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2007 02 05
Parking The Waterfront

The city's announcement yesterday of another waterfront park competition signals Torontonians are waking up from a century-long nightmare, one where we wilfully turned our back on a public waterfront that could rival the Riviera's.

The proposed Lower Don Lands Park is another element in a public space renaissance intended to make Toronto a global leader in waterfront development.

Soon, new parks will edge the lakefront all the way from Etobicoke to Scarborough. In fact, the overall project is so big in scale and optimistic in vision it seems uncharacteristic for the city.

Look at the recently proposed Lake Ontario Park: Extending from the Harris Water Filtration Plant in the east to the end of the Leslie Street Spit, the 375-hectare park boasts 37 kilometres of total shoreline.

The park unites three major city districts: The Beach, the Spit and the Cherry Street industrial lands (they call those lands the Bar -- as in sand bar). In tying these districts together, the master planners, Field Operations of New York, refer back to the landscape of an earlier Toronto waterfront for their design inspiration.

As long-time city residents know, sandy soil eroded from the Scarborough Bluffs is swept westward by prevailing lake currents. That process defines the shape of the city's outer harbour.

When Europeans first arrived here, Fisherman's Island, created by erosion, protected the mouth of the Don River where it emptied into Ashbridge's Bay. The lost island is now buried beneath the industrial landscape near Unwin Avenue and Cherry Street. The new park will remediate the now polluted land and celebrate the forgotten island.

The nearby man-made spit will become more of what it already is -- a thriving nature wilderness. A modern marina will take shape in the bay where the spit and the former industrial lands meet.

The eastern Beach district will get a series of new recreational and cultural amenities.

City planners intend this park to be an international landmark on par with New York's Central Park or, in a Canadian context, Vancouver's Stanley Park. The agency responsible for bringing these plans to life -- the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation-- thinks big.

John Campbell, TWRC's president and CEO, says in the future when people think of Toronto they will first think of Lake Ontario Park. "Cities are defined by the quality of their public spaces," argues Campbell.

It is a big project with a big budget. When finished in a generation or so, the entire east to west waterfront revitalization project will represent an investment of about $4-billion in public money and $17-billion to $20-billion in combined public and private funding. According to Campbell, it may just be the largest waterfront project in the world.

Don Schmidt of Diamond and Schmidt Architects notes, "The revitalization project is absolutely thrilling. What is really remarkable is that right now we have three or four of the world's top landscape architects in the city working on these projects."

It is money well spent. We know from City Hall's Creative City research that this kind of investment is a critical part of Toronto's 21st century economic strategy. Offering knowledge workers a livable city will be essential to our future global economic competitiveness.

We will also need enjoyable leisure spaces for relief from the increasing urban density that is part of Toronto's future. Ted Tyndorf, Toronto's chief planner, says that by 2031 Toronto's population will grow by 540,000 from its 1996 census figures.

The city's population projections may be conservative, given we have another 20-some years of growth ahead of us.

A modern, environmentally sustainable waterfront where we can retreat from the demands of the city will be an essential part of Toronto's future. Our children will thank us.

This article also published in Saturday's National Post
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 02/05 at 10:08 AM

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