Five years ago, Michael Van Valkenburgh, Behnisch Architects and Ken Greenberg won an international competition to redesign a huge chunk of industrial wasteland into parks and housing. Their entry was a thing of beauty, but the project was so big that I wrote "Years to go before we can move in, the political rivalries and turf wars are as toxic as the soil."
A year ago, Toronto's Mayor Ford and his brother Doug wanted to toss the whole "socialist utopia" out and monetize the thing, with more housing, marinas, towers, a monorail and a ferris wheel. Fortunately, the scheme got what it deserved and was rejected by just about everyone, and the City returned to the Van Valkenburgh scheme.
Or did it?
Waterfront Toronto is in fact considering quite a few changes to the approved plan, that reduce the amount of parkland significantly. Planner Ken Greenberg wrote in the Star:
The new plan for the 1,000-acre Port Lands cuts about 40 acres of green space and would add more development on the unsubstantiated theory that this would cut costs and entice developers. You can almost hear the Fords saying, “I told you so.”
The Architect's Newspaper notes that it is succumbing to the dreaded "value engineering."
Officials with Waterfront Toronto counter that they are not, in fact, changing the objectives of the Van Valkenburgh plan, but rather developing new ideas about how to finance it. Some of the proposed changes also include building out the master plan in phases and moving the locations for some of the parks. Reached by email, Michael van Valkenburgh did not want to comment at this time.
“This is a natural evolution,” said Michelle Noble, director of communications for Waterfront Toronto. “The cold hard reality is that there are less public dollars available for everyone.”
It was ever thus in Toronto.