Being put in charge of the steering committee for the international design competition to give Nathan Phillips Square a brave new look has given Peter Milczyn a new lease on political life.
"It makes up for all the crap of dealing with my colleagues and civil servants and even constituents with their mundane day-to-day problems," the councillor for Ward 5 (Etobicoke-Lakeshore) says candidly. Finances, though, may end up messing with Milczyn's grand plans, just as they did, it turns out, with the square's current design.
There are many things people have forgotten in the years since renowned Finnish architect Viljo Revell won the 1958 international design competition for City Hall. Construction of the landmark project was finally completed in 1965 - a year after his death from a heart attack at the age of 54.
The most notable memory lapse concerns the fact that what Toronto ended up with was not entirely Revell's original vision.
In the design that won the competition, the elevated walkway that now blocks the view of the square was higher and extended to edge of the sidewalk on the north side of Queen. The reflecting pool was 50 per cent larger, and the podium - the supposed "ceremonial entrance" to City Hall - was twice the height of the surrounding.
"There are a lot of elements where the original design was much better," Milczyn says. But a penny-pinching council insisted on changes being made to keep costs down.
"Apparently, Revell had a lot of emotional arguments with city officials back then," Milczyn adds. "At the time, his family claimed that his heart attack and sudden death were in large measure the result of the stress of all the compromises he was forced to make."
Last week, I joined members of the Beautiful City round table for a tour of the square. Usually I'm suspicious of guided tours because I figure the guides are there to make sure the assembled only see what the powers that be want them to.
But in this instance, the tour guides, reps from the city's real estate division, went out of their way to point out the square's perceived faults.
According to Milczyn, the only features considered sacrosanct are City Hall itself, the ramp leading from the square to the elevated podium below the council chamber clamshell, the reflecting pool and its arches, and sculptor Henry Moore's bronze Archer just outside the building's front doors.
"After that, I would pretty well say, 'Give us your ideas,'" the steering committee chair advises.
But given Toronto's current fiscal outlook, it's not impossible that whoever wins this new design competition - Milczyn's committee wraps up public consultations June 22 - may end up suffering a fate similar to Revell's.
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Is Jane Pitfield planning to run for mayor next year or what? While the councillor for Ward 26 (Don Valley West) has been insisting she has no plans to challenge David Miller for his job "at this time," the right-of-centre politician had tongues wagging Tuesday, June 7, when she interrupted a news conference to give Miller a lecture on municipal spending practices.
But first Pitfield (who was recently punted from council's budget committee and the works committee she chaired up until last week) gave Miller a dressing down for not inviting all councillors to the June 7 media sit-down where he and Conference Board of Canada president Anne Golden called on the provincial and federal governments to address the city's "flawed funding structure."
"It's an important message, and something that needs input from other councillors," fumed Pitfied.
"I would suggest, in addition to all our plans and what we're going to ask of the provincial government, that in budget 2006 we have some clear direction on how we're going to drastically curtail our own expenses," she said. "Otherwise, we're not going to get the cooperation of the province."
Judging by his suddenly crimson skin tone, Miller was not amused.
"This isn't about an annual budget," was his brief retort. Maybe he's holding his fire for the 2006 mayoral debates.