Throughout Toronto and surrounding cities, there's predominantly urban issues being faced regarding public and active transportation, affordable housing, public spaces and more. These issues are all important to the productivity and success of the GTA as a whole — after all, people are always going to need a way to get around and somewhere to live — but these aren't necessarily topics that the public is well-informed of or that politicians are making the best choice about.
Central Conference, a new conference in Toronto, is aiming to inform the public of these issues through a full day packed with talks from the likes of Ilana Altman, Director of Programming at The Bentway and Kevin Vuong, founder of King Street Eats. There'll also be Tricia Wood, who teaches geography at York University and Cheryll Case, a researcher and planner connecting community groups, professionals and non-profits to increase the availability of affordable housing.
Normally a ticket to the event cost a reasonable $40, but for the first three people to purchase one using the code "LOWANDHIGH", it's on the house. The event takes place on July 21, 2018 from 8:30am to 4pm at Project Spaces in Toronto.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Myers, founder of the conference, to talk about his inspiration for creating such an event and his intentions behind doing so.
What is your background?
When I came to Toronto, I got my experience planning events at two of Canada's biggest tech conferences: Dx3 Canada and Big Data Toronto. These events are great for creating connections in the business world and framing the discussion for tech in Canada. I learned how to create the right environment for important discussions and what kind of experts are needed.
What's the inspiration behind Central Conference?
I grew up in the suburbs of Ottawa — shoutout to Barrhaven! It's a car-dependent, sprawling area that has grown far, far south of the city since I left for Toronto in 2013. I took a 45-minute bus downtown to attend the University of Ottawa for 3 years and finished my degree living in beautiful Centretown near the Canal. That's where I got my first taste of the joys of urban living as well as the fight for bike lanes, improved transit, pedestrian safety and reducing poverty.
After I moved a bit further away from my workplace, I started taking the King or Queen streetcar and biking to work every day. That was eye-opening. Streetcars are crammed with people and bike lanes are constantly, dangerously disrespected by motorists. In the winter, I saw in the news that warming centres and shelters are beyond capacity. The more I looked into it, the more predictable, systemic and worthy of examination I found these issues to be.
For instance, if you complain to your city councillor, you might get some speed bumps installed on the streets around your home to help slow traffic. But we know street design and distracted drivers are the real culprits for dangerous driving and pedestrian deaths. Speed bumps are a bandaid solution. The goals of the Vision Zero initiative, sadly, can't be achieved until we think beyond motorist commute times. We need to think bigger when it comes to street safety, transit, housing and myriad other issues that effect how Torontonians live and treat one another.
What will the conference focus on?
The theme for this event is City Building Now.
Toronto has fallen behind in its investments in public infrastructure. For the subway, the Line 1 subway was opened in 1954 and Line 2 opened in 1966... what happened?! In the meantime, more people have moved to the city and subway platforms are now dangerously overcrowded. It's a disaster waiting to happen. Changes and investments are needed. That starts with understanding issues and potential solutions fully.
I want big issues on the political agenda. I want to feel safe when I'm on my bike and I want my friends and their families to be able to afford housing in their chosen neighbourhoods.
Why should people go to the conference?
People should attend if they want expert analysis of the problems our city faces and want to take the first steps to solving them. Put the knowledge that municipal insiders get about transit, city finances, urban land use, housing trends in the hands of everyone without the mayor's office spin. And do it all in one day rather than weekly meet-ups. So far, we've announced speakers with expertise in regional rail, housing trends, urban land use and community building.
Central is designed to be different. The event is meant to bring this same level of expert analysis of urban issues to the rest of us: concerned citizens, transit users, parents, millennials and professionals working in unrelated fields.
Is there anything else people should know?
There are also people doing amazing things to add new possibilities to Toronto on both short and long-term timelines. Besides listening to speakers and keynotes, community groups and advocates will be at the event so that attendees can take action right away.
There will also be a couple more speakers announced within the coming weeks.
This post is the result of a non-cash partnership with Central Conference, who reached out to us to promote their event. We thoroughly believe in the issues being talked about during the conference and as such, will be in attendance. Read more about promoted posts here.