Toronto’s waterfront has the potential to rival that of any other city in the world. A revitalized waterfront can help strengthen Toronto’s place in the global marketplace and ensure it remains one of the best cities, to live, work and visit. In the process, revitalization will make significant contributions toward achieving important public policy objectives including:
- Developing sustainable communities, particularly in the area of energy efficiency
- Reducing urban sprawl
- Redeveloping brownfields & cleaning up contaminated land
- Increasing economic competitiveness
- Building more affordable housing
- Creating more parks and public spaces
In 2001, the Government of Canada, Province of Ontario and the City of Toronto jointly created the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) to oversee and lead the estimated $17 billion renewal of our city’s waterfront. Successful waterfront initiatives in other cities like London, Barcelona and New York have all been led by similar corporations. At that time, the governments announced $1.5 billion – $500 million each – for revitalization. To date, the three levels of government have formally committed $334 million.
In 2002, TWRC released a comprehensive 30-year Development Plan and Business Strategy which is consistent with the City of Toronto’s Official Plan for the waterfront: Making Waves: Principles for Building Toronto’s Waterfront. This plan, adopted in 2003, incorporates four important and positive principles which guide waterfront planning and development:
- Removing Barriers/Making Connections;
- Building a Network of Spectacular Waterfront Parks and Public Places;
- Promoting a Clean and Green Environment;
- Creating Dynamic and Diverse New Communities.
Detailed plans are now virtually complete for the first new waterfront neighbourhoods – West Don Lands and East Bayfront – and Commissioners Park a 40-acre regional park in the Portlands. Precinct plans set out the location, scale and character of all streets, buildings, parks and public spaces. They include strategies for developing community facilities like schools, delivering a range of housing options and meeting affordable housing targets. Precinct plans for all new waterfront communities will be models for sustainable development. TWRC is planning to start development in the West Don Lands and East Bayfront in 2005. Before development can begin the precinct plans must be approved by the City of Toronto and TWRC needs to be granted certain powers that it does not currently have – see concluding paragraph below.
The three levels of government mandated TWRC to implement these four projects which have been underway since 2002:
- Building a second subway platform at Union Station – $58 M
- Carrying out two environmental assessments for flood protection and re-naturalization of the lower Don River – $ 3 M
- Starting environmental improvements to former industrial land in the Port Lands and West Don Lands area – $ 60.7 M
- Extending Front Street from Bathurst to Dufferin Streets. – $170 M
Other projects underway include
- Harbourfront Water’s Edge – $ 12.5 M
- Mimico Park – $6.5 M
- Port Union Park – $16 M
Over the next five years, TWRC’s strategic priorities will be developing the West Don Lands and East Bayfront and building Commissioners Park and Lake Ontario Park, a another large regional park in the Portlands that will run from Cherry Beach to Ashbridges Bay and include the Leslie Street Spit. Funding agreements with the three levels of government are required for each of these projects.
Many government agencies and private sector interests own or control land on the waterfront – and all have legitimate mandates that conflict, to different extents, with the vision and plan for the waterfront. Finding a way to resolve jurisdictional conflicts is essential. Governments and their agencies must separate the issue of ownership of the land from that of funding so that the TWRC can start implementing the precinct plans. Right now, the three levels of government are reviewing TWRC’s governance structure. The recommendations that come out of the review are expected to address how TWRC is funded, the powers the corporation requires to carry out its work and equally important, TWRC’s accountability to the three levels of government, and ultimately the public. The results are expected before the end of the year.