Canadian Cities and Planning: Waterfront Revitalization in Toronto
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Toronto’s central waterfront has been one of the central stages for the development and implementation of various city planning initiatives. For decades, Toronto’s waterfront has been an essential ingredient, driver and factor of urban planning transformations in the city. Unfortunately, despite the rapid advancement of urban planning in Toronto, the sustainability potential of Toronto’s waterfront has been persistently neglected. Only at the end of the 20th century, a business plan to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront was created. The case of Toronto Waterfront revitalization teaches several important lessons and has far-reaching implications for the quality of city planning initiatives in Toronto. The goal of this assignment is to report and analyze the process of revitalizing Toronto’s Waterfront, its strengths and weaknesses.
Toronto Waterfront Revitalization: Case
Since 1912, Toronto’s central waterfront has been one of the central terrains for the development and implementation of numerous urban planning initiatives. In 1912, the Toronto Harbor Commission approved a new plan of industrial development and land creation (Bunce, 2009). Later during the 20th century, Toronto’s waterfront regularly served a perfect stage for the implementation of mid-century modernist plans, recreational and residential spaces, public sector planning and private sector developments (Bunce, 2009). Throughout the 20th century, the quality and contents of Toronto waterfront policies have been heavily influenced by broader political-economic shifts and changes in private sector interests (Bunce, 2009). The end of the 20th century witnessed a new period of planning change on Toronto’s central waterfront: sustainability came to exemplify the dominant urban planning framework and a new agenda for all planning and redevelopment processes in Toronto (Bunce, 2009). Despite the growing number of public and private sector planning initiatives, the fate of Toronto’s lakeside was persistently neglected (Little, 2011). The waterfront served a unique medium for the implementation of effective urban planning projects but suffered the lack of professional and design attention. Unlike Toronto, other Canadian cities, including Vancouver, managed to turn their waterfronts into an extremely attractive feature of urban design (Little, 2011). The rapid increase in public interest toward sustainability and environmental protection created a good foundation for the creation of a new Toronto Waterfront Revitalization project.
The history of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization project dates back to 1992, when the Royal Commission on the Future of Toronto’s Waterfront published its Regeneration report (Laidley, 2007). The report introduced a new era of urban planning in Toronto, guided by the principles of holism, progressivism, and environmentally-friendly philosophies (Laidley, 2007). The Commission recognized the waterfront as an indispensable component of Toronto’s ecosystem, and the ecosystem approach developed by the Commission held a promise to encourage economic and architectural recovery through sustainability and the creation of a healthy environment (Laidley, 2007). Ecosystem planning was proclaimed the most prospective urban planning trend, which was focused on the new understanding of urban long-term change, ecosystem interactions, flexibility, diversity and heritage (Laidley, 2007). The Commission’s report raised public awareness of the waterfront problem, but it was not before 1999 that the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Taskforce was created.
The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Taskforce was created with the goal of developing a business plan and recommendations to revitalize and revolutionize Toronto’s waterfront (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2006). Additionally, Toronto’s political forces hoped that the creation of the Taskforce would facilitate the development of plans for an urban space as part of the 2008 Olympic Games preparation (Desfor, Keil, Kipfer & Wekerle, 2006). Simply put, the Taskforce had to help the city’s political representatives to formulate urban plans on which their 2008 Olympic Games bid would then rely. The Taskforce consulted a wide array of waterfront studies, resources and plans, and its work was completed within four months (Desfor et al., 2006).
The Taskforce was funded from three different governments, and its budget totaled an unprecedented $1.5 billion (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2006). In March 2000, the Taskforce released its final report, which recommended investing $12 million in the process of revitalizing Toronto’s waterfront (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2006). $7 million of those investments had to be made by private enterprises (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2006). One year following the report, the three governments finally agreed to: (1) create the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation as a non-profit organization; (2) invest over $1.5 billion in Toronto waterfront over the next five years; and (3) establish an inter-governmental committee to manage Toronto Waterfront Revitalization operations and decisions (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2006).
In the past years, the $1.5 billion invested by the three governments were used to restructure the major industrial area within Toronto’s waterfront into a shared park project, encompassing the elements of playground, public art and water recycling (Little, 2011). 800 hectares of underutilized waterfront lands are being transformed into vibrant and sustainable communities (Waterfront Toronto, 2011). Queens Quay Boulevard, the waterfront’s main street, is to become a more functional and sustainable lakefront street (Waterfront Toronto, 2011). York Quay is becoming a promising waterfront destination, whereas the dock wall and the slip at the Canada Malting Silos is being transformed into a waterfront walkway leading to Ireland Park (Waterfront Toronto, 2011). Although the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization project is still at the initial stage of implementation, lessons taught by the project are numerous and diverse.
Toronto Waterfront Revitalization: Lessons Learnt
The city of Toronto is still a thousand miles away from realizing its revitalization dreams and ideas, but it is clear that the development of the waterfront revitalization project has become a valuable instrument of sustainability and ecosystem management. One of the main lessons learned during the project is the importance of coordination and collaboration among governments and private organizations: apart from the fact that all three governments provided ongoing support of the project and process, central agencies greatly contributed to the development of sustained collaborative ties among them and external stakeholders. The latter became an extremely important factor of project success (Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, 2006). The project was open for external stakeholders. The three governments held public consultations, to ensure that the public had voice in urban planning decisions and that those decisions worked for their benefit. Through active stakeholder involvement, the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Taskforce promoted improved transparency and accountability of its project decisions.
Another important lesson is how private sector development companies should participate in urban planning projects similar to the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization idea. The Taskforce managed to align the definition of sustainability with its urban revitalization plans and, in addition, confirmed that the success of the entire project was dependent upon the involvement of private sector development companies in the implementation process (Bunce, 2009). For example, most West Don Lands will be sold to private sector development, at a price equal to or higher than the existing market rates (Bunce, 2009). The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Taskforce has developed a formal process of selecting private sector developers, and adherence to sustainability requirements is the central measure of private sector developers’ suitability and compliance (Bunce, 2009). “The coordination of TWRC efforts with private real estate development interests points only to an alliance between government agencies and the private sector […] but to an association between public and private sectors in the implementation of sustainability objectives” (Bunce, 2009, p.656).
The project has become a unique source of knowledge and vision for the development of global waterfronts. However, there is still much to do, to achieve the objectives set by the three governments. One issue is that of legislation, especially in terms of the conflict of interests. The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation lacks a single, universal understanding of the conflict of interest, which may impede the development of effective redevelopment initiatives (Laidley, 2007). Another problem is that the whole project relies on the dominant economic model of accumulation, which means that the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation is expected to mediate complex influences of local enterprises, globalized market forces, labor markets and financial institutions, as well as technological and capital developments (Laidley, 2007). As a result, there are always risks that sustainability and environmental revitalization will give place to economic considerations. In present-day global environments, the conflict between economics and environmental protection continues to persist. Nevertheless, the discussed project sets the stage for the subsequent transformation of Toronto’s waterfront into an area of environmental preservation and public benefits for years ahead.
Toronto’s waterfront has historically been one of the central terrains for the implementation of various urban planning projects. It was not until 1999 that the need to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront was acknowledged and addressed. Today, Toronto’s waterfront is being redeveloped to become the area of sustainability, environmental protection and public leisure. Unfortunately, numerous legal and economic issues continue to persist. Conflicts of interest and economic consideration may alter the direction of the project and its progress. Yet, with all issues addressed, the project has the potential to become a role model for thousands of waterfront revitalization projects globally. The project sets the stage for the transformation of Toronto’s waterfront into an area of environmental preservation and public benefits for years ahead.