Dateline: Toronto: ISLAND AIRPORT REDESIGNED; Jane Jacobs Dies PART IV

Welcome to our world: part four in a [seemingly interminable –ed.] series. A spinning vortex of mystery and intrigue where we, your host Blobby, together with our editor try to connect the dots.

DOT ONE: a weekend design workshop (or charrette, French for “horse-drawn cart”) to design new uses and programmes for the Toronto Island Airport.

DOT TWO: Jane Jacobs dies, age 89.

DOT UNKNOWN: the ALLDERBLOB’s persistent call for a moratorium on car advertising in all its forms.

To recap:

In Part I of this series we wrote:

For who was Jane Jacobs, and what is the Island Airport? Answers to these questions will point to a much deeper mystery, an enigma, a conundrum: nay, some may even call it a conspiracy.

In Part II we continued:

It’s no surprise though that newspaper pundits, dependent on the automobile for the advertising that fills their centrefolds, would get all meally-mouthed about someone who really spoke truth to power about the dangers automobile dependency presents to urban life.

And most recently, in Part III we said:

If we accept that the Toronto Island residential community is a place removed from automobilious culture, and we accept the proposition with Lord Acton that “Advertising corrupts; automobile advertising corrupts automobiliously,” we have among the many souls who accept the island residential community as a good thing the possibility of an immunity to, or at least a resistance to, automobile advertising and its gospel message.

The charrette included both design professionals [such as Toronto’s renowned urban designer, teacher and “walkable commnities” facilitator Jacob Allderdice, M.Arch, M.U.D. –ed.] and members of the public. It lasted three days.

It started Thursday evening at Toronto’s Metro Hall in a session open to the public, where guidelines were set out, and we were introduced to the “Fresh Eyes” participants: out-of-town architects, landscape architects, and urban designers who were to lead us with their bold thinking. We describe the Thursday session in Part I.

It resumed next day bright and early at the National Yacht Club [and you thought you knew what NYC stands for –ed.] with its plate glass window and cyclone fencing topped with barbed wire, just a stone’s throw across from the superhardened concrete and sunbaked turf of the airport itself. There, we met in small groups as assigned by our hosts, the acclaimed Office for Urbanism (website under construction) [not unlike this series –ed.].

Our place was found at a table that day facilitated by Janet Rosenberg, a landscape architect.

And we mean to describe this experience. We really do. We regard it as central to our work to provide accurate feedback on the methods employed by Ms. Rosenberg. But first, the big picture.

The charrette concluded Saturday afternoon, at the lovely grand ballroom of a waterfront hotel, with presentations of the various design proposals as sown by the whirlwind. Here again members of the public were invited, and here his worship, the mayor of Toronto David Miller delivered a stirring address on the subject of our labours.

By coincidence, on the Tuesday after the charrette, Jane Jacobs died, age 89.

Jane Jacobs, the author of the books Death and Life of Great American Cities and Dark Age Ahead, as well as many in between, was a long-time resident of Toronto, and a vocal opponent of the Toronto Port Authority’s plans to expand the island airport.

So, what is The Big Picture?

For starters, you cannot grasp the Toronto Island Airport without seeing first its landlord, the Toronto Port Authority.

And the Port Authority is responsible for some very bad things on the waterfront.

Toronto’s waterfront port handles some 2 million tons of cargo per year. Is this a lot? We don’t know. The port authority of New York and New Jersey handles 14.5 million tons of cargo a year. The port authority of New Orleans handled 31.4 million tons of cargo in 2004. The Yangshan port in Nantong China [wherever that is –ed.] handles 200 million tons of cargo a year. Are these fair comparisons? What about Duluth, Minnesota [wherever that is –ed.]: try 25 million to 31 million metric tons a year. Then there’s Montreal: 20 million tons. Halifax: 4.5 million metric tons. Vancouver: 19.3 million metric tons.

Maybe 2 million tons isn’t so much. According to Wikipedia, the port of Toronto is ranked 15th in Ontario in total tonnage of cargo shipped annually.

Even Toronto’s Pearson International Airport moves 11.7 million tons of cargo a year. Not to mention 24.7 million passengers.

But hey–the Toronto Port Authority operates an airport, too. It used to be called the Toronto Island Airport, but has been rebranded since 1994 as the Toronto City Centre airport. At its peak, in the 1980s, it served some 400,000 passengers annually. Today that number is around 80,000.

That’s a big drop. Does the airport needs another rebranding?

You could say that’s what’s going on right now. Only there’s an argument about what the new brand should be.

On the one hand, we have Porter airlines, run by one Robert Deluce, who used to run Air Ontario out of the island airport during the boom years. He was in thick with the crew who tried to drop a $22 million bridge over the western gap shipping channel in the 1990s. This was a transparent effort to get urban traffic onto the island, and a backdoor to big development. It was the bridge issue that lost the election for the mayoral frontrunners [don’t you mean “won the election for the underdog”? –ed.] in 2003.

Robert Deluce is there now, puffing on the $35 million the Port Authority received from the feds when the new city government under Mayor David Miller cancelled the bridge after the 2003 election. His new “brand” involves a faster ferry and a new terminal, as if decreasing the current five minute run will really make a difference.

It’s not the ferry. We don’t know what it is, but we know it’s not the ferry.

On the other “brand,” we have Mayor Miller and the city of Toronto, with its bid for the 2015 World’s Fair, and the Office for Urbanism. It is they who directed the three-day charrette that carried a bunch of practicing architects, landscape architects, urban designers and interested members of the public around, from meeting room to meeting room, two weekends ago.

And we were there.


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