SAVE OUR CITIES/2 Toronto

Toronto 2001: Fumes Or Flowers?

March 1 1971
SAVE OUR CITIES/2 Toronto

Toronto 2001: Fumes Or Flowers?

March 1 1971

Toronto 2001: Fumes Or Flowers?

WE CONCEDE that downtown Toronto will never look as ugly and as inhuman as artist John Richmond’s nightmare vision on the right. Nor, unfortunately, will it ever be the city of light and joy Richmond imagines over the page. The point is, which picture is closer to the reality of the way people in Toronto will be living in the year 2001? By that time, according to the best estimates available, Toronto will be the main urban centre for a region of eight million people. The population of Metro Toronto itself will be roughly 3.6 million. The downtown core, where the demand for new office space is currently running at about 2.5 million square feet (or two Toronto Dominion Centres) a year, will have a skyline to rival Manhattan’s. Even if Metro’s projected expressway system is built, motorists will crawl along at an average of only 12 miles an hour during rush hours. And the time taken for the average car trip within the city will have doubled to 56 minutes.

With these growth factors in mind, Maclean’s convened a seminar of five urban experts to discuss the concept of Toronto in 2001. We confess the seminar had a certain bias. We deliberately chose members who have voiced concern about the development trend the city is taking now. The experts: Professor Alfred Bernhart of □ the University of Toronto’s 5 engineering department, au“ thor of a prizewinning study, □ Metropolis Of The Future; £

architect Jack Diamond of S the firm of Diamond and $ Myers, who teaches at York 5 University; Dr. David Nowd

Ian, U of T economist and co-author of The Bad Trip, a book attacking the Spadina Expressway; Ray Spaxman, Toronto’s assistant chief planner; and Dr. Ian Burton, U of T geographer with a special interest in ecology. Their discussions, taken in conjunction with points made by other experts interviewed in this report, produced these patterns and questions:

TORONTO THE BAD:

THE CITY AS A VERSION OF THE PAST

More of the same, the seminar concurred, is the worst possible thing that could happen. Today’s emphasis on higgledy - piggledy entrepreneurial development — “projectitis” — is dividing the city into homogeneous lumps. The downtown core will become a forest of office towers with a scattering of highrise apartments for bachelors or childless couples. Meanwhile, the suburbs will continue to sprawl into an amorphous mass with no potential energy. The growing split between where people live and where they work will aggravate transportation problems and (in theory) make expressways necessary. The planner cited Toronto’s waterfront developments — five major projects around the harbor are planned or nearing completion for a total cost of nearly $1.8 billion — as examples of what’s wrong with today’s project-by-project system: “Sure, they’ll

look exciting from the islands. But there’s no overall planning, only minor changes in the mode of transportation, no real coming to grips with, pollution. There has to be a radical change in the system.” Commented the architect: “In other words,

right now public planning bodies are easy development lays.”

TORONTO THE GOOD: THE CITY THAT WOULD MAKE ROOM FOR PEOPLE

The best possible thing that could happen would be to start preserving Toronto’s good points. They are, as the architect noted, considerable: “We’ve an extraordinarily

fine city structure — the superblock. It’s what other cities have been striving to achieve for years. A superblock grid is based on nodules of activity at the intersections. There’s a mix of offices, homes, banks, stores and recreational outlets in various easily accessible areas. We aren’t stuck with a big downtown clot, like Montreal. We can live within reach of all major facilities. Toronto conforms to one definition of a great city as a place where a man doesn’t have to change his house to change his job.” The economist agreed: “The human

city would have its amenities scattered throughout the urban area. It wouldn’t put all its eggs in the downtown basket.” Such diversification, argued the geographer, would mean people could live closer to their place of work and thus the problem of the private car would be reduced. With less stress on transportation, there would be much more emphasis on the importance of environment. “There are sections of the city we value for what they are,” said the planner. “These areas would be protected from through traffic and other pedestrian malls would be developed — above ground.” Finally, the engineer: “The city is going to grow bigger and denser. That is the historical trend and we can’t reverse it. People want to come together, be where the action is. What the city of the future would have are far more central community services to cater to man’s emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs.”

WILL PEOPLE BE ABLE TO LIVE HAPPILY AT 400 TO THE ACRE?

There’s no reason why not. Many of Toronto’s highrises approach that density now. But, as the engineer suggested, life inside them needn’t be bleak if there are adequate and integrated community facilities. The seminar agreed that, while 200 people to an acre was a reasonable figure, higher densities could be handled with good design. The architect mentioned his study of a lowrise

development in suburban Don Woods: “We found we could redesign the project to give the residents what they wanted — separate entrances, nearby parking, fenced-off yards — and increase the number of units by one third, all at no extra cost.” The planner added: “The most vital thing in Toronto today is to continue to experiment with different housing types. The buildings going up now are the prototypes for high-density living. This is the time for us to find out where we are going wrong.”

WHAT IS TORONTO DOING NOW?

There is no shortage of plans. The City of Toronto has an Official Plan. Metro Toronto has an unofficial plan. There are regional transportation plans and local transportation plans, plans for the waterfront, for airports, satellite cities, innercity underground walkways and outer-city hiking trails. There is even a plan for a new zoo. Most important of all, there is the Ontario government’s ambitious and controversial Toronto - Centred Region Plan upon which the rest of the plans depend. The experts, with near unanimity, thought the philosophy behind most of this planning was myopic, unimaginative and paternalistic. Even the planner complained about the lack of flexibility. The geographer summed it up: “We fail to exploit the science-fiction possibilities open to us because we have difficulty conceiving of cities of the future that are any different from cities of the past. The kind of city we’re getting reflects, in a fairly shortsighted way, what people think they want.”

WHAT SHOULD TORONTO BE DOING TO SAVE ITSELF?

The consensus was that a change for the better can only be brought about by radical alterations in the decision-making process. The logical first step: amalgamation of Metro into an efficient, one-level elected gov-

ernment, a move approved in a 1969 plebiscite by 101,163 votes to 22,390. Said the economist: “We have to get away from the old city-manager system of municipal government. Confrontations come from civil servants springing things on people. The politicians must take back more power, seek out alternatives, question costs.” He suggested the provincial government could help improve the quality of city government by subsidizing the salaries of municipal politicians. (Toronto aldermen now receive $7,500 a year.) There was also general agreement that planners must spend more time on longterm concepts, drawing up and revising schemes in consultation with the community. “Traditionally, planning is for the vocal and powerful,” said the architect. “But now the weeds — the little people — are growing up through the Toronto granite and saying, ‘We want some light too.’” He added: “We don’t have planning now. But it’s within our capacity to choose a future. That’s what planning means.”

TOWARD THE TRIBAL CITY

Toronto has reached the stage where it must start to control its own financial destiny or fall apart. The responsibility for preserving the city rests with the people who live in it. Ottawa should recognize this, said the economist, and devise a system that will allow cities to tax income rather than wealth. “At the moment, we define a tax base and then set our goals within the limitations of the revenue. Instead, we should set our goals and then work out a tax base that will allow urban governments to meet their obligations to the future.” Cities, he concluded, are similar to the concept of the tribe as once described by a Nigerian chief. The tribe, said the chief, consisted of a great many people. Many were dead. A great many more were still to be born. And then there were the living, who were “just holding the land in trust for future generations.” □