Weeks on from the Toronto shooting, how is the city coping?

Residents of the Danforth commemorating the shooting in late July 2018. Image: Getty.

We’re several weeks out from the latest episode of mass casualty violence in Toronto, and the city is still grappling with the impact of the shooting that left two dead in the bustling area of the city known as The Danforth.

The shooting came just three months after the van attack that killed 10 people in Toronto’s north end, traumatising a city unaccustomed to such acts of mass violence.

In the first four weeks after the July 22 mass shooting, events included two funerals, a benefit concert, community vigils and the creation of temporary memorials along The Danforth.

As an expert in disaster and emergency management at York University, not far from where the latest attack occurred, I’ve been making detailed observations at the scene in order to both document and understand the first month of this newest disaster recovery for Toronto — a city that is unfortunately becoming too well-versed in mass casualty disasters.

Public mass shooting

Danforth Avenue was the site of the shootings in Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood. It’s an area of the city known for its vibrant public spaces and busy patio culture.

The motives of the deceased shooter remain unknown as the investigation proceeds. But we do know that for some reason he targeted one of the city’s most high-profile neighbourhoods, symbolic of Toronto’s summertime festival culture.

Like the van attack, terrorism came to mind as a possible cause in the immediate aftermath of the violence. After the shooting, ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant) issued a communique claiming responsibility for the event, but authorities indicated the claim doesn’t match what their investigation has uncovered.

The shooting on The Danforth is best defined as a public mass shooting. These incidents occur in relatively public places, usually involving four or more deaths, and a gunman who somewhat indiscriminately selects victims. A public mass shooter’s agenda stems from their specific personal experiences and psychological conditions, not broader socio-political objectives.


The initial response

Like the van attack, the mass shooting resulted in a large crime scene with multiple deaths and injuries at different locations. The rampage occurred along a 400-metre stretch of Danforth Ave. and involved sites ranging from a public parkette to individual businesses.

At the time of the incident — approximately 10 p.m. on a Sunday evening — it was initially difficult for those in the middle of the mayhem to identify the type of crisis that was occurring around them. A roving gunman randomly targeting people was completely unexpected in that setting.

Immediate civilian responses included rapid first-aid provision to the wounded, followed by actions to evade the gunfire, including evacuation, sheltering in place and lockdowns. Out of necessity, ordinary bystanders improvised lifesaving medical assistance until first responders converged on the scene within minutes. Some of the bystanders acted heroically and sustained injury as they attempted to save others.

A 10-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman died from their wounds, and 13 people were hospitalised with various prognoses for physical recovery.

The shooter, identified as a 29-year-old man, died from a self-inflicted wound when confronted by police. As in the van attack, hundreds of people on the street were directly exposed to trauma by witnessing the carnage.

Organising recovery

The disaster response efforts obviously began immediately following the shooting. Police response protocols relating to gun violence incidents transitioned to first responder actions to manage mass casualties. These immediate actions were followed by subsequent crime scene investigation and cleanup, all of it taking place within hours.

Given the multiple urban functions (recreation, retail, residential and transportation) of Danforth Avenue, it was necessary for normalcy to return to the street quickly.

In the week after the shooting, one business, a popular dessert café where one of the casualties occurred, remained boarded up, though it has since reopened. Other businesses that were impacted quickly repaired bullet holes, erased remnants of the violence and resumed business as usual.

While the physical recovery of the neighbourhood was accomplished in short order, social recovery will take much longer as the neighbourhood comes to terms with what it means to be the site of a public mass shooting.

One of the ways that the Danforth is coming to terms with the public mass shooting is via memorials. Residents of the Danforth, businesses in the neighbourhood, the local business improvement association and churches worked quickly to reclaim the streets after the violent attack. An evening vigil held three days after the attack was one of the first public events. Temporary improvised memorials to the victims also materialised.

The main site of grieving was a city-owned parkette, the focal point of Greektown. At the Alexander the Great Parkette, a memorial grew around an existing fountain and garden.

In addition, two sidewalk memorials also emerged, and the temporarily boarded-up dessert café became a collection point for items of grief expression. At a third site, in proximity but not directly related to the tragedy itself, the blank plywood boards of construction barricades provided a canvas for mourners to memorialise the dead.

After the van attack uptown from The Danforth, a temporary disaster memorial was in place for 40 days before being completely dismantled. On The Danforth, makeshift memorials were relocated due to the annual Taste of The Danforth festival. The event is one of Canada’s largest street fairs with an estimated 1.6n people in attendance.

The long-term fate of the disaster memorials will involve a balancing act between the need to remember and the need to move forward.

Looking ahead at a new normal

Following the van attack, I suggested that there was a new normal in place for Toronto and I posed the question: what can we expect in the weeks and months ahead and beyond?

The answer to that question is now becoming clear: The greatest strengths of Canada’s largest city also represent significant weaknesses.

One of the factors that makes Toronto a desirable place to live, work and visit is neighbourhoods like The Danforth. The open, active public life at street level provides for many opportunities ranging from creativity hubs to opportunities for social and cultural diversity and the promotion of active local economies.

But those neighbourhoods also represent “soft targets” to exploit by people driven by antisocial and violent motives. These are places that are by their nature open access, not well-defended — and security posture is not top of mind.

The question now is: How does Toronto maintain its active and bustling neighbourhoods while also defending itself?

The Conversation

Jack L. Rozdilsky, Associate Professor of Disaster & Emergency Management, York University, Canada.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The Tory manifesto promises to both increase AND decrease the rate of housebuilding

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Image: Getty.

In his 2014 Mansion House speech, the then-chancellor George Osborne expressed with uncharacteristic honesty the motives at the heart of how the Conservatives see British housing politics: “The British people want our homes to go up in value, but also remain affordable; and we want more homes built, just not next to us.”

Five years later these contradictions remain unreconciled and present in their manifesto, which contains two different and contradictory – but clearly extensively targeted and focus-grouped – sets of policies.

The Conservatives have two housing targets. The first is to make significant progress to hitting “our target of 300,000 houses built a year by the mid-2020s”. The second is their aim to build “at least a million new homes” during the next parliament, which implies a target of 200,000 homes a year. This is not only 100,000 lower than their initial target but also lower than the current rate of housebuilding: 213,660 new homes a year. They have therefore implied at separate points in the same manifesto that they intend to simultaneously increase and decrease the rate of housebuilding.  

There are similar conflicts in their approach to planning. They intend to make the “planning system simpler” while simultaneously aiming to introduce community-led design standards for development and planning obligations to provide infrastructure for the local community.

None of this is unsurprising, The Tories don’t seem to know if they want to build more houses or not – so of course they don’t know whether they wish to make it easier or harder to do so.  

Politicians like obfuscation on housing policy to placate NIMBY voters. Take for example prospective Conservative MP and ‘environmentalist’ Zac Goldsmith’s crusade to save treasured local car parks. The manifesto can equally be accused of pandering to NIMBY instincts, protecting their shire voters from all housing, including ones they might actually need or want, by promising to protect the greenbelt.  

Instead, Conservatives intend to foist development on Labour-leaning inner-city communities and prioritising brownfield development and “urban regeneration”. This requires massive, infeasible increases in proposed density on brownfield sites – and research by Shelter has shown there are simply not enough brownfield sites in cities like London. Consequently, it is not clear how such a policy can co-exist with giving these inner-city communities rights on local design. Perhaps they intend to square that circle through wholesale adoption of YIMBY proposals to let residents on each street opt to pick a design code and the right to turn their two-storey semi-detached suburban houses into a more walkable, prettier street of five-storey terraces or mansion blocks. If so, they have not spelt that out. 

Many complain of NIMBYism at a local level and its toxic effects on housing affordability. But NIMBYism at the national level – central government desire to restrict housebuilding to make house prices rise – is the unspoken elephant in the room. After all, 63 per cent of UK voters are homeowners and price rises caused by a housing shortage are hardly unpopular with them. 


There is anecdotal evidence that protecting or inflating the value of homeowners’ assets is central to Conservative strategy. When George Osborne was criticised for the inflation his help to buy policy caused within the housing market, he allegedly told the Cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom, and everyone will be happy as property values go up”. More recently Luke Barratt of Inside Housing noted that most Conservatives he spoke to at the 2018 party conference were scared “they’d be punished by their traditional voters if the values of their homes were to fall”. He was told by a Conservative activist at the conference that, “If you build too many houses, you get a Labour government”.

But the senior figures in the Conservative Party are painfully aware that the continuing housing shortage presents major long-term problems for the Party. As the manifesto itself acknowledges: “For the UK to unleash its potential, young people need the security of knowing that homeownership is within their reach.” Perpetual increases in house prices are incompatible with this goal. The problem has greatly contributed to the Conservatives’ severe unpopularity with a younger generation priced out of decent accommodation. 

Equally, there is increasing evidence that ‘gains’ from rising house prices are disproportionately concentrated in the south of England.  The differences in housing costs between regions greatly reduce labour mobility, suppressing wage growth in the north and midlands, which in turn leads to greater regional inequality. The policy of coddling southern homeowners at the expense of the economic well-being of other regions is a major long-term stumbling block to Conservative desires to make inroads into the ‘red wall’ of Leave-voting labour seats outside the south.

Before dealing with the issue of where housing should go, you must decide whether you want to build enough housing to reduce the housing crisis. On this issue, the Conservative response is, “Perhaps”. In contrast, even though they may not know where to put the necessary housing, the Labour Party at least has a desire in the abstract to deal with the crisis, even if the will to fix it, in reality, remains to be seen. 

Ultimately the Conservative Party seems to want to pay lip service to the housing crisis without stopping the ever-upward march of prices, underpinned by a needless shortage. Osborne’s dilemma – that the will of much of his party’s voter base clashes with the need to provide adequate housing – remains at the heart of Conservative housing policy. The Conservatives continue to hesitate, which is of little comfort to those who suffer because of a needless and immoral housing shortage.

Sam Watling is the director of Brighton Yimby, a group which aims to solve Brighton’s housing crisis while maintaining the character of the Sussex countryside.