Council likes to support good ideas in principle, and then often fails to provide ongoing funding.
John Tory got behind the idea of a Don Valley “superpark” yesterday, an ambitious project that could become a seven-kilometre long, 200-hectare park.
Much of the work is already done. The city’s ravine system has been called a crown jewel by the likes of chief city planner Jennifer Keesmaat, and the space is waiting for the right programming and infrastructure improvements to make it happen.
The City has studied this idea for over a year—last October there were a series of design charettes at the Evergreen BrickWorks to brainstorm the best ideas to make a “superpark” happen. These include additional bike lanes, pedestrian bridges and paths, combining two rail corridors, and more.
John Tory also believes it’s the kind of project that private donors can buy into, and they’ll be happy to have their name attached to it. But given recent experience, it’s an open question whether City Council has the same commitment to city-building and whether the “superpark” is just another branding exercise that will wither when confronted with the reality that things cost money and private donors aren’t going to pay for everything.
There’s an odd dissonance when the mayor embraces marquee projects like the $1 billion-plus Rail Deck Park proposal and the Don Valley “superpark” while also requesting a 2.6 per cent reduction in the parks budget. This is doubly true when you consider that Council unanimously endorsed in principle an extensive parks plan that would expand programming and services but never supported fully funding it. Even if private donors fund capital improvements to jumpstart the “superpark,” the City will have to provide ongoing operating funding to make it work.
The mayor’s office argues that $18 million has been spent on area improvements since 2012 on this project, but this has it both ways. After all, this project was only announced yesterday, so it’s difficult to give them credit for unrelated funding four years ago. Given that Council in general and the mayor in particular cannot summon the political courage to increase property taxes more than inflation, it’s doubtful that they can give a “superpark” the funding it needs.
Hopefully all of this cynicism is proved wrong. The project looks exciting and more feasible than the Rail Deck Park. Torontonians should have better access to our ravines and more reasons to explore them. But these flashy announcements would be a lot more believable and exciting if Council and the mayor’s office didn’t regularly create such a dissonance between their rhetoric and follow-through.
Planning is easy; funding is harder.