Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Time for some real ideas on making T.O. a 'music city'

By: Metro Published on Mon Mar 30 2015

The two most recent Toronto mayors have made the trek to sunny Austin for the South by Southwest music festival. Coming back, both ex-mayor Rob Ford and Mayor John Tory — who made the trip earlier this month -— have talked about making Toronto a “music city.”

I’m not sure I get what that means.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against mayors taking trips. It’s how they learn what other cities are doing successfully. And I’ve got nothing against cultural ambition — we need it.

But this sort of ambition too often ends up producing vague outcomes: handshakes, photo ops, maybe a concert in city hall’s council chambers featuring awkward dancing politicians.

Enough. If Toronto is going to be a music city like Austin, it’s time for city hall to start talking about some concrete ideas to make that happen. The musical talent is already here — politicians generally just need to get better at letting people hear it.

Here’s a few ideas that could help with that.

Get smarter about closing streets

I hope Tory noticed Austin’s music festival comes with a web of major street closures. That’s no coincidence. If a city wants to be a good host for cultural activities, it needs to be willing to turn over its streets to those activities.

But Toronto tends to do street closures poorly – or not at all. The city would be better to clean up some central streets and designate them for routine closures, creating cultural corridors that can be routinely used for city-wide festivals.

Fix last call at bars

Concerts are a late-night activity, but Toronto doesn’t do late night too well.

It remains a frustration that the TTC stops running subway service at 1:30 a.m. while Toronto bars don’t announce last call until 2 a.m. The result is jammed streets and packed late-night buses, and probably some unsafe driving, too.

A quick fix would be for city hall to match the end of weekend subway service to at least last call. Heck, maybe even 30 minutes after.

Let places get loud

The residential population in downtown Toronto has exploded in recent years, but too often people who say they crave the hustle and bustle of the big city end up opposing the hustle and circulating petitions to stop the bustle.

As a result, Toronto’s condo boom risks squeezing out venues as noise concerns spur restrictive bylaws and local objections to places that play live music.

This isn’t an easy nut to crack.

It’ll involve some heated discussions about zoning, permits and licensing and balancing neighbourhood uses. But it needs to be a big part of the conversation — you can’t have a music city if there’s no place left to play.

This post was originally published at on 2015-03-30T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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