It’s Toronto’s 175th birthday and I have been asked numerous times about the difference between the city today and when I was mayor 30 years ago.

Today, there are 40 or 50 times the number of homeless people. In the 1980s, it was unusual to see a homeless person and hardly anyone slept outside overnight.

Back then, city hall built thousands of new affordable housing units, mixing low- and middle-income households in the same buildings in all parts of the city. The federal and provincial governments contributed to these housing programs, which were very popular and didn’t have a stigma attached to them. But they were cancelled in the 1990s and very little new affordable housing has since been built.

Growing poverty in the city also signifies a big divide. Today, almost one-third of children in Toronto live in poverty, a result of low minimum wages and welfare rates that have been all but frozen for 15 years.

There’s also a disconnect between city leaders and city residents that wasn’t nearly so obvious in the 1970s. That was a time when many people felt they owned city hall, a time when councillors worked out new consultation processes to learn people’s opinions and then made the changes needed.

Today, city hall feels like a remote big machine that hasn’t the time or the energy to engage the talent and imagination of the many people willing to devote both to the public good. It’s a megacity. A big gap has opened up between those who think they’ve been elected to be in charge and the rest of us.

It’s discouraging that Toronto has drifted so badly downwards.