HAPPY NEW YEAR!
In keeping with the spirit of this most hopeful time of the calendar, we offer a list of nine things we’d like — but don’t necessarily expect — to see occur in Toronto in 2022.
A Grand Projet
The last time Toronto decided to think big, the result was — let’s be honest — a bit embarrassing.
The sorry saga began in 2016 when His Worship Mayor John Tory unveiled plans for a “signature park”, our “Central Park”, a 21-acre green space over the rail yards west of Rogers Centre, south of Front St. It was a splendid idea, but as it turned out, developers had already laid claim to the space. And, don’t forget — as did the mayor — that they run the city. So when the provincial Local Planning Appeals Tribunal ruled in the industry’s favour last year, we not only lost a chance to do something transformative, we were reminded just how little Toronto controls its own destiny. Now it’s time to try again, to launch what Parisians call a “Grand Projet.” Opportunities abound. Just think of all those parking lots, wasted spaces, just waiting to be remade as parks and community hubs. The future is ours! Well, sort of.
The Power of Poop
Speaking of waste, hats off to the staff at the Toronto Zoo. While most of “Official” Toronto remains hunkered down in the mid-1900s, local zookeepers joined the future and are processing animal excrement to make fertilizer and biogas used to generate electricity. What about green bin contents, abattoir left-overs and restaurant garbage? All could be put to the same purpose. No time like 2022 to play catch up.
Coming in from the Cold
Winter isn’t what it used to be, but Toronto still hasn’t figured out how to deal with it. Snow routinely brings the city to a standstill and overwhelms drivers. Since we can’t eliminate it, we should learn to embrace it. Who knows? We might even start to enjoy ourselves.
Seek and Ye Shall Find
Word is that Rogers (Lack of) Communications is planning a $250-million renovation of Rogers Centre. The owners of the Toronto Blue Jays were reported to be considering demolition, but, in an unexpected display of good sense, decided against that. Instead, the family-owned telecom has hired a sport architecture firm, Populous, to handle the remake. But if Rogers were smart — something that cannot be assumed — it would seek public input. How better to find out what the stadium needs than to talk to the poor slobs who endure it regularly?
It’s time Toronto launched a campaign to rid our streets of the dump trucks, garbage trucks, and cement trucks that kill pedestrians and cyclists with horrifying regularity. What’s needed isn’t just new driving rules, but a rethink of the vehicles themselves. In addition to the absurdly huge size of these trucks, their already stressed out and poorly trained drivers are so high off the ground they’re barely able to navigate busy urban streets. Safer low-cab trucks exist but are conspicuous here in their absence. What are we waiting for?
Ontario’s Missing Link
Hard to say where Metrolinx went wrong, but the provincial transit agency needs a makeover. Though it’s probably too late, the organization has lost its way. Even with the abysmally low expectations of Ontario’s public-private-partnerships, construction of the Eglinton Crosstown is a fiasco. Everything about the project — from the fact it’s not a subway to the stand-alone stations and the out-of-control cost — has been handled wretchedly. And once the Ontario Line gets going in earnest, the outcry against the agency’s heavy hand will be deafening. Juts how deafening will become clear this year.
Out Of Service
Speaking of public transit, won’t it be wonderful when the TTC really becomes “The Better Way” rather than the slow, unreliable, badly run service it is today? As the prime minister might have said, it sucks. Yes, it’s underfunded, but that’s no excuse for messing up basics like scheduling, signalling and communications. The cause is actually very simple — the TTC has forgotten that passengers come first. That’s why 2022 would be a good year for the commission to reacquaint itself with its riders. Perhaps this could also be the year the city demands that senior staff and board members be regular users of transit to help them understand what they’re doing.
The Way Home
Though few admit it, the reason governments — civic, provincial and federal — can’t provide affordable housing is that the public sector no longer plays a meaningful role in planning, development or city-building. These functions have been effectively privatized. And because the development industry prioritizes luxury condos and single-family suburban sprawl — its biggest money makers — social housing languishes. But with a provincial election coming in June, it’s a perfect moment to start to retake control and focus on housing Ontarians.
Toronto must stop plundering itself and its history simply to allow for endless condo towers. Not every 19th-century building can be saved, we know, but the now standard response of destroying a heritage structure while saving a facade or two — known as facadomy — has turned Toronto into a grotesque caricature of itself. Neither new nor old, these bizarre hybrids speak painfully of a community so weak it willingly settles for the worst of both worlds. Time for Toronto to stop hating and learn to love itself.
Christopher Hume, former architecture critic and urban affairs columnist at the Toronto Star, left the paper in 2016 to pursue other interests. He is currently working on several documentary projects and writing a book about the political history of 21st-century Toronto.