Friday, September 9, 2011

Surprise, Surprise: Money does grow on trees.

The city is abuzz over the newest Ford Brother plan for the Port Lands, a heavily contaminated former Industrial area which has been the focus of a redevelopment plan for the past nine years. Doug and Rob Ford announced recently that they had a new plan, a better plan. It's an add Ferris wheel and stir formulation to attract tourists down to the waterfront with a Ferris Wheel, a Mega Mall, and a Monorail.

This globe and mail article sums it up quite nicely, so I'm not going to get too much into the details of the actual plan.

I truly do not understand about Ferris wheel/Monorail/Mega Mall schemes. Those who push these plans (almost ALWAYS business people or former business people turned politicians) claim that they are a great way to draw tourists to the waterfront--to remain "competitive".

Last year a Ferris wheel was proposed for the Seattle waterfront by a businessman who said it would help combat disruption during the construction of a viaduct. Revitalization, preservation of the waterfront via Ferris wheel seems to be the general consensus.

Fast forward one year and there is no Ferris wheel in Seattle. Plans shifted from waterfront to practically waterfront then to a plan for the 50th celebration of the Seattle Centre but were discontinued in April due to "liability issues." Even when planned for and in conjunction with an enormous institution like the Seattle Centre, the plan still couldn't get off the ground. A plan like a gigantic Ferris wheel needs to be planned and executed efficiently, not just thrown on the table. And that is why the Ferris wheel and Mega Mall at Port Lands will never materialize--a Mayor's term doesn't last forever, Ford's approval ratings are going down fast and hard, and he and his brother will never be able to get this project off the ground before they are sent packing.

If the brothers Ford weren't just in this to make a quick, seedy, buck they would have proposed these developments at the beginning of the summer and made a public(and legal) process of the bids for proposals and projects. Meeting behind closed doors is one thing for a "business man" like Rob Ford who "lives in the real world" but, guess what Mayor Ford, you're the Mayor now and politics is not the real world.

When Mayor Ford said  “You don’t get jobs having 400 acres of parkland. Parks are beautiful. We have tons of parks, but unfortunately, that tree can’t employ anybody" he was simultaneously right and wrong.

Right: Parks are beautiful. We do have tons of parks.

Wrong: You don't get jobs from parkland. A tree can't employ anyone.

In fact, trees and parks employ people. A lot of people. I'm not sure if the Mayor knows this or not but here in Canada we have this thing called "National Parks" and "Provincial Parks." They are run by a sector of the government called "Parks Canada." Chances are, you've been to a Parks Canada Park. Go the the beach? Most likely it's in a Park. Go hiking? Probably in a Park as well. Parks Canada is celebrating its Centennial Year -- that's one hundred years. For one hundred years we, as a nation, have valued Parks and conservation of not only Park land but also of Marine areas. That doesn't just happen by accident, people are employed by Parks Canada --by TREES!

Parks Canada has more than four thousand employees across the country, and that doesn't include summer student positions. They employ these people to help support their mandate:  "to preserve and present Canada's national heritage for current and future generations."

Amazing. People are employed by Parks. By trees, by lakes, by mountains and rivers. They aren't employed to tear shit up and build rides to encourage people to spend money, they are employed to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy our natural resources in the same way that we are. For posterity. 

You know what tourists and Canadians like? Parks. Ever been to Banff National Park in high season? Bruce Peninsula? It's silly with people. Each person is spending money to get into the Park and a lot of them are spending money to camp or boat.Many Parks have attractions like Gondolas, Ice Field Tours, Boat Tours, Horseback Riding, etc and people also pay good money for those.

I was in Banff just a few weeks ago and to even DRIVE to the town you have to pay to get into the Park.

Looking more locally, the Parks, Forestry and Recreation website for the city of Toronto states that "one of the greatest strengths of our city is our wonderful parks system. Big or small, these parks offer everything from play to quiet relaxation. Our parks let you absorb the peace, quiet and natural beauty of the outdoors without leaving the city."

Toronto has hundreds of Parks, many of which include unique features that require specialty care. Guildwood Park, for example, has a mature forest and historical sculptures. The Toronto Music Garden is home to beautifully manicured and designed gardens which were inspired by a Bach Cello Suite.

The Toronto Islands, The Humber Bay Butterfly habitat, High Park, HTO Park, Riverdale Farms and Bluffers Park are a few examples and they don't just exist in a vacuum --people are employed to maintain, care for, and develop these spaces.

So Mayor Ford is just plain wrong. Who will the Ferris wheel employ, or the mall, when a year from now the plan gets scrapped?

This new waterfront plan will cost taxpayers over $200 million on top of throwing away nine years of work on the current development plan. I don't want my tax money going towards a mall, a mono rail, or a Ferris wheel. I want my tax dollars to go towards preserving the essential services that this City claims we cannot afford.  I want unionized garbage collectors, pools for kids in the summer, affordable housing and daycare, and snow removal.

The promises Ford made during his election campaign have truly gone out the window, once and for all. A Ferris wheel is gravy.  A Mega Mall is gravy. We live in a city that has actually told us it s a waste of money to have libraries. Our Mayor went out of his way to express his non-support for one of our hugest tourist attractions of the year: Pride.  Now those same people who were shunning tourist dollars from Pride are now trying to push extravagant and passe rides and malls on us, for tourism?

It doesn't make sense from a fiscal perspective, it's not sustainable development, and it's a waste of money. The only good thing about this Ferris wheel debacle is that it is yet another instance of the Fords showing Toronto why they are n politics: to make money. Any public servant who pushes midway rides that will cost the taxpayers millions while trying to shut down libraries has an ulterior motive and my guess is that their motive is to line their pockets with gold, irregardless of whether or not it leaves this city in shambles.

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