Tonight was a public hearing, a chance to see what the Toronto Regional Conservation Authority will do with the waterfront in Scarborough over the next few years, and an opportunity for the TRCA to get the feedback of community members, in a face to face meeting at Cardinal Newman High School. All three levels of government were present, most of whom took a turn at the microphone for a brief statement.
There are three segments of the shore in the plan, a series of long-term projects over more than a decade with a budget of $170 million plus an additional 50% contingency (if I heard correctly), running from Brimley (Bluffer’s Park) to Highland Creek. The rationale as I understand it for that subdivision into three, is that each area is different, and perhaps too, they can only build a little at a time. I was intrigued and frustrated that the big dollar figure was treated as a bad thing. If one were to propose work on this scale for less, surely that would be a bad thing, no? I am delighted that nobody is proposing shortcuts, nobody is taking the easy way out.
This meeting with the acrimony and disrespect from the floor? not the easy way out, to be sure.
Listening to the people coming to the microphone, I realized that the waterfront is like an inkblot, which is to say something that means something different to each person. Most of the people hurling questions at the expert panel claimed expertise, either because of decades lived in the neighbourhood or some other special knowledge. We heard from a surfer (concerned about the surf), from a fisherman (wondering about fishing boats), then a long-time resident, then from a disabled veteran of the Canadian Forces, reminding us that the beaches needed to be accessible to all.
I was intrigued that no one brought up the thing I’m concerned about, which I’ll mention here. I live in the area and watch a population of cars and pedestrians on weekends that seems to be getting bigger every week. Brimley is not terribly safe for a pedestrian, especially when surrounded by cars & bikes hurtling down the hill.
I can’t help noticing how this mirrors the housing crisis. We are living in a city of wealth and income disparities, of glaring gaps between the haves and have-nots. Bluffer’s Park is a beautiful place because it offers recreation to both the haves (the yacht and boat clubs) as well as the have-nots (the beaches).
I want the pathways down to the lake to be safe. I saw a proposal to put in shuttle buses, which would make it safer still. I hope that this plan is for both the rich and the poor.
The panel of experts showed great patience, very professional in their response to the audience. This is how democracy works in Toronto, which is to say: you have to show up to have any input. If you didn’t find out you’re excluded. Some of the questions were very disrespectful, and because they razzed the panel of experts they inevitably got applause. We heard lots of of inexpert commentary. Everyone thinks they know best.
Unfortunately this was the last public meeting. Unfortunately the first few questioners chose to tell us their life story before getting to their question, leaving several people lined up at the microphone, unable to ask their question. They were allowed to direct their question to the relevant expert, although this meant that the rest of us in attendance didn’t get to hear. As Bill Blair explained to me: “the ground rules need to be clear when you begin”. Instead of allowing big long speeches, the facilitator should have insisted that each person ask their question. Oh well, but I suppose this kind of meeting –with all the venting and acting-out—also serves a useful function.
There are several steps before anything will actually be done, and from the projected timeline we were shown, 2018 would likely be the earliest anything would be built. Google helped me find a TRCA pdf that appears to be the terms of reference for the Environmental Assessment of the project.
If I hear anything further I’ll let you know.