Ontario Public Service: Rethinking Ontario Place

December 6, 2012
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What might the outcome be  when you gather together 40 progressive design architects, urban planners, environmental graphic  artists 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, in conjunction with The Martin Prosperity Institute and the Design Industry Advisory Council, 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.

Needless to say John Tory avoided last weekend’s charrette, though both he and the Premier were invited to attend.

The day-long event attracted a blue-chip group of design architects 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.

OPSEU Region 5 vice president Nancy Pridham shared her memories of visiting Ontario Place in her youth.

“I recall such great times down there,” she said. “With a bit of imagination and forward-thinking there is no reason why we can’t re-make Ontario Place into the futuristic, family-friendly and fun place it has been.”

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 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 centre 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 Goldberg. “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 future concepts for Ontario Place and then to put their ideas in the form of art renderings.

The four areas of discussion included Ontario Place imagined as a future site of:

         Research and Innovation

         Sustainable Development and Transportation

         Arts, Culture, Sports and Leisure

         National Tourist Destination

Following two hours of thought, debate and architectural sketchings  the groups reported back to the main plenary with their key findings and ideas, including quick artwork produced  by several of the architects in attendance.

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  6:30 p.m., Monday Feb. 4 at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto.

Please visit us on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/saveontarioplace

or follow the discussion at: www.rethinkingontarioplace.com

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