Last month, Toronto Mayor John Tory unveiled grand plans for the Rail Deck Park – an ambitious proposal to cover the rail lines between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way with an urban park. Indeed, this is a bold, optimistic vision for Toronto.
And yet, we must not look past the ugly truths of economics. This is a project with funding requirements pegged in the billion-dollar range. Simply put, it’s a massive undertaking, especially with the sort of thirst for transit, housing, and waterfront development this city has demonstrated. Mix that with our city’s fiscal perspective generally being a short one, there’s no telling whether or not council will approve the cost. The real question, however, is whether we can afford not to build it? Rail Deck Park represents the most audacious boon to the future of our city, quite possibly, in its history. Think about it. We’re talking about 21 acres of real estate smack dab in the middle of one of the city’s busiest, densest, and most sought-after neighbourhoods. It touches the Rogers Centre and the CN Tower, all the while covering up an unfortunate smudge of an eyesore.
We’ve all heard the comparisons to Chicago’s Millennium Park, New York’s Central Park, and Hudson Rail Yards. This is the sort of thing that happens in big, grown-up cities – the types of places we so desperately aspire to be compared to. Toronto itches for the recognition as a “Global City.” We are consistently ranked near the top for livability, safety, cleanliness, opportunity, and overall quality of life. And yet, we just can’t seem to compete with the likes of the New York’s, the Chicago’s, and the London’s of the world. Of course, our history is much younger, and we’ll most likely never be on equal footing with New York or London, but that’s okay. We are a city trying to figure out who we are, living through our awkward teenage years with feet too big for our body. We’re trying so hard not to trip over ourselves that we so often miss what’s going on around us.
Although our history may not be as rich as our contemporaries, our future has not yet been written. And if we want that future to be a bright one, where the world finally takes notice of us, a future where we finally grow into ourselves, a future where we cease to trip over our own feet, well, it’s visions like Rail Deck Park that help us get there.
Building the park may cost a lot today, but not building it will almost certainly cost us far more tomorrow.