Still holding on tightly to the idea we need to keep the Gardiner east expressway? Mayor Tory evidently does. The sky will fall, raining traffic chaos down upon us! Toronto’s former chief planner begs to differ.
What else could we do with $500 000 000? Let me count the ways… 400 more streetcars or rebuilding a downtown expressway? An entire LRT line, say, along the waterfront or rebuilding a downtown expressway?
The hybrid. Locking in the future. It’s fixed. You can’t make changes to it. For 50-100 years. It is what it is.
(Repurposing of our Wednesday post over at Torontoist, with bad grammar and possibly poor spelling reinserted from an earlier draft.)
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As the battle begins over a new vision for Toronto’s waterfront, the Fort Sumter shot fired by Councilllor Doug Ford’s commercial heavy, where’s everybody going to shop by the lake dream, what it all comes down to is a fight over the public realm. The Ford’s have no taste for such a thing, might not even understand what it means. Those who have been in on the process since Waterfront Toronto’s inception more than a decade ago believe it should be the driving force behind the development.
Invest in the public realm, and private investment is sure to follow. That’s the view of former Toronto chief planner Paul Bedford. Meanwhile, if you put the private sector before the public realm, you get Queen’s Quay. Now adjunct professor of city planning at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University, and senior associate at the Canadian Urban Institute, Bedford came to City Hall yesterday to speak before council’s Executive Committee, which was meeting to discuss the mayor’s new plan for the Port Lands.
This idea, of investment in the public realm coming first, lies at the centre of the current flood control plan. (The Port Lands surround the mouth of the Don River, which like all rivers can sometimes overflow its banks. Flood protection measures must be implemented before any building on the surrounding land can occur.) Team Ford says that there’s no money in place to fund it. Ipso facto, they go on, let’s hit up the private sector– their go-to answer for almost everything. In return for a sweetheart deal on any nearby land, said private sector would, maintain the Fords, happily build the needed infrastructure. Just like they’re lining up to do for the Sheppard subway line. (Cough, cough. Cough, cough.)
Conversely, those who favour investment in the public realm before selling to developers argue that if the public sector builds the flood control infrastructure, the nearby land will increase greatly in value, and the City won’t have to unload properties at a cut rate price. This means more money flowing into government coffers to help offset infrastructure costs. (This is the exact opposite of the argument the Ford administration made about their proposed Sheppard subway line. Of course, they are now having to go to the province, cap in hand, to ask for some seed money to get things rolling. Cough, cough. Cough, cough.)
Never mind the fact that some might argue that it’s the role of government to build infrastructure and not to leave such a vital component for a healthy society to the vagaries of the market place. Some might argue. Unless, like the Fords and their neo-con herd of sheep on the Executive Committee, you believe the less a role government plays, the better. End stop.
Mayoral brother Doug Ford’s disregard of the public realm is such that he couldn’t be bothered to stick around after the entirely predictable Power Point (and not at all jaw-dropping) presentation of this new proposal and defend his vision to just one or two of the 30 or so deputants who were there to stand up for the current plan. Instead he took to the friendlier environs of a media interview/infomercial to take on “ferris wheel hypocrites.” (You heard it here first, folks.) This allowed the councillor to get out ahead of the sense of dismay and alarm that was building amongst the deputants and crowd at his half-baked, half-cocked waterfront plan in Committee Room 1.
Whatever it is going on in their noggins seems to be completely contrary to the actual facts on the ground. If Tuesday’s Executive Committee meeting showed us anything, it’s that whoever is behind this move to blow up ten years of planning and replace it with something slapped together under the cover of darkness has no idea what is actually going on on our waterfront. Or if they do, they don’t want their supporters who they’ll need to push this thing through council to know.
They tell us that nothing’s going on down there. (There is.) They claim that the whole entirety of Waterfront Toronto is the biggest boondoggle they’ve ever seen. (It isn’t. In fact, it isn’t a boondoggle at all. Don’t believe me? Ask a real life, honest to God conservative, former mayor David Crombie. Or even a less than honest to God conservative, federal finance minister, Jim Flaherty.) They say the cupboard’s bare and there’s no money anywhere to proceed any further. (Wrong, wrong, wrong.) All of it wrong.
It’s almost as if they can’t stand to see government in action actually succeed. To have to admit that a slow, deliberate, inclusive, democratic process is able to create something special that this city can truly be proud of. That the so-called public realm not only needs to be nourished but if it isn’t, everything else becomes simply a crass, sterile money grab.
Yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting did not show us two competing waterfront visions. What it revealed was two competing visions of urban planning. One, which deputant after deputant advocated for and defended, is a strong, vibrant public realm as the basis for strong, vibrant communities, neighbourhoods and cities. A fundamental belief that planning must involve engaging the wider community at every step of the process just as Waterfront Toronto has done. The dreary, time consuming aspect of public consultation that gives the appearance of `nothing being done’ to those who hold citizens’ views as little more than an afterthought. Those who see planning as nothing more than grand announcements with little substance and much ad hockery. A desiccated public realm, picked clean and sucked dry by those needing and looking for a quick buck.
It’s city building versus city exploiting. The first isn’t always pretty but the second masks its ugliness behind bright lights and shiny baubles until it’s too late for us to get a good look at it.
Just in case anyone thinks it’s Cityslikr who does all the heavy lifting/seminar going around this office, I too was in attendance at Tuesday’s Rethinking Toronto’s Governance session at U of T’s Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance. Simply because he doesn’t have a life and rushes home to immediately put fingertips to keyboard, doesn’t mean he’s the only one who has thoughts on the event. Some like to allow time for percolation and reflection before popping off. Coffee and thinking. Coffee and thinking.
One interesting angle from the session which my colleague did not touch upon was a statement Paul Bedford made about a visiting urban thinker to Toronto. (I don’t take notes. Check the IMFG website when the webcast is posted for exact details.) After a walk throughout the city, this particular individual told Mr. Bedford (and I’m paraphrasing here) that while Toronto was most definitely a city of neighbourhoods, there was no overall cohesive whole.
What?! But that’s the kind of city we are! A city of neighbourhoods. Please don’t call our identity into question.
It’s an interesting observation even if perhaps apocryphal, given how well it aligned with the gist of Mr. Bedford’s talk especially when taken with Kyle Rae’s view that council remains ward-centric and many citizens refuse to let go of ‘old’ Toronto (and Etobiocoke and North York et al) and embrace the amalgamated entirety. How do you build one city from six? Is it possible to unite around a place called Toronto when many of its components (Etobicoke and North York et al) resent and dislike the very name of it unless it precedes the words `Maple Leafs’?
The Board of Trade’s Richard Joy was pessimistic that it could be done. Saying that it was strictly his opinion and not that of the TOB and refusing to use the word ‘de-amalgamation’ (there are precedents for that sort of thing, ie Montreal), he did wonder if the megacity was a failed experiment. In a peculiar twist from that thought, he expressed more interest in a region wide approach to governance. 416 and 905. Big and small. Small and big.
These are interesting times, here in Toronto. Living in a city that isn’t comfortable in its own skin. Factional about urban planning. Jealous like siblings over how our resources are spent. And now preyed upon and exploited by mayoral candidates who campaign within the fault lines while vowing to lead us, followed, of course, by a disingenuously heart-felt I Love My City coda.
This divide we’re dealing with is, like the supposed red state-blue state division expounded upon endlessly in the U.S., what I think is called a heuristic technique. (At least I hope so because the other word that comes to mind is `hirsute’ and that puts a different spin on the matter, entirely.) I’m quoting E. Barbara Phillips here, heuristic: “a model, assumption or device that is not necessarily scientifically true but is a useful tool to aid in the discovery of new relationships.”
Or perhaps in the case of our mayoral campaign, a model, assumption or device not necessarily scientifically true but useful to divide and conquer.
Are there differences between the downtown core and the inner suburbs? No doubt. Some are desirable; the unique cogs that make up this thing we call diversity. But what about those differences that are less positive? Can they be overcome? Well, that’s the 11.6 billion dollar question. They certainly can’t be if whatever inequities and imbalances do exist aren’t addressed directly by those wanting to be our next mayor instead of being used as a wedge to drive the two solitudes further apart merely for electoral gain.
If we can’t outgrow this largely mental divide — that there’s a war on cars, that downtown elites are dining on caviar harvested from the sweat of toil of hardworking suburban regular Joes, that Scarberians only want to be left alone to sit in their underwear eating BBQ on their John Deeres – we should just call it a day, cut our losses and go our separate ways. After asking permission from the province, of course. It isn’t possible to coalesce into a more unified entity when our fledgling leaders endeavour to lead by promoting disharmony.
That’s what we call a lack of vision, and the absolute last thing Toronto can endure at this juncture in its existence. We need to see what it is that makes us one city. Those commonalities unique to this place that differentiates us not from each other but from other places, other cities, other regions. The civic glue holding Toronto together in good times and bad.
Is there any aside from following professional sports teams that suck? If not, well then, these municipal elections amount to little more than futile exercises that occur every four years, serving only to get everyone’s hackles up before we all retreat back into our 44 little enclaves, telling each other to stay the hell off our lawn.