The big tent of Toronto City Summit Alliance

Voluntarily, small groups have been meeting through the summer, producing backgrounders, developing position papers, and generating options, all with the aim of bettering the region of Toronto. Preparation for Toronto City Summit Alliance‘s (TCSA) 4th regional summit has begun in earnest.

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Image by Shaun Merritt via Flickr

The workgroups, roundtables and the summit, to be held in February 2011, draw people from a broad range of sectors, public, private, non-profit and citizen advocates. (The idea of working in concert, across sectors, is so engrained with TCSA’s work that I often mistakenly call TCSA the Toronto Community Summit Alliance.)

The work is like, one workgroup member explained, erecting a large tent where community conversation space is created, to discuss hard issues. Participants are looking for common ground on which to move forward together.

When the last summit was held, in 2005, one of the outcomes was the taskforce for Modernizing Income Security for Working Age Adults (MISWAA) which convened corporate heads with low-income people with community groups with economists with policy wonks. The result was the work that found how few Torontonians benefit from current income security programs, such as Employment Insurance, and the strong political pressure to improve access.

This time round, six free-standing workgroups have been convened to talk about the economy, the labour market, transit, income security, arts & culture, and neighbourhoods, social capital & housing. Each of these smaller groups leads to a larger roundtable, in the summer and fall, where ideas are tested and solutions sought. All this then rolls towards the regional summit.

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Image by Shaun Merritt via Flickr

Deliverables are already being realized. The Housing workgroup is assembling a regional data book — something wider than the data currently collected at the municipal level or CMA level, but more focused than provincial data. The transit workgroup, also early off the mark, delivered a discussion paper to its roundtable in July, looking at road tolls, among other issues.

These semi-structured and ongoing conversations participants together to address complex challenges, issues which are admittedly entwined so that the solutions also have to be integrated. Transit issues are woven to housing, labour market structures give form to income security, and cultural policies strengthen neighbourhoods. This is happening as the summit draws closer.

Unwieldy though the approach seems, everyone erecting tent poles, pulling canvas and moving chairs, to create a metaphorical tent, it is a hopeful activity, creating common space and emergent wisdom.

TCSA’s model of convening moves political activity from divisive battles, at the ramparts, to a more modern and civil version: in-person crowd-sourcing.

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