Thursday, July 17, 2008

If we'd won the Olympic bid . . .
If the world were coming to Toronto this summer, we wouldn't be closing swimming pools our residents use and need for lack of a few million dollars in the school board budget. We'd be building new ones, a legacy of the Olympics.

If the world were coming to Toronto, this week's city council debate on tearing down part of the Gardiner Expressway would have been over. Ditto the headaches from the construction.

If the world were coming, Union Station would have been retrofitted already, the ridiculously narrow TTC platforms replaced with a modern facility fit for the region's most important transit hub. The rapid transit link from Union Station to Pearson airport would have completed its test runs, not stalled on the planning board.

If . . . if . . . if only . . .

Big projects are not to be feared, they are to be tackled and managed. With huge risks come huge opportunities. Toronto can continue to be complacent and cautious. And we'll continue to be nice. But we'll never reach our full potential or achieve greatness.

Royson James envisions the Toronto that would be hosting the 2008 Olympics. I don't think the Olympics make a city that much better: I certainly don't think any more of Atlanta because it was where Donovan Bailey won gold and Michael Johnson ran his 19.32 200-metre world record. The Olympics might illuminate a country and a city that otherwise fly under the radar, as is the case with this year's hosts, but city-building happens just fine without large-scale athletic competitions.

At the same time, it is impossible to get anything done in Toronto. It will take eight years to demolish a kilometre-long portion of the Gardiner. It will take 8-9 years to extend the Spadina subway line about 9 kilometres from Downsview into Vaughan, which is roughly how long it took to build the original Yonge subway (1946-1954), though we don't have the excuse of a post-war shortage of materials that they did back then. By comparison, Madrid has built about 50 km of subway this decade alone. The gold standard for public works is probably China, where the power of the state knows no boundaries. Beijing has built two new subway lines in the last four years, is opening three this month in time for the Olympics, and has another six under construction, to be completed by 2015.

Beijing is also, somehow, going to make it rain before the Games to both scrub its filthy air and avoid the possibility of rain during the opening ceremonies. If we'd won the bid...we'd have some affordable housing.

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