|BURY the "BURY THE GARDINER" Idea|
April 2, 2000
Wet dreams on the waterfront
By JOHN DOWNING
Time to rinse out the saccharine sweetness of the waterfront report with
the mouthwash of reality. There's not much there, to quote a ribald song
from Les Miz.
It may be tempting to glide with the gush but the deep down nitty-gritty
there's not a hope in hades that both this plan and a successful Olympic bid
can go ahead as proposed. There's just not enough money.
There were more leaks about the report than water over Niagara Falls. Still,
there was a
delay as Robert Fung, waterfront revitalization task force head, was told to rejig. It was
finally unveiled last Monday to favourable reaction, led by the Star's "second coming"
Fung and his crew were dispatched by the three levels of government last
skim the cream of all past studies, going back to 1911, and outline the cost and process for
churning it into butter that would melt in the mouths of urban critics. (That runs a simile right
into the same ground where Fung wants to dump the central Gardiner.)
They failed. We should ask for our $1.5 million back. The vision may be
enticing. No one
hates parks and promenades. No one likes poisoned wasteland. But it's buttressed by
mediocre arguments and unreal drawings where necessary evils are obscured. Even the
language is curious. The ship channel becomes "one of North America's great man-made
artifacts and a powerful armature for development." We're given a list of other major
gateway cities that have reclaimed ports, from Barcelona to Shanghai. Even Beirut, which
surely doesn't count because its harbour was demolished by war.
Fung is a bright, decent man but like many financiers hasn't a clue as
to how politics and
the media work.
This report shows that. Surely everyone buys into a green border for our
shore, but major
details unravel under examination. It's clear this report must be separated from the Olympic
bid it supports. After all, this wet dream is too vague to impress Olympic bosses. And a
$1.2 billion recommendation to demolish the Gardiner and $1.15 billion for the
environment, mainly for soil repair, are huge expenditures for an Olympics wish list.
Insiders are careful not to dismiss the report completely, even though
one told me it was
lined with craziness that made it part hallucination. He said one benefit is that if you sift
recent comments, particularly as Fung tries to sell it in secret briefings, it's obvious where
the players stand. All the city offers toward the $5.2 billion public cost is land. The feds
obviously won't go first. And the province has to drive any change with money, land and
The first cantankerous opposition came, as expected, over the Gardiner.
been talking about demolishing it from Strachan Ave to the Don for years. Now the task
force goes along, and says a substitute roadway, some of it underground, most of it on the
surface, could be paid for from up to $2 billion in parking taxes and tolls. A silly
recommendation from a task force that pretends to have done its homework!
TOLL BOOTH MADNESS
It won't happen. Do you really think all the Tory MPPs from western Toronto
western "905" suburbs will buy that new drive to work? Hardly! Even if a variation passes,
you're not going to see the madness of downtown toll booths.
This proposal has skimpy justification beyond esthetics, yet the present
Shore corridor is said to "mitigate heavily against revitalization." The report grumbles the
elevated deck is a "massive structure that commands the landscape across the central
waterfront, rendering what should be nationally prized land as a remote and exposed terra
incognito." (I told you the language was strange.) Oh, yes, high maintenance costs too (as if
$10 million a year is expensive for the most-travelled road in the country).
The task force ignores the fact there's considerable land and many new
buildings south of
the Gardiner, a wall of development that would remain even if the Gardiner "barrier" came
down. And the major rail corridor along the north side of the Gardiner would stay.
Downtown, the six lanes underneath and six lanes above would be replaced by just one
boulevard interrupted by stop lights. That won't work, which may be the idea of anti-car
The waterfront can be reclaimed without ruining an expressway that works
councillors' attempts to interfere with ramp traffic. Gussy it up if you wish, say with the
reflecting siding used on skyscrapers, as Charles Templeton once suggested, but accept
the fact that it's a remarkably efficient use of space and is not the demon scapegoat for
harbour evils it's made out to be. It certainly would cost more than the task force predicts
to wreck it: Boston's spending 14 times that estimate to bury its own downtown
Anger over the Gardiner has obscured Fung's audacious request that the
acres on the waterfront, most of it owned by the three governments, be turned over to a
"small, efficient action-oriented corporation" which would have a sunset clause wiping it out
in 15 years. This corporation "should have all the powers necessary to implement the
development concept proposed by the task force including disposition and use of all
lands." It would have "primacy over existing government organizations."
Really? A super corp., beholden to no one, is a gigantic problem. Can you
Park and the feds turning over all their lands, powers and bucks on something this
mammoth to an outfit led by some waterfront boss who could do whatever with vital
assets? For example, build housing on the eastern Exhibition grounds?
A waterfront dictator, a Toronto Robert Moses, has been kicked around for
Once it was even rumoured to be Paul Godfrey's next job after Metro chairman. What
people forget is that Moses, Manhattan's legendary bureaucrat, couldn't thrive today. He
ignored the public and pols as he intermingled bridge and tunnel tolls with construction of
roads, parks, and housing. He was both a czar and a crook, as revealed in Robert Caro's
Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Powerbroker.
No, we need no such Moses here to lead us out of the waterfront wilderness.
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