Another Glass Box is a weekly roundup of urban design news in Toronto (and occasionally beyond), in bite-size pieces. It’s curated by Dan Seljak, who’s done marketing and communications work for architecture and construction companies for the last seven years—and who still loves this city enough to line up for brunch.
Whether it’s a small new restaurant or a major art gallery exhibition, it seems Toronto’s cultural institutions must cater to the “like” seeking set. The price of success today is a sacrifice made at the altar of Instagram.
Of course, to some, it’s not viewed as a sacrifice at all, especially when it boosts business and attracts tourists. But are we compromising the core values and uniqueness of Toronto by saturating the city with the same designed-for-Instagram aesthetic as other global cities?
Toronto Council is good at making promises, voting for better services, new transit lines, a revitalized expressway, but too many of these promises depend on money the city does not have. At budget time, city staff work their magic and trim spending to fit the available dollars. Programs are stretched to make do with less funding even in the face of growing demand, and bold moves supported by Council simply never make the cut. Capital projects, the big-ticket work of building and rebuilding the city’s infrastructure scrape by thanks to a mix of special taxes, the occasional generosity of senior governments, and the simple expedient of labelling needed work as “unfunded” and hoping for the best in years to come.
In financial updates, City Manager Peter Wallace warned repeatedly that Toronto’s aspirations were out of step with its ability to pay, and that many years of budget restraint leave the city with an unsustainable future if policies do not change. This is not a small tweak, a redoubling of pencil-counting efficiency, but a major shift in how Toronto will plan and pay for its future.
Wallace leaves his post at the end of March to become Secretary of the Treasury Board in Ottawa. To some local politicians, this might be good news. The stern lectures on responsible fiscal planning will end, and Toronto could get a new manager less inclined to doom-filled warnings. That would be a mistake, as Wallace’s long-awaited Long-Term Financial Plan [report and background] so clearly shows. When this plan hits Executive Committee on March 19, Toronto might learn whether Mayor Tory and his colleagues will level with voters and taxpayers about the city’s future. Then again, the committee might simply refer the whole thing to city management and leave any substantive debate for the new post-election council.