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Browsing Blog Henrik Bechmann's Blog (currently on 01-Apr-1212)
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Blog Post

The Place of the Public Commons in Urban Society

01-Apr-2012 by Henrik Bechmann [1118]

It's well known that our society has become urbanized over the past 150 years.

(source: Statistics Canada)

Note that it's not that the rural population has shrunk (by and large) - rather it's that the urban population has grown much faster.

Today (2012) the population of the City of Toronto is about 2.6M and the metro area about 5.6M.

So how does such a dense population area work? We can get a general sketch from City of Toronto Budgets. But the City of Toronto notoriously categorizes its programs (mostly) into Citizen Services "A" and Citizen Services "B", which is singularly uncommunicative. Here's my take of a framework that makes more sense:

Re-cast Toronto Operating Budget
Personal Assistance
Personal Support
Public interventions to help or support people's lives. Basically Health, Education, and Welfare, including Toronto Housing and Public Health. (The Boards of Education and even Doctors and Hospitals would be included here for a broader analysis.)
Personal Security
The well-known Police, Fire, and Ambulance (EMS) services, though police services go well beyond emergency services.
Public Support
Public Works
Infrastructure and operation of important services that keep the city running: Transportation (TTC and Roads + Parking), Water, Sewage, Waste. (Energy -- Electricity and Gas -- and Telecommunications infrastructure would be included here for a broader analysis.)
Public Commons
This is our area of interest, including Parks (Parks, Forestry, and Recreation), Community Centres, Rinks, Cultural Centres and events, and Libraries. Streetscapes and Town Squares should be included as well. Whereas Personal Assistance are interventions, Public Commons provide support for public initiatives.
Municipal Administration
Everything else, including Municipal Bylaw enforcement, Internal Administrative Services (Hiring, Finance, etc.), Tourism, Governance, and more. Generally, stuff you'd go to City Hall for.
Municipal Finance
Mostly Finance costs (I need to look into this in more depth).

Here's a summary of the 2011 budget according to this scheme:

(Source: spreadsheet)

... and the detail of how I've organized the line item categories from the City budget:

Personal Support Personal Security Public Works Public Commons Municipal Administration Municipal Finance
  • Toronto Employment & Social Services
  • Shelter, Support & Housing Administration
  • Children's Services
  • Toronto Public Health
  • Long Term Care Homes & Services
  • Social Development, Finance & Administration
  • Affordable Housing Office
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • Fire Services
  • Toronto Police Service
  • Toronto Police Services Board
  • Toronto Transit Commission - Conventional
  • Toronto Transit Commission - Wheel-Trans
  • Transportation Services
  • Toronto Parking Authority
  • Solid Waste Management Services
  • Toronto Water


  • Parks, Forestry & Recreation
  • Toronto Public Library
  • Association of Community Centres
  • Arena Boards of Management
  • Economic Development & Culture
  • Toronto & Region Conservation Authority
  • Heritage Toronto


  • Exhibition Place
  • Theatres
  • Toronto Zoo
  • Yonge-Dundas Square
  • Waterfront Secretariat

Public services

  • 311 Toronto
  • City Planning
  • Municipal Licensing & Standards
  • Court Services
  • Policy, Planning, Finance and Administration
  • Technical Services
  • Toronto Building
  • Toronto Environment Office
  • Community Partnership and Investment Program

Internal services

  • Office of the Chief Financial Officer
  • Office of the Treasurer
  • Facilities Management & Real Estate
  • Fleet Services
  • Information & Technology

Management services

  • City Manager's Office
  • City Clerk's Office
  • Legal Services
  • Mayor's Office
  • City Council
  • Auditor General's Office
  • Integrity Commissioner's Office
  • Lobbyist Registrar
  • Office of the Ombudsman
  • Capital & Corporate Financing
  • Non-Program Expenditures
  • Non-Program Revenues

These programs amount to over $10B per year (without the many other services not provided by the city, like schools).

But that's roughly the context. This website wants to focus on the Public Commons area of the action - what we view as part of the glue that holds us all together.

Here's the staffing budget for 2011, to deliver these services (over 50,000 people):

(Source: spreadsheet)

Incidentally, about two thirds of the costs are recovered through direct fees and government transfers, leaving about one third to be collected through local taxes.

... though I need to research how the finance costs are "recovered"...