On the surface, the transformation of Toronto’s Port Lands and Mississauga’s Lakeview should follow similar paths. They’re both stretches of former industrial land, both on the northwest shores of Lake Ontario, and only a half-hour drive apart.
Yet the ongoing evolution of these two urban waterfronts could not be more different.
For the Port Lands site, Waterfront Toronto and city staff researched, consulted the public and proposed a mixed-use plan. It was derailed last year by Councillor Doug Ford’s far more ambitious, flashy and head-scratching pitch – more Atlantic City than 416 – that involved a mega-mall, monorail and Ferris wheel.
His brother, Mayor Rob Ford, has pushed for a casino on the site, despite protestations from Waterfront Toronto’s CEO that it would work against revitalization plans. City staff have faced other obstacles, such as what to do about privately owned land, and how to finance the development.
Travel 30 kilometres west, however, and you’ll hit the site of the former Lakeview Generating Station, where plans for redevelopment are charging forward. It’s in many ways the waterfront of Torontonians’ dreams: Existing parkland will be beautified and made more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists; a proposed mix of residential and commercial development includes galleries, theatres and markets. Most notably, plans are moving ahead because city council approved the planning committee’s proposals.
In the third instalment of a series on what Toronto could learn from its western neighbour, the Globe sat down with Gary Kent, Mississauga’s director of city strategy and innovations, who has led the city’s waterfront plans.
What was the process for drafting the waterfront plan?
Mississauga was really born in 1974 and, as you know, it’s a collection of villages. So our waterfront was really three villages: Clarkson to the west, Port Credit and Lakeview. Eleven per cent of all the parks in Mississauga are on the waterfront.
We went to the public in 2009 and we engaged over 100,000 [people] in terms of our strategic plan [for Lakeview]. One of the things that came out [of that was the desire] to create a model, sustainable, creative community on the waterfront.
What happened after the proposal was submitted to the planning and development committee?
[At] Lakeview, we signed the memorandum of understanding with [Ontario Power Generation] and the province of Ontario to develop a shared vision by June, 2014. We’re in that process. And we’ve taken the time to understand the environmental conditions underground before we come back to the public.
This is one of the last stretches of undeveloped land in the city. What kind of commercial development do you envision for it?
It was interesting, the process we went through with a firm called Urban Strategies. We actually sculpted [the site] – there’s a model. You could take [a commercial building] and everybody could see the size of that and put that in the middle of the site and say, “What does that look like? How do you feel [about it]?”
So the types of things the community spoke about … are certainly mixed-use. Now we’re taking the time to understand the economies around it and we’ll go back to the public to do a detailed plan for what that looks like.
Tell me a bit more about the public consultation.
In 2009, council really threw their arms open and said, “Please tell us.”
We had an “Inspiration” introduction where we said, “Let’s talk about possibilities.” At the same meeting they had the economist there who said, “Let’s talk about the realities. This is brownfield. There will be a cost to that.”
We hope to have [the Port Credit proposal] complete by early summer of next year. [As to] the actual timing of development, we don’t own these lands [the province does] – there are interests in making sure there’s a great plan so that when the time comes, we’re ready.
In Toronto, the waterfront committee’s plans have faced a number of obstacles, including wildly different proposals from Rob Ford’s administration. What were your experiences with Mississauga council?
Our council has been fantastic; very supportive of the development, when it gets developed, how it gets funded and [how it] will unfold. Two councillors down here – Councillor [Patricia] Mullin and Councillor [Jim] Tovey – they’ve really been the champions of this and that’s really helpful because it brings the community in to us bureaucrats. And then we can do the job and it really becomes a shared vision.
Has council challenged some elements of the plan?
No, council unanimously endorsed Inspiration Lakeview. … But they asked some very direct, very hard questions. They expect us to do our homework and to engage the community and to present the facts.