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Collaboration key to successfully developing Toronto's waterfront: report


A collaborative approach must be taken to best develop the city’s central waterfront, says a new report by Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT).

Released on Tuesday, the 47-page report, titled “Ripple Effect: Unlocking Toronto’s Waterfront Potential,” was developed in collaboration with the Business of Cities and is sponsored by the Waterfront Business Improvement Area (BIA). It highlights the various roles Toronto’s waterfront plays in the municipal economy and outlines key priorities to optimize the area’s value down the line.

To do so, two fast-track recommendations are being offered: a “team waterfront” approach coupled with a series of projects that will improve its connectivity with the rest of the city.

The report outlined the key challenges facing the development of the stretch of land between Ontario Place to the Port Lands including physical constraints like scale, connectivity, and quality of place; economic identity and vision and direction; and resourcing, commitment, and prioritization.

It also identified nine principles for best practices in transforming Toronto’s waterfront area, drawing from other prominent waterfront cities like Sydney, London, Singapore, Amsterdam, and Gothenburg, Sweden.

“This 10-kilometre stretch of land has the potential to dramatically redefine and transform our city’s economic and cultural landscape for generations, yet it is often forgotten as an economic driver, let alone a supercharger,” TRBOT’s President and CEO Giles Gherson said in a news release.

“Businesses in the district already generate $13 billion annually to Ontario’s GDP, with over 100,000 more jobs and residents to be added in the coming years. We need to make the right moves to ensure it is successful for business, residents and visitors alike.”

Waterfront stakeholders need a shared vision, says TRBOT

Saad Usmani, the board’s director of economic research, said it’s all about “being coordinated and more collaborative in an effort to build a true world class waterfront city.”

He said that entails stakeholders having a shared vision for Toronto’s waterfront and advocating for greater connectivity between the waterfront and the city and surrounding areas.

It’s also about place making, he said, “having the right assets in place and really doubling down on the clusters of activity to make (the waterfront) an enticing place to go.”

Usmani noted that while coordination and collaborating is happening with developments along the waterfront, it’s important that Toronto not fall behind and instead remain competitive to “draw the tourism dollars that we need.”

“And so really, it's a call for more, more capitalizing efforts to make more with what we already have … a call to catalyze all the stakeholders across the waterfront, the business community to really be at the forefront of what the waterfront needs to do,” he said.

New construction is seen near the Port Lands on Toronto’s waterfront during a tour with Waterfront Toronto and other stakeholders November 7, 2023. (Joshua Freeman /CP24).

Waterfront Toronto’s president and CEO George Zegarac said that there needs to be a re-think of how spending is seen as an investment for the city's waterfront.

“This welcome report recognizes that we must consider investments in the Toronto waterfront not as a sunk cost, but as smart spending on assets that will benefit generations to come,” he said, noting that the “private sector, philanthropists, governments and their agencies must come together to make our new waterfront and city globally competitive and world class.”

The executive director of the Waterfront BIA agreed.

“At this point in the area’s development, it’s time for a conversation about how all these assets can best complement each other and become known around the world as a premier destination, because that’s our potential,” said Tim Kocur.

The report comes after an October symposium organized by TRBOT that asked people what it will take to build a world-class waterfront city, not just a “city on a lake,” Usmani said in a video posted on YouTube.

“Our new report really builds on those conversations. It highlights the value of the waterfront, its value as an economic driver, a meeting place, a driver of diversification for the economic prosperity of the city. It also outlines its challenges its scale, the sheer physical size of the waterfront, the lack of connectivity, and the lack of a unified vision for the waterfront as a whole,” he said.

“Most importantly, (the report) outlines what needs to be done to fulfill the waterfront potential. A lot of the work has already been done. The waterfront has already seen incredible transformation as a result of the efforts that the various stakeholders across the waterfront have done to date.”

Usmani said it’s now the time to work together and develop a “shared vision” of what the waterfront needs to be through a “team waterfront” approach.

In the coming months, TRBOT will be convening leaders from organizations across the waterfront in an effort to come up with a “cohesive vision” for the area. Top Stories

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