False Prophecy

Rating: NNNNNa friend turned up a few weeks ago with an old newspaper his neighbour had found while cleaning the.

Rating: NNNNN

a friend turned up a few weeks ago with an old newspaper his neighbour had found while cleaning the attic. “METRO TORONTO IN 1980” trumpeted the big headline across the front page.The yellowed 12-page special edition turned out to be “a Toronto Daily Star Supplement on the Next 20 Years.” It was published on January 21, 1960. Dief was still the Chief in Ottawa, the Beatles were playing strip clubs in Hamburg, JFK was getting ready to take on Richard Nixon for the American presidency and Metropolitan Toronto was a collection of 13 municipalities including Mimico, Forest Hill, Long Branch, New Toronto, Weston, Swansea and Leaside.

Who would have guessed that New Toronto would one day swallow up all the rest? Or that an animated character named Melvin Douglas Lastman would preside over the fur ball disgorged in the process of a provincially legislated amalgamation.

In 1960, a new master plan to guide Metro for the next two decades had just been released by the Metropolitan Toronto Planning Board. And the predictions of the 23 esteemed commissioners who made up the board (they all had their mugs plastered below the headline on the front page) were the talk of the town back then. Sort of like the declining health of the city and its relationships with the provincial and federal governments is something of a buzz these days.

There was no mention of decline in the 1960 supplement that detailed the contents of the planning board report. Just as there was nary a word about some sorry state of affairs between City Hall and the folks at Queen’s Park and in Ottawa.

The declining number of “surplus women” was of much greater concern than the effects of downloading, uploading and overloading. “The price of progress will come high for Metro males,” warned a feature sidebar. “By 1980, planners predicted, the number of “surplus females’ will have been reduced to less than 9,000. It is 20,800 today.”

Taxes? They were no big whoop going into the swingin’ 60s. You just had to increase them in order to do what had to be done.

“To pay for the kind of Metro Toronto predicted in 1980, total revenues of Metro and the 13 municipalities must be at least doubled,” the planners advised.

“But this won’t mean double taxes,” they added reassuringly before noting that an 18 per cent hike in assessment revenues would do the fiscal trick.

“Businesses and individuals will be able to afford the increase,” the report stated matter-of-factly.

And what would property owners get for all that extra tax money?

Well, by 1980 there’d have been a big boom in subway growth, the planners predicted. By then “Queen Street should have a new subway” running from Sunnyside east to Leslie Street before heading north to connect with the Danforth-Bloor subway line. And there was no reluctance whatsoever when it came to suggesting routes the TTC could take to raise operating funds.

“Theoretically, the cost should be assessed against transit riders only,” the report maintained. “However, this is not practical. The only feasible way is to assess it against the entire population by taxation.”

Life was so damn simple back then, when public transit wasn’t seen as the best solution to increasing gridlock.

“It is in the public interest to assist the maintenance of transit by introducing and enforcing measures of traffic control which favour the movement of transit vehicles over that of automobiles,” the planners acknowledged. But in “Metro’s Master Plan,” a network of nine expressways “crisscrossing and bypassing Metropolitan Toronto” is prescribed as the best means of alleviating the area’s traffic congestion.

There’d be a Spadina Expressway, of course, and all manner of other autobahns connecting highways going off in all directions. For instance, the report urged extension of the Gardiner Expressway east to join Highway 401 west of Highland Creek.

You win some and you lose some. In in the face of strong public opposition, the Spadina Expressway plan didn’t get very far. In the case of the Gardiner, expansion ended in mid-air above Lakeshore Boulevard at Leslie. Amputation of that stump at a point east of the DVP was just recently completed. And, to illustrate how much things can change over the course of 40 years, Toronto’s new master plan is toying with the possibility of demolishing the entire elevated stretch of the Gardiner north of the downtown waterfront.

Ah, yes, the waterfront. By 1980, when Pierre Trudeau won his rematch with Joe Clark to regain the prime ministerial belt, the shoreline was to have been transformed into a public playground running for 25 miles “from Clarkson to Frenchman’s Bay.”

“The lake, unpolluted by then, will afford better beaches and swimming,” the planners promised. There would be opportunities for “aquatic activities on a much larger scale than present.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same. But in 1960 there were high hopes that things would change for the better.

“Unsightly stockpiles of coal may soon disappear from the waterfront,” a story in the supplement suggested. Where all the coal would end up was unclear, but it wouldn’t be moved to eastern Scarborough. By 1980, that area was going to have better parks than anywhere else in Metro.

“Holding the plum,” was how one feature described the suburbs’ place in the recreational universe. “The biggest place in the sun.” And still a well-kept secret all these years later. Just like that 65-acre reservoir somewhere in the Don Valley where boating and fishing are all the rage.

Master plans can’t get everything right. For example, Metropolitan Toronto’s population wasn’t the 2.8 million projected for 1980. And although the report declared “the days of the large dormitory suburb are numbered,” this hasn’t quite turned out to be the case.

But the planners of 40 years ago did a good job picking up on many trends. They certainly understood the increasing role immigration would play in the growth of the city’s population and its economy. “Our Greatest Growing Pain: The Newcomers” was how a headline in the old Star supplement assessed the challenge at that time.

However, my favourite prophecy is the one that let “residents within a five-mile radius of Malton Airport” know that they “can look forward to a few headaches as aircraft convert from piston engine to jet power.” You’ve got to wonder how far those folks live from Lester B. Pearson International today.

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