Political Analyst and Observer, Bill Longworth's, Weekly "Eye on City Hall" Columns, as published in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada's Oshawa Central Newspaper

Monday, August 16, 2010

Oshawa---Bush League or Big League?
The Choice is Ours!

“Eye on City Hall”

A column of Information, Analysis, Comment, and unfiltered opinion
Bill Longworth, City Hall Reporter
August 16, 2010

At the first Mayoral Debates held at the Oshawa Golf Club on August 4, the Mayor Candidates were asked a number of questions, one of which dealt with the recently completed Harbour and Waterfront Agreement between the City and the Federal Government.

While I am pleased that the agreement returns significant acreage to the city, I am displeased that a key component of the agreement is to confirm our lakefront as a mixed-use industrial/recreational area with increased industrialization on the East Wharf.

This agreement gives veiled support for the construction of the proposed ethanol plant and a feeder railway spur line to the waterfront.

Oshawa Harbour Commission Chairman, Gary Valcour, in the Federal Press Release announcing the agreement stated that, “The agreement offers a strong message of Federal Government support for an industrial and mixed-use port in Oshawa providing current and prospective port users with the certainty needed for continued growth and investment.”

These words are very telling and clear---there will be expanded growth of industrial uses at the harbor. This increased industrialization which is one of the key components of the Federal and City agreement is of major concern. I feel that increased industrialization and recreation and greening of the waterfront cannot happily co-exist.

Increased port industrialization is inconsistent with what is happening at every other lakefront along the Great Lakes. Toronto has closed down virtually all of its lakefront industrialization---all of the grain elevators have been demolished and the warehouses have been turned into boutique retail malls. Increased industrialization is completely incompatible with creating a people place.

Mayor John Gray, in his simplistic and self patronizing way said, “Everything is wonderful---we are doing a great job---any criticism of city council is bad for Oshawa” and gleefully announced at the Mayor Debates that the settlement after 40 years of dispute is great, and gloated, ”Now we can get the marina built.”

The Mayor’s support for the waterfront deal and his haste to build the marina indicates, once again, the chief deficiencies of his leadership and his vision for this city. That is small-minded bush-league thinking which worships the past, piecemeal planning, and no vision of big league grandeur for this city.

I believe we need an integrated plan for the entire lakefront. A too hasty rebuilding of the marina will limit overall planning for a world class development.

With the waterfront agreement, I am afraid we will see a return of my earliest impressions of the Oshawa lakefront when I first visited as a toddler from Toronto with my mother too many years ago. Beyond my fascination with watching a “large” sailboat tacking up the channel to the marina, I still remember the dirt, the grime, the smell, and the visual pollution of the many oil tanks and the unkempt weedy fields on the east side of Simcoe a few hundred feet north of the lake and I remember how different it seemed to have railway tracks going down the centre of Ritson and Simcoe Streets. I even remember seeing a steam engine shunting its load down one of these main streets.

This waterfront agreement ushers in a return to these visions of the past. With this waterfront agreement, lakefront users will continue to be subjected to the noise, dirt, grime, odours, airborne pollutants, dispersants, contaminants and particulate matter, and visual pollution of smokestacks and rail spurs and truck traffic.

This increased industrialization plays major havoc with my plans for a world class development at our lakefront, one of the most naturally beautiful lakefront environments from Kingston to Niagara Falls.

The “East Wharf industrial barrier” will physically separate the west lakefront from the second marsh nature and ecological reserve and will prohibit integration of the overall development and ease of movement between the two.

In a time when Toronto and other inland ports are reducing the impact of industrialization and shipping at their lakefronts, Oshawa, with this Federal Government agreement, is going against the trend of the “greening” and “people-ing” of lakefronts.

Oshawa is a “bulk cargo” port when containerization is the norm, and Asia, rather than Europe, is the source for most imported and exported goods. This has made Great Lakes shipping less important than in the past. Goods arriving by container ship in Vancouver are moved overland by rail arriving in their original shipping containers even here in Eastern Canada.

The ethanol plant proposed for Oshawa would be better located in the Corn Belt close to its raw material on existing Trans Canada Rail Lines to reduce shipping costs.

The big thrust everywhere is to make waterfronts green and so all cargo warehouses and grain elevators have disappeared from the Toronto waterfront. If this is the trend in other places, why not here in Oshawa?

For the sake of a very few jobs and very minimal contributions to the economic well-being of Oshawa, we should not sacrifice the development and enjoyment of our lakefront for all our citizens. The proposed ethanol plant might employ 15 people and reduce lakefront enjoyment potential for 160,000 people…not a fair tradeoff by any measure.

Proper development to maximize people benefits at the lakefront has the potential to pour many more tax dollars into the city coffers than industrialization, and has the potential to increase real estate values in the entire south end and all of Oshawa, pouring millions extra into our tax coffers. Recreational, commercial, and residential uses will also generate huge capital and wealth creation to contribute to the Oshawa economy.

My lakefront vision as Oshawa’s new mayor is to discourage any industrialization of the lakefront and to instead develop our waterfront with all of its natural potential into a world class recreation and ecotourism destination and a prime residential area on Lake Ontario’s North Shore.

I would lead the city into sponsoring an international design and development contest attracting the best and brightest visionaries, architects, and planners from around the world to visit our lakefront to come up with integrated plans and ideas and proposals to give us a world class waterfront that would put a new face on Oshawa and give our lakefront iconic status similar to the iconic status of Toronto’s “New City Hall” which also resulted from an international design contest.

Any attempt to fast-track the marina without considering overall plans for the lakefront as has been suggested by Mayor John Gray, limits the integration of the overall design concepts for lakefront development…but unfortunately this short sighted planning characterizes city politician thinking resulting in giant problems like the student housing crisis around the university.

I believe that the lakefront development should be “big league” and not “bush league.” Besides a new marina, it would include high class condos separated by publicly accessible parks, gardens and walkways on the east side of Simcoe all maintained to parks standards by the condo developers. No development would block public access to any portion of our waterfront. All parking would be underground and all designs should be on a common nautical theme. All design schemes would include redevelopment of the present Lakeview Park and include plans for the entire lakefront including all lands over to the Darlington Provincial Park including enhancing hiking and viewing possibilities of the Second Marsh nature preserve.

All development would occur on city owned lands on which we would negotiate long term land lease agreements providing long term tax relief for the citizens of this city.

We need politicians who think big time---who have big visions and big plans and big confidence in Oshawa’s future to move us out of the bush leagues and into the big leagues. A place where people want to move because of the reputation of this city and its progressive leadership, and our quality of life---not because we have the cheapest and most affordable housing in the GTA.

Our lakefront can be a major tourist attraction, a major star on Oshawa’s landscape, an opportunity to put Oshawa and its lakefront on the national stage and a place to bring Oshawa national recognition that will make every city resident proud to call Oshawa his home…an opportunity to throw off the chains and reputation of “The Shwa.”

The proper “Big League” vision and approach will attract giant capital to develop our lakefront without costing the city taxpayer one dime and land lease agreements will provide tax relief into the forseeable future.

No longer should we accept being the doormat of the GTA.

Be sure to follow Bill’s radio broadcasts, “Eye on City Hall”,
every Monday, 6-9 pm EST, on http://www.ocentral.com/thewave/

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