[This item was originally posted last Saturday morning, and it has been recreated here following the recent system crash. The comments submitted by various folks have vanished into the ether.]
Three would-be projects tell us so much about how screwed up Toronto’s priorities are. The proposed World’s fair is one of a long line of mega-events that would rocket Toronto to its place in the stars, a great city shining out for the world. Once upon a time, people came from all over North America to see “The City That Works” not for its one-time fairs, but for its neighbourhoods, for its commitment to a liveable city. We were renowned for that, and we managed to bring thousands of tourists here on the strength of that reputation. We really had something world-class to show off.That was 30 years ago.
For years we patted ourselves on the back and sat back content in our easy status. We did nothing. Well, no, actually worse, we built the suburbs in a style totally opposite to the very city that made our reputation. The iconic tourist shots of Toronto are the old buildings and neighbourhoods full of people, but what we actually built was miles and miles of wide streets, malls and expressways. Our transit system, once envied by other Canadian and American cities, wasted time and money on a handful of expensive subways that did nothing to make Toronto and the developing GTA a “transit city”.
I am extremely happy that we did not get a World’s Fair, that we escaped even the tedious process of submitting a bid.
Toronto is plagued with a class, a clique, who would happily spend their time and our money on this sort of scheme. Indeed, building these proposals is an industry in itself. We never actually have to open a fair or host an event, just write endless proposals and plans and studies. Meanwhile, the energy that might go into city-building is drained off into fantasies. Why talk seriously about how to make Toronto, all of Toronto, work when we can divert everyone’s attention, effort and fundraising to an event nearly a decade away.
The Waterfront desperately needs to redevelop, and it needs neighbourhoods like those that once made Toronto famous. The St. Lawrence neighbourhood isn’t perfect, but it’s a good mix of old and new buildings at a scale that works. We are immensely lucky to have it as a model, as a starting point. West of Yonge we were not so fortunate.
The plan to tear down the central part of the Gardiner Expressway surfaced recently, and with it the predicatable debates about what this would do for Toronto. Many suburban Councillors are apopletic that they won’t be able to drive through downtown, and many downtowners fear that traffic in the neighbourhoods will grind to a halt.
Yes, that elevated road is an eyesore and it cuts Toronto off from the lake, but would the replacement surface roads be any better? These are not leafy, four-lane city streets, an extension of the old downtown grid, but a mega-street that would slice across the city, a suburban arterial on steroids.
Lurking in the background we have the Front Street Extension. Many have fought this for years, but it’s an expressway plan that just won’t die. I am baffled by the political support it garners among Councillors and a Mayor who would quail if we talked about expressways anywhere else. The FSE project was moribund for lack of funding, and with luck it might die off from indifference. Then the Gardiner report came out, and the FSE gained a new life as an essential part of rebuilding the waterfront.
I’m more than a bit cynical on this topic: the only way that the Gardiner will come down is to fall down, and if that happens it will almost certainly be rebuilt in place. The most likely scenario would have us build the Front Street Extension with great hopes for the future, but then the Gardiner would stay as it is. We would have the worst of both worlds.
We are being conned by the expressway advocates with the connivance of those who believe an FSE is essential to development of South Parkdale and Liberty Village. All they really need is a local road, but the cabal of road lobbyists wants an expressway. A marriage not quite made in heaven.
Where should we go from here? Let’s get back to what Toronto does, or did, well: building neighbourhoods, making the city a welcoming place for pedestrians, showing that we are more than a high-rise village criss-crossed with arterials and expressways.