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

We stumbled into a Situation on the weekend.

Known in the business as a charrette, a group of about thirty earnest souls, some professional designers of one stripe or other, some just gadabouts with a couple days free and the connections to put themselves in the right place at the right time, converged on the Toronto waterfront to take aim at the future of the Island Airport.

Two days later, Jane Jacobs died.

Coincidence? We don’t think so.

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.

Yes, yes, the news reports tell us Ms. Jacobs succumbed to “Old Age.” However, we are capable of reading between the lines. We know a little about Ms. Jacobs. We understand a little of the forces that kept her going, and we understand a great deal about the forces that she came up against.

So while we do not blame Robert DeLuce, and while we do not blame Lisa Raitt, neither do we blame Mayor David Miller or Bill Freeman [What? –ed.]. Oh, sorry, not that Bill Freeman. This Bill Freeman.

Fact is, we blame the automobile advertising that lines the pockets of the good burgers at all the newspapers that sang Ms. Jacobs’ praises since her death [jesus god, even for the ALLDERBLOB this is going to be a stretch –ed.].

First, the facts: the events of Thursday evening, all day Friday and most of Saturday were organized by an outfit with the glorious name, “Office for Urbanism.” They have a website, and you can visit it, but last we looked it was “under construction.” Nevertheless, a googling we would go, and went, and a questioning of our friends and contacts we would do, and did, and the “Office for Urbanism” turned up in only the shiningest of lights. There is no evidence that their brand of “urbanism” is anything but the very uttest of the utmost. If they know the phrase “Urbanism is to cities as advertising is to Coca-Cola” they give no evidence of it in any of their work. If they know that the line from Urban Designer to PR flack is paved with good intentions, they gave no coherent evidence of this.

Instead, with straight face and hand steady on the laser pointer, one Jennifer Keesmaat of the OforU rolled straight into the introduction of the task at hand on Thursday night: no less than a complete makeover of the forlorn Island Airport site, helped along by “Fresh Eyes:” outside experts whose presence was to lend a new perspective on the situation. These Fresh Eyes included Dominic Papa, an architect from the Netherlands who teaches at the A.A. in London [hic! –ed.] (not that A.A., this A.A.), Michael Gordon, senior urban planner for Vancouver B.C. and skateboard activist, and Michel Rojkind, an architect from Mexico City.

In addition to these “Fresh Eyes,” the charrette organizers brought in “facilitators” [“stale eyes”? –ed.] from their own firm, from Janet Rosenberg Associates (landscape designers), from Hargreaves Associates (urban designers and landscape architects based in New York and Boston), and from Toronto’s Planning Partnership.

Thursday evening’s participants included anyone from the general public who heard about the project and wanted to lend their voice. After Ms. Keesmaat’s introductions, we broke out into about six tables, where an attempt was made to pull together a consensus for the designers and “fresh eyes” to work from.

Thus at our breakout table we had Cliff, who said he spoke on behalf of the First Nations peoples of Canada when he said there should be no casino in the 200 acre airport site; we had Mark, an Urban Designer from the City of Toronto who spoke up in favour of a mix of uses to ensure a lively urbanity both day and night; we had Becky, a designer from the Hargreaves office who took notes and insisted she was there to absorb information only, not to talk. We had Delia and another woman, both designers from the Office for Urbanism who facilitated the breakout session. Two or three others participated, notable for their quiet insistence that there be no residential uses on the island (although a “nice lively restaurant” could have its place), and no cars (the island is famously car-free at present). Finally, we had a stalwart representative from the Toronto Port Authority, who maintained a sullen silence throughout save for his constant thumb-piano exercises on his “blackberry,” and one other notable occasion: “What ferry?” he blurted out, when we were talking about the need to improve connections to the mainland. “What ferry are you talking about?”

He was interested, we supposed, because the Port Authority is massively upgrading the existing ferry across the 110-metre shipping channel to the airport site. They’re planning a hydrofoil, we hear, to take passengers from the door of their arriving craft to the foot of the tallest office buildings on Bay Street. “What ferry you talking about?” he wanted to know. But he wasn’t about to tell us anything about the ferry. He was there to observe, and practice his thumb exercises.

After about an hour of this consensus-building, we reconvened at the front and a member from each of the groups stood and presented the points they agree on.

Don’t worry, we aren’t about to list them all.

We will list one point though: the island airport site is to remain free of private motorized vehicles. On this point each table agreed. It was anonymous [okay, quit fooling around –ed.]. It was unanimous.

We had the good fortune to find ourselves at Janet Rosenberg’s table on Friday morning.

We must describe Ms. Rosenberg’s method of facilitation.


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