Editor’s Letter (December 2012): under the influence

Editor’s Letter (December 2012): under the influence

David Mirvish’s plan to tear down the Princess of Wales Theatre and build three 80-plus-storey Frank Gehry–designed condo towers on King Street isn’t very popular. When he announced his intentions, the city’s pessimists were quick to complain: the towers were too tall, too garish, too dominating, and would add way too many new people to a downtown core already straining from rapid expansion. I’m not sure the project’s critics are right. Global cities have giant, imposing towers that seem vaguely threatening. They have unusual skylines. They are impossibly dense. Skyscrapers can be exciting and dramatic, which is what the Gehry towers promise to be. At the very least, I admire the ambition of the project. David Mirvish, who already wields influence in Toronto as both a theatre impresario and an important collector of 20th-century art, is about to make an indelible mark on the cityscape. His father, Ed, occupied a significant role in the city, and now Mirvish is using the money and the position he inherited on his own terms.

Toronto is a city that tries to please all of the people all of the time. We make decisions by balancing everyone’s needs. By and large this is a good thing. The overhaul of Regent Park was fuelled by years of community input. Chris Spence, who runs the Toronto District School Board, is now seeking input from the public as he tries to figure out which schools to close and which to expand. The municipal government solicits opinions from the public before building new parks or community centres. Even our divisive mayor listened to Toronto citizens when he threatened to close some of our libraries, eventually backing down. Unfortunately, striving to achieve consensus sometimes leads to paralysis. Just look at our transit system.

To get things done, this city also needs people to strike out on their own, to be unconventional and sometimes unpopular, to use power and influence to change the game. In this special issue, we rank the 50 people who are best positioned to do just that. Some of the people on our list we admire. Others, less so. We don’t necessarily endorse all their ideas or deeds. We are instead evaluating their track records, and their ability to have an impact on the city—for better or worse. Do people listen to them? Do they
effect change?

Some on our list, like David Mirvish, have been part of the establishment for decades. Others are newer on the scene: Sheldon Levy, for example, the president of Ryerson and a former lecturer in computer science and math, has emerged as one of the decade’s boldest visionaries. To the surprise of many, he has transformed Ryerson into a dynamic, creative institution, and reshaped a big chunk of downtown Toronto along the way.

Another recent surprise: the Toronto Star, which was a sleepy, predictable newspaper just a few years ago, has undergone a radical transformation under Michael Cooke, its editor since 2009. Now the Star regularly breaks stories that set the municipal and provincial agenda, making the paper’s influence felt throughout the city and beyond.

Our list was constructed with the input of more than 100 people in various sectors. It’s highly informed. But a list like this is hardly scientific; it’s opinionated and bound to be controversial. That’s half the fun. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed building it.

(Image: Christopher Wahl)