Town-Gown symbiosis: U of T and City of Toronto celebrate a new level of partnership

By Meric Gertler, President

President Meric Gertler, University of Toronto, alongside Peter Wallace, City Manager, City of Toronto at  MOU signing event, October 2, 2017

Toronto and its namesake university provide a perfect illustration of the ways in which the relationship between a post-secondary institution and its host city-region is fundamentally symbiotic; the idea that a strong university helps build a strong city, and vice versa – a strong host city helps a university become even stronger. On October 2, 2017, I hosted an event at City Hall to celebrate this partnership, attended by Mayor Tory, Councillors Wong-Tam, Cressy, and Hart, senior City officials, and a sample of U of T’s many outstanding urban scholars. The event featured the signing of an historic Memorandum of Understanding, to give our partnership even greater focus and momentum.

U of T’s role in enhancing the region’s urban vitality extends beyond the research and teaching of the more than 230 scholars who work on some aspect of cities, in at least nine faculties across our three campuses. It goes beyond our impact on the economy, in which our total annual expenditures of $2.8 billion generate some $12 billion in economic impact throughout Ontario. And it goes beyond our beneficial impact on the built environment of the city, as dramatic projects such as the new home for the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at One Spadina Circle, or the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre at UTSC demonstrate so eloquently. Most importantly, U of T makes its most significant contribution through the production of well-educated graduates. And we make a vital impact through the enormous contributions of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni to Toronto’s economic and social prosperity.

But of course, our relationship is two-way. The fact that U of T ranks as one of the world’s top 10 public universities owes so much to the place in which it is situated.  Our ability to attract great faculty, students and staff from across Canada and around the world depends directly on the quality of life in this city – its built form and natural environment, its public services and recreational opportunities, its public schools and transportation systems, its social harmony and cultural diversity. So for us, city building is both a social responsibility and a matter of enlightened self-interest. The more we contribute to city-building in Toronto, the more we do to help ourselves attract the world’s greatest talent to U of T. That’s why as President, I’ve made it a top priority to leverage our three locations in the Toronto region more fully, for the mutual benefit of the University and the City.

To that end, Appendix 1 of the MOU provides some terrific examples of current and upcoming projects:

  • Sara Hughes (UTM) and the Energy and Environment Division, on FutureTalks;

  • UTSC’s Steven Farber and Social Development, Finance, and Administration, on evaluating the soon-to-be-launched Fair Pass program;

  • Daniel Bender, also at UTSC, and the Toronto Food Policy Council, on the Urban Food Policy Project;

  • Paolo Granata (Faculty of Information) and Economic Development and Culture, on the City of Toronto UNESCO Creative City Application

  • and Judy Farvolden and Eric Miller (Civil Engineering) working with Transportation Services on a speaker series at City Hall.

This is only a very small sampling of the kind of collaboration that’s been happening between U of T scholars – including students – and the City for many years. And there are more initiatives in the pipeline.

University of Toronto and City of Toronto MOU signing on October 2, 2017

University of Toronto and City of Toronto MOU signing on October 2, 2017

The MOU also outlines ways we can work together even more closely and effectively – on problem solving and policy development, communications and funding opportunities, advocacy with Queen’s Park and Ottawa, and international engagement, among other things. It’s also a sign of U of T’s commitment at a time when post-secondary institutions are embracing their social responsibilities and their host cities as never before. All in all, it’s a major milestone in the history of town-gown relations, building on our incredible strengths and positioning us to achieve a great deal more in the years to come.

U of T faculty members who’d like assistance in making connections with potential City partners are encouraged to contact the University’s office of Government, Institutional and Community Relations.

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