Toronto’s future on the waterfront: Christopher Hume looks into his crystal ball

Toronto’s future on the waterfront: Christopher Hume looks into his crystal ball

Toronto's urban beach in the off-season (Image: picturenarrative, from the Flickr pool) 

With Transit City looking like a sickly, frail patient about to have its plug pulled, where will urbanists look in Toronto to feel something other than despair? The Toronto Star’s Christopher Hume casts his eyes to the future and, for once, sees something positive. He states that Toronto’s waterfront is the great new frontier.

There has been much talk about the sustainable, mixed-use waterfront communities that will eventually house 100,000 residents. Countless artists’ renderings of parks and neighbourhoods-to-be have been shown. But still, revitalization has failed to capture the imagination of many Torontonians for whom the whole notion remains an abstraction.

But then along came Sugar Beach. It opened last summer and, though small and hidden away behind a temporary berm, offers a delicious taste of what lies ahead. Designed by Montreal landscape architect, Claude Cormier, Sugar Beach manages — remarkably, brilliantly — to bring life to a tiny corner of the harbour where there was none before. With its pink umbrellas, white sand and views of the Redpath Sugar refinery, it is an urban amenity that combines charm, humour and utility in equal measure

Connected to the elegant water’s edge promenade now under construction to the east and west, the beach will be a stop on a spectacular pedestrian boulevard that will extend from Parliament St. to Bathurst St. and beyond.

The big concern for Hume, and for anyone hoping to see the waterfront take off, is that the public action that is still needed—zoning changes, investment in infrastructure—will fall away under the combination of tightwad, post-recession governments and a city government that may dismiss downtown spending as just more gravy for the train.

It might be a stretch to say that many Torontonians live their lives here without really thinking about that big body of water to the south, but not by much. If Hume is right—and let’s hope he is—that will eventually change for the better.

• Toronto’s future unfolding on the waterfront [Toronto Star]