2014 Hero: Pink Umbrellas
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2014 Hero: Pink Umbrellas

Nominated for: demonstrating the difference between cost and value.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

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In 2010, Waterfront Toronto unveiled Sugar Beach, and by 2014, the two-acre urban oasis had racked up multiple design awards and become a popular spot for tourists and residents alike. Naturally, Denzil Minnan-Wong was having none of that.

There’s no public work too demonstrably successful for Minnan-Wong not to carp about, and in 2014 the councillor (who’s now also deputy mayor and a Waterfront Toronto board member) directed his whingiest whinging at Sugar Beach. He was particularly outraged by the cost of the 36 pink umbrellas that stipple its sandy surface: roughly $432,000 in total, or $12,000 each. “You can have nice things,” he moaned, “but you don’t have to spend $12,000 on an umbrella.”

Ignoring the salient fact that these are not standard patio brollies but durable steel-and-fibreglass structures designed to withstand harsh weather and built to last decades, Minnan-Wong is absolutely right: you don’t have to. But Waterfront Toronto did, because the agency understands that there’s more to city-building than filling potholes and repaving roads, and that investing in quality-of-life improvements—including outstanding public spaces such as Sugar Beach—is not a waste of taxpayer money (something that might adequately describe dragging reporters down to the waterfront on a workday for a bitchy photo op).

For too long, self-righteous asceticism has masqueraded as fiscal responsibility at City Hall. But it’s time our politicians realized, as Waterfront Toronto already knows, that things cost money, and that there’s a future beyond the next election cycle that’s worth investing in. The pink umbrellas at Sugar Beach are an investment in that future: they’ll still be standing long after Minnan-Wong has found some other insignificant nit to pick, and they’ll still be standing when he finally takes his leave of City Hall having collected hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer-funded salary.

And when that day comes, no one will be wondering which was the better investment.


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