TOcore - Planning Toronto's Downtown

Downtown Stories: Planning for Many Perspectives

When we think about how to best guide the future of Downtown, it’s important that we consider the diversity of people that live, work, learn, play and invest in the core.

In fact, it’s the City’s job to ensure our public spaces, public services, and public policies meet a wide range of needs. So, to help us think through and understand these needs, we’ve created a set of profiles that reflect a mix of people that we know live in Toronto. Some live Downtown, some visit, some work in the core and some avoid it. We’re calling them the TOcore Avatars.

TOcore Avatars



25 years old | Recent Grad | Bikes to Work | Rents | Enjoys nightlife

Avatar Oscar


17 years old | High school student | Parents own their house | Lives in suburbs | Sometimes hangs out Downtown

Avatar Ann


30 years old | Métis| Works & lives Downtown| Rents | Walks everywhere | About to start a family

Avatar Cindy


23 years old | Single mother | First Nations | Living in a Shelter


12 years old | Refugee | Mother is underemployed | Has never been Downtown

Avatar Jerome


33 years old | Young professional | Rents with a roommate | Walks to work


58 years old | Owns a house | Takes transit to work downtown | Enjoys the arts scene Downtown

TO Avatar: Jo


18 years old | Trans youth | Homeless | Downtown



22 years old |College student | Newcomer | Transit user | Arts and culture lover

Avatar Fred


75 years old | Retired | Downtown | Aging at home


32 years old | Precariously housed | Unemployed | Suffers from chronic illness | Downtown | Worried about gentrification

Avatar Lily


64 years old | Immigrant | Lives in Markham | Sometimes drives downtown | Wants better transit options

TO Avatars: Charles


43 years old | Young, 1st generation family | Owns a Midtown condo | Enjoys museums & libraries

TO Avatar Sajith


57 years old | Immigrant | Owns in Rexdale | Drives a taxi | Concerned about congestion

Avatar Fatemeh


66 years old | Senior | Grandparent | Walks | Symphony goer | North York

Avatar Marilyn


44 years old | Disabled | Lives Downtown | Owns a House | Drives to Work

The TOCore Avatars are not based on real people:

They are based on demographic data from the census and elsewhere, with stories that we created to help explain how they relate to downtown. Any similarities to real people are entirely coincidental. A similar initiative came out of New York, inspired in turn by a very common practice in the business community. Businesses create customer profiles all the time to ensure they are thinking about the needs of their customers, like when they are designing new products. This is the same thing, but we're taking our Avatars one step further and making them public. Why are we doing that? For two reasons:

  • To help us all better understand the great diversity that exists in Toronto and the many relationships that people have with our Downtown; and

  • To help Torontonians reflect on their own experience of Downtown, and then to share it with us. Is your experience similar to any of the Avatars'? Is it different? In what ways?

This feedback is critical to ensuring that our vision and strategies are based on how Torontonians experience Downtown today and what they aspire to see in our Downtown of the future. So, without further ado, meet our TOcore Avatars. Then, when you're doing getting acquainted, share your story.

Expand1. Why create avatars?

We created the avatars for two reasons: to serve as a reminder to both City staff and the public about the diversity that exists in Toronto and the need to plan in a way that accommodates the many types of relationships people have with Downtown; and to help Torontonians reflect on their own experiences of, and relationships with Downtown.

Expand2. Don't the Avatars just perpetuate stereotypes?

We hope not! We do think it's important to highlight the fact that race, gender and income are important factors in how a person experiences the city. The way these factors intersect matter to Torontonians' identities, priorities and service needs, and we didn't want to gloss over that. While some of our stories might seem to perpetuate stereotypes, we think they are accurate reflections of how different groups of people experience life in the city. For example, because over a third of people identifying as Aboriginal in Toronto also experience poverty, we thought it was important to incorporate that experience into Cindy's story. The intent is not to stereotype people in our communities but to address Torontonians' complex realities and draw attention to the ways that people experience our city today, as well as how they experience vulnerability.

Expand3. Where did the data come from that you based the avatars off of?

We worked with a market research firm, Environics Analytics, to develop most of our avatars using data that groups people into 'segments'. Each segment consists of people who share a variety of common characteristics, including where they live, what kind of work they do, what kind of home they live in, how much money they make, and so on. This data comes mostly from the census, with some additional market research added to the mix as well. Similar data does not exist for the vulnerable populations that we chose to highlight, so we used data and information from a variety of studies and reports to create their stories.

Expand4. Are the avatars representative of the demographics of Toronto?

They are and they aren't. The avatars are based on an amalgamation of various segments (see above) of the population. There are definitely people in Toronto who share the same demographic characteristics but there are also people who will find that no avatar properly represents their situation. This is inevitable given the number and diversity of people in Toronto, but we did our best to capture some of the more common segments of the population.

Expand6. Could you tell a different story for each avatar?

Of course! These are fictional stories that attempt to get at some of the different relationships people have with our Downtown, but there are as many possible stories as there are people in Toronto, so of course, if your story is different, we'd love to hear it!

Expand7. How will the avatars influence decision-making?

The avatars will influence decision-making by reminding both Planning staff and the public to think about how decisions or planning directions might impact Torontonians differently. The City will be holding community consultations over the next year, including specific engagement with Torontonians with lived experience of vulnerability such as poverty, housing precarity and homelessness. The TOcore Avatars will be a critical tool in these consultations and throughout the project to help us think beyond our individual biases to make better collective decisions for the future of downtown.