This past Monday before a packed house at the Toronto Reference Library, Waterfront Toronto held the first of a series of public consultations intended to seek input and direction after City Council's September resolution on accelerating the redevelopment of the Port Lands.

The two hour meeting was at capacity with attendance of over 400 concerned citizens, stakeholders, and a number of City Councillors from across Toronto. John Campbell - President and CEO of Waterfront Toronto, and John Livey - Deputy City Manager for Toronto, made a series of presentations. After the presentation portion, an extensive series of three facilitated roundtable discussions were held with attendees, followed by a round of questions taken from the audience. The full meeting can also be viewed online.

Port Lands public consultation at the Toronto Reference Library. Image by Dumitru Onceanu.

Some noteworthy statistics on the project were presented:

  • The area is approximately 1,000 acres in size.
  • Ownership is divided among many interests: the Province owns about 8%, Toronto about 7.5%, Port Authority, as well as the TPLC, and many private entities.
  • The naturalization of the Don River mouth will require approximately $634 Million in investment, meanwhile the Sugar Beach and Sherbourne Common projects were in the tens of millions by comparison. The Don River project is on an order of magnitude 10x more costly than those other two public works projects.
  • The whole area will also require about $1 Billion in various infrastructure investment, from utilities to bridges, roads, and transit, among many others.
  • The current dockwalls around the site are aging rapidly and are already reaching the end of their useful life. They will cost about $70 Million to fix.

Aerial image of the Port Lands looking west. Image courtesy Waterfront Toronto.

The hosts presented a number of examples of other waterfront revitalization projects from cities including Hamburg's HafenCity, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Bern, Singapore, and the Hudson Yards in New York City, to illustrate the types of mixed uses, the financing options that were used, and to facilitate discussion. Some points that came out of those comparisons:

  • Instances where bonds were issued and suported by the state (HafenCity).
  • Inclusion of major cultural institutions in the plans (HafenCity opera house).
  • Largely private sector development (Melbourne).
  • Very high density, while still low rise residential (Amsterdam).
  • Multiple foot bridges providing accessibility across a shipping channel (Amsterdam).
  • Large redevelopment above a highway and rail corridor (Bern).
  • Tech sector leading the way (Singapore).

At this meeting Waterfront Toronto looked to investigate three main areas. Below are some of the public comments, many of which were met with applause and overal approval.

Aerial rendering of redeveloped Lower Don Lands looking northeast. Image courtesy Waterfront Toronto.

1 • Clarification of the process currently being undertaken for the Port Lands Acceleration Initiative.

  • Clarify any changes in the governance between BuildTO, and the structure behind WaterfrontTO?
  • Who is in charge of the Don River mouth restoration since Mayor Rob Ford dissolved the committee in charge of it?
  • Is the international design plan on the table again for change?
  • Will the consultation process be undercut by early shovels in the ground?
  • As the Environmental Assesment is already complete for the Don River, why is it being revisited? What other options are being considered?
  • How will things be sped up and what will be sacrificed in the process?
  • Because a lot of the redevelopment relies on market housing, are there things that can be put there now which do not rely on the natural market absorption rate of residential units?
  • What is the new phasing order for the redevelopment?
  • What will be the proportions of office, vs. residential, vs. public recreational spaces?

Themes ran through many people's questions. Some were concerned about the tradeoff of the short term gain from acceleration, versus what may be lost from the process in the long term. Many were there to support the work which had already been done, and questioned what Waterfront Toronto meant by 'tweaking' and 'reconfiguring plots' to be more attractive to private developers. These are questions which Waterfront Toronto will aim to answer in the coming months.

Aerial rendering showing Don River naturalization. Image courtesy Waterfront Toronto.

2 • Top goals that citizens and stakeholders have for the redevelopment of these lands.

  • Continue to focus on city building vs turning the area into a 'spectacle'.
  • Don't create a lifestyle destination centre, a CNE type of place, or simply a tourist destination. Make it livable, provide retail, but no big boxes on wide open lots.
  • Mixed uses and mixed demographics.
  • A repurposed Hearn Generating Station would make a great lead anchor to engourage neighbouring redevelopment. 
  • Maintain equitable access, and make it meaningful to the whole city.
  • Get as much of the green infrastructure built first as soon as possible, then developers will come, much like in the East Bayfront area.
  • Focus on economic and environmental sustainability.
  • Make it a community which can be used 12 months a year.
  • Create parts of the community being mindful of the historical industrial context.
  • Preserve some aspects of a functioning port.
  • Don't redevelop competely at the expense of some of the remaining industrial uses.
  • Acceleration should include approving the existing EA currently in the Province's hands.
  • Consult experts on creative ways to finance.

Hearn Generating Station. Image from

3 • Top ideas to explore accelerating development, and maximizing the value of the Port Lands.

  • People are experiencing idea fatigue, and feel like they keep going back to the drawing board.
  • Accelerate ides for adaptive reuse of the Hearn Station. Already under serious threat, it could provide a great anchor tenant for the precinct, and provide some of the sought after historical industrial context as well.
  • Look at comparable parks in Chicago, Vancouver, and London.
  • Consider cultural institutions to attract people here.
  • Borrow money to invest in the public realm.
  • Pedestrian link between the portlands and the islands.
  • Financing options such as leasing lands in the interim, P3 partnerships, even philanthropy.
  • Investing money in natural areas will bring private investment later.
  • If citizens had the possibility to buy a 'park bond' would many be interested?
  • Give Waterfront Toronto the ability to borrow.
  • Explore opportunities through the C40 initiative. International funds are available for cities on sustainable development.

Where do we go from here?

Throughout the meeting Waterfront Toronto emphasized that this process was designed to search for ideas on where we would like to see them begin, which projects to prioritize, and phased financing ideas it could consider. They acknowledged that this is a once in a century opportunity to do something truly amazing, so their guiding principles are to get it right, to maintain quality of place, and to turn the Port Lands into one of the world's great waterfronts. 

Waterfront Toronto invites everyone to contribute to the discussion in a number of ways. 

  • Email them at with your comments to the above questions. A copy of the discussion guide can be found here. More information will be posted at the Port Lands Consultation website as it becomes available. 
  • Leave your comments online and on Twitter @WaterfrontTO using #portlandsconsult for comments.
  • If you represent a group of citizens or stakeholders, apply for membership to the Stakeholders Advisory Committee (SAC), they are now taking applications here

During the months of February and March, the new SAC will meet a number of times in conjunction with another round of public consultation where new ideas will be tested for financing, delivery, and development models. Round three of public consultation will occur in April and May where ideas will be refined, and a non-statutory report will be submitted to City Council in June. Stay tuned for announcements on when and where those meetings will be held.

We would like to hear from you too. Leave your comments, ideas, and suggestions on how Waterfront Toronto can accelerate the redevelopment of the Port Lands below.