It's official. The city of Toronto finally has a plan to govern its growth and development for the next 30 years. Well, sort of.The visionary three-volume document that chief planner Paul Bedford presented to city council's planning and transportation committee this week still has to run the gauntlet of public consultation before it's ready for political approval.
And that's the rub. With a municipal election less than 18 months away, more than a few councillors are all too ready to foment citizen opposition to the draft Official Plan in hopes of derailing an innovative concept that's been three years in the making.
Derail is the operative word here. In an effort to protect neighbourhood stability while accommodating population growth and demographic change, the plan focuses on considerable expansion of streetcar and subway lines along and below some of the city's major arterial roads.
Properties flanking thoroughfares like Eglinton Avenue and Kingston Road are ripe for higher-density development to accommodate the influx of up to 1 million more residents over the next three decades, Bedford advised. And an improved public transit system -- with streetcars running along both these routes -- is by far the best means of reducing the over-dependence on private motor vehicles and the traffic gridlock that now plagues the city.
"The integration of land use and transportation is a very key theme of the plan," Bedford told the committee. He said there are "wonderful opportunities to transform the feel and the look" of main roads that are "very sparsely developed" now.
"The potential to accommodate transit within that corridor is very good," the executive director of the city's planning division insisted. "We're not going to make more roads or new expressways."
This statement did not sit well with Paul Sutherland, the councillor for Ward 33 (Don Valley East).
Last year Sutherland proposed widening the Don Valley Parkway to accommodate more traffic from the suburbs to downtown. Clearly, he hasn't given up on the idea just yet.
"If you think this is a plan and the mayor and others think this is a plan the public is going to support, I think we're really deluding ourselves," the politician from the heart of old North York told Bedford.
Ah, yes, the mayor. To his credit, Mel Lastman at least showed up for the Official Plan presentation. This is something he couldn't be bothered to do late last year when the draft plan for revitalization of the city's waterfront was unveiled.
Still, His Washup appeared totally uninterested in Monday's OP proceedings. Not once did he even swivel his chair to observe the slide show that went along with Bedford's spirited but concise discourse on Toronto's future.
"This is serious stuff," the lead planner stressed. But the mayor just stared off into space -- an unmistakable look of boredom masking his face. Twice during the 45-minute show he appeared to be on the verge of falling asleep.
When the presentation ended, his verbal support for the plan came in the form of a prepared statement. It started off well.
"I think this is a terrific plan," Lastman said. "I like it. I've had time to digest it and I think it's good."
But then the mayor took off on an unscripted dissertation regarding "the biggest mistake ever made in the history of our city." Strip malls. "A blight on our community," he called the low-rise monstrosities that popped up like mushrooms when he was the mayor of North York.
"These strip plazas are falling apart," Lastman said. "They're a dog's breakfast. You drive into them and there's potholes all over the place. Nobody's responsible. You've got dirt. You've got litter. You've got all kinds of stuff flying around because they don't want to go together and get"
At this point, the mayor must have noticed people rolling their eyes and shaking their heads in dismay.
"I should look at my notes," Lastman said with a nervous laugh. But then he was right back at it.
"I just want to see somebody responsible," he said. "And if you get responsible development, you're going to get a conglomerate owning it. You're going to get one owner and there's going to be responsibility. Right now, they can fight for days, they can fight for months as to who has to fix that pothole, because everybody says it's not their responsibility, and cars are being damaged constantly in strip plazas and they never know who to sue."
With his mission statement delivered, the mayor was up from his chair and out the committee-room door in a flash. Noting the horde of reporters who rushed after Lastman, committee chair Joe Pantalone followed. He was determined to prevent the mayor from doing any more damage to the plan.
Alas, the councillor for Ward 19 (Trinity-Spadina) didn't get to the media scrum in time to stop the chief magistrate from discounting one of the plan's most important objectives.
"I'm not trying to discourage people from taking their cars downtown," Lastman said. "I have no intention of discouraging people from taking their cars downtown."
Pantalone immediately jumped into the fray, insisting that the fact that the city of Toronto hasn't built any new expressways in decades is proof positive it's trying to curtail dependence on smog-spewing automobiles. And as the mayor once again tried to scurry back to the safety of his office, the committee chair restated the Official Plan's intention to make public transit an ever more attractive alternative to private cars.
Back in the committee room, most of Pantalone's colleagues were busy singing the plan's praises.
Pam McConnell, the councillor for Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale), called it "the biggest thing to happen since amalgamation.
"I'm looking forward to a very dynamic discussion over the next six months," she said.
"This is good stuff," Joanne Flint, the councillor for Ward 25 (Don Valley West) chimed in.
"We've got something here that is going to make politics exciting again," predicted Howard Moscoe, the councillor for Ward 15 (Eglinton-Lawrence).
But it's going to take more than just kudos from some of the more progressive city councillors to get the Official Plan adopted before the end of the current council term -- never mind the target date of this fall. It's going to take real leadership to ensure that legitimate public concerns are addressed without gutting the comprehensive blueprint and making it meaningless.
"We are in your hands from this point on," Bedford emphasized.
Given what's been going on at City Hall of late, that's one enormous obstacle.