Buildup to Greenbuild: A New Vision For The Toronto Waterfront


Images credit City of Toronto
30,000 green building professionals are coming to Toronto for Greenbuild in October; this series will try to explain Toronto to them.

This series is going to be about what people can actually see and do in Toronto, but a new vision for the waterfront was presented yesterday that is too important to ignore, and that tells so much about what's going on in Toronto today. Last November Rob Ford was elected Mayor on a platform of "respect for taxpayers" and "stop the gravy train" and "no more backroom deals." (not to mention, "get those streetcars and bikelanes out of my way.") Also elected was his older brother Doug. The two inherited a big printing company from dad, and Doug spent a lot of time running the Chicago office. He liked what he saw there. He didn't like what he saw on the Toronto waterfront, where three levels of government worked for a decade, running an international competition to redesign the former portlands. So yesterday he announced his own "backroom visioning."

I have determined to be upbeat and positive in this series, to as Eric Idle put it, "always look on the bright side of life" in Toronto. So what positive spin can I put on this vision of the future?

Doug is first and foremost a businessman, and the fundamental problem with the competition-winning scheme designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh (New York), Behnisch Architects (Los Angeles) and Ken Greenberg (Toronto) is that big park down the middle, with the re-naturalized Don River and its big banks for flood control; It leaves acres of prime real estate on the table. I mean, how much money can you make from a park? It just isn't sensible.

As the Toronto Sun's noted urban theorist Sue-Ann Levy said, this vision "presented a kind of Socialist Utopia -- heavy on biking, walking, light-rail transit and green spaces, and light on infrastructure that would actually make the city money. The vision was done in partnership with [former mayor] Miller's pet environmental project, the Clinton Climate Initiative."

We can't have any of that. Besides, Doug says that Toronto is underserviced when it comes to malls compared to the States. There is nowhere to shop downtown except the Eaton Centre. We don't have Nordstroms or Macy's. So the plan includes a 1.6 megamall. sorry, it is a "retail-leisure town centre destination" according to architect Eric Kuhne.

Besides being a successful businessman, Doug appears to also be a student of history; the entry to his little yacht harbour looks like homage to Daniel Burnham's plan for Chicago.

Doug is also a student of popular culture, and knows that a vision of the future like this can't possibly be built without a Simpsons' cultural reference, so it includes a futuristic monorail. On principle, Rob and Doug want public transit either in the air or underground so that it doesn't block cars, so it is perfectly logical.


not only are we getting a ferris wheel, but they are turning the 700 foot stack of the former Hearn generating station into the world's largest Tootsie Roll Pop.

Really, Toronto Star urban affairs critic Chris Hume is being churlish when he writes:

This is the sort of thing Toronto and its waterfront need like a hole in the head. The whole point of Waterfront Toronto... was to transform the city's bottom end into a series of mixed-use urban communities, each sustainable, transit-based and dense.

None of this will be built by Greenbuild; visitors will be stuck with the money-wasting Sherbourne Park, Sugar Beach, Corus Building and Wave Deck, which I will show next week. But attendees should know that they are coming to a City With A Vision For The Future.

It would be nice if it wasn't a vision from 1958, but you can't have everything.

More in this series:
Buildup To Greenbuild: The Green Roofs of Toronto

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Tags: Design Competitions | greenbuild | Toronto

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