“How Toronto Lost Its Groove” John Lorinc’s Toronto Mega-Take 10+ Years Later

“Yet in Toronto… well, Torontonians complain endlessly about congestion but refuse to give their political leaders the tools to do anything about it. They boast about the city’s ethnic diversity but don’t much mind if immigrants are warehoused in vertical ghettos. They aspire to live in a creative-class city with serious cultural ambitions, but only if they can pay Walmart prices.”

  • Gridlock and congestion have major costs in lost productivity, no transit improvement so roads “bursting”.
  • Sprawl continues unchecked, increasing cost of municipal services.
  • “Should the rest of Canada care? Yes, because the GTA is the country’s economic hub, accounting for one-fifth of its gross domestic product; New York, by contrast, produces just 3.3 percent of the United States’ national income.”
  • “…tens of billions more in tax revenues flow out of the GTA than come back in the form of services and public sector investment, which means GTA wealth subsidizes government services across Canada, including health care and social security.”
  • METRO Toronto was created in 1953 and seen as a success, admired.
  • Bill Davis established two tier government in the 905 and this was the GTA’s “original mistake” as powerful municipalities compete for public and private investment
  • In 1994 Ann Golden proposed a Greater Toronto Council for greater services (transportation, waste management, and economic development), leave lesser services for cities (essentially METRO for the GTA).
  • “Despite Harris’s ambition to reduce government, the GTA remains staggeringly over-governed, with 244 municipal office holders, including twenty-five mayors. By comparison, New York, with 8.3 million residents, is governed by fifty-one councillors, five borough presidents, and just one term-limited mayor.”
  • The Ontario government is reluctant to create something like a Greater Toronto Council as it doesn’t want a political rival or to be seen as favouring the GTA.
  • “But in the 1980s and 1990s, as development took off north and west of Toronto, the municipalities of Vaughan and Markham enthusiastically pursued beggar-thy-neighbour tax policies that enticed businesses to avoid or flee Metro and its higher commercial and industrial taxes. The result: a slow but painful decline in Metro’s non-residential tax revenues; growing tracts of fallow land; and fewer jobs in the inner suburbs, such as Scarborough and East York.”
  • Harris took responsibility for education from municipalities and downloaded transit, housing, parts of welfare.The TTC was aging at this point and province absolved itself, services were cut and plans stopped.
  • TRBoT study predicted 1billion shortfall by end of decade and suggested cut/priv. vs. new revenue “sales taxes, hotel occupancy levies, and parking fees” suggested by others (David Miller brought in vehicle registration and land transfer taxes).
  • The Ontario government spent on commuter rail and bus service, municipalities did not invest.
  • None of what was proposed in the 1975 Metro Toronto Transportation Plan Review was built, Network 2011 (1985) included three new subways. Harris cancelled one and only partially funded another. Harris believed transit should be funded by munis but eventually reversed and funded GTA commuter rail.
  • Liberals/McGuinty set up Metrolinx in order to take the politics out of transit planning (vs. Greater Vancouver’s TransLink, Metrolinx does not have predictable revenue, relies on provincial govt.)
  • The argument for David Miller’s Transit City: bring LRTs to suburban areas that could not support subways at 1/10th the total cost. Province, initially on board, scaled back funding and Ford cancelled all lines but one (Eglinton) and said to go underground. The same politicians who approved Transit City approved Ford’ in gutting it’s gutting of it.
  • The GTA is the world’s most ethnically diverse metro by proportion of foreign born residents, four in ten immigrants to Canada settle in the GTA.
  • Class polarization: Hulchanski study and decline in middle income neighbourhoods.
  • The GTA takes the lions share of immigrants but lacks the resources to absorb them.
  • In the 1970’s a federal Liberal government built co-op housing, in 1980’s Mulroney pulled out, Chretien continued cuts in 1995 and Mike Harris downloaded housing.
  • Affordable housing now has a “market-oriented, self-financing formula”.
  • Affordable private rental has not been built so many immigrants live in 1960’s towers “Toronto contains more suburban high-rises than any other North American city”.
  • A 2006 report called Poverty by Postal Code 2: Vertical Poverty highlighted spartan buildings, disrepair.
  • The 2005 Greenbelt Act and Places to Grow Act set a target of 40% of new development into urban areas.
  • “virtually no connection exists between land use and transportation planning”
  • 2011 study: 54% percent of GTA’s 200 million square feet of office space is far beyond the reach of rapid transit.
  • “The net result: Toronto, like many large North American cities, is now ringed by a huge band of intensely car-dependent suburbs.”
  • Development charges treated infill and greenfield the same, effectively subsidizing sprawl.
  • Kyle Rae pushed for expropriation to create Y-D square, politicians and landowners fought the vision but he prevailed. Kyle said/says “we have a culture of no”.
  • Toronto has a poor public realm, trash cans are bad, trees die.

“Six decades after the beginning of its epochal postwar transformation, it’s fair to say that Toronto has become a very big city, and a somewhat accommodating city, but not a great city—at least not yet. Which is more than a little strange, because the GTA contains an abundance of talent and energy, tremendous wealth, and intimations of a distinctly Canadian cosmopolitanism. What’s lacking is the will to abandon the story Torontonians have always told themselves, which is that they can’t afford the things big cities need and crave, that they mustn’t exercise the political clout that naturally accrues to large urban regions, and that they shouldn’t manage growth in the intelligent way that the twenty-first century requires.”

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