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Mayor John Tory was in Austin this week to strengthen ties between Toronto and the best little town in Texas.The.
Mayor John Tory was in Austin this week to strengthen ties between Toronto and the best little town in Texas.
The business mission, which coincided with Austins world renowned South by Southwest music festival, was part of the music city alliance initiative that the two cities signed in 2013, and saw Tory tour several Austin-based technology companies and apparently take in a few shows.
In an interview with CBC’s Metro Morning on Thursday, he sounded thoroughly impressed with the laid-back attitude of the Texas capital.
Were a little uptight, you know, about a lot of things, Tory said of Toronto. Theyre certainly relaxed here about everything, and theyve got the people and the jobs to show for it.
Tory conceded he wants to make Toronto more hip. (On the hipness scale, our straight-laced mayor registers somewhere between jokey dad and ham sandwich, so he may need a little help.)
Here are some ways that TO could get its groove back.
1. Bring the noise
Toronto venue owners hoping to host live music can find it very difficult to get all the proper permits from the city. Zoning bylaws in some parts of town specifically rule out DJs and dance floors, and local councillors often try to have onerous conditions placed on liquor licences, such as prohibiting lineups or cover charges. The city has even gone after specific genres of music, with some councillors trying last year to ban electronic dance music from Exhibition Place. This hostile regulatory regime has significantly restricted the growth of Torontos music scene.
2. Set food trucks free
Toronto does food trucks as poorly as Austin does them well. As Tory told the CBC, in Austin they have food trucks of all kinds, and theyre free from the nanny-statism that severely limits where and for how long they can do business. Last council term the city of Toronto tried to loosen its rules, but under pressure from lobbyists working on behalf of brick-and-mortar restaurants, they came up short. The new regulations dictated that trucks must keep 50 metres from an open eating establishment, and can only stay in one place for three hours. The new regime flopped, and a year after the reforms were introduced, less than half of 125 available permits had been purchased.
3. Beer me
Cities around the world have failed to descend into alcohol-induced chaos despite allowing liquor to be sold at corner stores, consumed in public, and bought at bars until after 2 a.m. And yet in Canadas biggest city, picnickers are forced to hide their wine in water bottles and Sunday dinner hosts are left empty-handed if they miss the LCBOs 5 pm closing time. Recent machinations from the province about allowing beer in grocery stores is a positive step, but real change appears to be off the table for our political leaders, even if they realize how retrograde our rules are. Look at our liquor laws, I mean were uptight about everything, Tory told CBC, before acting like hed stepped in a hornets nest and quickly walking it back. I shouldnt have referenced that, he said.
4. Make places for people
Aside from the likes of Trinity Bellwoods Park and possibly Yonge Dundas Square, Toronto has few iconic spaces that are naturally animated by activity. Great spaces like Trinity Square are hidden away and underused, and as the city densifies, weve failed to create enough public parks to keep up with the growing population. What few green spaces there are downtown are becoming overcrowded and, often, littered with dog poop (were looking at you, Liberty Village).
5. Rent relief
A big reason why living in Toronto can seem like a stressful grind is that the cost of living here is so damn high. A one-bedroom apartment downtown costs an average of $1,255, and the average price for a detached home anywhere in the city recently topped $1 million. Meanwhile, wages are rising slower than inflation. Its hard to attract the kind of young artistic talent that defines a hip city when young folk can’t pay the rent.
bens@nowtoronto | @BenSpurr