‘Ford Nation’ and Corktown: How the new mayor may impact a neighbourhood

Because I apparently never tire of writing about the mayor and city issues, I contributed an article to the new edition of The Corktowner, the newsletter that covers my neighbourhood. It’s a rather exhaustive look at how the new regime at city hall might impact the area over the next few years.

You can read it, and the entire newsletter, at the Corktown.ca website.

I’m also included an unedited version of the article below, purely for Ford For Toronto completists. My first draft was ridiculously long, and so the published version is edited down to a more manageable length. Thanks to the great people at the Corktown Residents & Business Association for approaching me and asking if I’d contribute.

‘Ford Nation’ and Corktown

How Toronto’s new mayor is impacting our community

A month after he was sworn in as the 64th Mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford paid a visit to the Corktown neighbourhood.  Still early in the morning on New Year’s Day, he posed beside a car on display in the showroom at the Toronto Dodge Chrysler dealership near the corner of Parliament and Front Street East. Flanked by representatives from the Canadian Automobile Association, he held a vanity license plate reading “NO CAR TAX.”

The vehicle registration tax was officially repealed that same day. Rob Ford has not made a high-profile appearance in the neighbourhood since.

Ford is a tremendously controversial figure in our city. Regardless of their political bent, residents across Toronto can agree that our new mayor is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Brash, blunt and uncompromising, the mayor’s first few months in office have been characterized by quick action on what he’s defined as key issues: repealing the vehicle registration tax, killing plans for on-street transit, limiting councillor expenses, the privatization of garbage, and ultimately reducing the size of the city government.

Like other downtown wards, Ward 28 didn’t show Ford a lot of love on voting day. He was defeated in our ward by a margin of nearly three to one by rival George Smitherman. And since taking office, area councillor Pam McConnell has essentially voted against every one of the mayor’s major agenda items.

This relative lack of local popularity, coupled with the mayor’s ambitious agenda for cost reduction, has left many wondering how the new administration at city hall will impact the Corktown neighbourhood. As a part of the city on the grow, there are numerous developments in and around the area planned to begin construction within the next few years.

Media-shy Ford hasn’t directly commented on many of the city-directed projects and initiatives planned for Corktown, but comments made by allies like his brother — Councillor Doug Ford — and reports from city hall insiders can give us a pretty good idea on what to expect.

Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games

Plans continue to locate the athlete’s village for the 2015 games in the new West Don Lands development. In early January, Ford was said to be “blindsided by the escalating costs” of the event, after a report came to City Hall indicating the need for an extra $47 million dollars for necessary facilities. Though he promised that the City would not pick up any further costs, Ford — an avid sports fan — voted in favour of handing over the extra cash.

Cherry Street LRT

On December 1st, even before he was officially sworn in as mayor, Ford met with the general manager of the TTC to declare an end to all on-street rail projects across the city. This poses a particular problem for the planned Cherry Street light-rail streetcar line, that would run in a separated side-of-road right-of-way as a spur off the 504 King route. The project was eventually to link up with a line running across Queens Quay East, connecting planned Waterfront developments with the rest of the city.

There has been some indication that developers who have bought into Waterfront projects will put pressure on the city to provide this promised transit capacity. It is unknown if this will be enough to combat the mayor’s disdain for surface transit.

Waterfront Development

In a surprising turn of events, members of the mayor’s executive committee began publicly disparaging the work of Waterfront Toronto in April. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday told the National Post that too many employees at the agency made more than $100,000 per year and weren’t producing results. The conclusion:  the city could produce better results if they sold off waterfront land to private developers.

Later, Doug Ford dismissed recent developments like Sugar Beach, and proposed a new vision for the adjacent Port Lands, located just south of Corktown: an NFL Football stadium, carved out of the historic Hearn Generating Station, built next to high-end retailers like Macy’s and Gucci. The area would be connected to the rest of the city with a privately-developed monorail system.

As of yet, nothing has come before any city hall committee relating to selling off undeveloped waterfront land or changing current plans. However, council did recently vote to move forward with the sale of the completed Corus Quay building. At least for now, Waterfront Toronto’s work continues.

Don River & Citizen Committees

Quick access to the Don River trail is one of the things that makes living in Corktown desirable for so many. For over twenty years, the Task Force to Bring Back the Don has, in its own words, worked to “bring back a clean, green and accessible Don River watershed.”

This award-winning committee, which has planted more than 35,000 trees and shrubs in the Valley, was among several other citizen committees the city’s executive — led by Ford — voted to shut down earlier this month. The committee operates at no cost to the city. City Council still has to approve the decision.

Bike Lanes

While councillor, Rob Ford famously declared during a debate on cycling that “roads are built for buses, cars, and trucks, not for people on bikes.” This comment has done little to endear him to the cycling community, who have expressed grave concerns about the city’s bike plan following his election to the mayor’s office.

Surprising many, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works committee, has proposed his own bike plan made up of four downtown lanes, all separated from car traffic by a concrete median. One of those lanes, on Richmond Street, would connect with the western part of Corktown.

Minnan-Wong’s proposal has been controversial, as he’s been a vocal opponent of the cycling community in the past. Ford’s press secretary has indicated that the mayor does not see bike lane proposals as a priority at this time.

Ford’s policies on several other issues — notably public housing, homelessness, graffiti, and transit service — are likely to have deep impacts on the Corktown neighbourhood and surrounding areas over the course of his term in office.

It remains to be seen exactly what long-term effect Rob Ford and his allies at City Hall will have on our neighbourhood. Council is deeply divided between those who back the mayor and those who stand in opposition, and there are early signs that Ford’s power over other councillors is starting to wane. But, given Corktown’s role as a vibrant and rapidly evolving part of the city, it certainly couldn’t hurt for all of us to keep a close and watchful eye on City Hall.

And, of course, if you have any concerns, the mayor urges you to call him. His number is 416-397-FORD.

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