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Energizing Our Economy & Cultivating Culture

We're in the middle of another busy Council session. I'm saving my monthly Council Highlights for next week so I can report on the full agenda once everything has gone through Council. Today, I want to pull back the curtain and look at the immense amount of work that goes into items before they make it to the Council floor. In my role as Chair of Economic & Community Development, I'm getting to take part in and witness firsthand the months of work, fact finding, and consulting that leads up to the staff reports we debate each month.

In particular, I want to focus on two important plans that the City is working to update: the Economic Development Plan and the Culture Plan. These are both ambitious, guiding documents that aim to spur economic growth and bolster our culture sector, both of which have immeasurable impacts on the health of our city as a whole. These plans put the City in the driver's seat as we push forward to create a city that is liveable, prosperous, and vibrant, now and into the future.

Let's start with the Economic Development Plan. Even if the pandemic had not arrived, this plan would have needed a significant update. Our last Economic Development Plan was adopted in 2013. Back then, I asked for an iPhone 6 for Christmas because it would take better selfies. A lot has changed, particularly in the world of work.

Before setting out to tackle the larger Economic Development Plan, City staff assembled an Economic Recovery Advisory Panel consisting of a range of downtown employers to talk about recovery from the pandemic. It quickly became clear to senior staff that there was much more to address than the immediate challenge of return-to-work policies. We needed a new 10-year plan to attract and retain business. The sudden volume of career changes that followed the pandemic emphasized our need to examine what kind of workers we need and how we will secure them.

Staff set to work at the beginning of the year to convene a new roundtable. It included members from the Recovery Panel and brought in new stakeholders to broaden the advice we might receive. I co-chair those discussions with Zabeen Hirji, a citizen member of the table who specializes in future of work. Each time we meet, staff present another element of the challenge in creating a long-term plan to grow Toronto's economy. We get to hear from businesses, organizations, and other stakeholders on how we can achieve things like attracting new investments, showcasing our city's local talent, creating hyper-local economic opportunities in neighbourhoods, and much more. It's an honour to watch this work unfold.

By the time the General Manager of Economic Development, Patrick Tobin, presents the framework for a new Economic Development Plan to Council and our new Mayor, it will already have a solid base of expert opinion and detailed research for staff to build upon. At that point, there will be more outreach to the community and you will have a chance to have your say. In the meantime, the whole team in the Economic Development office and the folks at Toronto Global, the City's business attraction corporation, continue to attract new businesses and talent to Toronto to generate a healthy local economy.

One of our gorgeous theatres here in Toronto.

At the very same time, staff have also started working to update our 10-Year Culture Plan. Our last plan in this area came out in 2011—Rob Ford had just been elected mayor, I had just gotten a new iPhone 4, and all my husband could talk about was the new baseball movie, Moneyball. Yes, it's high time we gave this plan an update as well.

Culture is an area that might feel a bit more nebulous than economic development, but it is just as essential to the health of our city—both its social and cultural fabric and its economic opportunity. Think about what makes you want to travel to international cities. It isn't the business being conducted every day. It's the live shows, art galleries, cultural districts, and general buzz the city has day and night. Our culture sector is both a major economic player through things like our TV and film industry, and also in helping Toronto attract both tourism and investment from major companies around the world.

With the Culture Plan, staff are again seeking the opinion of big players in the sector. Practically every discipline within the arts is represented in our Advisory Panel, as well as key umbrella organizations like the Toronto Arts Council, which oversees grants distribution to various artists and arts organizations. The plan is also receiving robust research support from the University of Toronto's School of Cities. I co-chaired the first meeting of this Advisory Panel earlier this week with dynamic culture leader and influencer maxine bailey (maxine prefers lower case names that put us all on equal footing), who is currently the Executive Director of the Canadian Film Centre.

A behind-the-scenes shot from Guillermo del Toro's Shape of Water, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture and was partially filmed in Toronto.

What a first meeting we had. This group is not shy. During our first discussion, the Culture Plan began to broaden in scope to accommodate all of their concerns for the future. Broader concerns like housing affordability threaten our ability to keep artists in our city. Others, like our transit woes, make it harder to attract audiences to our shows. These artists and influencers want us to consider the full range of issues facing City Hall and just how deeply they impact the culture sector. They also remind us of how deeply intertwined all of these elements are when we're talking about the health of our city.

Our senior staff left the discussion buzzing with inspiration. We will continue developing this work all summer long, and then begin to engage with the new mayor, all of Council, and, of course, you. These two plans are being developed in this broadly consultative way because the senior staff I'm privileged to work with know that their work can't be confined to the ivory tower or even the Council chamber. It needs to be informed by the very communities it seeks to serve. They've made it their business to reach out to residents and organizations across Toronto to be able to recommend the best long-range plans for the quality of life we all want.

It is early days, but I wanted to share with you that this work is underway. Our City has an essential role to play in stimulating our economy and creating policies that allow our local culture to flourish. The more we uplift our economy and energize our cultural sector, the better able we are to build a city that gives everyone the supports they need to succeed. Through this important work, we can build a Toronto that families and businesses alike can call home—one where you can follow your passion, put down roots, and enjoy a city that is vibrant, day and night.

North York Community Council Updates

Below, you’ll find a rundown on the most notable items coming to North York Community Council next week. From local safety initiatives to development updates, read on to learn how these items impact our community here in Don Valley North.

Local Safety Initiatives

There are multiple items coming to NYCC that aim to make our streets safer for local residents. First, we’ll be considering a motion to improve parking at Steelesview Public School on Bestview Drive, allowing 15-minute parking for student pick-up and drop-off. We will also be looking at another motion to prohibit parking on a section of Forest Manor Road at George Henry Boulevard, in response to several visibility concerns that staff have received from residents in Parkway Forest.

We have also been making progress on various traffic safety concerns on Sheppard Avenue, east of the 404, by working in partnership with residents at the Crossroads Complex (1900 Sheppard Avenue East). I will be moving a motion to increase the size of signage at the driveway of the complex to be at least 50% larger to address issues with drivers contravening existing signage.

Development Updates

We have three reports about development applications on the agenda this month:

This item is an update on the developer’s appeal of this application to the Ontario Land Tribunal. For over a year, City Planning and City Legal staff have been attempting to negotiate a settlement before they must appear at the Tribunal this fall. City staff are recommending City Council oppose the application in its current form. At present, the application proposes a total of 805 dwelling units, with two residential tower heights of 33 storeys and 34 storeys. Negotiations around tower height, the size of the floorplate, and the direct connection to Leslie Subway Station are ongoing and we will likely see an updated report in the coming weeks. I will be sure to keep you updated as this report goes from Community Council to City Council next month.

This application proposes to redevelop the east portion of the site into a 34-storey mixed-use building while retaining the existing two-storey office building, for a total of 334 residential units. City Planning has worked through a number of issues with the original proposal and are currently recommending approval of the application, given the Provincial government’s legislative changes around major transit stations (which this site falls inside of). One major win here is that we’ve been able to secure affordable units as part of the proposal. This is one of the last times we will be able to secure a benefit like this. The Province has removed the old Section 37 regime, which means that securing affordable housing will be very difficult.

Lastly, there is an item that requests to lift the holding provision on part of the lands at Bayview Village Mall. You will recall that the City and local residents settled this Ontario Land Tribunal appeal a couple of years ago, on the condition that sewer capacity be addressed prior to construction proceeding. Now that the sewer work at Leslie and Sheppard has moved to the next phase, the City is recommending that this holding provision be lifted.

North York Community Council will be meeting next week on Tuesday, June 20th at 9:30AM. You can watch in-person at North York Civic Centre or online via YouTube.

Economic & Community Development Updates

It was another action-packed week! Some highlights include:

  • Celebrated 98 years of Destination Toronto's work to promote Toronto as a world-class city to tourists across the globe at their Annual General Meeting last week.

  • Commemorated those who have lost their lives in the line of duty at the Toronto Fallen Firefighter Memorial Service.

  • Toured Youth Without Shelter's North Etobicoke site, seeing firsthand the incredible work they do to support youth experiencing homelessness in our city.

  • Visited my friends at the Youth Association for Academics, Athletics, & Character Education (YAAACE) to check out their state-of-the-art facilities and see how they help kids from all communities build their skills and confidence.


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