One year ends, a new one arrives, and with it hopes for something better. However irrational, that is the expectation for 2013 — that things will improve for Toronto. Let’s face it, 2012 wasn’t the city’s finest year. Which is not to say that we will get our civic act together, but here are a few of the things we’re looking forward to in the 12 months ahead, in no particular order:
• The opening of the Sisters of St. Joseph building at Broadview Ave. and O’Connor Dr. Designed by Shim Sutcliffe Architects, the new structure isn’t technically a nunnery, but it comes pretty close. The combined residence, health-care facility and administrative centre is contained in a spectacular copper-and-glass low-rise and a restored early 20th-century heritage residence. The opening is set for March; until then one must rely on faith.
• Occupying a large suburban site at Eglinton Ave. E. and Wynford Dr., the Aga Khan Museum and Ismaili Centre will transform this part of Toronto. Already the magnificent complex is turning heads — for now, mostly those watching as they drive by on the northbound DVP. When complete, its effect will be felt across the city. The architects — including Fumihiko Maki and Charles Correa — have created a place of surpassing beauty. As an act of faith in Toronto, a gift to the city, the centre is unparalleled.
• Toronto’s problems with transportation are well documented. When it comes to the most radical means of getting around town — the bicycle — the city has had a very hard time. Though it doesn’t look terribly promising, the Sherbourne bike lane marks a small step in the right direction. Set apart, but not separated, the addition begs the question of two-wheeled transit without solving it.
• Later in 2013, the first residents of the newest downtown neighbourhood, the West Don Lands, will move in. Construction will continue for several years, but it’s clear the project will be an affirmation of Waterfront Toronto, the much beleaguered tripartite agency that has made a little go a very long way. When Torontonians get their first look at Don River Park, by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, it will have been worth the wait.
• Few are looking forward to the Great Gardiner Debate, but like it or not, it’s going to happen. If nothing else, it promises to be as interesting as it will be emotional. None of the options will be painless; just keeping it up is expected to cost upwards of $ 505 million. Tearing it down, even if only east of Jarvis, will cost billions, though it would create huge opportunities to remake downtown. How will the city respond to this once-in-a-lifetime occasion? Will we be bold, or opt for traditional Toronto timidity? Stay tuned.
• Speaking of being bold, Toronto will also have to deal with the one issue that overshadowed all others in 2012 — Mayor Rob Ford. To say the first half of his term was controversial is to state the obvious. At this point, it isn’t at all certain Ford is fit to hold office. Indeed, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled he isn’t. The people might disagree, but then, maybe enough is enough. After all, the mayor’s job is to help the city solve its problems, not create them.
• The slowdown of the Toronto condo market gives the city a chance to get ahead of the onslaught and redraw the rules. Instead of building for foreign investors who want small units they can rent to young singles, the city can insist that family-sized apartments and even social housing be included. Developers fear this would kill demand, but that’s already happening. The industry needs to remember that it’s building a city, not just condos.
• The Liberal leadership contest gives the party a chance to confirm its commitment to an anti-sprawl urban agenda. For all his faults, outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty will be remembered for the Places to Grow, Smart Growth and Green Belt legislation. Then, of course, there’s the $ 8 billion he set aside for Toronto transit. These sorts of initiatives are easy to forget in tough economic times. Anyone recall former premier Mike Harris’s cancellation of the Eglinton subway in 1995?
• If we’re lucky, in 2013 Torontonians will reject the casino the province wants to build downtown. Evidence from around the world shows industrial-scale gambling does more harm than good. Promises of an economic windfall rarely materialize and cities are left holding the bag. Bad bet.
• Now that the federal government has pulled the plug on Parc Downsview Park, the fate of the 240-hectare former military base is up in the air. The move makes no sense, especially after more than a decade of planning. But some time this year, neighbours will want to know what will become of all their work.
Christopher Hume can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org