I recently finished this book, The New Urban Agenda, by Bill Freeman. Freeman writes about the current state of politics and city planning in Toronto, giving a great overview of contemporary issues in the post-Rob Ford city, as well as outlining a few recommendations about what the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) should focus on in the coming years.
One of the things that I thought was really wonderful about this book, was that it concerned itself not only with the city of Toronto but also with the whole region, extending far enough out to include Hamilton and the Greater Toronto Area. Freeman outlines his idea of the general conceptual structure of the region as being constructed with downtown Toronto as a core, surrounded by the inner and outer suburbs, with Hamilton as a separate, but connected, city to the west. I think this is a great step out of the very Toronto (old city)-centric way in which many authors discuss the region, and one of the few authors I’ve read who was trying to see problems from a variety of different perspectives.
One thing however that I wondered was, who was this book really made for? I’ve encountered this with other Toronto-related books, especially information-heavy ones, that there is a kind of conversational tone in the writing, but when it comes to details, there is a lot of use of complicated terms to discuss planning and politics. For example, discussions of the OMB, or detailed information about planning process may seem second nature to someone tuned into the political life of the city, but to others, these are unclear concepts and processes that are never quite clear. I wonder if it would be boring for someone who is not in planning and politics in the city to read such books. Still, Toronto does have a relatively large group of people who are attuned to the nuts and bolts of the functions of the city.
Having studied city planning in Toronto, I was already quite familiar with the debates that Freeman was discussing. Still I see a lot of value in this book as being a general introduction to the practice of planning in Toronto – it basically covers my whole first year of my planning program. His suggestions are, for the most part, the current trend in Canadian (Torontonian) planning discourse, including: advocating for public-private partnerships, preventing greenfield development, increasing mixed-use development, disbanding the OMB (planners often passively or implicitly wish this), increasing affordable housing, retrofitting older buildings, investing in alternative energy sources and green technologies, and advocating for non-automobile transportation modes.