While the city’s collective attention has shifted away from the Port Lands since Doug Ford promised Toronto Really Shiny Objects on the waterfront, it’s still an important part of Toronto’s future. The Port Lands might just be Canada’s most underused chunk of valuable real estate: 1,000 acres of undeveloped waterfront property a stone’s throw from downtown. Last summer, Councillor Ford tried to re-shape the future of the Port Lands in his own image, but encountered massive resistance. Here’s what has been going on since:
August 26, 2011: Late on a Friday afternoon, the agenda for a Rob Ford Executive Committee meeting is posted, and item 9.6 concerns longtime activists on the waterfront file. Led by councillor Doug Ford, the new proposal seeks to transfer the planning responsibilities of the Port Lands from the tripartite organization Waterfront Toronto to the city’s property-development agency, the Toronto Port Lands Company, ostensibly to auction off the land in the hopes of creating a tourist zone highlighted by a mega-mall, monorail, and Ferris wheel. Many references to The Simpsons are made, and Mayor Ford supports his brother’s “backroom vision” by arguing that trees can’t employ people.
September 21, 2011: The mayor’s popularity plummets after quickly assembled activist group CodeblueTO and key councillors Jaye Robinson, Josh Matlow, and Michelle Berardinetti reject the Dubai-style design proposed by architect Eric Kuehne. As a face-saving measure, Ford allies Michael Thompson and Peter Milczyn broker a compromise: Waterfront Toronto will remain in full control of the Port Lands but will seek ways to accelerate the timeline of the long-term project and and reduce unfunded costs. A public consultation is mapped out for the next few months. It’s the first major loss for the administration, and foreshadows future defeats over the 2012 budget and transit.
December 7, 2011: Six hundred people attend the first public consultation for the Port Lands at the Toronto Reference Library. Of particular concern is the proposed $634 million re-naturalization of the Don River, the centrepiece of landscape-architect Michael Van Valkenburgh‘s original 2007 design. The re-naturalization serves the dual purpose of flood protection and creates parkland, both essential components of the development. But without government funding in place and Waterfront Toronto lacking the ability to raise investment, this vision is in doubt.
May 24, 2012: After a week of rumours suggesting that the OLG was looking to the Port Lands as a potential site for a Toronto casino, Waterfront Toronto’s John Campbell debunks any interest. However, a final consultation is deferred to give more time to analyze plans and consult with stakeholders.
July 30, 2012: Although Waterfront Toronto has known about it for a year, news emerges that industrial private-property owners like Lafarge (a concrete maker) and Redpath Sugar have interests in the Port Lands and will continue to operate in the area. This means that the original Port Lands plan by Valkenburgh (who has since re-joined the project) would never have come to fruition anyway, though these sorts of obstacles are common as design proposals meet the challenges of implementation. To adapt to this development, Waterfront Toronto embraces a “theatre of the habour” concept, whereby ships will continue to dock in the area and act as maritime props for the waterfront community.
August 8, 2012: At the most recent Port Lands consultation, Waterfront Toronto unveils their full plan: In order to save $150 million in flood protection and cover most of the costs, proposed development is increased by 15 per cent while parkland is reduced by 25 per cent. Chief among this reduction is the shrinking of Promontory Park to accommodate its industrial neighbours. It’s not the ideal plan for politicians like local councillor Paula Fletcher, but is considered the best outcome given all factors.