Editor’s Letter (January 2014): Porter’s expansion is an enthusiastic embrace of urban life
My new favourite spot in the city is the rooftop patio of the Corus Quay building, the headquarters for Corus Entertainment, at the foot of Jarvis Street. The building, which opened in 2010, was designed by Jack Diamond and bears his firm’s signature understated elegance. Back in the fall, on a gloriously mild October night, I stood on that deck, and the view was spectacular: dozens of pleasure boats to the south, a vast collection of glistening urban towers, many of them new, to the northwest.
A container ship was unloading barrels of raw sugar at the Redpath refinery—a last gasp of industry in the downtown. The overall impression was of a bustling, densely urban, multi-purpose waterfront.
I was there for a lecture by Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institute, who was in town to promote her book The Metropolitan Revolution, in which she explains how cities can save themselves from urban collapse. She is a compelling speaker, but her message didn’t seem relevant to Toronto. Our big urban problem is the opposite of collapse; it’s rapid growth. We are building at a ferocious rate, attracting 100,000 new residents a year, erecting new buildings on any scrap of land we can find. Our aging infrastructure can’t cope with the robust development.
The city’s expansionist mood is particularly visible south of Front Street. We finally abandoned the utopian notion of burying the Gardiner, and instead got busy creating beautiful and useful spaces around it. As anyone who has visited the Air Canada Centre lately can tell you, a new, far-reaching neighbourhood has sprung up that residents gamely call South Core. Waterfront Toronto has an astonishing number of projects on the go: Queens Quay is getting a facelift, an internationally renowned design team is revamping Ontario Place, and a new George Brown campus has just been completed. There are new promenades, condos, parks, restaurants—and then there’s a whole slew of developments slated to be built for the 2015 Pan Am Games. Stagnation on the waterfront used to be a source of great shame for Torontonians. Not anymore.
The momentum seems unstoppable, which is why I’m so bewildered by the decibel level of the No Jets T.O. campaign, led by citizen activists, to stop Porter Airlines from adding jets to its fleet. Its leaders say that jets at the island airport threaten revitalization in the area. The campaign’s tag line, which appears on lawn signs across the city, is “Save Toronto’s Waterfront.” But clearly, it doesn’t need saving. In this issue, Philip Preville considers what’s really at stake.
Eleven years ago, David Miller won his first mayoral election by vowing to quash a proposed fixed link to the island airport. He said Porter planes would doom efforts to bring life to Toronto’s waterfront. He failed to prevent the planes, and yet the waterfront is flourishing. Now there’s a new population there who like to jog by the lake, walk to work, dine out near home, and also hop over to the airport for business and vacation travel. It seems to me that Porter’s expansion, the growth of the downtown core and the revitalization along the waterfront are all part of the same phenomenon: an enthusiastic embrace of urban life way downtown.