toronto is the most diverse city in the world
A sunrise ceremony on Nathan Phillips Square on National Indigenous Peoples Day, in front of Toronto City Hall. Credit: City of Toronto.
  • Toronto’s diversity is manifested in its urban landscape, and this is what makes people feel welcome and included.
  • The city hosts a robust network of culturally informed multilingual settlement organizations, many of which are integrated directly into the social systems.
  • Canada is also going through a housing crisis.

The City of Toronto has been labelled one of the most diverse cities in the world, given close to half of the population identifies as immigrants. Toronto also has one of the oldest indigenous populations in Canada.

The city is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds, with people from a range of countries around the world as well as First Nations, Inuit and Metis people all calling Toronto home.

The City of Toronto’s motto is “Diversity is our Strength”, which City of Toronto Communications Advisor Devika Deonarine says recognises that the prosperity and future of Toronto rests first and foremost on the contributions of each of its residents.

“Research has revealed that diversity contributes to cities by building social cohesion, enhancing economic vitality, fostering cultural belonging, driving innovation and promoting creativity, which all contribute to Toronto’s identity as a vibrant global city,” Ms Deonarine said.

“To realize these advantages, equity and inclusion require fostering in every aspect of civic life. Toronto has succeeded—culturally, politically, economically—because of its diversity, not in spite of it,” she said.

Eldon Theodore, an urban planner and Partner at MHBC in Toronto believes that the advantage of a diverse city is the ability to attract a more diverse pool of talented people with different perspectives.  He says that allows a City like Toronto to be a leader in many industries.

“I also believe that the City’s openness to diversity results in an environment where the mixing of cultures is easy and encouraged, and helps to produce new ideas, different ways of approaching issues that can be an example to other Cities,” Mr Theodore said.

Eldon Theodore
Eldon Theodore

While diversity is important, Dr Zhixi Zhuang, Associate Professor School of Urban & Regional Planning at Toronto Metropolitan University emphasises that inclusion is the real key to a successful, multicultural city.

Dr Zhuang notes that Toronto’s diversity is manifested in its urban landscape, and this is what makes people feel welcome and included.

There are streets and places throughout the city and suburbia representing a range of cultures, including Chinatown, Korea, Little India and Little Italy, Greek town along with a plethora of food outlets, small businesses, places of worship and other community spaces that provide a ‘portal’ to diversity.

“People can enjoy their life, their way of living, enjoy their cultural and religious practices. It’s really about human rights. Where you can practice all kinds of rights freely and with such enjoyment, and a sense of belonging, a sense of home. I think that is super important,” Dr Zhuang said.

Professor Zhixi Zhuang
Professor Zhixi Zhuang

In unpacking why Toronto is such a magnet for people from around the world, much of the attraction goes back to that feeling of inclusion.

Ms Deonarine says that Toronto hosts a robust network of culturally informed multilingual settlement organizations, many of which are integrated directly into the social systems used by many newcomers including public libraries, city facilities and schools.

“Settlement supports range from immigration support, language instruction, financial and social assistance, mentorship programs, housing support, education and employment opportunities,” Ms Deonarine said.

“As the global community increasingly recognizes the importance of representation, Toronto is a place where everyone can see themselves reflected in their fellow residents and the very fabric of the city itself,” Ms Deonarine said.

Mr Theodore agrees, saying that many people who choose to migrate to Toronto find a bit of themselves somewhere in the City.

“This can be a specific cultural centre where you can meet people of similar backgrounds, a variety of ethnic food products in main grocery store chains or specific ethnic grocers, a restaurant that makes food or a cultural day that the City will celebrate to bring a community together,” Mr Theodore said.

Dr Zhuang notes that it is the people, the places and importantly, the policies that make people feel welcome and attract people to Canada more broadly.

Canada is a country that has been built on migration and has enshrined a national migration policy that focuses on attracting skilled migrants to support economic growth.  This has had a trickle-down effect on public attitudes and awareness that generally makes people feel welcome.

Dr Zhuang explains that Toronto is a City of unique neighbourhoods, with the urban landscape representing many of the different cultures living in the city.

“Placemaking at the neighbourhood level actually makes these places very vibrant, dynamic, diverse and welcoming,” Dr Zhuang said.

From a city planning and urban design perspective, the vision and design of Toronto is reflective of that caring and welcome attitude.

Credit: City of Toronto.

Emilia Floro, Director of Urban Design at the City of Toronto says that Toronto’s Official Plan acknowledges major growth for the city and directs it in a way that is sustainable and improves the quality of life for all residents.

“The Official Plan is grounded in principles of diversity, equity and opportunity; beauty and safety; connectivity; and leadership and stewardship,” Ms Floro said.

“Planning for growth also means planning for connectivity and movement with a comprehensive and high quality, affordable transit system and infrastructure to support active transportation (walking and cycling) that is attractive, comfortable, safe and convenient.

“City planning policies recognize that people are mobile and need to be connected. These policies direct growth to the downtown, the central waterfront, the urban growth centres and along the Avenues (our growth corridors) in primarily mid-rise and tall buildings within mixed-use areas.

“Directing growth to these areas provides residents and workers with convenient access to their daily needs and to transit for mobility and connectivity in a sustainable way.

“Toronto’s Urban Design guidelines provide guidance to achieve a more livable environment for all, through Public Realm Plans and Built Form guidelines for Tall Buildings, Mid-rise Buildings and Low-rise Buildings.

“These three scales provide a variety of housing types. Additionally, we have the “Growing Up Guidelines: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities“ that speak to how new mid-rise and tall buildings can be developed as vertical communities to support social interaction and better accommodate the needs of all households, including those with children,” Ms Floro said.

While planning is important to facilitate more inclusive places, it is just as important to consider who is undertaking that planning.

According to Mr Theodore, it is pleasing to see that the City of Toronto has been steadily increasing the diversity of planning professionals that serve the community.

“Having different backgrounds in decision-making positions helps to ensure that diverse considerations for placemaking, housing opportunities, social interaction and engagement are culturally sensitive to the growing diversity of each area of the City.

“Diverse planners guiding city building, particularly in senior positions, help to avoid marginalization of minority groups in the City,” Mr Theodore said.

Dr Zhuang adds that community engagement is also critical to successfully representing a diversity of residents.  She believes that while historically the City has had a ‘top down’ somewhat technocratic approach to urban planning, there are examples of where this approach is slowly changing to a more community led approach.

She cites the Toronto Cultural Districts Program, which designates several areas including Chinatown in the downtown district and Little Jamaica.

“Little Jamaica has undergone a lot of changes because of the cross-town light rail development over the past decade. That has really damaged the local history and the social fabric, and also really cut down on all those businesses in the last 10 or 15 years,” Dr Zhuang said.

“That really created a lot of social problems that were fundamentally harmful to the black community.

“So right now, the city has designated the area as a cultural district and they are engaging with black urbanists, other experts and community members to co-create the future plan for that district.

“For example they have used listening circles, inviting local members to share their stories in different forms of art, dance, storytelling, music and murals, to really center on black urbanism in the area. Those things are really important,” Dr Zhuang said.

“As planners, I think we play a huge role in shaping a proper engagement process and then shaping the policies or design solutions accordingly.

“I think it’s really important for planners and designers to remember that it is our professional mandate to serve the public good.  It is about the community voices and especially the voices of the traditionally marginalized or underrepresented groups,” Dr Zhuang said.

Yolande Davidson, Director Equity and Human Rights at the City of Toronto agrees that processes can become more community focused.

“Building trust with Indigenous, Black and equity-deserving communities can be a challenge given very real historical and ongoing systemic discrimination experienced by these communities, and the negative interactions they have had with government over time,” Ms Davidson said.

“As such, we are focused on strengthening community partnerships and cultivating additional organizational connections with community work. In addition, it’s a priority to continue to grow channels of collaboration and feedback between the City and communities on key issues,” Ms Davidson said.

While supporting diverse and inclusive neighbourhoods is critical to the fabric of a vibrant city, there is also a fundamental need to provide affordable housing.

“We need affordable and attainable housing, both rental and ownership, with sizes that can support different family configurations, and targeted to migrants, minority groups or other marginalized populations,” Mr Theodore said.

Dr Zhuang warns that the whole country is facing a housing crisis. For migrants in particular, there is also the issue of housing suitability, with larger and multigenerational families rarely catered for, particularly in the apartment market.

There are also specific cultural needs, such as gendered spaces for prayer and social activities, further limiting choices in the housing market.

Ms Floro says the City has been deliberate in trying to maintain and achieve affordable housing through promoting a balance of rental and ownership of residential units.

“In Toronto, 47% of households are renters and 53% are owners. Toronto has had rental housing replacement policies and practices in place since 2007 requiring new development to replace rental units that are proposed to be demolished as a result of new development.

“The City has also permitted Secondary Suites in dwellings since 2000, Laneway Suites on residential lots located adjacent to lanes since 2019 and Garden Suites since 2022, allowing for a range of housing unit types and tenures,” Ms Floro said.

The challenges are real, however, the desire to continue to strive to provide a welcoming environment for all residents, no matter their background, is also real.

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This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.



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