In response to community-based advocacy and efforts to support local culture across several neighbourhoods, the City of Toronto is moving ahead with the development of a Cultural Districts Program. The City’s overall goal is to co-create a program that brings together resources, policies and new approaches for fostering culture.

Understanding that culture is boundless and complex, Jay Pitter Placemaking has established a co-stewardship model that positions the City of Toronto as a key program administrator and champion for the program, while recognizing the important roles and expertise of other co- stewards such as not-for-profit organizations, philanthropic leaders, corporations and grassroots groups.

The creation of a city-wide Cultural Districts Program follows multiple 2020 and 2021 Councillor motions endorsed by City Council calling for recommendations and plans for the City of Toronto to provide ongoing support for multiple cultural communities and their businesses. City Council approved the creation of the program at its November Council session with the following parameters for City staff:

  • Identify planning policies to support the development of cultural districts and be of benefit to communities and neighbourhoods, in particular Church-Wellesley, Little Jamaica, Downtown Chinatown and Geary Avenue, and at least one community and neighbourhood in the former City of Etobicoke, North York or Scarborough.
  • Develop a Cultural Districts Program that strengthens local culture and communities, supports small businesses and retail, and promotes community-stewarded spaces and bring forward a program proposal inclusive of design and implementation components in 2022 that includes: eligibility criteria; program components; community role and ongoing engagement; and estimated costs and financial impact.
  • Work with Toronto Indigenous communities to ensure a Cultural Districts Program that reflects place-making, place-keeping and self-determination priorities, and is aligned with the upcoming City of Toronto Reconciliation Action Plan.

In addition to these parameters, City Council recommended that broad engagement occur with local City Councillors, community members, stakeholders, BIAs and relevant Council Advisory Bodies, prior to providing final recommendations for the program design and implementation in a 2022 staff report.

Staff Reports

November 9, 2021 – Staff Report to City Council  (At this time, Toronto does not have a formal cultural districts program. This report outlines why Toronto needs to develop a cultural districts program, and the potential benefits it may bring for diverse communities, the city’s culture sector, and for Toronto as a whole.)

In the spring of 2022, Jay Pitter Placemaking and the City of Toronto partnered with a variety of community organizations, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations to host a series of community engagement panels. These panels explored key issues and topics relevant to the development of the Cultural Districts Program, and were intended to gather a wide range of professional, academic and lived-experience expertise to inform the program. Topics included: 

  • Land Use and Planning – The panel explored how urban planners can enhance their approaches to better support local culture, especially intangible culture such as unsung histories, informal sacred sites and local rituals. 
  • TCHC Communities – The panel explored how Toronto Community Housing residents, staff and spaces contribute to local culture. Case studies and stories were presented to help illuminate the conversation. 
  • Diverse Abilities – The panel explored how to ensure that Toronto’s new cultural districts accommodate and embrace individuals living with disabilities. 
  • Intergenerational Placemaking – The panel explored principles and approaches for ensuring that cultural districts address the needs, aspirations and connectivity for all generations. 
  • Mutual Aid – The panel explored how mutual aid networks and organizations can contribute to local culture. 
  • Queer Space – The panel explored what the 2SLGBTQ+ community requires in placemaking to create a safe and enriching neighbourhood where culture can thrive. 
  • Place-based Research and Practice – The panel explored critical research and practice approaches for co-creating equitable and vibrant culture districts. 
  • Play – Using an equity-based placemaking lens, the panel explored how cultural districts can foster play and leisure for all. 

A public survey was also conducted between April 20 and May 20, 2022. A social media campaign was launched to promote both the survey and the panel events, as well as to raise general awareness of the initiative. The invaluable information gleaned from the panels and public survey will be integrated into the Cultural Districts Program proposal and a special Cultural Districts Program co-learning toolkit.