James (2002) notes that three members of Toronto city council voted against a proposed by-law to open emergency shelters everywhere across the city because they wanted no part of the homeless problem in their wards. The former mayor, Mel Lastman, flatly refused—eleven times—to meet with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee on homelessness (Crowe, 2000). Not surprisingly, these politicians represent the perspective of more than just a few well-to-do residents. One of these residents cheered the defeat of the emergency shelter by-law because it did not take into consideration “the residents and the businesses and the real estate issues ad the safety issues and the policing issues and everything that’s involved in emergency shelters” (reported in Lakey, 2002).

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Any sustainable solution to homelessness must begin by addressing the long-term underlying causes. The truth is that Toronto is an expensive city in which to live. Changes in rental policy by the provincial government have helped to drive rents up. At the same time, changes at the federal level have helped to reduce the number of new rental constructions (Wong, 2002). In short, the number of affordable housing units in Toronto is decreasing. Combined with the increase in poverty in the city, this means that the poor are at increasing risk of homelessness.

Transit problems in Toronto impact in ...

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