As part of what it called in the 2023 budget “bold, transformative action to get 1.5 million homes built by 2031,” the Ford Government is rezoning parts of the Greenbelt and converting the Ontario Science Centre site to housing. Let’s take even bolder and more transformative action by redeveloping all 50 acres of the Queen’s Park site, including the Legislature. This would be an exciting opportunity to build 30,000 new homes in downtown Toronto.
Queen’s Park Place
The former Legislature would become the anchor of a luxury 50-storey condominium development (Queen’s Park Place), with the building (called the “pink palace” or “the Leg,” with a soft g, by insiders) converted to a gymnasium, pool, spa, party rooms, and upscale shopping. The Leg already needs major renovations, so the condo tower would simply incorporate and repurpose it. For example, the leaky copper roof would be removed rather than endlessly repaired. The architects could draw inspiration from the conversion of the Old Post Office in Washington (like the pink palace, a late nineteenth century Romanesque revival building) to the Trump International Hotel. However, Ford family or Ford Nation branding might be a bit much.
Queen’s Park City
Surrounding Queen’s Park Place, ten 20-storey condominium and rental buildings, with many units geared to moderate incomes, would be constructed. The buildings would be for people working in the downtown core and the moderate-income units would be reserved for the nurses being recruited for the nearby hospitals. The hard-working nurses would no longer face long commutes from the distant suburbs.
Transport, Services, and Statues
The Queen’s Park area is already served by two subway stations, Queen’s Park and Museum. The tunnel between the two stations runs right under Queen’s Park, so it would be easy to build a new one right in front of Queen’s Park Place. There is enough land to add new schools and basketball courts as well as shopping. Finally, the statues at Queen’s Park, including those of King Edward VII, Queen Victoria, and Sir John A. Macdonald, would be relocated to other Toronto locations or other places in the province.
Because the University of Toronto owns the northern section of Queen’s Park and has leased it to the City of Toronto for 999 years, the Government would introduce legislation to expropriate that section, so that it has total control of the redevelopment plan. With all of Queen’s Park owned by the province, the lefties on Toronto City Council would not be able to hold up development in the name of values like environment, heritage, or community.
The New Legislature
The new legislature would be located in the nearby Whitney Block Tower (discussed in a recent post), which has 11 storeys that are now empty. The main reason the tower has been empty for the last 50 years is that its old elevators aren’t up to standard. New elevators would be constructed on the outside of the building, and they would be covered with heritage materials to blend in.
The new Legislature Chamber would occupy the sixth storey, just above the Premier’s Office on the fifth.
Because the Whitney Block Tower is smaller than the pink palace, it would be necessary to find some efficiencies – a lodestar of the Premier’s career in business and government. The Premier would lead by example by getting rid of his second office in the Legislature. MLAs’ offices would be on the upper storeys. There would be no need for media offices in the new Legislative Building, because they do all their interviews over the phone or by email. If they really want to hang out near the Legislature, they could rent or buy a condo at Queen’s Park City. The Lieutenant-Governor would be relocated from the vice-regal suite in the Leg to an upscale home downtown or a suite in a major hotel, perhaps the King Edward to maintain notional links to the Monarchy.
The Government would introduce legislation to expropriate the University of Toronto land. Infrastructure Ontario would work with Metrolinx to develop the new subway station and issue a call for proposals for the redevelopment of Queen’s Park Place and the new buildings at Queen’s Park City.
What’s at Stake
This “modest proposal,” if not already obvious to the reader, is a satire, provoked by Premier Ford’s recent announcement that the Ontario Science Centre will be torn down and converted to housing and that a new Science Centre, approximately half the size of the current one, will be built at Ontario Place.
But the satire raises the issues of the costs that are being incurred by so monomaniacal a focus on constructing housing. This proposal is technically feasible but is it wise? Filling Queen’s Park with housing would remove a popular downtown park where people enjoy themselves but also frequently gather to exercise their democratic rights to meet and protest. It would transform beyond recognition one of Ontario’s most important heritage buildings. Similarly, the initiative to relocate the Ontario Science Centre to Ontario Place destroys a heritage building, removes jobs from a low-income neighbourhood, and undermines the Science Centre’s mission.
The Ford Government’s rationale for its actions is that it expects huge numbers of people to migrate into the GTA. But there are questions that should be asked and other options that should be considered. Are the forecasts correct? The Government could examine more deeply how much Toronto real estate is being used for investment purposes and is therefore unoccupied. It could develop stronger policy tools to bring those properties to market. Finally, the Government could ask whether forecasted growth must be accommodated in Toronto, rather than redirected to other areas of the province and the country.
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