I have been desperately trying to put Councillor Doug Ford’s hideous back room vision for the East Portlands waterfront from my mind. These attempts have including long, long, Nyquil induced naps, binge drinking and.. well, just those two things. Nothing seems to work. My dreams have been filled with images of amusement park grotesqueries and the retail wasteland south of the Eaton Centre.
So I’ve spent some of my waking hours clicking through the Executive Committee’s item under consideration, Toronto Port Lands Company – Revitalization Opportunities for the Port Lands, Waterfront Toronto’s website and various media accounts of what’s been going on and what Councillor Ford’s proposal – such as it is – might mean.
One conclusion I have drawn is that things have not been going anywhere near as slowly as the councillor or the mayor claim. A trip in person down there shows a constantly evolving scene, with spots like Sherbourne Common just opened up this summer. In the comments section of John McGrath’s piece at Open File, What’s next for the Port Lands development?, Canadian National lists everything that’s happened so far, what’s currently under construction and what’s on the dockets, both in the near future and beyond. It is a pretty impressive list.
The idea of slow in these matters is very relative. Check out the provincial government’s Executive Summary just of the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Flood Protection Project environmental assessment. It is exhaustive. Whenever you get all three levels of government working together on a project, speed is not going to be of the essence. On pages 3 and 4, count the number of ministries involved at both the provincial and federal levels, in addition to the zoning, permit and bylaw approvals needed from the city. There’s something like 18.
Now, small government fans like the councillor and his brother-mayor will point to that as the problem, evidence of the red tape and regulatory burden that slows everything down to a crawl. Unleash the private sector, they cry, and behold the power of unfettered free enterprise to work its magic. I’ve got a two word response to that: Queen’s Quay.
Speed kills smart development. While yes, there’s very likely slow motion progress owing to the involvement of 3 levels of bureaucracy, intra-governmental disputes and the electoral politics of changes in who holds what office, the deliberate approach Waterfront Toronto has been taking since its beginnings is ultimately a good thing. It helps in finding mistakes or bad ideas before they get too far along in the process. New, better ideas may emerge. It allows for a wider consultation process and broader community engagement which, ultimately, means more happy campers as an end result. As has been noted often since this debate erupted, there are surprisingly few critics to what’s happened so far under Waterfront Toronto’s watch outside the mayor’s circle.
It’s hard to say exactly what the mayor and his brother’s motives are in this struggle. Maybe Councillor Doug is really that razzle-dazzle pitchman who has little time for mundane things like mixed-use development and inclusive public spaces that aren’t malls. We certainly know that urban planning is not the man’s forte. Or maybe it’s just a plain ol’, grubby money grab. A quick sale of valuable city assets so that budget holes can be plugged while cutting and freezing taxes, and an impossible campaign promise kept.
Whatever it is, let’s not give him the foothold to claim Waterfront Toronto is moving too slowly. Judging by the results to date, I’d offer everything’s operating at just the right speed.
– slow as molassasly submitted by Cityslikr