Since sending my three young kids off to school in September, I’ve been thinking about our summer and some of my favourite memories from it. Now, let’s be real here. I spent most of my free time this summer out meeting residents, hearing from them about their plans and hopes and how the city can do a better job helping them make those happen.
But I did get to have some good hangouts with my kids – and on some of those days, it was unbelievably hot. Like parents across our community, my wife and I would think about ways we could have fun, keep cool and spend time outside as a family. We would go searching for a splash pad or a park with some new, safe playground equipment. And let me tell you, unfortunately, in our community, there aren’t many options. And I have to say that often our parks aren’t kept as clean as they should be. It was frustrating. And even more so, when I would chat with friends or colleagues who live in other parts of the city it was clear they were not experiencing the same thing.
This kind of community infrastructure is so important to families. It provides free entertainment and access to nature and outdoor space from kids to seniors to pet owners. In York-South Weston, our average household income is approximately $35,000 less than the average Toronto household. Given that, you would think providing these kinds of spaces would be even more important. Yet, the track record of our representatives in securing the funds needed to improve and create new green spaces, parks, dog parks, and splash pads is not great. For example, Ward 11 and Ward 12 got a combined $200,000 in Section 37 funds in 2014. This is significantly below the Toronto average of more than $900,000 per ward. Just think for a second about what kinds of projects we could have seen in our neighbourhoods in that year alone with an additional $1.6 million.
So, where do these Section 37 funds come from? You can read all about them here but essentially these are community benefits (aka cash for the community) paid by property owners in exchange for approval to build something that doesn’t comply with zoning requirements. They are negotiated by city staff and the local councillor, and it is the local councillor who mainly controls how the funds are spent within the ward. Now, while it’s true that the more development an area has, the more Section 37 funding it is able to get, The Toronto Star points out that the effectiveness of getting this funding and its impact depend “a lot on the skill and creativity of the local councillor”.
Skilled, creative and passionate – these are just some of the qualities York South-Weston families need in their next City Councillor. And these are the things I am and that I’ve brought to my work in the community for many years. I want to work with you to find better ways to utilize our current schools, parks, community centres to provide more programs for youth, young families, and seniors. I will advocate for convenient and accessible recreational programming for all residents. I will fight for more affordable, high-quality childcare spaces in our neighbourhoods.
What do you want to see in our community? I want to hear from you.