April 2, 2000

              Wet dreams on the waterfront

                                       By JOHN DOWNING
                                           Toronto Sun

                          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 is
                          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 November to
              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. Planners have
              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 and the
              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 Gardiner/Lake
              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

               DEMON SCAPEGOAT

               The waterfront can be reclaimed without ruining an expressway that works despite
              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 nearly 2,000
              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 see Queen's
              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 decades.
              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. Democracy
              works, eventually.

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