Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

There’s no reason for outrage over the cost of Waterfront Toronto's umbrellas

By: Metro Published on Fri Jun 27 2014

Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong wants you to be really mad about some seemingly expensive umbrellas on Toronto’s waterfront. You shouldn’t be.

Mostly because the umbrellas in question — installed on Toronto’s Sugar Beach at a cost of about $12,000 each — aren’t umbrellas at all. These aren’t standard patio parasols you can buy at the Canadian Tire garden centre. These are custom-made, purpose-built design elements made of metal and other durable materials, meant to survive both winter and summer. They’re rooted in a concrete base and include lighting. (They’re also pink, but who cares?)

They’re not umbrellas. They only look like umbrellas. Getting angry about their cost is like getting angry about the fact that the installation of the giant nickel in Sudbury cost more than five cents.

OK, but, still, is $12,000 too much for an agency like Waterfront Toronto to pay for a design element in a park that happens to look like an umbrella? And what about those so-called “designer rocks” — the granite sculpture at the centre of the park. Was $500,000 too much to spend on them? I have no idea. You probably don’t have any idea either. Very few of us are experts on the acquisition of materials for public parks. But here’s the thing: none of us should really care.

The question with a project like Sugar Beach is whether the sum of its parts represents good value for money. In this project’s case, it was delivered on time and on budget. Waterfront Toronto allocated a budget for the park — about $14.1-million — commissioned a design, then executed that design. That seems like a reasonable process, especially considering that it got us a public space that has proved to be enormously popular with most people not named Denzil Minnan-Wong.

It’s a success story. Politicians like Minnan-Wong shouldn’t be obsessing over line items on a project delivered on budget. Instead, politicians like Minnan-Wong should be working to figure out how to bring more projects like this to areas across the city. Because, honestly, this city could use many more places like Sugar Beach.

But I guess pushing for an agency to report on its governance and transparency protocols doesn’t grab attention quite like a photo of a councillor glaring at an umbrella.

This post was originally published at on 2014-06-27T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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