Waterfront Toronto: Expanded Island Airport Would Mar the Waterfront
Op-Ed in the Toronto Star by the Chair and CEO of Waterfront Toronto TORONTO - The proposal to expand Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is a generational decision. It is not a decision about a specific airline, but about our collective vision for the long-term future of this airport. And it should be a decision that ensures a balance between a thriving waterfront that is a draw for residents, business, recreation and tourism, and the convenience of a downtown airport that primarily services a business market.
As the agency entrusted by the federal, provincial and city governments to be the steward of waterfront revitalization, Waterfront Toronto is successfully implementing one of the largest urban regeneration projects in North America — and one of the largest in the world.
Our waterfront is being transformed into new, dynamic mixed-use neighbourhoods, anchored by beautiful new parks, public spaces and infrastructure geared to generate economic growth and employment. The revitalization of our waterfront is a unique opportunity for Toronto to leverage its economic profile. We know that cities which have successfully revitalized their waterfronts have become more globally competitive. The more than $1.3 billion in public monies invested to date in revitalization has already generated an additional $2.6 billion in private sector development, which will return $1.5 billion in revenues to governments. The work done so far has also helped to spur a further $9.6 billion in private sector investment.
To date, our revitalization efforts have coexisted with the airport in its current size. Waterfront Toronto recognizes that the airport provides a service valued by Torontonians and is an important contributor to the local economy. However, enabling the airport to expand and potentially double passenger numbers to 4.8 million per year would exceed the current passenger volumes of the Ottawa airport — the 6th largest in Canada — and profoundly and negatively affect revitalization prospects for the entire waterfront.
Waterfront Toronto’s overarching concern is scale and balance. Our revitalization approach removes barriers and reconnects Toronto to its waterfront in a way that ensures no one element dominates. Our approach to transformation represents a careful balance between neighbourhoods, commercial uses and public spaces. This also reflects the city’s Central Waterfront Secondary Plan, a plan which does not anticipate an expanded airport on the waterfront.
Waterfront Toronto believes the central question to be asked is: at what point does the airport cease to be compatible with a thriving waterfront and instead become a presence that overwhelms it? How large can the airport become before a tipping point is reached that threatens the present and future potential of the waterfront?
Already, the airport’s current operations have created serious transportation, road congestion and other community impact issues in the area. The city’s own technical studies show that expansion would double peak car volumes at Éireann Quay. These issues need to be addressed before considering expansion and the consequent potential to exacerbate these problems.
In addition, there are specific areas where the impact of expansion on the waterfront needs to be carefully evaluated, including the impact on development prospects in terms of the appeal of the waterfront as a destination for builders, employees, residents and tourists. What is the overall sensory and experiential experience created by an expanded airport environment on these groups? It is worth remembering that in an era where employment and investment chooses where to locate, quality of life is a key factor in economic decisions.
The January city staff report outlines answers required from the Toronto Port Authority and Porter Airlines in relation to their expansion request, including the total infrastructure needed to operate an airport of this scale, the rules for planning and funding expansion and its impact and appropriateness on Toronto’s waterfront. Only when the city receives all the pertinent information can a decision be made on the appropriate growth and size of the airport. In this way, we can all be assured that the island airport can continue to provide a valued service in balance with the waterfront and not become an element that places at risk the delivery of this city, provincial and national asset.
There are a number of proposals coming forward which attempt to address some of the issues raised by the expansion request. The proposals, crafted in haste, do not change the fundamental need for information to allow a thoughtful, complete discussion of the long-term vision and plan for our island airport. Waterfront Toronto believes no decision on expansion should proceed in the absence of the information required to make this generational choice.
We only have one waterfront. Its vitality and value to the city should not be put at risk by an airport expansion proposal that currently raises more questions than answers.
John Campbell is the CEO and president of Waterfront Toronto. Mark Wilson is chair of the Waterfront Toronto Board of Directors. Click here for the original article in the Toronto Star