Is the Decline of Traditional Media and Substantive News Reporting and the Rise of Social Media Harming Democracy?

Is the decline of traditional media and substantive news reporting and the rise of news through social media harming our democracy?

Dave Hardy’s abbreviated presentation to:  Why Should I Care?

The topic tonight is timely in light of the 6 month suspension of Brian Williams for exaggerating taking on fire in Iraq in 2003 and the demise of Sun Media.  Williams’ suspension showed me how important it was for NBC to maintain public trust through truth telling and factual reporting.

The demise of Sun Media prompted Liberal commentator Warren Kinsella[1] to state he was disgusted by the gleeful celebration by some people on Twitter and by the loss of 200 media jobs.  True to form, Kinsella’s comments prompted 47 pages of commentary from bloggers and tweeters.

My remarks focus on the premise that there is a substantial reduction in substantive news in relation to the health of our democracy.  I will comment as a non-journalist.  And, as a professional urban planner.

So, what are we to make of the flood of public opinion that now competes against traditional media news stories?

My good friend, and professional communicator, Brian Smith[2] observes that in society we believe that freedom of speech leads to truth.  So we don’t muzzel Jenny McCarthy when she shares the opinion that vaccination is a cause of autism in children.   For the health of our democracy we allow people to express their views.

Yet having 500 internet bloggers providing opinions with little or no research bumps into the historical views that we’ve developed in North America about what constitutes responsible journalism.

The underlying premise of responsible journalism is, substantive news is produced by professional journalists, (they are expected to do fact checking and print or tweet corrections if the facts are wrong) and that in turn supports the health of our democracy.  We expect journalists to disseminate quality information.  In contrast, Kinsella states, “…bloggers and tweeters don’t generate actual news – they just comment on it.  They offer opinions on someone else’s work.  Someone else’s journalism.”[3]

It’s not the job of bloggers and tweeters to correct falsehoods.  Although, there’s an uncomfortable amount of evidence showing professional journalists accepting facts and tweets without verification.  Perhaps with cuts to media budgets this will increase.

A second supporting premise is, responsible journalism separates the front page and the editorial page.  With the rise of social media, opinion gets through as front page journalism.  Whereas, in the past, opinion was filtered because it came through the funnel of traditional news organizations.

The third premise is, it’s the role of traditional media, according to Mark Little[4], Founder and Director of Innovation at Storyful, “to separate the news from the noise”.  Before the rise of social media, members of the public could check the integrity of news stories because they were following 5 journalists.

Little states the job of traditional journalists is to “filter the flood of competing narratives and to connect the most authentic voices to the widest possible audience.[5]  Society now has to scrutinize stories and facts produced by those 500 assorted bloggers, tweeters, and journalists.  Author Nate Silver[6], states, “We face danger [in our democracy] whenever information growth outpaces our understanding of how to process it.”

Fourth, when matters are unclear, we expect traditional journalists to report that there are facts that need to be sorted out and to provide a nuanced tempered opinion when that is called for.

In contrast, bloggers don’t need to report that there are facts that need to be sorted out or that there is a nuanced opinion about what characterizes the truth.  Nor do they need to consider the importance of reasoned debate toward identifying decisions that best represent the public interest.

We now have journalists, citizen journalists, and activists communicating the news.  Hundreds of people have the same tools as traditional media but they are not bound by the tenets of journalistic responsibility.  They don’t need to buy into the principles of objectivity and fact-checking.

On the other hand, perhaps there is some merit in saying that social media as a whole may also contribute to the health of our democracy.  What does social media do well?

In the past, there was less transparency and decision makers didn’t necessarily have to take the broad public interest into account.  Why would they?  Who’s watching?

The point is, for some issues we need more voices not fewer to keep the political class accountable.  With Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler and Facebook, decision makers are conscious that someone is talking about their actions and decisions.  Using (or misusing) a Margaret Thatcher quote, social media provides the “oxygen of publicity”.

In terms of Kinsella’s comment that bloggers are simply commenting on someone else’s news reporting, bloggers and tweeters often get the story and photo’s first and share it with the public – raw.

What about Jenny McCarthy and the need for factual communication about science, the economy and complex public policy issues in a democracy?

In support of non-traditional media, the volume of scientific information has increased incredibly.  We have more access to science and health info than ever.  Yet, the public is not well equipped to sort out conflicting scientific information.

The problem faced by the public is, who do you trust?  The growth of infotainment (news as entertainment) and traditional media broadcasters pandering for ratings has made dialogue on public policy issues and science increasingly difficult; in combination with decreasing social literacy about science, technology, engineering and math across society.

Yet, democratic decisions are made every day.  If we see the demise of substantive news as a threat to democracy, it raises the question of who are some of the other actors influencing these decisions.  Who’s holding decision-makers to account?  In my experience, few politicians base their decisions on what the chattering classes say.  Pipelines, Official Plans, public transit expenditures and power plants are not approved based on the direction of internet gossip.

That brings me to my final point.  In terms of political and corporate communications, there are actors, such as Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited, doing the scientific and public policy research, framing communications and influencing the democratic conversation about what is truth and what in the public interest.

When our work involves communications, we are unconventional.

We are as much subject specific experts (urban planners, economists, social scientists, engineers, geoscientists, physicists, epidemiologists, health physicists, medical doctors) doing ‘communications’ as much as we are ‘communicators with a second credential in the hard and soft sciences’.

Is there an emerging role for professionals to also enter the field as a type of journalist?

In a world where there is a substantial reduction in substantive news, would this role be to fill the gap that the decline of traditional news is leaving?  And, would technical professionals as journalists be a threat or would they contribute to the health of our democracy?

  • [1] Warren Kinsella, Dear Sun News Network folks 13 02 2015
  • [2]
  • [3] Warren Kinsella, Dear Sun News Network folks 13 02 2015
  • [4] Mark Little, Founder and Director of Innovation and Storyful, “The Journalism of Terror: How Do We Bear Witness When Everybody is a Witness
  • [5] Mark Little, Founder and Director of Innovation and Storyful, “The Journalism of Terror: How Do We Bear Witness When Everybody is a Witness
  • [6] Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise a referred to in Little

The Power of Like-Minded Focus

Each committee’s members bring a range of know-how relevant to the project and may represent a community association, a local business or institution, special interest group. The common thread is each member has a personal or professional interest in staying informed, asking questions and providing suggestions, as the project evolves.

These volunteers may have less professional expertise than the project team’s members but this is offset by their invaluable knowledge of the community, its needs, values, trusted alliances and experience.

Facilitation and Other Tools Make it Work

These public committees meet at regular intervals with project owners, from a corporation, municipality or organization sponsoring the project. At these meetings, members provide input and serve as a ‘bridge’ to the community.  A third-party facilitator, such as HSAL, is often brought in to establish the committee, define its purpose, develop the terms of reference and institute protocols to ensure meetings run smoothly and the group’s meets its mandate.

At HSAL, we often recommend and facilitate volunteer committees to advance better project decision-making about infrastructure projects. Why? Because we know from experience that volunteer committees are one of the most effective methods for ensuring infrastructure projects get built on time, on budget and with public accolades.

Contact us if you would like to learn how we can support your communications and public consultation needs.

Renewing Scarborough


This series of discussion papers have been prepared as part of the 2014 Scarborough Community Renewal Campaign, initiated by the Rotary Clubs in Scarborough. The campaign is seeking to raise the profile of the need for social and economic renewal in Scarborough.  The series addresses 5 key areas of growth and development: 1) Economic Development; 2) Social Development; 3) Urban Planning; 4) Arts and Culture and 5) Health Care.

A series of questions are presented at the end of this discussion paper to gather responses on the direction of community renewal for social development.  As part of the overall 2014 Scarborough Community Renewal Campaign three questions are being asked of Scarborough residents:

  • What do you love about Scarborough?
  • What is your vision for a desirable future?
  • What needs to change to achieve this vision?

Feel free to share comments and additional recommendations for building a better community in Scarborough.

Social Development in Scarborough


Toronto is rated one of the most liveable cities in the world.[1] As Canada’s largest urban centre, Toronto generates 45% of Ontario’s GDP and 18% of Canada’s GDP.[2] Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America. The city is continuing to grow, and is a leading economic player in the global economy. As Canada’s largest city, Toronto is home to over 85,000 businesses and is the country’s financial and cultural capital.[3]

As a former amalgamated City, Scarborough has much to celebrate.  We are a wonderful multi-cultural community.  There is a wide variety of retail shops and settings where small business can grow.  Our, established communities are thriving.  We have strong community, arts and faith groups.  Stable organizations exist to ensure support is available to assist all members of society and build quality of life and community well-being.

As an example of recent social investment, the most recently constructed Pan Am and Parapan American Games Aquatic Centre is a state of the art facility, with opportunities for community building and recreation to enhance social spaces in Scarborough. The City of Toronto’s Cultural Hotspot program is another city-wide initiative, highlighting the diversity and community-based arts and culture opportunities in the area.

Over the next generation, Scarborough has an opportunity to re-imagine the community and grow in innovative ways. Developing social infrastructure involves more than social services; rather, this includes resources, relationships, spaces for gathering, learning opportunities, partnerships and networks.[4]

However, in spite of a strong economy and recent large-scale development programs, the benefits are not being seen by all members of our society.

Income polarization in former suburban areas, such as Scarborough, has become increasingly evident since the amalgamation of the former six cities into the City of Toronto. Research by Professor David Hulchanski out of the University of Toronto, describes three cities that have formed within Toronto, and increasing polarization since 1970.[5]  Map 1 below shows the three cities. The cities are characterized as:

  • City 1: Income increased 20% or more since 1970.
  • City 2: Income increased or decreased less than 20% since 1970
  • City 3: Income decreased 20% or more since 1970.[1]

Much of the industry in the inner suburbs has relocated or transitioned, largely due to the deindustrialization of the economy, which has been experienced globally, not just in Scarborough. Over a 10-year period from 2002-2012, Scarborough experienced a net loss of 1,758 jobs, with fluctuations in job growth and decline varying from year to year. The most significant decline in Scarborough occurred in 2005, with a loss of 3,637 jobs.[7]Over this same period, Toronto as a whole experienced a net growth in employment of 68,200 jobs.[8]

Wealth is centered in the core areas of the city. Incomes for the affluent have risen and property value increases have resulted in huge increases in net worth for many core area families. In contrast, there has been a decline in middle-income households in the suburbs and poverty has moved to the edges of the city.[9]

Map 1:  Change in average individual income, City of Toronto, Relative to the Toronto CMA, 1970-2005. [10]

Map 1: Change in average individual income, City of Toronto, Relative to the Toronto CMA, 1970-2005.[10]

The Working Poor

A report published in 2012 by the Metcalf Foundation highlighted the trends where poverty is located in Toronto.[11] While employment is largely considered the solution to ending poverty, there are an increasing number of people who continue to live in conditions of poverty while also working.[12] The Metcalf Foundation in its report defines the “working poor as someone who:

  • has an after-tax income below the Low Income Measure (LIM),
  • has earnings of at least $3,000 a year,
  • is between the ages of 18 and 64,
  • is not a student, and
  • lives independently.”[13]

Maps 2 and 3 below highlight the shift in the geographic concentration of the working poor in Toronto. From 2000-2005, Scarborough experienced significant shifts.

Map 2:  Percentage of working-poor individuals among the working-age population, City of Toronto, 2000. [14]

Map 2: Percentage of working-poor individuals among the working-age population, City of Toronto, 2000.[14]

Map 3:  Percentage of working-poor individuals among the working-age population, city of Toronto, 2005. [15]

Map 3: Percentage of working-poor individuals among the working-age population, city of Toronto, 2005.[15]

Strong Neighbourhoods

.While Toronto has seen an ‘eastification’ of poverty, John Stapleton at Open Policy Ontario, challenges the notion of Scarborough being a community in decline.[16]Specifically, identifying low-income communities as being in decline identifies poor people as the cause for decline, which is damaging and not reflective of the resident community.[17] Scarborough is a dynamic multi-cultural centre, consisting of vibrant neighbourhoods. What were formerly known as the City of Toronto’s Priority Neighbourhoods were newly named Neighbourhood Improvement Areas in 2014, taking into account the need to reframe community-building discussions to reflect strong neighbourhoods vs. neighbourhoods in decline, and how to support that ongoing process.[18]  Thinking about improvement allows for the reframing of communities in decline and highlighting areas for continued growth.

Services and Programs

What are some of the programs currently supporting social and economic development for Scarborough residents?

Integrated Local Labour Market Planning (ILLMP)

The ILLMP is a joint initiative, bringing together the City of Toronto – specifically Economic Development and Culture, Toronto Employment and Social Services, and Social Development, Finance and Administration – and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) to develop a local framework to ensure access to employment supports and services. This joint initiative released an Integrated Employment Services Plan for the Kingston, Galloway, Orton Park, Mornelle Court (KGOM) area, outlining key strategies and recommended activities to assist in creating a comprehensive economic and employment strategy that focuses on the local economy’s supply and demand.[19]

The ILLMP is part of a larger Inclusive Local Economic Network (ILEN) initiative; however, the ILLMP for KGOM is the first analysis. This strategy will be replicated in other areas of Scarborough, as each specific neighbourhood faces different challenges, and requires a regional service plan.[20]

YWCAs and YMCA in Scarborough  

The YWCAs and YMCA in Scarborough offer numerous services for community members, including newcomer information services, language assessments and referrals, youth leadership programming, career counseling and entrepreneurship assistance. These community hubs ultimately seek to offer a range of programs developed to meet the needs of the community.[21]

Agincourt Community Services Association (ACSA)

ACSA offers community engagement programming that is current and relevant to the needs of the community it serves.[22] Established in the 1970s, ACSA responded to the rapidly changing community of Agincourt, by involving the community in establishing programming. Today, ACSA offers services, such as a newcomers’ information centre, youth, child and senior services, homeless and outreach services. The Association is also involved in community action networks, involving neighbourhoods in building stronger communities by identifying areas for growth, and helping residents achieve that vision.

East Scarborough Storefront

The East Scarborough Storefront opened in 2001, and is a community resource for collaboration, support, and community building.[23] The Storefront is involved in identifying local economic opportunities, employment training, and acts as a community hub for meeting and community activity. While the Storefront was established as an effort to connect service providers with community members, the space has launched new entrepreneurial initiatives, identified gaps in community services, filled those gaps and has created greater connections within the community.[24]

Boys and Girls Clubs

The Boys and Girls Clubs in Scarborough offer a wide range of programming and community involvement for youth, from birth-24 years old, and for families. The facilities offer licensed childcare, early years programs, before & afterschool programs, camps, sports/recreation and leadership development. The Boys and Girls Clubs are active in building healthy communities, and providing safe environments for youth to learn and grow.

Community Social Planning Outside of Scarborough

How have other communities approached social development?  What lessons are there for Scarborough?

Hamilton Human Services Plan

Planning coordination is important to ensure that all those in need are receiving social and economic support. The City of Hamilton decided to establish a vision for social development supported by a coordinated plan.  The Hamilton Human Services Plan identifies 10 Human Service sectors that impact residents of any given community and that are needed in order to build a comprehensive plan: 1) Learning Opportunities; 2) Community Safety; 3) Economic Development; 4) Transportation; 5) Housing Opportunities; 6) Early Childhood Services; 7) Culture and Recreation; 8) Social & Community Services; 9) Employment & Income Supports; and 10) Healthcare and Public Health. By engaging various groups and collaborating to develop a ‘playbook’ for social planning, Hamilton was able to identify strengths, weaknesses, existing programming and gaps in order to integrate future planning. Additionally, this approach seeks to integrate groups operating in silos, and offers space for community involvement in social policy planning.[25]

3.2 Region of Peel – Official Plan

The Region of Peel approached developing its Official Plan from a new perspective by integrating urban development with social planning.  They began by questioning the assumptions underpinning the design of traditional suburban housing architecture and the design of subdivisions.  Traditional subdivision design assumes residents will:  be part of a nuclear family, be healthy, never have challenges with language or customs, never age, keep employed, and stay married.  These life circumstances do not depict how most people live their lives.  Peel Region planners observed that “complete communities” were needed and could be designed to serve all residents no matter how their circumstances changed.

In 2013, the Region of Peel released a report on community health and the impact of the built environment on fostering and developing healthy communities.[26] Specifically, Region of Peel planners and social development staff explored epidemics facing communities (e.g. obesity), and identified the need to address community health in urban development plans, including:

  • Rethinking the design of low-density, single-family dwellings and large lot sizes;
  • Automobile dependency
  • Large distances from services
  • Street patterns that are obstacles to walking and biking to nearby destinations, etc.[27]

The plan also calls for a specific approach to planning to address an aging population.[28]This approach to urban planning accurately captures the need to integrate urban and social planning with inputs from developers and builders, urban planners and social agencies so as to build complete communities.

Core recommendations

  • Develop a “Scarborough Specific” Human Services Plan, addressing barriers faced by youth, seniors and newcomers
  • Deliver high order transit to those who are most transit-dependent
  • Design ‘complete communities’ as part of planning for new infill development
  • Integrate urban planning and social planning within Toronto’s Official Plan
  • Increase public consultation and engagement on a Social Development Vision for Scarborough
  • Accelerate economic development for job creation

Questions for Discussion

  1. What does an excellent quality of life mean for Scarborough residents? What is our ‘vision’?
  2. In your experience, what aspects of Scarborough’s neighbourhoods are thriving?
  3. How are seniors integrated into larger conversations of social planning in Scarborough?
  4. What youth initiatives exist in Scarborough to assist this rapidly growing demographic?
  5. Why are those neighbourhoods thriving and what are the lessons for Neighbourhood Improvement Areas?
  6. Are there gaps in social planning programs that need to be filled to service Scarborough residents?
  7. How could a Scarborough specific Human Services Plan best benefit the community? How would the Plan be structured to integrate with urban planning?


Toronto: A Tale Of Three Cities

In 1998, the cities of Etobicoke, York, East York, North York, Scarborough, and Toronto, making up Metropolitan Toronto, were amalgamated into the City of Toronto. In 2014, the Rotary Clubs in Scarborough (coalition of 5 different Rotary Clubs in Scarborough) saw that one of the former municipalities, Scarborough, had close to half of the poverty areas in Toronto and they were concerned.

In contrast to US cities, poverty areas in Toronto are in the suburbs and the wealthy live in the core. David Hulchanski, Professor at the University of Toronto identifies three cities in Toronto in his report (1), “The Three Cities Within Toronto: Income Polarization Among Toronto’s Neighbourhoods, 1970-2005”. He illustrated that in Toronto, in 1970, the low-income households were in the Downtown area near accessible transit. But by 2005, they had been pushed to the inner-suburbs where transit services are poor.

City #1 is the high-income urban core where residents have seen incredible benefits from urban growth. For example, in Toronto’s tony Forest Hill community only a few houses sell for under $2 million – many are valued at over $4 million. House prices, home equity and family wealth continue to rise in this area.

City #2 is the middle-income area where residents are keeping up with the growth of the economy. This group is shrinking as a result of the growing gap between the high and low-income population.

City #3 is the low-income area that sits mostly outside of the subway lines. This includes inner-suburbs, such as Scarborough, where many people struggle to pay for housing, a basic need. Because of their poor access to quality public transit, many Scarborough residents, especially those at the low-income bracket are required to commute long distances of up to 20 kilometers on public transit to get to work in the core.

Rotarians saw community developers and social workers in City #3 doing a very good job at poverty alleviation, workforce training and implementing programs to help lift people out of poverty. The City of Toronto appropriately stepped up and assigned Neighbourhood Improvement Area status to these neighbourhoods and provided supportive programming.

But the Rotarians wanted to know, in one of North America’s wealthiest cities, what are the causes of poverty? Particularly, when Scarborough once was called the “City of the Future”, why does it have so much poverty today? So, they hired Hardy Stevenson and Associates Limited (HSAL) to conduct research on Scarborough, focusing on five areas: urban planning, arts and culture, health care, economic development and social development. Effectively, they asked HSAL to peel back the onion.

In parallel, the Rotarians initiated a two-year-long Scarborough-wide economic and community development campaign. They paid HSAL to complete research on community renewal and talked to thousands of people through an extensive public consultation campaign – town halls, individual interviews, and open houses.

This article summarizes some of the findings and recommendations and presents a distinct suburban view of what people in City #3 are seeing.

Let me begin with the context:

The former City of Scarborough has a large population. At about 625,000 residents in 2011 (2), it represents one-quarter of the population of the City of Toronto and just under one-third of the land mass. It has a larger population than Halifax, which is the largest city in eastern Canada. Indeed, it has a larger population than two Canadian provinces – Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

Scarborough residents have a strong vision of who they are. And, they are proud of where they live.

Scarborough is one of the most racially and ethnically diverse places on the face of the planet. HSAL calls it a “world within a city”.

Residents are polite, intelligent and they like each other. In spite of several higher-profile crime incidents several years ago, it is one of the safest places in Toronto to live.

The sense of community and solidarity shared by Scarborough residents is reinforced by them constantly hearing condescending comments from other parts of the city. Over the course of our study, we even heard Canada’s National publically funded broadcaster, the CBC, joining the condescension by calling Scarborough a wasteland (3). Scarborough residents have become fed up with how they are viewed.

So, how are residents of City #3 experiencing the City of Toronto?

Let’s start with the economy.

When Scarborough residents look at the City of Toronto’s wealthy core they see a successful city with jobs centered on finance, information technology, processed food, education and knowledge creation and life sciences. Toronto’s economy is doing famously well. Scarborough residents are pleased that the core is doing well and want nothing that detracts from that.

In contrast, when Scarborough residents think about their economy, they remember that they once had the strongest manufacturing sectors in Canada. Post-amalgamation and with free trade, Scarborough has shifted from a strong manufacturing economy to a retail economy.

It is hard to overlook the stark difference between the performance of City #1’s economy and that of City #3. Over a recent 4 year period (4) Toronto gained 1.6 million square meters of new office space while Scarborough only managed to attract 6,000 square meters of office space. From 2002 to 2012 Toronto gained 68,000 new well-paying jobs. In the same time period, Scarborough lost 1,700 jobs. At this time, Scarborough’s manufacturing sector lost over 14,000 jobs. For the poor in Neighbourhood Improvement Areas, once people are trained the jobs they need aren’t there. It is, in part, the responsibility of the City to support economic development planning so that residents have jobs, but there’s no Scarborough specific economic development plan.

What about healthy communities?

Healthy communities are viewed by core area city planners as places where people have good diets, ride their bikes to work and do the recreational walking. To Scarborough residents, having a healthy community means equitable access to basic medical services.

There are three hospitals in Scarborough and all of them are in dire need of significant funding from the Province of Ontario – the level of government in Canada that is responsible for the majority of health care funding.

One of them is The Scarborough Hospital’s (TSH) Birchmount Campus (also known as Scarborough Grace). It has an emergency room designed to accommodate 20,000 visits per year but in 2014/15 they had 50,000 visits (5). Also, this hospital ranks in the bottom 10% of all hospitals in the Province of Ontario.

The Rouge Valley Hospital System is another hospital in Scarborough and is in dire need of investment. Similar to the TSH Birchmount Campus, the emergency department gets more visits than it was designed for – designed for 25,000 and had 65,000 visits in 2014/15 (6). Those are Scarborough’s good hospitals.

The TSH Scarborough General Campus’ operating rooms are about the oldest in Ontario (7). In a post-SARS world, the General Campus does not have the capability of keeping the clean areas separate from the dirty areas.

In April 2016, the Province announced a new investment of over $10 million in Scarborough hospitals as part of the 2016 Budget, which includes: 1) $4.5 million in increased operating funds for Rouge Valley Health System, and 2) $2.9 million in new operating funding for The Scarborough Hospital. Work is underway to provide capital funding for new hospitals although the funds may not materialize for 12 to 15 years. While Scarborough residents are happy to hear their hospitals are receiving funding, the announcement is a day late and a dollar short. By the time The Scarborough Hospital receive capital funds, the operating room will be over 75 years old.

How about arts and culture facilities?

What do Scarborough residents see when we look at the core city
investment in arts and culture?

The core area of the City of Toronto is one of the best entertainment and cultural hotspots in North America. Scarborough residents are generally happy to see this success. But they see this success through a lens –

Who has Scarborough roots?

The Weeknd, Mike Myers, Lawrence Gowan, Monika Schnarre, Barenaked Ladies, Marilyn Denis, Jim Carrey, Doris McCarthy, Ben Heppner, Peter Appleyard, Gerry Dee, Carole Pope, and the list is long.

What cultural facilities does Scarborough lack?

Galleries, museums, concert halls, exhibit spaces, performance spaces. Arts and cultural capital investment, part of the pre-amalgamation planning never materialized.

What about Transit?

Poor transit in Scarborough is evident when residents have to wait a long time for a bus that could connect them to another bus, Scarborough Rapid Transit (light rapid transit line), or the subway. It is also evident when those who rely on food banks have to commute for 40 minutes to get to a food bank in Scarborough.

And more interestingly, residents in City #1 who have reliable and accessible transit say they don’t go to Scarborough because it is not easy to get there by transit. This clearly minimizes opportunities for growth in Scarborough’s economy and support for arts and cultural activities (8).

Transit policy and planning is normally built upon Official Plans and Economic Development Plans. Good transit supports economic development, residential investment and job creation. The current Scarborough transit debate is being framed by City # 1 residents as building a subway to nowhere. Data is cherry-picked by Toronto’s core area chattering elites to show why transit isn’t needed in Scarborough. The necessary Official Plan and Economic Development supports are missing.

Complete City Needed

It is advantageous for city building to envision a ‘complete city’ rather than a city where some parts do very well and other parts suffer. If having Scarborough residents and other suburban residents equally participating in City life is important, let me share my ideas on how to build a complete city.

How does Toronto become a complete city?

In Toronto, the suburbs are the key:

Completing the city means looking carefully at how the city budget is being allocated.

City planners are doing an excellent job in City #1. The core is booming. Planners have a steady stream of development and growth opportunities to manage. The focus of core area urban planning is great design and managing neighbourhood sensitivities.

But, the type of city planning that does so well for the core is not the same planning that is needed for the suburbs. It’s the difference between planning how to manage growth vs how to attract growth to the suburbs.

Suburban residents need, and are not getting, planning that delivers a positive context for community enhancement, placemaking and economic development. In part, suburban residents need the type of excellent planning that occurs in Peel Region, Vaughan, Markham and the rest of the 905 (905 is the telephone area code for Toronto’s outer suburbs).

In relation to the suburbs, Toronto’s Official Plan has not performed well and needs a lot of work. City-building through the Official Plan needs to link social, economic and environmental development. This involves suburban specific studies and actions to be implemented that arise from the studies.

The suburbs need a district vision, strategic plan, an integrated sustainability plan, transit plan, economic development plan and arts and culture plan. And, all of these plans need to be rolled into land-use policies. These studies and policies have not been developed.

Completing the city means looking carefully at how the city budget is being allocated.

What do Scarborough residents see in terms of where their tax dollars are being spent?

HSAL looked at a budget breakdown produced by a company called Lonely Datum who created an interactive map using the City’s dataset on the City’s capital expenditures by ward between 2014 and 2023 (9).

What the data shows is several of Toronto’s wealthy wards get 10x more capital investment than all of Scarborough. Of the 13 lowest expenditure wards, 8 Scarborough wards are at the bottom of the City’s capital spending priorities over this period.

The core area wealthy in one Ward alone, Ward 20, who comprise almost 3 percent of Toronto’s population, are recipients of $58 million in City capital expenditures. Whereas Scarborough’s combined Wards 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44 representing 24 percent of the City’s population is the recipient of $50 million. These numbers speak to the lack of City investment in Scarborough despite the needs of the population.

Investment is needed in the hospitals, agencies such as the Agincourt food bank, transit, arts and culture, transit and employment growth areas.

‘New Suburbanism’ as an Integrating Idea.

Let me end by sharing an integrating idea; an idea that can help ‘mend’ the City.

A very good integrating idea for complete city building is called ‘new suburbanism’. It essentially involves planning for and building a complete region.

“New suburbanism” asks us to change our thinking on how we see the relationship between the city, suburbs and rural areas. Rather than being seen as dormant areas, suburbs need to be envisioned as vital, active areas contributing to the growth of the core, rural areas and the Region. The ‘Region’ in this instance is the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area.

It acknowledges that a strong city needs both strong suburbs and strong rural areas. It reasserts the role of suburbs as broker between urban and rural areas. Essentially, you can’t have a strong core without strong suburbs. Similarly, you can’t have strong rural areas without strong suburbs.

Adopting “new suburbanism” City planning principles means changing our thinking. It asks us to move away from a planning philosophy that has as the priority, the strength of the core; where planners assume that if the City core is strong there will be some sort of trickle-down benefits to the suburbs.

Instead, it asks us to see that:

Suburbs are not sub-urban; or lesser places than core urban places. They are simply different than urban. They are not places that people live in because they can`t afford to live in the better core areas. Instead, people live in the suburbs because they want to live in the suburbs. The suburbs provide green spaces, convenient shopping and spacious homes. The suburbs offer housing at a more affordable price than in the core. They were well planned as cohesive suburban neighbourhoods and continue to perform that role.

The core area of Toronto is undergoing considerable growth pressure, not dissimilar to London and New York. To address these outward growth pressures, growth following new suburban planning principles would mean that planners would combine greater suburban density with great suburban design. Future suburban areas will see high qualities of life, entertainment and arts facilities and neighbourhood preservation occurring in concert with growth. It involves community groups and developers working together to direct growth to best outcomes and to achieve community enhancements.

What’s required is a move from city-centered urban planning that overlooks suburban needs to region/district centered planning. Under new suburbanism, city planning begins with the city, suburbs and rural areas functioning as one.


Scarborough is a city that was amalgamated but never assimilated into the City of Toronto. It has the potential to be as vibrant as City #1 but it needs attention. It is lacking jobs, infrastructure dollars and new thinking of how suburbs should be planned and developed. Since the last municipal election, Toronto has had an awakening of its suburban areas. I’m hoping it’s an awakening that has the ultimate result of the City coming together.
I submit that as the fourth largest city in North America, having the entire City working together towards achieving a complete city is much better for residents in every part of the City.


Toronto: A Tale of Three Cities at Why Should I Care?

On April 18, 2016, Dave Hardy, Principal of Hardy Stevenson and Associates and John Stapleton, a fellow at the Metcalf Foundation did a talk on “Toronto: A Tale of Three Cities” organized by Why Should I Care, a non-profit group of concerned Canadians who care about the state of our democracy and political system. Dave and John talked about how we can mend the city and become one again. Here are the videos of their remarks from that night:

Video 1: Dave Hardy, Principal of Hardy Stevenson and Associates
Video 2: John Stapleton, Fellow at the Metcalf Foundation

Click here for the article, “Toronto: A Tale of Three Cities” posted on July 17, 2016.




Review: The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society

Below is Hardy Stevenson’s review of The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society by Brad Smith, President and Chief Legal Officer, and Harry Shum, Executive Vice President of Microsoft AI and Research Group.

It’s not often that global technology corporations – on the leading edge of societal and economic change – willingly choose to soul search on the implications of their actions.  It’s refreshing that Microsoft has laid it out bare in their recent online publication, The Future Computed: Artificial Intelligence and its Role in Society.

The implications of Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be massive.  We are already seeing huge economic and social gains in business and personal productivity and human advancement.  But the gains are also associated with job loss, employee displacement and, if you can’t keep up with the skill requirements, workforce redundancy.    

The 145-page work is in part an apology for the workforce disruption being caused by AI.  It’s also a plea for studying and fostering solutions to the disruption that the AI-era will create (p. 80). The publication defends the ‘adaptation challenges’ that AI will cause to bring about a better society.  Several times, Microsoft cites the effect of previous industrial revolutions as justification for the pain that society endures to become the next modern era.   

What I found particularly important is that Microsoft shines a light on its values – ‘we believe in the democratization of computing’ – and elaborates on six principles it should respect in regard to AI actions: 

  1. Fairness;
  2. reliability and safety;
  3. privacy and security;
  4. inclusiveness;
  5. transparency and
  6. accountability. 

Microsoft states: 

“These principles are critical to addressing the societal impacts of AI and building trust as the technology becomes more and more a part of the products and services that people use at work and at home every day.” (p. 56). 

Is there more?

What I’d like to see is Microsoft deepen its thinking about how humans can build trust in AI.  They state: 

“Designing AI to be trustworthy requires creating solutions that reflect ethical principles that are deeply rooted in important and timeless values” (p. 56). 

In my world, principles are important, but principles mainly define the sides of the road for defining what is morally acceptable action.  Principles guide actions.  Principles are not morally sound actions.  What’s missing are answers to:  What are those ‘timeless values’ that Microsoft refers to? (p. 136) What is the world that AI should be creating?  What is the AI morality that guides wise and right action?

I’m impressed that, Microsoft isn’t afraid to wade into the discussion of some of the goals AI should have, such as eliminating disease, solving income inequality, ending hunger and alleviation of poverty; however, AI is not yet envisioned as a technology that will be taking a deep plunge into these waters. 

Forward authors Brad Smith and Harry Shum preach that:  

“The more we build a detailed understanding of these or similar principles – and the more technology developers and users can share best practices to implement them – the better served the world will be as we begin to contemplate societal rules to govern AI”.

Thinking about ethics relevant to a new technology means rolling up your sleeves.  While Microsoft is off to a good start, more in-depth analysis would be welcome.