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A waterfront for all - including the suburbs

There has been a flurry of discussion this week about Ontario Place in the media. I spoke about it in my social media interactions and didn't think much about it.

But then, my office started getting a few calls and emails from concerned residents of Don Valley North about the future of our waterfront. I was reminded that the waterfront really does belong to every Torontonian – including those of us in the suburbs.

There is a growing concern about what the province may have in store for the future of Ontario Place. After all, it is 100 per cent provincially-owned piece of real estate. What happens with it may never need to come to City Council; however, if the new Board appointed by the current provincial government proposes a controversial or unpopular "re-purposing" of Ontario Place, I have no doubt you will not stop at calling or writing your MPP. You will expect your Mayor and Councillors to advocate on behalf of Toronto and its residents' wishes.

My recommendation to my followers on social media was to just go and see what is happening at Ontario Place right now – it's not in a state of "complete disrepair." Until we began discussing it, few knew that the glorious Cinesphere had re-opened and is regularly screening great family films. Lots of people know about the Winter Lights Exhibition but have never visited, despite our relatively mild winter this season. So, if the discussion is coming, it must be a well-informed, city-wide discussion.

The Winter Lights Exhibition at Ontario Place. I highly recommend checking it out.

It's only when you start traveling east of Ontario Place that you find yourself on the real intergovernmental minefield. It’s a crazy patchwork of underutilized land governed under a variety of different ownership and authorities. Under the stewardship of an organization called Waterfront Toronto, many improvements have been made, but there's also the crucial matter of determining the waterfront's funding future – the full revitalization is estimated to cost $17 billion to complete.

However, there is a project that, if successful, could dwarf all progress made so far.

Earlier this week, my team and I received an informal presentation on the potential of a project called Sidewalk Toronto. This is the waterfront revitalization proposal that has been in the media recently for the controversy surrounding the relationship between Sidewalk Labs and Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google.

We learned there has been a lot of work done to address concerns about data collection. We also learned there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done before the project can begin – but the concept has the potential to change the way we think about urban planning. Sidewalk Toronto would generate a vast number of affordable housing units in mixed settings, pilot innovation in transit and traffic planning and generate significant job creation across many sectors.

Located just southeast of Downtown Toronto, the Eastern Waterfront contains more than 325 hectares (800 acres) of land subject to future revitalization, including Quayside (shown) and the Port Lands.

Although Sidewalk Toronto is a long way off, I will, as your councillor, be asked to cast votes on proceeding with the project as it reaches certain stages. Lots of consultation has already taken place, but it has always been with residents who live near the site. I believe we in Don Valley North deserve to have a say. After all, this is our waterfront, too.

I would love to know if you think something as massive as the illustration above – 325 hectares (800 acres) of prime lake-front land – should be consulted on in a suburban community like ours.

I hope you will consider contacting my team to let them know if you would be interested in attending a presentation and discussion on Sidewalk Toronto. This project could change a significant part of our city, but it also has the potential to generate better models of absorbing growth that we could learn from in our own growing community.


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