Miller time at York

In a town hall meeting on Friday that concluded a day-long conference on public participation in local government, Toronto Mayor David Miller gave an impassioned speech on his community safety plan and answered a multitude of questions covering topics as diverse as the role hip-hop culture could play in the community safety plan and privatizing public transit.

Right: Toronto Mayor David Miller, at the podium, addresses the audience at a town hall meeting. Tom Axworthy(seated) of the Ginger Group, conference organizers, looks on.

The conference, organized by the Ginger Group and co-sponsored by York University and Seneca College, brought together leaders from politics, the civil service, corporate Canada, and the media. At a series of panels hosted by Seneca College, they discussed what steps their sectors must take to restore public confidence in light of recent ethical scandals. The conference then culminated in the town hall meeting at the Underground, located at York’s Keele campus. The meeting involved Miller, York and Seneca students and members of the community.

In his keynote address delivered to a capacity crowd at the meeting, Miller outlined his community safety plan, which he introduced to Toronto City Council last month. It would involve a mayor’s advisory panel, chaired by Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry, and a community safety secretariat where city staff will would work with communities and neighbourhoods.

“I feel strongly that so-called ‘at-risk’ communities know best what they need. Staff within our community safety secretariat will work with neighbourhood agencies and residents to develop action plans which will allow the city to use its resources in the most needed areas, in the most effective ways,” said Miller. “This might mean identifying a need for better lighting in certain parks. It might mean identifying a need for certain kinds of after-school programs. For some communities – like the former municipality of York – they might need an actual rec centre, because they don’t have one now.”

Miller then challenged students and members of the community to put their own involvement into the plan with what he called a 20-minute makeover. “On April 23, I am challenging everyone to step outside at 2pm and spend 20 minutes picking up litter, or sweeping the sidewalk – whatever it takes to beautify your corner of the world. We’re calling it the 20-minute makeover,” said Miller. “How does this link to community safety? Well, I have heard in some of the neighbourhoods that have been hit by gun violence in the last few months – Rexdale, for instance – that when the neighbourhood is not clean, when it is shabby, people do not take pride and that they consequently don’t feel safe.”

Right: A capacity crowd listened to the Toronto mayor deliver his vision of a cleaner, safer city

Miller said the clean-up day was not meant to replace the core city services. Instead, his idea is to re-engage civic pride. He hopes that by complementing city services through neighbourhood action, residents and members of communities (including those that surround York University) would feel more connected to the community.

In the question and answer session following his speech, students posed a diverse array of queries, ranging from the role of hip-hop culture in developing the community safety plan to cuts to the police budget in light of the rash of hate crimes that had occurred over the past month. They wanted to know what Miller’s vision of the waterfront was and if privatization of public transit could create enough funding to improve service to York’s Keele campus.

With respect to hip-hop culture in community safety, Miller encouraged participation of all community and cultural groups. On the police budget, rumours of cuts were incorrect, said Miller. “In fact the police budget will be increased.” He said the money would be put into increased policing and a greater community presence of the police force so that residents could feel confident in highlighting potential trouble at the local level. “Residents are calling for more visible policing, a return to foot patrols and bike patrols. They want to know their local officers.”

Bringing the waterfront to the city was also a point of discussion. Miller recapped the Fung plan to revitalize the waterfront. He highlighted that he hoped to get rid of the Gardner Expressway and lower the skyline to open up the waterfront to all citizens.

And on transit, Miller was adamant that “there will not be any move to privatize the TTC. That would result in a cherry picking of the best routes, leaving other routes without service.” Miller also stated that York had reached the magical transit ratio of 60/40 of transit to non-transit commuters, highlighting that current rider statistics could mean a step forward in creating a dedicated busway to York University.