The best way for Rob Ford (or any of us) to start rebuilding Toronto

March 7th, 2014, 3pm

Unless you have kids — your own, your siblings’, or perhaps a friend’s kids you’re entertaining for the day — you may never have reason to visit the LegoLand Discovery Centre. Assuming he continues his reelection effort following a leave of absence, though, I’d recommend it for our mayor as a campaign stop. It’s the perfect metaphor for everything that’s possible in civic leadership, and for much of what’s wrong with it as well.

Deep inside the surprisingly large space in the Vaughn Mills Shopping Centre is an uncanny replica of Toronto’s downtown, from the financial district to Harbourfront and major attractions like the CN Tower, Nathan Philips Square and the Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome). Much like the first time you use Google Maps, the immediate temptation is to look for the area closest to your home (or in my case, the buildings where I tend to work). And just like Google Maps, you can see but not touch. Glass walls keep little fingers well away, and although it’s representing something that exists in the present day the whole thing is treated like a museum. This is in sharp contrast to the rooms flanking the cityscape, which are filled with mounds of Lego pieces that can be assembled into anything you can imagine — or dumped haphazardly, as tends to happen with the youngest visitors.

Of course we adults understand why you can’t play with the Lego Toronto. It must have taken forever to put together, with all kinds of planning and attention to detail. Kids would inevitably destroy it within less than 10 minutes. And once that happened, no one would want to go through the trouble of recreating it.

On the other hand, I couldn’t stop wondering what would happen if those barriers were taken down. Presented with an immaculate depiction of the city where they live, is it not possible that at least a few kids (at least the older ones) might not tear everything down but build onto it? How might they rethink the Habourfront, a project which has foiled even the most experienced urban planners? What about all those condos that are squeezing out the available space in mixed-use neighbourhoods — could they envision a different architectural approach? Whatever their results, something tells me they would be worth documenting.

Also, what if putting the essential pieces back was not a tedious chore — admittedly, one often completed only via threats and intimidation when I’m managing it at home — but something to get excited about? In what way could we teach children that resurrecting Lego Toronto was an opportunity to involve everyone as a united team, with room for creativity, not just competency? Of course what got rebuilt might look much different, less ‘perfect’ than before, but it might also look better.

The person we last chose to lead the real Toronto has been compared to a schoolyard bully whose antics have embarrassed us all and left so much of our future prospects in pieces. Yet no matter where he is, and whatever happens in his battle with addiction, there are no glass walls surrounding this beautiful city. If nothing else, let’s celebrate the fact that we all still have access to the building blocks that could change everything for the better again.

Shu, Christine, Craig, David Wade and 3 others said thanks.

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Shane Schick

Writer and editor of @CanadianCIO, @FierceDeveloper and @Allstream's Lover/fighter.

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