Joe Mihevc is Toronto’s city councillor representing Ward 21, St. Paul’s West. He is an advocate for strong neighbourhoods, healthy communities, a clean environment and safe streets.

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From the Halls of Higher Learning to City Hall: Improving ‘Town-Gown’ Relations in Toronto

On February 10, I brought a motion to Council asking for greater attention to be placed on the City’s relationship with our colleges and universities.  I suggested that there is much to be gained from broadening our partnership with these institutions of higher learning.  Fortunately, the Mayor and Council agreed, and the motion passed.

The City of Toronto already maintains a valuable working relationship with the local postsecondary institutions.  For instance, it is common for city councillors to speak in university classrooms, or for students to complete placements in City offices.  Sometimes, professors give advice to city staff working on specific projects.  To give one example, Professor David Hulchanski’s work on the polarization of incomes in Toronto has had a strong influence on the city’s priority neighbourhood strategy, and various poverty reduction strategies.  Looking forward, there is still much room to grow our cross-sector approach to city-building.

Going above and beyond

I would like to see us go beyond these basic initiatives.  What would this look like?  There are some great examples of postsecondary-municipal institutional partnerships from elsewhere in Canada and around the world that can provide models and options for us to try out here in Toronto.

In Kingston, Queen’s University has established a Town-Gown Relations department within its Student Affairs division.  The department helps students navigate their relationship with the surrounding community, from adjusting to living in a new city to playing an active role within it.

The United Kingdom’s Knowledge-Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a non-partisan entity that allows for more efficient sharing of information and expertise between academia and industry.  According to their website, there are over 700 partnerships running at any given time.  The shared information supports entrepreneurship for the companies, and improves access to data and research opportunities for the higher education partners.

What kind of information can we exchange with higher education?

In the past, the study of cities was limited to a small number of university departments – even political scientists were not very interested in this “junior” order of government.  Yet, our cities have grown and merged, and so has intellectual interest.  Social and health sciences, business, and engineering all contribute to the knowledge pool on how best to organize our municipal affairs.

Universities are ahead of the curve when it comes to recognizing their potential to advance and influence municipal affairs.  They have established multidisciplinary research centres, like York University’s City Institute, as well as the Cities Centre and the Centre for Urban Studies and Community at the University of Toronto.  They study everything from housing and homelessness to governance, land, and infrastructure.

There is a wealth of untapped knowledge in the academic world of which city-builders and policy makers need to make use.  On the other hand, City of Toronto departments can contribute key civic issues and struggles that will help keep academics abreast of trends and allow them to produce more applicable reports.

It is my hope that we can bring the brainpower, talent, expertise and specialized skills of the colleges and universities together with the city-building capacity of Toronto.  Open dialogue will enable us to develop a system of mutual cooperation and inclusive planning processes, and to develop the City’s economic, cultural, and creative resources.  Together, we can more thoughtfully address the pressing issues faced by our city and shared by our institutions of higher learning.  By consciously choosing to collaborate in a more thoughtful way, we can build a better city.

Tips on how to prevent pipes from freezing

Prolonged, cold temperatures are having an impact on private drinking water pipes in many homes or buildings, as well as water meters and the City’s watermain distribution system. Since Saturday, February 14, Toronto Water has responded to 102 watermain breaks, and has received over 1,400 ‘no water’ and 200 leaking/frozen water meter calls through 311.

Crews are working as fast as they can to respond; however,they are currently experiencing a delay in responding to service calls. Crews are finding that the majority of ‘no water’ calls are due to frozen pipes on private property.

Here are tips on how to prevent pipes from freezing and what to do if they are frozen. See