[huje#4] Re-inventing Toronto (2/2)
Social networks at the service of a holistic vision of urban construction
The holistic approaches to urban construction in Toronto can be found on different social networks. On twitter, the hashtag #topoli, which stands for Toronto Politics, shows how engage Torontonians are! It is used by citizens to express their opinions, share their ideas about their city, their observations, ... Such hashtags are used in other North American cities, but none have quite the same dynamism. In the same vein, the hashtag #TTC is for the city's transportation company. Proof that it is taken into account: tweets of user complaints are being used for an information campaign on the incivilities of everyday life.
You will also find holistic conversations on the city on Facebook! Rachel Lissner created the Facebook group Young Urbanist League in 2014, giving Torontonians a space to discuss urban planning, keep up to date with consultations or other events related to the development of the city,... With nearly 6,000 members, it brings together various stakeholders of the city.
"People have met and collaborated, ideas have formed, people from the municipality or from different organizations get involved to follow the exchanges, ..." explains the founder of the group. Politicians and other actors involved in planning have joined the group, as it has become a valuable source of information on the concerns and desires of the city's citizens. Promoting a holistic approach to urban construction, it offers everyone the opportunity to discuss planning and life in Toronto.
From subversion to urban transformation
When it comes to shaping the city, the implication is also artistic. Known for its street art, Toronto conveys strong messages on its walls, garage doors, storefronts, ... Everywhere here, art is used as an effective vehicle to promote cultural diversity and is a true mean of expression.
In 2012, the town hall launched a campaign to eliminate graffiti from its urban landscape: a war against graffiti was declared. But this issue was taken in hand by the city's transportation service department, which decided to treat the problem in a new original and artistic way. StreetArtToronto (StART) was launched. Articulated around 8 programs, this strong city-led initiative fulfills many objectives such as reducing vandalism, brightening up areas, strengthening the sense of belonging, promoting emerging artists and supporting them, ... Once seen as "underground art" Street Art became, thanks to these municipal programs, a mean of expressing Toronto's diversity, while providing support to local artists.
Our warm meeting with Catherine Campbell at the "StreetARToronto You've changed" exhibition on the first floor of the St Lawrence Market gave us a sense of the strength of the project. With more than 1000 works throughout the city, the impact is undeniable! In addition to coloring the streets, these artworks shed light on the life of the city, its different communities and allow Torontonians to participate in the transformation of their space. This participation takes place both in the choice of the art and in their creation process by Toronto artists. For example, for the "Underpass" program, the local community concerned is called upon to select the artist and the themes that will guide the work.
From a practice that was once illegal and subversive, the city has turned it into a force by taking the opposite direction. A great example of capitalizing on the imagination, creativity and intervention of the inhabitants!
Inhabitants who are the very essence of the city
Undeniably, cities must be built for those who live in them. Their citizens are the ones who bring public spaces to life and they are the main users of the urban sphere (something that seems to have been forgotten sometimes). And in that way, they are the experts of the city, as Jane Jacobs pointed out. So why not put the people who make the city at the center of the process?
Torontonians have participated in making what their city is today: their ideas and vision have helped transform Ontario's capital. From spontaneous sharing of opinions and direct intervention in the public space, they have pointed out possible transformations. Beyond public consultations and participation in major urban projects, these interventions create a real dynamic specific to the city : as they are the true reflection of the personality and diversity of its inhabitants in the urban space.
Renowned urban planner Mikael Colville-Andersen observes, "What impresses me here is the fantastic gallery of citizens dictating the music ... the people who live here are what makes this city incredibly unique.”
Today however larger-scale, sustainable urban initiatives are more often driven by the city and its organizations rather than by the residents themselves. Annie Vandenberg, project manager at Evergreen, the entity behind the Evergreen Brick Works a sustainable practices demonstration center, explains that the administrative burden of setting up projects is disabling (even if efforts are being made). This is what explains that "bottom-up" initiatives are less frequent. To see more citizen initiatives flourish, Toronto seems to have to cut the red tape even further and give its residents the means to not only act but to build sustainable and long term projects.
To go deeper into the subject, you can take a look at:
- Urbanisme tactique : réinventer la ville autrement, Carlos Moreno, 24 Juin 2015, La Tribune
- Jane Jacobs :
- The Sidewalk Labs project :
- The Sidewalk Wars, 4 Septembre 2019, Toronto Life : 18 opinions on the Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto
- Life Sized Cities, S01 E02 – Toronto, Michael Colville-Andersen
Marie and Mïa from the huje project
Find more stories by Marie & Mïa, the co-founders of the huje project, on our website or on their LinkedIn!