An intelligent community

by Jini Stolk

My faith in Toronto is beginning to revive following the recent election. It felt so good to vote for principled people committed to throwing off the chaos and divisiveness of the past four years.

Like many of you, my feelings about Toronto had been veering wildly from despair (we can’t get our act together on transit; we’ve allowed our city to be divided not only geographically, but by income and place of origin; we haven’t had the courage to create solutions to inequity in services and opportunities) to optimism and pride. The latter comes from the continuing accomplishments of our artists and creative community, for sure, but also from the energetic, innovative city-building initiatives coming from my workplace, the Centre for Social Innovation, and many of Toronto’s nonprofit organizations.

But perhaps it’s familiarity that breeds contempt, because I was surprised and pleased to see that Toronto was voted the 2014 Most Intelligent Community by an independent U.S. think tank devoted to new ideas and a new economy. I was especially glad to see that things I’ve been much involved in, like the Centre for Social Innovation and Regent Park’s cultural renaissance, were specifically cited.

The 2014 Visionary of the Year was also a GTA resident, Suneet Singh Tuli, developer of the world’s cheapest computer which has the potential to revolutionize access to knowledge for billions of people around the world. According to Tuli, “I don’t care about creating the iPad killer. I care about the four billion people who can afford this device.” That sounds like the Toronto I know and love.

It’s not that the Intelligent Community selection committee missed the headlines about our local leadership troubles. One of the reasons Toronto was chosen was because in the midst of a volatile and polarizing political situation, both civic and political progress and achievements continued.

That IS something I’ve noticed. The methods used by determined and visionary communities to create positive change – a great example being the forces that led to City Council’s unanimous vote to significantly increase the Toronto Arts Council’s budget – should be the subject of serious discussion and analysis.

This victory went well beyond one vote. It was impossible to miss the encouraging fact that all the candidates at ArtsVote’s mayoral debate spoke forcefully in support of the arts. This common understanding of the importance and impact of the arts to Toronto’s economic and social well-being was, I think, forged through conflict and the search for common values and positive solutions.

The road’s been hard, but the vista is promising.

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