Addressing the issue of “Big Ideas”: The problem is listening

On Jan. 3, Christopher Hume, an urban issues columnist at the Toronto Star, wrote an article about big ideas. He addressed Toronto’s declining reputation—how our creativity and innovation is experiencing a rather long period of stalemate. He cites the July and December storms as an example of unpreparedness, and mentions that serious issues have been flip-flopped for years thanks to the squabbling of politicians.

In his own elegant way, Hume is saying that we need someone to think out of the box. Instead of continuing with the same tax-saving vernacular, why not have politicians actually talk about what interests the residents of the city.

To do this, the Toronto Star will be accumulating your “big ideas” and will publish pieces every day in February on topics of the public’s choosing. Their hope: that candidates will read the newspaper and see what people want from their Mayor/City Councillor.

In theory, this is wonderful. Toronto needs candidates who are willing to listen to the public and talk about the issues that affect them. We also need candidates with a little more panache, who will stand in front of a camera and say something completely unexpected and interesting.

But we also need people willing to listen to those Big Ideas.

We are living in an age where people are always thinking about how to save a few dollars. Groceries, rent, and transportation are costing citizens an arm and a leg, and with an unemployment rate of 8.2 per cent, people are getting frustrated. Words like “indulgences”, “overspending”, and “taxes”, are thrown around without context. Candidates will be attacked for suggesting people pay for better quality of services. If a candidate has positive relations with the business community, that is what the campaign will focus on. Slogans about committing to the poor or making housing more affordable will be shouted from rooftops. The plight of the “average citizen” will be turned into a 30 second spin lede that will spread across every single newspaper and television headline.

For the West Wing fans out there, you know it is as simple as 10 words or less: “I will work hard for this city and save money”.

Toronto will take it all in.

But it is important to remember that we have to invest in the city we live in. Ten years later, I don’t want to be sitting in this same coffee shop, using the same rundown transportation system while trying to avoid the same construction mess downtown. I don’t want to have to live in a concrete block surrounded by freeways and shopping centers. Ten years from now, I want to be able to see the CN Tower, the single-most recognizable piece of architecture in the city.

Toronto used to be a city of innovation. Now, it is just a place we reside.

After saying all of this, I appreciate what the Toronto Star is doing. We need Big Ideas desperately, and if there was ever a time to get them out there, it is during an election.

I just hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Stephen R. Covey,

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