What might the outcome be when you gather together 40 progressive architects, landscape architects, urban planners, interior, industrial and environmental graphic designers; and public service advocates and ask them to think about a future for Ontario Place?
You get an explosion of vision and imagination that, collectively, smothers the provincial government’s current plan to redevelop Toronto’s 155-acre waterfront jewel with a wall of condominiums and resorts, quite possibly adjacent to a casino – and 13,000 parking spots – that some business leaders and Toronto politicians would like to see developed on the grounds of Exhibition Place.
That much became clear last weekend when OPSEU, The Martin Prosperity Institute, and the Design Industry Advisory Committee pulled together a roomful of experts and asked them to imagine – through an exercise dubbed a ‘design charrette – the future of Ontario Place, now that the McGuinty government has shut it down and prepares to open bidding to the commercial and residential -industries based on the recommendations last summer of John Tory and his advisory committee.
John Tory and the Premier were both invited to attend but declined.
The day-long event attracted a blue-chip group of architects, designers and others who have given the future of Ontario Place a considerable amount of thought. Participants included theatre impresario David Mirvish, urban planner Ken Greenberg, internationally-renowned architect Tarek El-Khatib, and Ontario Place’s founding architect, Eberhard Zeidler, who spoke passionately about the need to re-think the future of the site without cluttering it with high-density residential development.
“There are many things in life and they all needn’t involve money,” Zeidler told the group. “To make a city great we always add new and interesting things to it. Then we have to figure out how to make it work. I believe that can be done with Ontario Place.”
The day was divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Before noon, the group listened to organizers and politicians Rosario Marchese and Mike Layton, whose respective provincial and municipal constituencies include Ontario Place. Each of them emphasized the importance of drawing the public into the discussion over the future of Ontario Place — a practice that the provincial government has avoided, to date.
Urban planner Greenberg said – and participants unanimously agreed — that the future of Ontario Place must be tied to the future of Exhibition Place, and that it mustn’t include a casino and thousands of parking spots. His firm presented a detailed redevelopment plan to the McGuinty government several years ago that would have integrated both sites into a 277-acre urban parkland, but the idea went nowhere.
“What we had in mind was an enormous public space in the center of a fast-growing city that would have had perpetual access all-year-round by improved public transit and where the majority of attractions and uses would have been free to the public,” said Greenberg. “It would have met the social, cultural and recreational needs of the people who visited it. Unfortunately, the plan fell off the table at some point.”
Greenberg went on to say: “The only way we can defeat Dwight Duncan’s ‘Casino Mile’ of 10 acres of slot machines is to put forward an alternative vision. It’s not good enough to just say ‘no.’”
In the afternoon, each participant was assigned to a ‘break out’ group and handed the task of discussing one of four pre-assigned themes for Ontario Place and then to put their ideas in the form of art renderings.
The four themes focused on:
- Research and Innovation
- Sustainable Development and Transportation
- Arts, Culture, Sports and Leisure
- Local Community and National Tourist Destination
A summary of the findings of the design charrette will be published and presented to a Town Hall meeting on the future of Ontario Place scheduled for 6:30pm, Monday Feb. 4 at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto.