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You must have some oddballs in this community.

Former Toronto Mayor suggests Burlington

hold a competition on waterfront development

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 14, 2011   –  It was Nicholas Leblovic’s return on an investment.  A couple of bottles of beer and an afternoon on a deck in Tiny Township resulted in the chair of the Waterfront access and Protection Advisory Committee getting what amounted to a graduate student lecture on growing a community.

Waterfront Advisory meetings are usually quiet events that take place on a Friday afternoon.  The 12 member committee has been going through a series of briefings but today it was the granddaddy of briefings and Nicholas was pleased.

David Crombie, former Mayor of Toronto and chair of a Royal Commission on   and creator of the Waterfront Trail that runs for more than 800 km from Niagara Falls to Quebec City; runs through 41 municipalities, 10 conservation areas, 182 parks – well you get the picture it was big and Crombie remembers every inch of it.

He began his talk with the statement: I have not come to Burlington to solve your waterfront problems but instead he asked the meeting (which had a dozen or so members of the public sit in) to step back twenty five to thirty years and remember what it was like then.  The railways were leaving waterfront areas in cities across the province; de-industrialization was taking place and people were beginning to look at their waterfront areas much differently.  The water was badly polluted, shore lines were in poor shape and access to the waterfront was blocked.

Local activists in many communities wanted access to the water and the great Lakes Agreement on water quality was put in place.  All these forces brought about the need to look at waterfronts across the province differently.

As we began to explore – and we did this with endless meetings, it became clear that the thread throughout was the waterfront and the need for connectedness.  We realized as a Commission that the link in all of this was our collected history.

Crombie pointed out that his generation didn’t understand the Oakwood moraine. “It was just a bump along the way to the cottage” he said.  But after listening to people a single view began to emerge.

It is all connected and we are responsible for the consequences of our actions.  We wanted to use those two realizations to animate the planning that was being done and we were faced with the question: How do you implement that?  The realizations sound simple and simplistic but they were what we used to build what we have today.

The Waterfront Trail Crombie emphasized will never be finished.  He added that what Burlington is today is not what it is going to be in 2025

Make sure Crombie advised that your waterfront becomes a priority.  Fix peoples attention on it he added.

Our waterfront certainly has our attention but not the positive attention Crombie meant.  He didn’t see our pier problem as a big deal – it would get resolved.  What he wanted this city to do was look beyond our own boundaries and realize that we are not alone in this.  That Burlington is not going to be able to create the waterfront it wants without involving Oakville and Hamilton and that all of the communities east and west of Burlington are part of our process.

And it is a process – meeting after meeting – listening and re-shaping ideas.

Set the stage with good planning

Teach and learn with one another.  There is no secret room with all the great planning ideas hidden away in it.  Plans come out of community and that means involving the community.

Use milestone projects to promote projects and design with heritage in mind.  Ooops, no one told Crombie that we are about to chop up the old Freeman Station for firewood.

Designing with heritage in mind wasn’t a cliché – we didn’t dream that up, we learned that.  We found that communities gained an interest in development through their history and he suggested that the planned commemoration events of the War of 1812 were an excellent opportunity for Burlington to recapture its history.

Gosh, we might even think of resurrecting poor Joseph Brant whose ancestral home by the hospital is one of the most under used assets the city has.

Crombie urged the city to make use of its connections and start first by fully understanding what the connections we have are and then partner with those connections.

We decided to create the Waterfront Trial and saw it not as a string of parks stretched along the edge of Lake Ontario but rather as a clothes line on which each community hung out what it saw itself as.  Crombie then went on to explain how different communities worked the Waterfront Trail into their waterfront development and mentioned to a small group afterwards that there was a time when developers didn’t have anything good to say about the waterfront trail.  Now they want to build near the thing and see it as an attraction.

Developers explained Crombie want to make money from the property they own and if you work with them to show how they can make even more money they will work with you.

This was where Crombie taught his “class” that partnerships have to be created.  The developer owns the property and wants to get a return on his investment – so make it possible for that to happen.

He explained that fighting with interest groups wasn’t going to get us anywhere

Burlington is certainly

Crombie spoke for more than an hour and passed on tons of wisdom including:

There was a time, Crombie told the meeting, when Burlington was seen as a leader in the fight to reclaim its waterfront but that in the past while its leadership had lapsed.  He talked about how the community might begin again to reclaim it’s waterfront.

Nick didn’t like that – cuts in on his turf.

It isn’t all about set backs and it isn’t all about how high a building can be – it was about securing public interest in a strategic plan.  Don’t try to push anything through – developing your water front isn’t about power.

It does said Crombie, take public money to get it started and if the province has said Burlington has to grow then use that demand of the province to leverage ideas and pull in the private sector.  Involve local pride and peer pressure.

We listened to all the perspectives and decided to string them together with a trail because we needed something that would bring people to the waterfront.

Theses places cannot be just “hike and bike” locations explained Crombie.  Your waterfront becomes a desolated places in the winter months of interest only to the xxx and the muggers.

Crombie knows Burlington.  He has family in the area and talked fondly about his younger years when he would walk through the Aldershot area, get to Coots Paradise and arrive at Pier 4, a tough, tough part of town that few ventured anywhere near.

Burlington Crombie pointed out has extra assets; it has gathering places, a history and a culture and has more than most to work with. “You have the financial and human resources that many others don’t have.

Crombie talked of ‘portals’ being developed – which he defined as each community doing its own thing and advised that looking for connectedness was the better route to go.  Each community can show its best side but there is still a connectedness between them.  Hamilton is connected to you – you may not like it but it is there, said Crombie to a room that chuckled

Your waterfront needs to be animated.  People have t live, work and play in the area – that makes it messier.

Mississauga was a geographical expression and not a place when all this waterfront development started listen to all the perspectives

And that is when David Crombie go to the best piece of advice Burlington is going to get in some time.  Hold a design competition – make it a juried competition and have some odd balls on that jury.  And see what the architects come up with.

Theses things aren’t easy but when Toronto got its new city hall it did so through a design competition and while the building isn’t all that efficient it put Toronto on the map, said Crombie.

Burlington could pull together all the developers in the downtown core – say from Caroline to the Lake and from say Pine Cove Road on the east to say Maple – QEW on the west and declare that that is the area we are asking people to design within.  Yes, it is a big area – but all we are doing is looking.  All the developers will be at the table and the property owners as well.  And then see what they come up with.

Burlington began that process with the landmark building due to go up on the old Riviera Motel site.  But that was small in scope and it seemed d to take forever to get started – they still haven’t put a shovel into the ground and most people have precious little idea as to what is going to go up – because they played no part in the planning.  Civic pride is a big factor in getting things done, added Crombie

Planning as Crombie will tell everyone is a messy business.  People say they don’t like tall buildings but I have found said Crombie that when people are bothered they use height of buildings to say what they are not really clear about.

Height is design explained Crombie – it is what you do with the height that matters

Set backs are ecological he added.  Pickering has a 40 foot set back, it looks like parts of Saskatchewan.  Scarborough was the most difficult to deal with – they were sort of the last hold out.

Bring in architects that spend a lot of time listening to the public.  “If you listen long enough, dialogue leads people to move to new spaces where new ideas are formed.  They begin to forget their previous views, explained Crombie and that he added is when the partnerships can be formed.  It is not just about density.

Sarah Banks read from a document and after listening for a few minutes Crombie said” Hire the guy.  Banks was concerned with the developers having all the power but Crombie explained that the city has leverage and the Mayor has a “bully pit” that he can use th rally public support and provide direction and focus.  The city does have muscle, explained Crombie – don’t be afraid to use it.

Mayor Rick Goldring sat beside Crombie through the presentation  Banks and Gary Scobie and Marianne Meed Ward were the only people to ask questions.  Crombie would have loved to see much more give and take.

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