Image via flickr / michaelTO
At first glance city hall is overtaken by summer stupor. The courtyard is filled with tents everywhere serving fruits and meats and breads and pies and gourmet hotdogs with “multicultural” toppings. Bustling and covered in makeshift shelters, it looks like an upscale refugee camp. Everything is either extremely local or extremely exotic, from Peking duck quesadillas to fresh produce from Ontario farms. I don’t reach this centre of nutrition without passing three homeless men sleeping, their possessions just above their head.
Inside city hall is also different in summer. It feels as if all the councillors either have teachers’ vacations or have decided to enter provincial politics. No media swarms hunt the mayor unsuccessfully seeking a quote regarding the latest personal or professional travesty.
Many assume the two actors constituting city hall action are councillors and media. But with them gone, intelligent non-partisan planners from different fields go about their business unencumbered by insidious political posturing and sound bite getters. Wednesday, experts met for a preliminary discussion about a new multi-purpose trail in the Don Valley.
This project will be great news for anyone who loves the outdoors. It seems that a city built on top of a boreal forest ought to have no shortage of useful and connected outdoor space, and it’s heartening to know there are teams of intelligent, devoted people working to bring this about.
The proposed trail covers a five kilometre north-south stretch east of the DVP from just south of Lawrence Ave to just north of O’ Connor Drive. The notice of commencement was launched in January, which basically marks the start of the environmental assessment (EA), and is expected to take about two years. The geography adds complexity to this particular EA since the proposed trail is near a riverbed and there are steep hills on either side. Developing infrastructure near water in a valley presents challenges, and not just physical ones. Archaeologists ensure development doesn’t ruin buried remains from centuries’ old settlements or aboriginal artifacts. Experts with backgrounds in forestry, parks and recreation, engineering, urban planning, and cultural heritage make sure the plans meet the social, cultural, technological, natural, cost and feasibility needs.
This north-south multi-purpose planned route came out of the Bikeway Trails Implementation Plan done by the city in 2012, which identified this is the missing link in the multi-use trail network and made it a priority. If this trail is approved through the EA process it will support the east-west Pan Am Path, which is a concurrent project linking the east and west ends of the city with a multi-use trail. The Pan Am Path also identified the need to fill in the missing north-south link, so the two separate projects will work supplement each other.
In my brief time observing the meeting room I was very impressed. The conversation was so civil, nuanced, probing, thorough. City hall meetings aren’t always like that, you know. I could grasp enough of the content to be encouraged but much of it was over my head, as each participant had spent months studying their corner of the project. I couldn’t help but notice I was the only media there. Soon, I was politely taken aside and urged not to divulge the specific plans spoken of in the meeting. It’s still too early in development to make anything public. This struck me as overwhelmingly prudent and sensible. Let them do their work, Jeff! More information about the project is forthcoming as soon as they tackle a little more preliminary stuff, but in the basic outline is available here. I hope these intelligent, devoted planners remain insulated against politicians and media figures for as long as possible. There is to be a public meeting in September, and the project manager stressed that they very badly want community consultation.
So even though I don’t exactly possess treasure trove of secret information, I promised I would refrain from mentioning anything specific spoken of in the meeting. In these times of Manning and Snowden I am like an inverse whistleblower, refusing to make public not war crimes but promising urban planning.
Meanwhile, let’s check back in with the regular city hall cast. On Tuesday Mayor Ford compared voting for the provincial Liberals to giving a bank robber another gun. On Wednesday he was on the provincial Conservative’s campaign trail supporting friend and deputy mayor Doug Holyday, where once more he reiterated his hatred for graffiti. Nobody doubted this and nobody really cares, but unlike what was happening inside city hall that day, graffiti is very simple to understand. I don’t think Ford has ever said whether he opposes graffiti on public property for being blatant vandalism or dislikes the artwork itself. My guess is even if Matisse painted on a brick wall he’d scramble to be photographed washing it away.
But don’t despair. Even though city hall’s usual suspects seem to be on paid summer leave, good stuff is getting done. Actually, better work seems to get done in the absence of councillors and media. For my part, I’m willing to restrict my city hall appearances to the courtyard where I’ll eat back bacon sandwiches and fresh Ontario peaches if it lets the pros plan soundly and peacefully. Anything for my city.
Jeff Halperin is a Toronto-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter @JDhalperin.