2011 Hero: CodeBlueTO
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2011 Hero: CodeBlueTO

Nominated for: heart and activist savvy in equal measure.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have influenced the city over the past 12 months. From December 12–23, the candidates for Mightiest and Meanest—and new this year, a reader’s write-in option! From December 26–29 you’ll be able to vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year, and we’ll reveal the results December 30.

Hell hath no fury like Toronto waterfront lovers scorned. This is something Councillor Doug Ford learned the hard way when he expressed a desire to wrestle control of the Port Lands from Waterfront Toronto, the tri-governmental agency set up to develop the waterfront. He also publicly mused about his own visions for the area, which would replace the mixed-use community and Michael Van Valkenburgh Inc.’s existing plan to re-naturalize the mouth of the Don River.

What did the rookie councillor envision instead? A megamall, monorail, and a giant Ferris wheel. Oh, and a hotel where you can drive a boat right into the lobby. All that was missing was the space-shuttle launch pad.

Many people were, to put it mildly, pissed. But often outraged citizens need something or someone who is able to focus all that emotion like a magnifying glass, to keep the issue hot. Without that focus, the frustration people feel begins to dissipate—exactly what certain politicians hope for. Eventually, another news item enters the media cycle and people move on.

Enter CodeBlueTO, a collection of businesses, neighbourhood groups, and concerned citizens devoted to saving, as they called it, the people’s plans for the waterfront, “the ones developed over the past several years through extensive consultation with the community and input from planners, architects, environmentalists, economists, and developers.” Turns out, backroom discussions with mall developers don’t sit well with most people.

CodeBlueTO quickly grew into a loud, vocal campaign. (Disclosure: Torontoist contributor Laurence Lui was involved in CodeBlueTO; he was not involved in the development of this year’s Heroes and Villains feature in any way.) They launched a website and started a petition that grew to more than 6,000 signatures. Their dexterity in using social media to get the word out was apparent in their Twitter-ready name: #CodeBlueTO.

By being the magnifying glass, CodeBlueTO was able to not only keep the issue hot, but to intensify it. All of this work culminated in the announcement of a consensus deal struck by city councillors working across the usual political lines, with Ford backing down. The consensus deal kept development in the hands of Waterfront Toronto, but urged them to speed up development.

CodeBlueTO understood the passion and engagement of the people of Toronto and provided the city with a united voice speaking against the SimCity-ization of the waterfront. The Fords apparently underestimated that passion—a sore mistake.