Two strikes against the bohemian city

Two strikes against the bohemian city

Everyone’s been aflutter since the weekend over the news that creative-cities guru Richard Florida, who encourages cities to embrace their bohemians, will soon be living and teaching in the city. It was such good news that it took everyone’s eye off the ball in the West Queen West Triangle, the front line in Toronto’s battle for bohemian ascendancy, where Mayor David Miller has been dealt another blow.

Back in January, following a decision of the Ontario Municipal Board that allowed for massive condo development in the artist-populated Triangle (not up to speed? here’s your brief.), Miller said he’d appeal through all three avenues available to him: ask Municipal Affairs Minister John Gerretsen to overturn the decision, ask the OMB to review its own decision, and appeal it through the courts. Gerretsen essentially told Miller to stick it months ago. On Tuesday the OMB ruled in its own favour, saying its original decision remains valid. That leaves the court appeal. It starts Monday.

Meanwhile, in the background, the city and the developers have been trying to negotiate their way out of the impasse. These efforts, which many originally believed would bear fruit, are stalled. On May 31 Baywood Homes, the developer behind the Bohemian Embassy Condominiums on Queen West, offered what they call a “comprehensive” settlement of all the outstanding issues. The mayor’s office, according to Baywood counsel Ron Kanter, now seems uninterested in negotiations. The parties met privately following Tuesday’s OMB ruling, but Miller, despite his weakened bargaining position, wouldn’t budge. The Mayor has always maintained that the principle at stake was the city’s ability to control its own economic development—in this case, support creative industries by making space for bohemians. Here’s hoping the creative industries are worth the risk, not to mention the time and money being spent on the appeals.

I support all creative-city initiatives in this town, but it’s worth pointing out—again—that another urban guru—less celebrated but arguably more successful—came through town last week and his message to the mayor was, “promote the financial services industry.” This is the real no-brainer: financial services are the engine of the city’s economy, and Toronto City Hall’s economic development efforts ought to be anchored within this sector. Yet, while the most generous estimates suggest the creative industries account for about 10% of local GDP, the Triangle appeals amount to 100% of this administration’s economic development efforts since it was elected.

(Bleg: I have been unable to find a detailed breakdown of Toronto’s GDP by industry sector. I have searched long and hard and am coming to the conclusion that a reliable one does not exist. If anyone knows where to find one, please send it along.)

Image credit: Richard Florida by Yvonne Berg/National Post