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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

When politicians play nice, projects like the Port Lands are born

Canada's next 150 years will be defined by the cities we build together, Matt Elliott says.

The Toronto Port Lands make up an area roughly the size of downtown.

Torstar News Service file

The Toronto Port Lands make up an area roughly the size of downtown.

Three days before the Canada 150 fireworks, I caught a glimpse of our country’s future.

It happened on the Toronto waterfront last Wednesday. There, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Mayor John Tory arrived together on a boat – which, admittedly, seemed kind of unnecessary.

Once on dry land, however, they justified the theatricality of their arrival by announcing something huge: a combined $1.185 billion in funding for flood protection that will re-naturalize the Don River and unlock the development potential of the city’s industrialized Port Lands. 

Finally. 

The announcement marked the culmination of decades of work by advocates and planners who have long envisioned that the port lands – an area roughly the size of downtown — can and should be the jewel of Toronto’s waterfront, with public green spaces, accessible transit, affordable housing and walkable neighbourhoods.

But beyond all that, the announcement was also big because it works as a perfect example of the kind of government action Canadians should demand to see during the next chapter of our country’s history.

First, it was collaborative. It’s common at Toronto city hall for major city-building projects to emerge from the planning stage with an earnest hope that all three levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal – will kick in an equal share of the total cost. But it’s rare to see that hope realized.

But it happened here.

The scene last week, with the prime minister, premier and mayor all standing together to announce a roughly equal share of financial support for city-building infrastructure should be commonplace. It should play out in cities across the country on a weekly basis as urban infrastructure gets announced and built.

Second, the announcement demonstrated that funding city infrastructure is the simplest way for all governments to make progress on a whole range of policy goals.

Just look at how many policy boxes this one announcement checked.

Jobs? The construction project alone will create up to 1,500  jobs and, once built out, Waterfront Toronto estimates up to 30,000 people will work in these new lakeside neighbourhoods.

Mobility? The whole area will be designed as a transit-first community, enabling thousands of residents to get by without a car.

Housing? The plan calls for 20 per cent of all new units to be affordable rental, with 25 per cent being larger units built for families. 

Parks? The city will gain nearly 60 hectares of parks and open spaces.

Climate change? Flood proofing this swath of the city is exactly the kind of move cities need to make to deal with the increasing frequency of extreme weather events. In addition to the port lands, the project is expected to protect areas of Riverside and Leslieville from flooding.

All that – and more – from one announcement.

This doesn’t need to be an isolated case. There is no reason we shouldn’t expect similar announcements across Canada, with governments working collaboratively to build transit, housing and infrastructure that addresses the looming threat of climate change.

In fact, I worry about what will happen if they don’t.

We live in an increasingly urban nation, and it is urban areas that will drive the economy — and our country — forward.

Let Toronto’s port lands plan serve as the model: Canada’s next 150 years will be defined by the cities we build together

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