Joe Cressy: Renew Commitment to Our Waterfront

TORONTO – Toronto began as a waterfront city. It was our point of origin. Since then, our city has grown and developed in leaps and bounds, but along the way the waterfront seemed to have been lost. But in recent years we have found it again. As politicians, developers, community leaders, and business people, we’ve begun to reclaim and revitalize our waterfront.

What’s your vision afor Toronto’s waterfront? Mine is a simple but ambitious one. I believe Toronto should aspire to be a waterfront city. A city where the waterfront—from Mimico to Scarborough—is our collective front yard. Is this possible? Yes. Is it going to happen? It’s already under way, but the future is somewhat uncertain.

Let’s start with some facts. Toronto’s waterfront is home to tens of thousands of residents, 17 million annual visitors, eight blue flag certified beaches, more than 250 businesses (and that number is growing quickly), and thousands of recreational boaters and paddlers. In fact, the waterfront is the second largest destination in all of Toronto, behind only the Eaton Centre. Personally, I’d like to see that order reversed.

Thanks to renewed interest and political attention, waterfront revitalization in Toronto is under way and thriving.

This revitalization is not intended to be finished overnight—it is a long-term project that ­kicked into high gear in 2001 when all three levels of government came together, each contributing $500 million in seed funding, to form Waterfront Toronto. Waterfront Toronto was tasked with a 25-year mandate to revitalize 2,000 acres of waterfront. It is one of the world’s largest waterfront revitalization projects, far surpassing in size Darlington Harbour in Sydney, Battery Park in New York, or the Fan Pier in Boston.

The results to date have been significant. Waterfront Toronto has invested more than $1.3 billion in revitalization, resulting in $3.2 billion in economic output, 16,200 full-time years of employment, and $622 million in government revenues. The investments have also attracted $2.6 billion in private sector funding.

This is a comprehensive revitalization process, rather than simply a redevelopment. All along the waterfront this revitalization is helping to build sustainable communities and new affordable housing, such as in the West Don Lands Neighbourhood and the Pan Am Games Village. It is helping to build infrastructure and expand public transit, and increase economic competitiveness while building award-winning parks and public spaces such as Sugar Beach, Sherbourne Common, Corktown Common, Underpass Park, and the Central Waterfront wavedecks.

Amidst the remnants of twentieth century industrial buildings and aging infrastructure like the Gardiner Expressway, the waterfront is beginning to come to life again. However, it will be up to our current city council to ensure that it continues.

In the current term of council we will make decisions on two critical issues that will shape the future of the waterfront. In the coming years, council will make decisions on whether to allow expansion of the island airport, including jets, and on the future of Waterfront Toronto and how to fund it. These are not small issues and they will have long-reaching impacts on a vision for a waterfront city.

The debate over island airport expansion is one that seems to occur again and again, but should be straightforward. There are many valid concerns about expansion, ranging from health to environment, infrastructure, and traffic. But in my mind it all comes down to what our vision for the waterfront is: the waterfront is for people, not jets.

The future of Waterfront Toronto will also soon be before city council. Waterfront Toronto has a mandate and plan that runs until 2023, but its current capital projects will be largely completed by 2017 and its initial seed funding completely finished by 2019. Without a renewed commitment from all three levels of government, the important work of revitalizing our waterfront could stall.

We can be a waterfront city, if we choose to be. Let’s make it happen, again.

Source: Annex Gleaner, 2015-02-19

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