When normally restrained politicians start throwing around flashy words like "bold" and "brilliant" and "magical," your first instinct should be: What's it going to cost, and who's going to pay?
Toronto Mayor John Tory has unveiled a bold, brilliant, etc., plan to deck over a gaping railway corridor and craft a much-needed downtown park from what is now a glaring waste of space. If visionary schemes could be realized through over-the-top adjectives alone, this railway-roof park conjured out of thin air would already be a fait accompli.
But what it really is, for all of Mayor Tory's unbridled glee, is a distant dream, a fantasy dressed up to look like a sure thing. There is no fixed timetable for this project, the air rights for the railway lands are owned by someone else, city officials would have to rezone this prime development area as open space to discourage profiteering, and besides – how could the Mayor miss this part? – there is no money set aside for a scheme that will be as expensive as it is bold.
In the duller world of disciplined bookkeeping, how could there be? Toronto has a long wish list of unfunded capital projects that must get built if the city's fragile infrastructure is to catch up with its unrestrained growth. A downtown relief line (cost: $7-billion) is considered a crucial priority for Toronto's overburdened subway system. So where are the wide-eyed announcements about a brilliant plan to make that mass-transit dream a reality? Instead, rather oddly in light of the plans to go for broke on a downtown park, the Mayor has demanded a 2.6-per-cent budget cut from Toronto's beleaguered transit agency.
Cities ought to think big, and a booming metropolis badly in need of green space to offset its high-rise instincts would be well-served by the invention of a public park where now there is nothing. The best urban leaders know how to raise our dampened expectations and challenge ingrained complacencies about the potential greatness lying dormant before our eyes. But such hopeful dreams still have to fit in with a city's more practical responsibilities to its citizens. Mayor Tory needs to be more candid and consistent about how all that magic will be made real.