Good physical and mental health are vitally linked to, and affected by, almost all the issue areas in the Toronto’s Vital Signs Report. Adequate income, stable and appropriate housing, a safe and walkable neighbourhood, strong social networks, and a high level of education all enhance the health of Torontonians. The absence of some or all of those factors contributes to the likelihood of a city resident experiencing, for example, diabetes, depression, or obesity.
The city can prosper only if its residents feel safe in their neighbourhoods, engage with one another, and trust the representatives of their institutions. The majority of Torontonians do feel safe (almost 80% feel at least somewhat comfortable walking in their community at night). Tracking indicators like perceptions of safety, as well as violent and non-violent crime allows us to both to test the basis of that confidence, and also to discover the places and situations where vulnerable residents don’t experience safety.
The Report tracks a number of quite sensitive indicators of Toronto’s economic strength or weakness. Beyond large aggregated statistics like growth in GDP (which may mask underlying problems such as environmental degradation and income inequality), factors such as construction activity, tourism, and bankruptcy rates point to levels of investment, confidence, and economic stress..
Toronto does a great job educating skilled residents, and attracts talented, eager (and needed) workers from around the globe. But lack of decent employment prospects for many, especially young workers and immigrants, exacts a high toll on the city, which loses the opportunity to benefit from this talent and commitment, and on individuals and families who experience a myriad of economic, health and social costs while trying to make ends meet.
The healthiest economies are those where the gap between rich and poor is lowest. Rising income inequality (faster in Canada than in any OECD country other than the US) impacts everyone, as median incomes and income mobility stagnate, poor health outcomes among those with low incomes lead to lost productivity and higher health care costs, and income polarization creates a widening achievement gap in city schools.
The ability to move people and goods efficiently is vital to the economic health of the city. The congestion on regional arteries may be costing the greater Toronto and Hamilton region more than $6B annually in lost productivity. Focusing on building good transit and active transportation networks is also healthy – for us and for our environment.
Toronto won’t be able to absorb the effects of climate change (increasing and severe weather events) if its natural and built environment isn’t healthy. Features such as abundant tree canopy, storm water control, and green roofs are key to the city’s resilience. Parks, recreation areas and walkable neighbourhoods enhance the health and quality of life of all residents. And protection of the rich but threatened farmland that still surrounds the city is an important contribution to our food security.
An educated labour force is more critical than ever as the labour market shifts to a focus on knowledge work. But learning is impacted by many factors (poverty, mental and physical health, safety and the presence of necessary supports). Schools with librarians and day cares, arts programs and robust physical education give children lifelong advantages. Providing equal access to these opportunities needs to be a priority for the city.
A thriving arts and cultural community is a sign of a city’s ability to innovate, to solve problems, to attract visitors, and to entice talented new residents from around the world. Toronto’s burgeoning arts environment helps to welcome and integrate newcomers, celebrate our heritage and imagine a better city.
Vibrant cities are those where residents are engaged and feel that they belong, where civic institutions fully reflect the diversity of the population, and where strong social connections unite people to each another and to their neighbourhoods (research consistently links a sense of belonging with good physical and mental health). Tracking these indicators helps us to see how well we are doing at building an inclusive city, and where some residents may be left on the margins.