How to overcome Toronto’s doom loop
SHARON AVERY CONTRIBUTOR SHARON AVERY IS THE CEO OF THE TORONTO FOUNDATION, WHICH RELEASES THE BIENNIAL TORONTO VITAL SIGNS REPORT.
Our city’s fiscal woes mirror those of U.S. urban centres like New York and San Francisco. Downtown office vacancies, declines in commercial real estate, smaller tax base. A vicious circle without a doubt.
But Toronto’s struggles are also playing out at a profoundly human level: people are not OK.
Last week, the Toronto Foundation released our biennial Toronto’s Vital Signs Report, which outlines troubling patterns of social isolation, economic stress and declining mental health in Toronto, corresponding with a long-standing downward trend in civic engagement. We ignore these trends at our city’s peril. In a city of close to 3 million people, we’re profoundly lonely.
This is a dark night of Toronto’s soul, and our report shines a light on ways we can all help.
Almost 37 per cent of Torontonians (925,000) report feeling lonely at least three or four days in the past week, and the percentage of people with more than six close friends declined by nearly 30 percentage points from 2013 to 2022.
Our mental health hasn’t improved in two years. Almost one in four adult Torontonians report symptoms of a major depressive disorder; almost one in five report symptoms of moderate anxiety. The outlook for youth is grim. Loneliness among high school students has doubled, with 44 per cent feeling frequently lonely.
Without connection, we’re tuning out, giving up and leaving. We’re increasingly less engaged and generous. Toronto’s volunteer rate fell from 37 per cent to 25 per cent between 2018 and 2022, and our donation rate slipped from 75 per cent to 63 per cent. That means we lost 300,000 donors and volunteers at a time we need each other more than ever.
So how do we turn this around? How do we revive our city’s spirits, rebuild connections and give people a reason to believe in Toronto and what’s possible here?
The data has the answer: People who engaged in community had better mental health, broader social networks, a stronger sense of belonging, and were much more likely to donate and volunteer. This is the loop we need to focus on: the circular, mutually supportive relationship between individual well-being and community connection.
For the first time, we’re launching a campaign along with our report, both of which are entitled #ThePowerOfUs. We’re asking everyone to commit one act of civic optimism over the next 150 days to try and help restore social connections and give Toronto things to look forward to.
Through a partnership with Volunteer Toronto, we’ll also be connecting residents to volunteer opportunities and providing up to $1,000 microgrants for civically minded events and projects.
The Toronto Foundation refuses to just simply raise alarm bells. We can and must put our collective heads together to be the city we all want.
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited