Listening to the People: The Components of the Ideal City

During Doors Open Toronto (May 28 and 29), the Martin Prosperity Institute encouraged visitors to “Build Your Ideal City” in our ‘War Room.’ People drew, wrote, and commented on a large whiteboard on which a map of the City of Toronto was projected. Over the course of the weekend, the board was transformed through the ideas of our guests and by a range of ideas — while some seemed to be standard calls for city improvements, others offered provoking imaginings for a better city.

Ideal City Whiteboard

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Generally, the directives indicated what participants wanted to see more or less of:

Participant preferences

There were also contributions about aspects of the city that residents tend to be less vocal about. Calls for measures such as better designed signage, 5% social housing in new condo developments, charging per unit of water to reduce water waste, public outdoor work out equipment, introducing congestion charges, reducing the amount of empty buses by optimizing public transit through the internet, and GPS technology to get people where they need to go more efficiently were made, effectively encouraging Toronto to match the city building achievements of cities like London and Beijing.

Of course, there were also some extra creative ideas: putting the Gardiner Expressway under Lake Ontario and build more lanes, dance classes for all, the increased presence of superheroes, and the suggestion that “building should [roar].” Thematic was connectivity, the preservation and maintenance of accessible and shared public space, innovative and interesting design, and efficiency.

We were struck by how much and how easily people contributed to and wanted to contribute to
the sharing of ideas on our whiteboard. This playful act of public consultation has underscored the ability of Toronto’s citizens to infuse city-building activities with their thoughtful contributions, illustrating the utility, awareness and ingenuity of the citizenry. Perhaps most of all, it is demonstrative of the sophisticated engagement and shared concern with our city and its changes. The willingness to Build Your Ideal City is about how urbanism is “in the DNA” of Toronto — it’s about the city Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida, and others have chosen to make their home — it’s a city where one of the most widely read columnists is an architecture critic who talks a lot about public spaces (Christopher Hume). So in the end, it’s not just about the ideas that our visitors shared — it’s that they had thought about it enough to have ideas. Doing the same thing in many other cites would leave you with an empty whiteboard at the end of the weekend.

Ideal City Wordle

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The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors—location, place and city-regions—in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.