Reflections on Urban Toronto, Two Years Later

Posted by Julian Dunn on June 30, 2013
Politics
Downtown Toronto picture

Downtown Toronto looking west from the new West Donlands park

Visiting Toronto after two years away is like waking up from a coma. I’m in a city whose built forms I recognize, but for which 50% or more of the urban landscape is different. I hope the changes are for the better, but I’m not entirely sure yet.

While I generally endorse much of the civic redevelopment underway, especially in turning previously-derelict open spaces like the West Donlands into beautiful public spaces, they all seem to have a similar look and feel: nature, but hemmed in and severely constrainted, against a backdrop of identical, poorly-constructed condominium buildings. It’s all sort of predictable and anodyne. I call it the Vancouver School of urbanism. My worry is that in a few decades, these generic urban forms will be criticized and targeted for more urban redevelopment. Will these structures hold up to the passage of time, or are they just the “Garden City” of tomorrow?

One thing is for certain: the comically bungled mayoralty of Rob Ford hasn’t done much damage to the city or its economic development — yet. That’s because the foundation for much of the current boom was laid during David Miller’s seven years in office. The leadership that Miller provided during that time set the stage for major city infrastructure projects such as the Crosstown LRT and the work being undertaken by Waterfront Toronto on revitalizing both Queens Quay West and the East Bayfront, to name but a few.

Although the city is booming, Ford’s lack of Miller-style leadership and visionary planning will eventually hurt the city. Torontonians may not realize this, and they may well re-elect Ford because everything is “going well” and they see no reason to change. However, politicians who don’t invest in the future beyond their terms in office eventually do their constituencies great damage. Realizing this requires not only politicians who can take the long view, but voters too. I’m afraid that there’s no place left in politics for those who take the long view, so constituents get exactly the politicians they deserve when they sacrifice city building for halting gravy trains.

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