City’s diversity should be more than a slogan

Posted on September 1, 2010 in Inclusion Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Editorial Opinion
Published On Wed Sep 01 2010.  Kevin Stolarick Martin Prosperity Institute, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

While recently riding on the London Underground, I came to realize how strong and deep-seated diversity is in Toronto.

Of course, as with public transit in most major European cities, you hear conversations in many languages. Having ridden the TTC as my almost exclusive means of transit for the past few years, I’ve come to expect my subway or streetcar to sound like the language booths at the United Nations — parents arguing with their children in Farsi; old women nattering at their older husbands in Mandarin; lovers holding their telephonic tête-à-tête in Spanish (or was that Portuguese?); confused tourists from America asking for directions in English.

The background buzz of conversations in other languages had become so commonplace to me that it took me a while riding the tube in London before I realized that Toronto was far more diverse. Partly, it was the languages themselves (mostly European languages in London and languages from all over the world in Toronto) but it was more than that. In London, the different languages are always spoken by tourists. In Toronto, it’s almost always residents.

When the City of Toronto amalgamated, it adopted this simple three-word motto: Diversity our Strength. Concurrently connoting equity, respect, harmony and prosperity, the prose transforms the city’s most defining characteristic into what is internationally recognized as Toronto’s unique selling point. Branding Toronto as diverse — in a number of different ways — can only be the city’s strength if it can be articulated, protected, enhanced and promoted. The diversity and strength of Toronto is not just in its people. It is also resident in its businesses and neighbourhoods.

Toronto has one of the world’s most diverse populations, with a large share of immigrants, ethnicities and visible minorities. Of the 223 ethnic origins identified in the Canadian census, Toronto is home to individuals from across 216 ethnicities.

While home to a much wider range of ethnicities in comparison to the national average, Toronto is home to a larger share of people from eastern and southern Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia.

In addition, Toronto has a large visible minority population; approximately 41 per cent of its population is captured by the Statistics Canada definition of “persons, other than aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour” — a proportion much higher than the Canadian average of 15.3 per cent.

South Asians and Chinese comprise the largest visible minority groups in Toronto — 54 per cent of all visible minorities, or 22 per cent of the total population. After the two largest groups, blacks, Filipinos and Latin Americans are the next biggest minority groups in Toronto (29 per cent of Toronto’s visible minority population).

Jane Jacobs long ago identified the important role diversity plays in creating successful neighbourhood settings. In particular, she pointed to the importance of diversity in bringing life to a community during all hours of the day.

In other words, neighbourhoods that become desolate places in the evenings or during the day are not only inefficient but have detrimental impacts on community cohesiveness and prosperity.

Diverse neighbourhoods promote social inclusion by helping to bring together people from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.

A mixed-use neighbourhood can help reduce crime by increasing the round-the-clock activity within a community. It provides a range of residential and commercial amenities that help promote and sustain a local economy and reduce our environmental impact by decreasing our dependence on the car.

In addition, artistic and gay areas — as areas of traditionally excluded populations — tend to be more meritocratic, tolerant of risk and open-minded.

The heart and soul of any city is its people. Immigration and other factors have created a Toronto that is not only strengthened by but flourishes because of its diversity — all kinds of diversity.

But this “diversity of diversity” is interconnected — you cannot start pulling on one thread without the whole tapestry falling apart at your feet.

“Diversity our Strength” is not just a motto — it is a statement of fact.

We jeopardize the future prosperity of this city when we forget that fact and treat it only as the background buzz of any conversation. It’s a point that our candidates for mayor should keep in mind.

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