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The Gardiner Expressway is falling down! Check that. No, it's not. Now we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Last week's revelation that a consultant's report warning of dire consequences if repairs aren't made pronto to the biggest mistake by the lake whipped the public into a semi-panic.
The high anxiety was in high gear on talk radio just in time (or not) for the evening rush Friday, October 19.
Notice of the roadway's impending collapse seems to have led the mayor's brother, Doug, to find his inner green. There he was floating the idea of road tolls on a designated lane of the Gardiner to raise the necessary cash to keep it from falling to the ground. That's a tax, right?
Nothing like a crisis, real or imagined, to set Doug off. .Maybe selling the Gardiner to a private entity à la the 407 is the ulterior motive.
The mayor quickly put trash talk about tolls to rest; there'll be no such thing on his watch.
Your can rest easy, folks. There are problems, but there's no imminent peril. The report by IBI Group identified three areas where the expressway's in "poor" condition. The impetus for the statement in the report that there's a "significant hazard to public safety" from "potential concrete falls" was prompted more by legal liabilities the city could face if someone gets hit by a flying chunk than engineering issues. But that's just my reading of the report
The excitement, though, was nevertheless instructive. A perfect opportunity to start a serious discussion about the future of the Gardiner never quite materialized. That's unfortunate, cuz it's gotta have to happen sometime given the highway's age.
It's already costing us $15 million a year to maintain it now. Double that has been earmarked for next year and beyond.
With that kind of money, we'd be more than halfway to the $2 billion required to tear it down right around the time when the expressway will be turning 100 and really crumbling. There's an economic argument to be made to take a jackhammer to it.
Waterfront Toronto had been studying an incremental teardown before funding for an Environmental Assessment was quietly pulled in the spring.
A number of commissions, including one led by former conservative mayor David Crombie, have recommended tearing it down.
But let's not go there. For argument's sake, why not consider some alternative future use, something like New York City's High Line Park, the abandoned rail corridor that's been converted into green space?
Quadrangle Architects floated a dreamy green roof over the Gardiner back in 2009, with a bikeway and pedestrian walk, which would keep the highway itself intact "for future reuse in a post-automobile era."
Come to think of it, Giorgio Mammoliti's big idea when he ran for mayor was a redo of the waterfront that included a partial teardown of the Gardiner. And we all know how outrageously out of touch Mammo is, right?
Where the Gardiner is concerned, the psychological barrier seems to be limiting our ability to conceive of future uses for the concrete mass.
Come to think of it, that condition affects our view of city building.
Let's take Oxford Properties' proposal for Front Street a couple of weeks back, since that one's fresh in our minds.
It's mostly a mess. With a little imagination, the 5.5 hectare green space - one of its few redeeming qualities - could have been better incorporated with the John Street corridor and what's now a completely isolated Roundhouse Park.
But that's not even the real point. The entire proposal is/was contingent on council accepting a casino. Essentially, a public harm is being shoved down our throats to accomplish a public good, a revamp of a dead zone in the core. Call it blackmail. Call it a recipe for bad planning. Call it a colossal failure of the imagination. Whatever.
It doesn't speak well of our ideas about our city if we're prepared to put a casino in the heart of it. That's something they do in down-and-out places like Biloxi, Mississippi, with nine casinos, and counting.
If it's bang for the buck we're after, investing in public amenities is what smart cities are doing. I seem to recall a few among the fat cats on the mayor's recent trade mission to Chicago going gaga over the Bean and Millennium Park, which our very own Frank Gehry had a hand in creating.
Where's our civic pride when it comes to the public realm? City governments don't have the financial tools, true. But it's not like there isn't the money in this town.
On the institutional front, there are many examples of corporate and private funding of worthwhile projects on a par with other cities. The ROM and AGO redos come to mind.
Our public amenities have all been built as adjuncts to other developments. Some have been moderately successful, like Canoe Landing and Sugar Beach. However, when it comes to grand public spaces, there's hardly a tradition to speak of.
Higher municipal taxes may not be the answer, although some councillors have advocated that.
But if we're expecting corporate white knights to come riding in to build for the public good, we're deluding ourselves. The money will go where the highest rate of return is.
And in the Big Smoke, that reality is unfortunately getting in the way of doing something really spectacular.
5 Gardiner Facts
2001 Elevated section between Don River and Leslie
2008 Demolition of section between Don River and Jarvis
Cyclists blocked westbound lanes in 2008; Tamils blocked downtown section in 2009