Recipe for a healthy city
When I moved to Toronto 15 years ago, from a place steeped in its own tremendous and unique culture, but somewhat lacking in diversity, I moved to Sesame Street. Okay, perhaps not literally, but I distinctly remember thinking that Toronto was as different and colourful and exciting to me then as Sesame Street had been to my 5-year-old self, living in Long Pond, Newfoundland.
From my first walk through Kensington Market, to the school playgrounds near our west-end, downtown apartment, teeming with children, to the squash and beans growing in our neighbours’ front garden and the delicious smell of sardines grilling in the backyards: Sesame Street.
I still love my little corner of Toronto. And that’s what makes it bearable to reside in the belly of the sprawling beast that is this city. My neighbourhood is more than a street, it’s a community. Here’s a recipe for why it works:
1. Take one down-in-the-dump park. Add a parent with enough passion and drive to take back that park and form a community of “friends” to embrace it.That park has to be a place where the teenagers playing hockey or basketball can be at home alongside the moms with their organic coffee and the Somali soccer players. Throw in some city staff with the vision to allow that community’s creativity to flourish, instead of stifling it.
2. Add a library, reconfigured and redesigned. No longer a stodgy dark place used by a few, but a bright, functional, inspiring space that makes room for everyone and redefines the library as a centrepiece in the community.
3. Throw in easy access to the TTC, particularly the subway, and you can get to your job in less than 20 minutes at rush hour. A little squished maybe, but you get there.
4. Provide healthy, preferably locally grown food. Start with an organic farmers’ market, add good, healthy food in local shops and restaurants, a small vegetable plot in your own backyard, and a Friday night community supper in the park.
5. Whisk this together with a handful of community schools, principals that live in the neighbourhood they serve, and an alternative option or two within the public system. And don't forget working families will need affordable, quality childcare.
6. And finally, dust liberally with people who, with this infrastructure to support them, throw their homes open to each other. Because it’s the people that live on my street that make my neighbourhood a great place to be.
It’s the fact that – even if your car window is occasionally smashed – your children can play on the sidewalk with their friends every evening.
We look out for each other. We have a cup of flour if you need one, and provide back up childcare in a pinch. We are so lucky this way.
But Toronto is not Sesame Street.
And there's no cookie cutter approach to making the City work. The ingredients may vary from East York to Etobicoke, but the basic recipe remains. We need the supports and services that allow streets to become neighbourhoods, and neighbourhoods to become communities, and we need a city council that allows community creativity to flourish.
Over the coming days and months, I'm looking forward to hearing more about YOUR recipes for a livable city.... my fellow bloggers and people of Toronto. And I'll tell you what questions I'm going to be asking the candidates that make their way to my doorstep.