The current debate at Toronto City Council about a proposed downtown park, dubbed the Rail Deck Park, shows precisely why there is a need for more balanced attention to every key area of the city.
In the constant push to give Toronto world-class cachet, schemes like the Rail Deck Park – with a projected cost of some $1 billion – arise.
Yet, as an insight into city priorities, it took Mayor John Tory until the end of August to take a photo-op ride in an overheated subway car to draw attention to the declining level of maintenance transit commuters face when using the services of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
This is the underfunded public service that Tory has called on to cut its budget by 2.6 per cent.
That ride along Line 2 – the Bloor-Danforth line – came because of the persistent Twitter campaign of local commuter, Bianca Spence.
If Tory had made time to get off at a stop along the way, at Ossington Station for example, he would have seen a section along Bloor St. W. sadly in need of the kind of attention now being given once again to the city’s core.
Community development projects that would attract city dwellers to various centres of the city must become a principle in planning.
Granted, it is an expensive wish list but if urban development projects weigh heavily toward the downtown core, we will have a city centre that is going to be impossible to live in for any but the rich.
We only have to look to cities like Paris and New York City to get a sense of what that kind of planning approach would look like in the future. We would, as is already happening, end up with a city of wealth at its core surrounded by vast tracts of low-income and underserved regions.
We are not New York City; we do not need to dream up billion-dollar Central Park type projects. This city is already blessed with a vast network of parks and ravines.
Instead, city planners should be looking at doing what former mayor Mel Lastman did when he was mayor of North York.
The North York Centre with its large park, library, outdoor skating rink and theatre centre is an example of a design that could be reproduced across the city.
The argument put forward by Councillor Joe Cressy about the need for a central park in the area of his ward between Bathurst St. and Blue Jays Way is understandable. He has to advocate for his ward.
Nonetheless, the city is saddled with a struggling budget that cannot afford to simply earmark funds with a strong focus on the downtown core. Why would people living in Scarborough feel the need to travel by inadequate TTC service to get to another region of the city to go to a park?
The west end is already beneficiary of the location for High Park, with easy access by TTC.
Yet, while Scarborough has its own share of parkland, getting there by public transit is not as easy.
This kind of downtown-centric prioritizing is the reason that voters living and working in the outer regions of the city flocked to the late Rob Ford when he made his surprise run for mayor and won. His message to those constituents was that they mattered.
Cressy is doing his job by raising attention to the needs in his ward and getting it on the agenda. Mayor Tory is apparently in favour of the Rail Deck Park.
What are councillors in Wards 1 and 7 in the west and Wards 41 and 42 in the east doing to get development projects on the city council agenda?