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Smart and Creative City

Transform underused public land such as river valleys and laneways into places for community use.

Resurrect the Bureau for Municipal Research. A century ago, a handful of Toronto businessmen set up an advocacy group that published reports and studies with ideas for improving local government. The Bureau of Municipal Research operated from 1914 to 1983. “I thought it was a pretty neat organization,” says Gabriel Eidelman, a professor in the School of Public Policy and Governance, who has begun cataloguing and scanning the bureau’s voluminous documents, many of which focus on topics that are still on the city’s agenda: housing, transit, effective regional governance. “We seem to often forget that we’ve had these debates in the past,” he says. Eidelman is considering creating a public website to archive the documents, but says the project is still in its infancy.   Still, he believes there’s a role in contemporary Toronto for an organization that would offer clear and easily understood policy research geared to ordinary citizens, as opposed to the issue-specific advocacy produced by special interest groups such as the Board of Trade. He cites studies from the Bureau of Municipal Research on the impact of a proposed gas tax (1925), low voter turnout in municipal elections (1976) and an overview of the city’s transit problems (1977). These reports, Eidelman says, “could easily have been written today” and could be of use to citizens wanting to inform themselves about how the city arrived at where it is now. – JL

Discover the conditions that foster the creation and growth of successful tech startups. According to a Martin Prosperity Institute study due out later this year, venture capital investments tend to cluster in certain neighbourhoods, even within cities that are generally seen as good places to start a company. The study, by institute director Richard Florida and researcher Karen King, mapped venture capital funding for tech-oriented startups in several global cities, including Toronto. They found that the area close to U of T, encompassing the Annex, Yorkville and midtown neighbourhoods attracted more venture capital – $81 million in 2013 – than any other part of the city. It “shows how great research universities such as U of T have become magnets for technology and talent, spurring startups and catalyzing new businesses and industries,” says Florida. – JL

44 MAGAZINE.UTORONTO.CA

Cities are full of abandoned or neglected spaces, but these spots are not wastelands to architect Calvin Brook, a fellow at U of T’s Global Cities Institute and a principal at the architectural firm Brook McIlroy. When he looks at laneways, abandoned industrial sites and the underside of elevated expressways such as the Gardiner, he sees great potential for vibrant public spaces. Waterfront Toronto took up this idea in recent years by building a children’s park and skateboarding facility under the Don Valley Parkway’s ramps at Eastern Avenue. Further west, the new Fort York Visitor Centre, built under the highest point of the Gardiner Expressway, provides a more formal type of reuse. “The two abandoned bridges across the lower Don River would make an incredible project if whoever is in charge of them gave them over to community entrepreneurs to transform,” says Brook, who points to a Design Trust project in New York that catalogued orphaned spaces under elevated highways and then published their locations. In Toronto, he envisions something similar taking place: “These neglected spaces should be made available for creative design and reuse proposals that would open them up for public use. I think you would get incredible interest.” – JL

Underpass Park

PHOTO: TOP, TORONTO REFERENCE LIBRARY; BOTTOM, DOUBLESPACE

Profile for University of Toronto Magazine

U of T Magazine | Autumn 2015  

Cover feature on the university and the city. Read the winning entries in our writing contest, and all the latest news, events, and research...

U of T Magazine | Autumn 2015  

Cover feature on the university and the city. Read the winning entries in our writing contest, and all the latest news, events, and research...

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