The Toronto that will be

Reprinted from Toronto Life, January 2000 pp. 84-90.

In the year 2021, the population will be 6.4 million, pedestrians will have rights, garbage pickup will cost you and bingo will be big. These and other surprising predictions from the University of Toronto's celebrated demographer. By David Foot with Daniel Stoffman

Here's a little quiz. What percentage of Torontonians will be 65 or over in the census year 2021? a) 58 per cent, b) 40 per cent, c) 29 per cent, d) 16 per cent.

Given the flow of newspaper articles and TV shows about population aging and its consequences, people assume we're rapidly becoming a society dominated by seniors. But if you guessed anything other than d), you guessed wrong.

It's true that our city, like the rest of the western world, is getting older -- but Toronto's population is not old now, and it won't be old two decades from now, when only 16 per cent of its residents will be 65 or over. That's a significant increase from the current 12 per cent, but not nearly enough to make seniors the dominant group.

Throughout the western industrialized world, young people are having fewer babies than their parents did and old people are living longer than their parents did. That demographic combination is the basis for the phenomenon of population aging, which means simply that the average age is increasing. But this process takes place gradually, so forecasts of dramatic change are usually off base.

It's easy to confuse old with older which is why some writers make false assumptions about population aging. In 1996, The Globe and Mail launched its hypothetical "Boomer Portfolio," a collection of stocks that seemed well positioned to benefit from the changing needs of aging boomers, the huge group born between 1947 and 1966 that comprises almost a third of the Canadian population. It was an interesting concept, but there was a flaw in the portfolio: it contained two companies, one in the nursing home business and another in the funeral business, that were decades away from attracting much business from boomers. In 1996, the boomers were aged 30 to 49, hardly prime candidates to become residents of nursing homes or cemeteries. Even in 2021, aged 55 to 74, not many boomers will be ready to move into nursing homes. And given that average life expectancy is now about 79, the funeral business won't take off until around 2030.

That said, it's a fact that the older boomers are nearing the stage of life when heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and other serious illnesses become more prevalent. Many boomers will die between now and 2021, while at the same time their children, the echo generation, will produce a mini-baby boom of their own. As a result of those demographic changes, Toronto two decades hence will no longer be boomer city.

The dwindling of the power of the boomers will probably be the most important demographic phenomenon Toronto will experience over the next two decades. Since the 1970s, the city has been a magnet for ambitious boomers from all over the country -- a cohort that, because it has so many members, has wielded tremendous power. Boomers triggered rent controls during the 1970s as they flooded into the housing market for the first time. In the 1980s, they sent real estate prices soaring. Then, during the 1990s, they discovered mutual funds and stocks, prompting the greatest bull market ever.

As we approach 2000, the boom is at the height of its influence. Boomers in their 40s and 50s are running the large corporations, governments and universities. To the chagrin of younger boomers (those in their 30s) and the baby busters (now in their 20s), older boomers are still clogging the hierarchies of all these organizations.

Yet the beginning of the end of the big generation's dominance is already evident. Companies are instructing their recruiters to give preference to younger people. Complaints of ageism are already being heard from boomers in their 40s and 50s who find themselves in the job market.

By 2021, all of that will be ancient history. Nobody will talk much about the baby boom any more. According to the projections of economist Tom McCormack of Strategic Projections Inc., people born after the boom in the GTA will outnumber boomers and those born before them by the year 2004. And by 2021, of the 6.4 million people in the GTA, 4.4 million will be post-boomers, 54 or younger; only two million will be boomers or pre-boomers. More significant, among those of voting and working age, the boomers and their elders will be outnumbered by younger Torontonians after 2013.

Let's take a closer look at how the dwindling of the boom and other demographic shifts will affect life in the city two decades in the future.

Real estate

The front half of the boom, people born between 1947 and about 1957, have been lucky in real estate. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the first of them hit the rental market, a spacious apartment -- one floor of a house in the Annex, for example -- could be had for less than $200 a month. And when those same people were ready to buy, a solid Victorian house in a good downtown Toronto neighbourhood sold for $100,000 or less. House prices moved up during the 1970s, but it wasn't until most of the boom had flooded onto the real estate market in the 1980s that they really took off. At the same time, in response to boomer demand, the suburbs burgeoned. Toronto house prices peaked in 1989 and then plunged 25 per cent over the next two years, because most of the boomers who could afford a house had already bought one. Prices recovered moderately through the latter half of the 1990s after the recession ended and younger boomers, those born in the 1960s, could afford to move into the market.

The real estate frenzy of the 1980s already seems a distant memory, and demographics offer no reason to expect it to be repeated. In fact, the decade about to begin will be fairly quiet, because the bust, the group entering its house-buying period, is only about half the size of the boom.

A growing number of boomers will choose early retirement during the first decade of the millennium, but that doesn't mean they will want to sell their houses. Less than 20 per cent of retirees move out of their homes when they stop work; the other 80 per cent stay put, partly because they know the extra space freed up when the kids move out will come in handy when future grandchildren come to visit. Most people don't trade in their houses for more compact accommodation until they are in their 70s.

The real estate market will pick up during the second decade of the new century when the echo generation, which is larger than the bust, starts house hunting. For boomers who want to cash out of real estate, the arrival of their offspring in the real estate market will offer a window of opportunity that will last until about 2025. After that, the market will go soft again, because the following wave of house buyers, today's preschoolers, are a comparatively small cohort.

Boomers who play their real estate cards right, and enjoy a bit of luck as well, should be able to sell their house to a member of the echo for enough to buy a condo in the city and perhaps a country place as well. The trend toward splitting time between the city and semi-rural areas such as Collingwood and Kingston, will gather momentum as more of the boomer generation moves into its 50s. Some of those who move into exurbia will opt for communities built around golf courses. These will be adults-only communities, many with security gates that visitors have to pass through.

Gated communities are never going to be cool, and the aging boomers who decide to move into them are probably going to be a bit embarrassed about it. But boomers, as they age, won't be much different from earlier generations; older people have always been security conscious for two reasons -- they are more vulnerable physically then when they were young, and they have accumulated some things worth stealing. Besides, rental apartments and condos have had restricted entry systems for decades. Gated communities merely offer people who prefer to live in a house the extra security that apartment dwellers take for granted.

On the commercial side, the impact of the large echo generation will trigger new construction during the first decade of the new century, earlier than in the housing sector. That's because young people join the workforce about 10 years before they look for their first house. By 2021, the echo generation's workplace needs will have been accommodated. Then it will be the turn of the millennium bust, the group now emerging from the maternity wards, to enter the workforce, but that group will be too small to drive a great deal of new office construction.

Meanwhile, we can expect the trend toward renewal of old office structures and factories in the core to continue, partly because aging Torontonians will want to retain parts of the city that remind them of their youth. The late William Kilbourn, historian and city politician, liked to say -- only partly in jest -- that the Toronto-Dominion Centre, a work of the famous modernist architect Mies van der Rohe, should be designated a historic site so that it would not be destroyed in the name of redevelopment like so many other great Toronto buildings. By 2021, this set of towers, which dates from the 1960s when the boomers were very young, will be so designated.

Health care

The most remarkable thing about Canada's health care system at the end of the 1990s is that it is perceived to be in crisis and underfunded at a time when Canada still has a relatively young and healthy population. Our population is younger than that of the western European countries, most of which, on a per capita basis, spend less on health care than we do.

The boomers make up about a third of Toronto's population, and most of them haven't gotten sick yet; their health won't start to deteriorate for another decade. The need for health care services increases sharply among those over 60 and doubles after the age of 70. Even by 2021, less than half the boomers will be seniors, so they won't have hit the health care system in full force yet.

When they do, however, they are going to put major pressure on hospitals and home care services. During the 1990s, the Ontario government has reduced reliance on hospitals, which are the most expensive part of the health care system. Some hospitals have been closed, and patient stays have been reduced. To take up the slack, an increasing amount of health care is being delivered in the home. Home care will continue to grow and develop over the next decade. But a home care system, no matter how efficient, is not much use to someone who has just suffered a stroke.

When large numbers of boomers start having strokes and heart attacks, in the second decade of the new century, hospitals will take on new importance. Existing ones will be expanded and new ones will have to be built. Because a lot of semi-retired people will be living in nearby semi-rural areas, the focus will be on hospitals located on major traffic arteries on the outskirts of the GTA. These hospitals will be accessible both to the expanding exurban population and the 6.4 million GTA residents.

Governments prefer to ignore demographics if they can, but even before 2021 the significance for the health care system of the aging of the boom will be too great to ignore. Even though the over-65 segment of the population will, as mentioned, be small as a percentage of the total population, there will be almost twice as many people over 65 in 2021 than there are now. That means demands on the health care system will be twice as great. This is a daunting prospect, given that our system is already under unprecedented stress and is the fourth costliest, per capita, in the world, behind those of the U.S., Germany, and France.

The provincial government, regardless of which party is in power, will have no choice but to undertake major restructuring. The key to reform is integration of all aspects of health care -- hospitals, home care, drugs, doctors and other health care workers -- under one budget.

Integration is crucial because separate budgets for different aspects of health care are the reason the current system is so inflexible and expensive. For example, an expensive drug might be able to keep a patient out of hospital, saving the overall health care system huge sums. But there is no budget in the existing system to pay for the drug, so the patient winds up in hospital instead. An integrated organization would have every incentive to opt for the drug because doing so would be best for the patient and would save money as well.

Experience in other countries indicates that integrated systems are most successful when they cover about 100,000 people. The health care organization would get a fixed amount per year for each patient, based on the patient's age, gender, and health status. Known as "rostering" or "capitation," this system gives doctors and other staff an incentive to keep patients healthy through such means as counselling on fitness and nutrition, and it gives them a disincentive to encourage unnecessary visits or to perform unnecessary procedures.


The restructuring of the workforce that has continued unabated since the 1980s will keep going into the new century. Fewer and fewer people will work in salaried jobs. Companies will maintain a key group of core workers on staff, supplementing them with a virtual organization of freelance specialists brought together for different projects. Many of today's late-boomers (Generation X) and busters have never been in a staff job and don't particularly want one. Just as employers value the flexibility of contract labor, freelancers place a premium on their independence. The integrated health systems described above will, if implemented properly, cover drugs and dental care -- among the most important fringe benefits of staff jobs.

Older demographic groups, including the boomers, will also be part of the growing ranks of freelancers. Many of these people will be semi-retired professionals in their 50s and 60s who find that working part time increases their quality of life in several ways: it keeps them alert, it gets them out of the house and meeting new people, and it raises their incomes.

Worried about whether they will have enough money to finance a lengthy old age, the semi-retired boomers are likely to be inventive in finding ways to minimize the taxman's cut of their income. As a result, a sophisticated barter system will be in place as the first decade of the new century draws to a close. For example, a semi-retired lawyer might draw up an estate plan for the manager of a health club. The health club manager might pay him by extending the club membership of a mutual acquaintance who runs an antique store patronized by the lawyer, who would get a credit at the store.

The coming retirement, or in many cases non-retirement, of the boomers, will bring a tremendous surge of creativity to the commercial life of Toronto and the surrounding region. The retirees will have energy, experience and organizational skills. Many of them will also know something about raising capital and marketing.

The prototype for this new generation of mature entrepreneurs is a pre-boomer named John Wiggins, who closed down a flourishing Toronto advertising business in 1977 because he wanted to escape the rat race. He moved into a 140-year-old farmhouse in Creemore, an hour and a half north of Toronto. After a period as an independent marketing consultant, he began his second career, at age 54, as a beer manufacturer.

Wiggins' new career has been a roaring success. Creemore Springs, praised by beer expert Michael Jackson as one of the two best lagers in North America, is served in some of Toronto's best restaurants and bars. And by turning a handsome former hardware store on Creemore's main street into a picturesque brewery, Wiggins has helped turn the town into a tourist attraction. Several other entrepreneurs with a creative bent have followed the trail he broke.

The case of Wiggins is suggestive in many ways. As a mature consumer himself, he understood the needs of other mature consumers. One of these was for quality and purity in the food and drink they consume. That's why they're ready to pay a premium for a beer made from the best ingredients, including pure spring water. He's his own boss, he's got fresh air to breathe, an outlet for his considerable energies, and a profitable business into the bargain. It's called having your beer and drinking it, too. A lot of mature boomers will be trying to find ways to do the same in the years to come.


By 2021, discounts for those 65 and over will be gone. These discounts -- for such things as banking, bus rides, and movie admissions -- are already out of date, because the 1930s generation now beginning to take advantage of them is richer than many of the younger people who have to pay full price. When the early boomers start turning 65 in 2012, discounts for 65-year-olds will seem ludicrous, and the age of eligibility will be raised to 75 or 80. No doubt there will be a debate about the issue, but it will be won by younger Canadians, many of whom feel the boomers have had things their way for too long.

The front-end boomers will continue to be regarded fondly by retailers because they are a large and relatively affluent group. One way to their hearts will be via smaller stores. Big box retailers are already experimenting with smaller boxes aimed at an older clientele that doesn't want to roam through miles of aisles to get what they need. By 2021, smaller stores will have regained some of the market share they lost with the arrival of the big boxes in the 1990s.

Small is also increasingly important in another sense for stores selling food. Older consumers eat less, so prepackaged foods need to be available in small portions. And older people, strongly aware of their mortality, are more health conscious. By 2021, natural foods will be big business, and the major supermarket companies will have set up chains specializing in natural foods.

One of the hot trends in food retailing today is high-quality takeout. Supermarkets compete with restaurants to provide busy families with full-course ready-to-eat meals for people who are too busy to cook, yet want a meal that tastes home cooked. As the boomers start to retire, sales of prepared meals will fall off, because there won't be as many time-pressed workers to buy them. The boomers will rediscover home cooking, and cooking courses will be packed with students in their 60s.

Retiring boomers will also have an important impact on the car market, one that will please consumers and displease the automakers. When they quit working full time, boomers will do what retirees have always done: get rid of their second cars. Retired couples don't need a second car as much as they once did, and because older people tend to be frugal, they want to save on insurance. As the wave of boomer retirement picks up steam after 2010, a huge number of good-quality used cars will flow onto the market. As a result, demand for new cars will plummet, driving some of Toronto's new car dealers out of business.

In other ways, the retail environment in 2021 will resemble what we have now. Currently, the echo generation is moving through its teens, and, because it is a large cohort, teen culture is bigger than at any time since the 1960s and 1970s, when the boomers were young. In 2010, the smaller millennium-busters cohort (those born from 1996 to 2010) will begin to replace the echo kids in the teen years. There are fewer of them, so teen culture will go underground, just as it did during the 1980s when the parents of these millennium busters -- the small baby-bust generation -- were teens. By 2021, the aging of the second echo, which will get under way about 2010 when the echo starts reproducing, will once again mark a rebirth of teen influence. Then, as now, the most successful retailers will be those who know how to please both young and older population cohorts.


When the boomers begin shedding cars, pedestrian rights will finally become a major issue in Toronto. By 2021, there will be more cars than ever but the ranks of pedestrians will also be increasing. Local politicians will have to pay attention to their needs. One likely innovation will be the stopping of all traffic intermittently during the day at busy intersections such as Yonge and Queen and Yonge and Eglinton. This will allow pedestrians to cross in all directions. Not only can people on foot cross more quickly by walking diagonally across the intersection; they will no longer have to worry about being sideswiped by right-turning vehicles.

Such pedestrian-friendly innovations will be part of a growing trend toward restricting the rights of private vehicles; the speed bumps currently sprouting on streets all over the city are an early manifestation of this trend, which has been prompted partly by an increase in the numbers of cars on the roads and partly by the growing recklessness of drivers. The deterioration of driving ability has been evident since the early part of the 1990s, when a significant percentage of Toronto drivers collectively decided that the yellow light that used to mean "come to a stop" now meant "floor it," and that the turn signals on their cars were purely decorative. Bad driving combined with increasing numbers of older, less agile pedestrians will create a lethal combination. Once fatalities begin to soar, we will finally get serious about more rigorous enforcement of traffic regulations, cameras to catch red-light runners, and steep fines for violations. By 2010, the streets will be safer.

As for the public transit system, it too will undergo major change, partly for financial, and partly for demographic reasons. The Toronto Transit Commission has fallen on hard financial times. The Sheppard subway, a $1-billion line from nowhere to nowhere that was forced on a reluctant TTC by Mel Lastman and other suburban politicians (egged on by The Toronto Star), will attract almost no riders and will be closed down after operating for only a couple of years. While this white elephant was still under construction, the Harris government eliminated provincial subsidies for the TTC. The local politicians rightly complained, but because of the Sheppard debacle they have lost all credibility in transit matters.

By the second decade of the new century, things will start to turn around for public transit. A new generation of local politicians, untainted by the bad decisions of the 1990s, will be able to fight for transit more effectively than the current members of Toronto city council.

An obvious solution, one that other jurisdictions have already taken, is a gas tax earmarked for transit. This would allow the existing system to be upgraded and refurbished, including increased frequencies on bus, streetcar, and subway routes. By 2010, demographics will favour transit, because the large second echo generation will be moving into its mobile years and the boomers will be using transit more than they did before they sold their second cars.

Just as changing demographics will encourage a new attitude toward pedestrians, it will also prompt some new thinking about transit. The TTC's strength is in providing high-capacity services along densely populated corridors. It's not good at providing transit service in less densely populated suburban areas, and what service it does provide in those areas loses money.

The obvious solution is to find a way to let smaller vehicles provide cost-effective service outside the high-traffic corridors. This is an area where Third World cities, with their private jitneys and colectivos, are way ahead of us. By 2021, this old-new form of transit will be proliferating in Toronto. Perhaps private companies will provide it, either independently or in partnership with the TTC. Perhaps the TTC will set up a subsidiary. The important thing is not who owns the new jitney service, but the manner in which it is operated. Customers should be able to call for a ride from home or hail a vehicle on the street.

A lot of the drivers will be semi-retired boomers. A natural market for them will be people who want to attend the Stratford and Shaw Festivals but can't face the long drive. Theatre attendance will increase in the years to come, because it is a form of entertainment that appeals to the over-50 crowd. By 2010, fleets of luxury vans will ferry theatre-goers from their doors to Stratford and Niagara-on-the-Lake and back again.


By 2021, the restaurant industry will look back at the turn of the century era as a golden age. That's because the boom is now in its peak restaurant years. Middle-aged people, the ones in the busiest time of their lives, are the ones who spend the most money in restaurants. Restaurant spending plummets after age 60, and the boomers will begin turning 60 in 2007. That year will mark the beginning of a shake-out that will see many restaurants close.

While the aging of the boom is bad news for Toronto's restaurants, the aging of the echo isn't much better for the movie houses. As the echo moves into its 30s, after 2010, movie attendance will decline. Some of the lavish megaplexes sprouting up all over town will close. By 2021, however, the second echo will be into its prime movie-going years and movie attendance will again recover.

Gardening, one of the favourite activities of middle-aged and older folks, will continue to grow in popularity, so much so that many empty-nesters who might otherwise have been lured into condos will stay where they are because they don't want to give up their gardens. Another leisure pastime popular among older folks is bingo. With a million seniors in the Greater Toronto Area in 2021, bingo will be booming. Expect bingo operators to take their cue from the movie exhibitors and install luxury seating, good food, and classy cocktail lounges where musicians will perform "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and other golden oldies.

However, the aging phenomenon that benefits bingo and gardening is bad news for professional sports, because older people attend fewer games than younger ones. During the first decade of the new century, the Leafs, Argos, Blue Jays, and Raptors will benefit from the progress of the relatively large echo generation through its teens and 20s, the prime sports attendance years. But by 2021, many of that cohort will be too busy with jobs and families to attend as many games as they once did. And the burden of mortgages and other debts will make tickets less affordable than they were in more carefree days. The echo generation's own offspring will be pre-teens in 2021 and not yet into their big sports attendance period, so there won't be many sellouts.

The successful transfer of the Montreal Alouettes to a smaller stadium befitting their minor league status is a model for the future of the Canadian Football League. The Argos will still be in business in 2021, but in some more intimate locale than the SkyDome. As for the Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors, despite the downward pressure on attendance caused by population aging, the GTA and surrounding area have more than enough people to keep them in business. However, the future of these teams is endangered by a non-demographic factor, the still struggling Canadian dollar that makes it difficult for them to compete with U.S. teams for the best players. The Leafs and Raptors, with strong ownership and an attractive arena, will survive. But major league baseball, lacking a salary cap and revenue sharing among the teams, is a mess. The chances of it cleaning up its act are slim, which means the prognosis for baseball in Toronto is poor. The Blue Jays will still be playing ball in 2021 but, sadly, not in Toronto.


Investment counselling is already a growth industry. By 2021 it will be huge. Money management is crucial for retired people, because they want to live well -- but not so well that their savings expire before they do. They might also like to leave something for their children and grandchildren. Achieving all of this is no easy matter, given persistent low interest rates and the riskiness of equities. Retired people can't afford to rely on interest income, but they also can't afford to take big risks with their money.

So what to do? Accept that money is always at risk and find ways to minimize risk or, even better, insure against it. Just as great fortunes were made in the late 1990s by the pioneers of Internet commerce, other great fortunes will be created in the first two decades of the new millennium in the rapidly advancing field of risk management. The trend announced itself in 1999, when mutual fund companies found that some of their clients were becoming more risk-averse as they got older. They responded by borrowing an idea from the insurance industry and offering segregated funds, mutual funds with built-in insurance policies. But these products had high fees that cut deeply into investment returns.

By 2010, the ever increasing power of computers combined with rising sophistication in the use of derivatives will make it possible to insure any individual investment portfolio at a reasonable cost. These insurance policies will be readily available on the Internet. By 2021, an serious investor will no more think of leaving his investment portfolio uninsured than he would his house or condo.

What of the cottage, the favourite investment of those who own one because it gives so much more enjoyment than a stock or bond? Continued population growth, and its attendant congestion and pollution, will make the appeal of cottage country all the greater, and demand for second homes will be steady through the first two decades of the new millennium. By 2021, however, all the boomers who want cottages will have them. And some will be tired of cottage upkeep and will want to unload, so a temporary buyer's market will emerge. By 2025, however, the echo generation will be looking for rural retreats, and demand for country properties will pick up again. Many boomers want to leave their cottages to their children, and that raises tax problems: unlike a principal residence that can be sold tax free, the increase in value of a cottage after purchase is taxable as a capital gain even if the cottage is given away. The boomers will still wield a lot of political power in 2021, and they can be counted on to mount a strong campaign to get the same tax status for second homes as for principal residences.


In the 1996 census, Toronto had 1.3 million people classified as belonging to visible minorities, or 32 per cent of the total population. In one area, the former municipality of Scarborough, visible minorities were a majority: 52 per cent. By 2021, according to Tom McCormack's projections, visible minorities in the city of Toronto will represent 40 per cent of the population.

The collective response of Torontonians to the increasing prevalence of non-white faces will be "So what?" Most people understand that it makes no more sense to judge people on the basis of complexion than on the basis of blood type. And while the many cultural communities of Toronto will continue to flourish, federal programs promoting multiculturalism will die before the first decade of the new millennium is over. There won't be -- there never has been -- any need for them. Immigrants to Canada have always by definition brought cultural diversity with them, and their offspring have always integrated rapidly into the mainstream. They will continue to do so, oblivious to the efforts of federal bureaucrats to slow down the integration process in the name of multiculturalism.

Almost all new Canadians, in 2021 as in 1921, will want to be unhyphenated Canadians. Proof is found in the data on language retention among immigrant families who arrived speaking foreign languages. In 2021, as now, second-generation Canadians will retain only a smattering of their parents' native languages and third-generation Canadians will have none at all.

What sort of city will Toronto be in 2021? That will, of course, depend on what sort of city its residents want it to be and whether the senior levels of government want Canada's largest metropolis to be a place all Canadians can be proud of. As the new millennium begins, there is work to be done. Tourists have stopped praising Toronto for its cleanliness, because it's not especially clean anymore. Back in the 1980s, the city basked in its self-image as "New York run by the Swiss." In 1999, that clever phrase would draw blank faces from residents and visitors alike; New York is looking spiffier these days than Toronto.

In the U.S., federal funds are paying for revitalization projects such as Boston's removal of a waterfront expressway. Toronto gets no federal funds, and the province has also withdrawn support. Who will pay for removal of the Gardiner Expressway, or will it still be there in 2021?

Increasingly, the burden of maintaining the city and its services is falling on the local taxpayer. Partly for demographic reasons, taxpayers will become more and more restive about it. A major reason is that public education represents about 40 per cent of the municipal tax bill, and by the end of the first decade of the new century, most of the boomers' kids will have graduated from high school. As a result, a smaller percentage of the population will be using the public schools. While most people, including those who send their children to private schools, want a healthy public education system, many will protest paying more property taxes, almost half of which support a service they no longer use, at a time when other civic services are in dire need.

The obvious solution is for the province, which seems intent on centralizing control over the schools, to take over financing them as well. That would allow the city to use its property tax revenues to restore such services as garbage collection to pre-amalgamation levels. At the same time, a proliferation of user fees is inevitable. Already, many Torontonians are used to getting another bill in the mail, along with those for phone, hydro, and gas, for their trips on Highway 407, the electronic toll road. Additional toll roads will make traffic in the Toronto region run more smoothly. And if those who drive more pay more, why shouldn't those who produce more garbage pay more? Many municipalities already levy per-bag charges for garbage collection.

As the city strains to provide the services its residents want, it will have to become more aggressive in raising money. If we are going to run the city on the basis of property taxes, why should real estate be the only property taxed? Some jurisdictions tax other forms of wealth, such as cars and boats. Given the key importance of transportation to the healthy functioning of a huge city like Toronto, a municipal vehicle tax would make sense.

It would also make the tax system more just. Currently, many older people with low incomes pay high property taxes because their houses have become valuable. At the same time, some younger people with higher incomes prefer to put their wealth into expensive cars rather than housing. A vehicle tax would be a way of ensuring that everyone pays their fair share.

Of course, the 905ers and other non-residents would also have to pay if they wanted to use our roads. Any Ontario-licensed car parked in Toronto, whether on the street or in a public or private lot, would have to display a sticker showing it had paid the tax or risk a fine. The imposition of such a vehicle tax will not cause cheering among Toronto's motorists, but it's the sort of innovative measure Torontonians will have to consider if the city is to renew itself.

Toronto has renewed itself before and can be relied on to do so again. For all its problems, it's a vibrant and dynamic city that will still be vibrant and dynamic two decades hence. Its population will not be especially old, as many people imagine, but it will be more mature -- mature enough that no one will bother boasting about their city being world class. Like Londoners, New Yorkers and Parisians, Torontonians in 2021 will take that for granted.

David K. Foot is a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Toronto, and co-author of the Boom, Bust & Echo books.