Fourth Wall: Good News
This series features highlights from the ongoing exhibit The Fourth Wall: Transforming City Hall. The exhibit, on now at the Urbanspace Gallery, considers possible avenues to break down the barriers to participation in civic life that exist at Toronto’s City Hall.
The Fourth Wall identifies a number of areas for improvement to step up civic engagement at City Hall. Examining best practices in other cities and major gaps in this city, the exhibit yields 36 recommendations. While there is certainly much room for improvement, the City is undertaking a variety of initiatives that deserve acknowledgement.
Toronto Open Data
Launched in 2009, Toronto Open Data has made over fifty data sets available to the public on a variety of topics including election results, bike counts, billboard applications, and Councillors’ attendance records. The initiative seeks to improve the transparency and accessibility of local government.
The City Clerk’s Office has been recognized with three awards for their new web portal which improves public access to Council proceedings. In addition to improving the accessibility of agendas, background reports and minutes, the site has easy to use feedback buttons to solicit public input.
Community Budget Workbook
While we may not yet have reached a participatory budgeting program on the scale of Chicago, New York or Calgary, Toronto city staff produce a variety of educational materials about the annual budget process. The Community Budget Workbook allows citizens to explore the impacts of re-allocating capital and operational funds on City services.
Neighbourhood Action Teams
Focused on the thirteen priority neighbourhoods, Neighbourhood Action Teams bring together staff from a variety of City divisions and boards to target community needs and build capacity.
Election Services Education Initiatives
In collaboration with the Civics Education Network and the Ontario Insitute for Studies in Education, Toronto Election Services developed and distributed education materials to teachers and students around the 2010 Municipal Election.
In 2009, the City offered Civics 101, a six-part learning series about decision- making, finances, planning and elections to 175 citizens (950 applied). Class materials were made available to the public online. The program was cancelled in 2010 but will hopefully return in 2012.
Dotmocracy, an innovative method for facilitating decision making with large groups, is being used by the City’s Public Consultation Unit.
Recommendations from the Government Management Committee
Councillor Paul Ainslie, chair of the Government Management Committee, recently introduced two motions calling for increased use of social media by Council and Committees and creating a Civic Engagement office in the lobby of City Hall.
What improvements to civic engagement would you like to see in 2012?
Image by HiMY SYeD
The Fourth Wall: Transforming City Hall is on at the Urbanspace Gallery (401 Richmond St. W.) until the end of January. The building is open weekdays, 7am to 7pm, and Saturdays, 9am to 6pm. Curated by Dave Meslin, Research by Hilary Best, Design by Adam Zinzan-Harris.