Following the tragedy at the Eaton Centre Saturday, June 2, Rob Ford, with typical bluster, declared T.O. the "safest city in the world."
Not only is this inaccurate - many cities have found ways to better guarantee the security of their citizens - but the mayor seems unaware of the fact that it's conscious policy and directed funds that head off violent crime, not hopes and wishes.
Most crime rates here are in a long and steep decline, likely a result of demographics and to a lesser extent government programs. Police have done an excellent job of re-prioritizing their resources and putting more officers on the street through programs like the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy. But this is an ongoing effort, not a quick fix and shooting incidents are up significantly. We need an innovative, targeted policing policy, and we have to be prepared to pay more for it.
Policing alone can't solve this problem - this is the experience from around the world. The last time we faced a violent crime scare, Toronto increased services, both government and non-profit, in the areas most needing them - the so-called Priority Neighbourhoods.
Policing alone can't solve this problem in the long term - this is the experience from around the world.
This effort worked for a time, but social change takes a generation, and recent cuts in city services and a focus on other issues has weakened the effectiveness of the programs that could only have been considered the beginning anyway.
We also have to acknowledge that major initiatives - income redistribution, better housing, ed improvements, childcare - can't be funded on the property tax base and require help from other levels of government. Unfortunately, these seem oblivious.
Offering encouragement to young people will cost, but not a lot. Compared to the price tag for occupying neighbourhoods with police, it's an excellent deal for taxpayers. We should start by expanding programs that make rec activities in many areas free, and ensure that the means-tested Welcome Policy is fully funded. But programs won't be used if they're not close by. In many areas, under-investment means that many kids still can't walk to a rec centre or library. This has to change. That won't come cheap: new facilities cost between $15 and $30 million. But smaller park- or storefront-based centres like Thorncliffe Community Centre and Dufferin Grove Park are great locally run, low-cost alternatives.
Transit also plays a role. Light rail and improved bus service ensure easy access to programs out of walking distance. One idea to consider is a low-income transit pass, which would likely cost upwards of $70 million a year and require a non-TTC budget source. More programs are also needed to bring kids to parks and cultural institutions they may not get to otherwise.
As income disparities intensify and other levels of government abdicate their responsibilities, the city has to do more. It's time to review what has worked, look to other cities for good practices and get on with building strong, inclusive neighbourhoods.