Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Hey Pan-Am pessimists: Look what Toronto got

By: Tory's Toronto Published on Mon Jul 13 2015

Investing in city infrastructure is worth it, Pan Am or no Pam Am.

The Pan Am Games are here. They’ve brought more than 6,000 athletes, alongside a gaggle of coaches, officials and organizers. There’s also a porcupine, Pachi.

They’ve also brought a wave of pessimism that seemed to roll through the city in the lead-up to the opening ceremony.

The negative narratives -— which even got the attention of the New York Times — were many, and sometimes contradictory. We heard frequently that no one cares about the Pan Am Games, but also that the Games will turn the city into crowded chaos.

We heard endless griping about the temporary Pan Am HOV lanes, with some dummies going so far as to elaborately arrange mannequins just to cheat the system.

And we heard a lot of people asking variations of, “Hey, what’s the point? Why are we doing this?”

To that last question, the answer is obvious. We’re doing it for the infrastructure.

In Canada especially, infrastructure is what big events like the Pan Am Games are all about. These events are transactions between cash-starved cities and the higher orders of government who hold the purse strings.

Canadian cities turn to big events because they’re a reliable way of getting expensive things funded and built.

And purely from an infrastructure perspective, the Games look to have worked out pretty well for Toronto.

Because of the Games, the West Don Lands neighbourhood — formerly derelict — was rapidly developed to serve as the Pan Am Athletes’ Village. In addition to 253 units of affordable housing, a new YMCA and an 18-acre public park, the development also built needed flood protection for a swath of downtown.

Toronto also got a world-class Sports Centre in Scarborough, several other new sport facilities and some major public art. Largely because of deadlines imposed by the Games, construction on Queens Quay is wrapped up and Union Station looks better than ever.

Does all this make the cost and the challenges of the Pan Am Games worth it? I’m not sure. But I find it hard to completely dismiss the idea of hosting big events like this given the everyday reality Toronto and other cities face trying (and failing) to scrape together money for infrastructure. Still, I’d rather the reality were different.

With a serious funding strategy and a real commitment to city-building, the infrastructure benefits Toronto is seeing from the Pan Am Games could be realized all the time. We could have a growing city with up-to-date infrastructure without having to host water polo and the decathlon.

That’s the real legacy I’d like the Pan Am Games to leave Toronto: an understanding that — even without athletes and porcupine mascots — investing in cities is worth it.

This post was originally published at on 2015-07-13T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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