May 11

Jim Flaherty praises “boondoggle” waterfront development

Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was put in a bit of an akwkward position yesterday, as he attended the official groundbreaking for Waterfront Toronto’s anticipated Underpass Park. Flaherty, a long-time family friend of the Fords, expressed his support for the project, which is part of a larger plan by Waterfront Toronto that the Fords and their council allies have been highly critical of in recent times.

The Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume:

“This is transformative,” declared federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. “It’s important not just for Toronto, but for Canada.”

On hand for the ceremonial shovelling of the earth Thursday, Flaherty joined a gaggle of dignitaries that included provincial Minister of Research and Innovation, Glen Murray, and local municipal councillor Pam McConnell.

Conspicuous in his absence was Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, whose doppelganger, Doug Ford, has been happy to share his thoughts about the waterfront, as half-baked as they may be.

via Hume: Underpass Park will change the city forever – thestar.com.

If even someone like Jim Flaherty can understand the importance of public investment along the waterfront, why can’t Rob and Doug Ford?

Apr 11

Our new city-building strategy: sell downtown

Let’s start with this: At the Toronto Standard, Ivor Tossell writes about the recent hullabaloo surrounding Team Ford’s comments on waterfront development:

There are a few undercurrents beneath this goofiness. One is the distinction between the city as a place that people visit, and a place that people live. Urbanists want to turn the Port Lands into a breathable (and maybe even breedable) habitat for those who enjoy city living. The middle of a city is a pretty good place to do that. The Fords seem to want downtown to be a fun destination for weekend visits.

via Castles in the Sand | Toronto News, Media, Art, Business, Technology, Fashion, Events.

Downtown as a place to visit versus a place to live. That’s a critical distinction. It brings to mind some of the arguments made by G20 apologists after the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. “Why would anyone go downtown on G20 weekend?” they asked, ignoring that for a hell of a lot of people — a growing number — they don’t go downtown, they live downtown.

Mayor Ford, himself an apologist for all things G20-related, echoed the argument in the immediate aftermath: “Personally, if you didn’t want to be down there, then you shouldn’t have been down there. I didn’t take my family out when there is a riot downtown.”

A place to visit versus a place to live.

Then there’s this: this week, the city’s public works committee voted to essentially kill an ambitious plan to build a pedestrian and cyclist bridge over the rail tracks at Fort York. This was a critically important piece of infrastructure for the thousands who have recently moved into the area. It also would have looked very cool.

Why kill it? Nominally, it’s because the bids for the project came in about four million dollars above the allocated budget. But Councillor David Shiner made his real reasoning known in a comment he made following the vote, as reported by the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

Building the bridge eliminates two future sources of cash, Shiner said.

He estimated 10 Ordnance St. — the property where the bridge’s centre columns would be placed — could fetch more than $50 million if sold, while the Wellington St. city-owned property where the bridge would start is worth around $20 million to $25 million.

via Pedestrian bridge to Fort York latest casualty of war on waste | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Translation: why invest in public space and infrastructure when we could just sell it?

You would think that city politicians would have moved past the belief that Toronto’s downtown is little more than a destination. There’s more to our city centre than various weekend attractions and athletic events, things that you load up the car and take the kids to, stopping for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory.

Downtown is neighbourhoods. Downtown is homes and families and community. Different from the suburbs, sure, but not so different that it should be tossed aside as some rogue other.

With the debate over the waterfront and now this recent killing of the Fort York bridge, we’re starting to see a political climate where the mayor and his allies can’t or won’t look beyond the immediate dollar signs that downtown property represents. They’ll skip out on public spaces in favour of private ones — canyons of condos.

And if those private developments end up choking all the life and character out of downtown neighbourhoods? No big deal. They’ll just find somewhere else to take the family on the weekend.

Feb 11

Developers hopeful that new mayor will let them do whatever they want

Robyn Doolitte at the Toronto Star moved over to the Homes section this weekend, writing a report on the city’s development industry, and their hope that Rob Ford will just let them do whatever the hell they want:

Although he offered few specifics, Ford’s campaign rhetoric struck a sympathetic tone towards builders. Ford said Section 37 fees, which allows the city to be flexible with height and density requirements in exchange for community benefits, were tantamount to “extortion.”

He also vowed to abolish the land transfer tax and speed up the approvals process since, “time is money.”

via Developers are buzzing with optimism – Yourhome.ca.

Rob Ford is not really an ideological conservative. He just surrounds himself with ideological conservatives. And he happens to be very receptive to people and organizations who tell them they’re being screwed over by governments.

But, c’mon, acting like developers have been treated poorly over the past decade in this city is goddamned ridiculous. The dozens of cranes dotting the city skyline don’t speak to an industry that’s barely been scraping by under the weight of city bureaucracy, taxes and red tape.

How anyone can look at the numbers both before and after the implementation of the Municipal Land Transfer Tax and argue that it hurt real estate in this city is beyond me. Similarly, those who make the simplistic argument that development charges and fees will simply be passed on to consumers demonstrate a lack of understanding as to how the market works. (Here’s a hint: developers already charge as much as the market will bear for their condos and homes.)

Related to this is a John Lorinc story for the Globe, where he points out that it’s probably reasonable to expect more big box developments in the city over the next four years.