25 February, 2018

I’m Woke!

The word “woke” is a slang term, a byword for social awareness. Admittedly it refers more to issues concerning social and racial justice, but I believe that it can stand for other things that intersect with those two issues. For instance, housing, safe streets, climate change, parks, transit, civic leadership - things that make or break the sustainability, healthiness and inclusiveness of our communities.

Today I believe I am woke.

Now how can that be? How can an older white male who spent most of his career being a corporate president possibly be woke? Well he takes a journey that involves curiosity, learning, and exploration. For instance, when I lead Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment we believed in being a leader in the community and invested accordingly. Reading “Fixing the Game’ by Roger Martin got me thinking more about the civil foundation and how one might fix it. Specifically, he introduced me to the concept that leaders and corporations can choose to have a negative, neutral or positive impact on society. I came away wanting to “add bricks to the civil foundation”.

Whetted by these two experiences and wanting to enjoy an “active” retirement I went on that journey. I met with urbanists, authors, activists, politicians, environmentalist and journalists. Of all the new people, I met former chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat was the earliest one to encourage me to follow a new city builder direction. I also read and continue to read voraciously books from Florida, Jacobs, Speck, Greenberg, Sadik-Khan; and follow C40Cities, Next City, Ryerson CBI, Climate Reality, and Strong Towns on social media. In my retirement, I now have the time to travel and I am often prioritizing the locales that I can learn from - - Copenhagen, Malmö, London, NYC, Washington, and even Detroit. All of this has opened my mind to the issues and importantly the opportunities that exist for Toronto, my old home town Windsor, and even little historic Amherstburg where we have our cottage.

Last October I launched this website. Writing posts for the Ideas’ section on everything from banning plastic bags to Climate change to compassion has made me do research and figure out where I exactly stand on variety of subjects. Identifying interesting happenings for my Events section and donation-ready charities for my Philanthropy section increased my awareness of the great things constantly going on in Toronto. Web traffic has been growing since launch - - thank you. And the feedback on the site’s excellence design has been nice to hear - - thank you Bensimon Byrne and OneMethod for your great work.

The site is also causing more and more people and groups to ask me to lend my voice and ideas on the various issues around not only Toronto, but Windsor too. I knew that my pivot from CEO to city builder was starting to take hold when I read an article about the important REimagining Yonge project which is being championed by Councilor John Filion. A North York initiative that prioritizes people and place over cars and traffic. The article on Urban Toronto read “... in addition to being repeatedly pushed by city planning staff, the Transform option has been endorsed by some big names in the world of urban planning, including city building experts Ken Greenberg and Richard Peddie ...”. Nice.

So, if you are concerned about the city’s high level of poverty, insignificant funds budgeted to fight climate change or to create safe streets; the long wait lists for affordable housing or recreational programs; most libraries not open on Sunday; and city council wasting $7B on three bad transit investments - - get WOKE! Don’t sit back and let the city evolve without your input. You can learn, get involved, volunteer. You too can be a city builder; and you can give a damn for a more livable Toronto for everyone.

Woodbine Beach’s Winter Stations 2018. “Revolution” art instillation by OCAD. It consists of 36 vertical modules of different heights and aims to capture the aspect of people coming together to use their voices. One of the artists explained: “we focused on voice, because voice is such an important aspect of social change”

GET WOKE for a better Toronto


A passionate city builder

Note: if you want to see how some companies are getting “woke” check out this fun ad from jean maker Levi’s that captures the spirit of diversity and inclusion: “Circles Commercial”.

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