A Jetsonsesque future: Toronto says “No thanks,” Montreal says “Yes, yes, fast, fast, fast!”
The July issue of Toronto Life is now on newsstands. A peek at the table of contents shows that there’s a column by me about what’s become my axe to grind: Toronto’s stubborn refusal to adopt a vacuum waste collection system for the West Don Lands and other large-scale redevelopments. After that story went to press, Montreal decided to dive into the vacuum waste game, and their example shows Toronto what a bold, risk-taking city looks like: vacuum waste there will either be a huge success, or it will be a classic Montreal fiasco.
Montreal is planning a major downtown redevelopment for the area around Place des Arts called the Quartier des Spectacles (the Spectacles District). Vacuum waste is part of the proposal, and a final decision is expected within the coming month. But according to a source with Envac, the Swedish firm that manufactures the system, there was a scheduling conflict: all of the infrastructure for Place des Arts itself is being replaced immediately, as I type this—water pipes, sewers, the works. The city realized that, if it didn’t install vacuum waste pipes immediately for Place des Arts, it would lose its chance to blanket the redevelopment with waste-sucking inlets. So the city told Envac to install its underground pipes at Place des Arts as well, even though the final decision on whether or not to actually buy the whole system is a few weeks off.
If the final decision on the Quartier des Spectacles is to go ahead with vacuum waste, the payoff will have been worth the risk. If the final decision is to nix vacuum waste, then generations of Montrealers will tell stories about the trash-sucking tubes buried beneath Place des Arts that never got used—a literal “haste makes waste” story of bureaucratic bungling. But even that’s a good payoff, because it will add to Montreal mythology (secrets buried beneath the city!) and give everyone a generation-long laugh. At least they took the risk. As for Toronto, well, read my column—a lament for this city’s risk-averse timidity.
• Suck It Up [Toronto Life]