Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Waterfront Toronto: building the waterfront we deserve, and keeping our basements dry

By: Metro Toronto Published on Mon Jul 15 2013

The weekend before the storm hit, I spent an afternoon at Corktown Common, the city’s newest and maybe best park tucked snugly next to the Don River on the east side of downtown. Waterfront Toronto — the tripartite government agency tasked with making the city’s waterfront actually good — just opened the park a few weeks ago.

And so I lay on a grassy hill, overlooking the half-dozen cranes working to build an entirely new community next to the park.

And I thought: Hey, this is really nice.

Then, on Monday, I was out of town when the rain started to fall. And fall and fall and fall. We followed the news reports closely, very worried about the state of our basement. Our Corktown house stands only a few hundred metres from the Don Valley Parkway, which was very much underwater at the time.

But we returned home to find not a drop of water in our basement. Our house was dry.

And I thought again: Hey, this is really nice.

Those two stories might seem unconnected, but they’re not. Because Waterfront Toronto’s Corktown Common isn’t just a great park — it’s also a great piece of flood protection infrastructure for the east side of downtown. And, on Monday, it worked.

With Waterfront Toronto projects like Corktown Common, the rapidly developing Pan Am athletes’ village in the West Don Lands and the developments surrounding Sherbourne Common and the always-busy Sugar Beach, the state of Toronto’s waterfront is finally changing.

Yes, the pace is slow — but you could also describe it as deliberate. Instead of merely selling lakefront land to highest-bidder developers, Waterfront Toronto has spent the first 12 years of their mandate taking a considered approach to development.

The approach is paying off, according to a return on investment analysis published this past winter. With direct investment from municipal, provincial and federal governments of just

$1.5 billion, Waterfront Toronto’s work has attracted an estimated $2.6 billion in private development so far. That development, in turn, has generated increased government revenue to the tune of $838 million.

There’s still more to be done. Governments have been too slow to provide funding for the infrastructure that will unlock further private investment on the water’s edge. Long-promised transit lines haven’t materialized and the flood protection project needed to really transform the port lands has yet to see a funding commitment. That should change. With spectacular parks, well-planned developments and careful design, Waterfront Toronto has proven itself a sound investment.

Slowly but surely, they’re building the waterfront we deserve — and also, it turns out, keeping my basement dry.

This post was originally published at on 2013-07-15T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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