Depending on your perspective, the Mayor Fords are modern day Medicis, visionaries about to lavish our city’s waterfront in historical splendour, or their corruption and short-sightedness will replace moderate gains with an irreversible blight. I just want trees and sand, but their plans are larger.
In Wednesday’s issue of the National Post, Natalie Alcoba relays the highlights of the redesigned Ford waterfront: a sports complex in a decommissioned power plant, high-rises, hotels, a “retail-leisure town centre destination” (which is apparently not a mall), an “ice palace” (skating rink), a monorail, and for good measure a Ferris wheel. Oh, and an extended parkland/harbour jutting into Lake Ontario made from the earth burrowed under the Eglinton LRT. “This is an opportunity for Canada and Toronto to redefine a 21st century waterfront for the world,” said Eric Kuhne, the architect who drew the initial sketches. And he should know–no slouch, he’s completed major waterfront designs on five continents. Perhaps only in this modern, Google age rife with plagiarism redefining our world constitutes installing Dubai’s harbour, London’s “Eye”, and Springfield’s monorail. “This is a plan that will create jobs,” Doug Ford said in response to the old plan that was to emerge from the ground of its own volition.
Kelly McParland knocked the current (previous?) route of development in Thursday’s National Post: “in a decade of existence it has spent $900 million on what still strikes the untrained eye as a dusty stretch of parking lots, industrial sites, and kitschy tourist outlets.” Fords say the 25 years allotted to this development is too slow, they can do theirs in 10. What’s not to like? To hear the National Post, we should have started building yesterday.
Well, others have seen more than McParland’s “untrained eye.” Edward Keenan of the Grid attributes the slow pace of development to the fact that the environmental assessment, required by law, was just recently completed. It took years and cost $19 million. A new plan will require another lengthy, costly assessment. That’s bad, but Keenan gets to hotter stuff: “research by York University professor Robert MacDermid shows a link between one developer who owns a 50-year lease on Port Lands property discussed in the plan and $30,000 in donations to Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign.” Corruption! Insider deals! Sexy. Ford’s freely admit they don’t have money, and to fund this thing they’d need to borrow against the increased land value. In other words, Toronto would sell undeveloped land to a private firm at low rates before the development takes place. Keenan estimates the losses could be in the billions and compares it to selling off the Distillery District before it became the Distillery.
Enzo Dimatteo of Now, the city’s most rabid Ford basher, is dubious, to put it politely. Dimatteo reports that Doug Ford sat in on the recorded meeting of the Toronto Port Lands Company board where the decision was made to sole-source preliminary drawings for the revised plan. Taking Now seriously isn’t easy. This alleged “paper” has such low esteem for truth that the “pictures,” even the covers, are merely photo shopped assaults, and for this I wrote them saying I don’t even trust the veracity of their concert listings. But they’re far from alone in finding something shady.
Rob Mackenzie of the Toronto Standard pointed out that Fords failed to consult with the councillor under whose land it lies, and that they hired Kuhne three months ago even though developing that land is in another agency’s mandate, Waterfront Toronto. Mackenzie cites more abuses of procedure and voices doubts about the project’s practicality. In stark contrast, David Dick-Agnew, also from the Toronto Standard, invokes comparisons of New York’s Central Park and Paris’ Champs Elysees. Sure…New York and Paris will be obsolete when Fords are done. The Globe and Mail’s John Loring mentions an additional quarter billion needed to naturalize the mouth of the Don River to prepare a flood plain in the event of a hurricane the magnitude of Hazel. Keep the sober calculation coming.
Under the polarizing reign of the Fords, the shocking and bizarre appear inexhaustible. Just how good or horrible this gets, or even whether it’s legal, remains to be seen, but it’s doubtful their plan will materialize in full. Despite the talk of Ferris wheels and ice palaces, the Fords are immune to both fun and culture. This is about high rises and shopping. If something needs to be sacrificed for this plan to work…
In any case, expressed in only his characteristic, lucid terms, Rob is determined for a showdown: “…We’re going to go out, we’re going to consult, but this is step one…It’s a proven fact, we’re moving the ball down field; we’re getting things done and we’re going to make this just like a gold mine.”