Ideas range from status quo to reducing city planners
(Written for Town Crier June 17.)
Six top Toronto mayoral contenders were on the hot seat at a debate on their vision to make the city more development and design-friendly.
The standing-room only June 16 event at the Art Gallery of Ontario preceded the annual PUG Awards for architectural excellence.
Mayoral candidate Rob Ford focused a lot on his skills as a businessman heading his late father’s company Deco Labels and his plan to save the city money by cutting expenses such as cutting council from 44 to 22 councillors.
But he got heckled more than once to answer the questions related to development and city planning.
Ford did mention there needs to be more public input on planning.
“I have had so many people frustrated at the process,” he said. “The residents don’t get listened to at all. I stick up for the little guy. There person who doesn’t have a voice at city hall.”
Ford proposes allowing people to make deputations on developments not just at local committees but at council as a whole.
Candidate George Smitherman also touted the need for more residential input on projects.
“We can’t pretend there won’t be constant pressure for intensification,” said the former MPP. “But we need to make sure (development) makes a contribution to the public realm. It’s time to put communities back in the driver’s seat.”
Councillor and mayoral hopeful Giorgio Mammoliti outlined his concept of reducing red tape and expediting development applications.
“There’s no way any application should wait over six months from start to finish (for a council decision),” he said. “There’s no reason any application should wait three to four years for development. And quite frankly, it is city hall that’s the problem.
“I don’t think we need (city) planners. I think we need your (developers) planners,” he said.
Mammoliti wants to cut back on the city’s planning department to have few planners looking at developments.
He told the Town Crier in an interview, “What I want to do is create a management team that will oversee the (planning) decision making but not take the file and deal with it on their own. That would cut out probably a year’s worth of bureaucratic nightmare for this industry.”
Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone spent most the evening saying the current system may be imperfect but ultimately it works.
“I think the fact we have over 100 construction cranes in Toronto now, that’s what our chief planner says, indicates that despite the frustration somehow the system is turning things out,” said Pantalone.
Rocco Rossi said neighbourhoods need to be protected and enhanced but we need to make room for more people moving to the city.
“I fell in love with my wife walking and talking and going into the restaurants and shops along the Danforth,” he said. “That kind of community and neighbourhood is what makes this city great. That needs to be protected and enhanced. But make no mistake about it a million people coming to the GTA in the next 10 years.”
Meanwhile businesswoman and mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson wants to create a design standards board.
“Toronto is great but our architecture and the design of our public spaces doesn’t tell a great story. Public spaces and streets have focused on function and not beauty,” she said adding she has a 10 point strategy for planning.