The discussion I have heard about Expo 2025 encapsulates one of the things that still bemuses me about Toronto. Other cities I have lived in would have been all over this sort of opportunity, doing everything they could to make sure we got the chance to move on this. From an economic perspective the facts seem pretty clear. Expo 2025 will bring in jobs, much needed revenue to the city, better transport and because of the clear timeline it will help the development of the Port Lands by focusing us and our Provincial and Federal partners on a clear timeline. We have no clear way of funding the $29 Billion budget shortfall or expanding our tax base and this is one of them. The legacy projects would include social housing, improve international networks, new businesses and an enhanced position on the world stage. Increase tourism is a likely outcome. Every good Expo pays for itself over and over again.
But from the Wellesley Institute perspective the opportunity goes further. We are interested in building a healthier and more equitable Toronto. We use the lens of the social determinants of health to improve public policy. Sixty percent of our health and life expectancy is directly related to social factors such as where we live and how we live. Social factors have a greater impact on our health than our genetics or our health care system. From the viewpoint of the social determinants of health the argument for a bid for Expo 2025 becomes even more compelling.
For instance, housing is an important determinant of health. People who are homeless live many years less than those who are housed. But inadequate housing has its own problems. Overcrowding has an impact on health, housing with mould increases asthma, other infestations increase the risk of disease and infection and poor maintenance leads to accidents. There are thousands of people who are precariously housed or homeless in Toronto. And with more newcomers and property prices rising we need more affordable housing. The 2,000 extra homes which would be the legacy of Expo 2025 are much needed as we try to work towards the Provincial target of ending homelessness in a decade. And the fact that a mixed development is envisaged says a lot for the values underpinning the initial vision.
Employment is one of the most researched determinants of health. The increased precarity of jobs in Toronto and the level of unemployment are important factors in the health of the city. The new investment and jobs that Expo2025 would bring will make the city healthier. Add to this better transport and all the add-on impacts of a better funded city and it is hard to believe that done properly Expo 2025 would not be good for us all.
But there is one fact that is often understated but is vital for our health. Social efficacy is directly linked to our life expectancy. According to the World Bank, Harvard School of Public Health as well as many schools of public health world wide, feeling we are part of a city which is able to get things done is good for our health. Working together with others in our community to develop and deliver changes to where we live improves our view of ourselves and our mental and physical health. You may know that smoking decreases life expectancy by 7.5 years but most people do not realize that anxiety has the same impact. In areas with high levels of social efficacy people feel that they and their city have the capacity to better deal with life’s problems. This decreases stress and anxiety and means we are less likely to develop chronic diseases and more likely to fight off other diseases. Simply put, decreasing stress improves your immune system while decreasing high blood pressure, heart problems and stroke and other problems like diabetes that can be linked to stress relieving behaviours like comfort eating.
If Expo 2025 engaged community so that this was a truly participatory journey for us all it could develop our civic pride and sense of efficacy. That would not only build social capital by fusing different parts of the city together in a common goal but it would also improve our health.
At the moment, Toronto rarely demonstrates its ability to produce social change, and that is something that is sorely missing.
A major city has leadership that can galvanise the heart of the city so that we are more than the sum of our parts. A major city punches above its weight because it has its people solidly behind it. A major city has the character to live in optimism rather than fear and looks to itself to make its destiny not others.
Toronto is a major city but we do not always act like one. It bemuses me that we do not understand that we have a city full of international and national immigrants who have come here as entrepreneurs and are fully capable of working together to take on the challenge of Expo 2025. It bemuses me that we do not realize that not only would it be good for our health to bid and win the bid, but not doing it would be a missed opportunity.
Some have suggested that the likelihood of a mayoral election in 2018 and the possibility that a failed attempt at Expo2025 would hamper the incumbent’s chances is a factor in the lukewarm leadership there has been on this issue. I think it is unlikely that a Mayor of Tory’s stature would put their chance for re-election before the health and economic development of the city.
But from a social and economic perspective bidding for Expo 2025 is a good idea. From a mental and physical health perspective, as long as it is done properly, it is a no brainer.
Expo 2025 could be a catalyst that focuses the city and our provincial and federal partners on the development of the Port Lands.
I am bemused that as to why to bid or not to bid is even a question.
*An edited version of this post appeared in the Toronto Star