Two decades ago, Vancouver was one of the biggest cities in North America.
Today, it is in desperate need of a major rebuilding.
But there’s a bright side: It’s the first major Canadian city in the country to be able to borrow money and borrow for infrastructure without having to sell its assets.
And that’s a rare thing these days, says Tim Keenan, who co-wrote the book, The Future of Cities, with the University of British Columbia’s Bruce Campbell.
Keenan points to the success of the Toronto subway system, the rapid expansion of transit in Los Angeles, and a massive influx of new housing.
“I’m looking at this as a positive development because of the ability of the city to invest in its own future,” he says.
“In Canada, that means they’re going to be investing in infrastructure, not just to get it built, but to improve it.”
Keenan also credits Toronto’s new mayor, John Tory, for bringing to the forefront of city politics the notion that the city should be investing more in its future.
Tory, who won a provincial election in 2015, has made a big push to revive the city’s core, revitalizing the downtown core and adding more transit.
He has promised to create 1,200 jobs, including 1,000 in the transit-oriented development (TOD) sector.
“It’s really a combination of what the City of Toronto has done to bring people back and what we need to do to attract new investment and create new jobs,” says Keenan.
“And the idea that it is actually possible to take that vision and actually create those jobs, that’s something that’s going to have a major impact on the city in 20 years.”
The first step in a long process is to bring the financing to the city.
In the past, that meant a series of large public-private partnerships.
In 2016, the province committed $20 million in a $2-billion funding package.
It will allow the city and private developers to build a $400-million, 40-storey condo tower near the Bloor-Danforth subway station, complete a $100-million pedestrian and cycling path, and add another $100 million to a waterfront park.
“That’s a pretty significant step forward,” says Robert Stroud, a senior vice-president with the Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit think tank that studies urban planning.
The province has also committed $100,000 toward the expansion of the Yonge-University-Spadina streetcar line, which will run to the airport and eventually to the Convention Centre.
“The real challenge, I think, is that it takes a long time to get the funding to the level where you’re actually able to deliver that investment,” says Stroud.
“You have to build it, then you have to make it profitable.
In the coming months, city council will consider another round of funding, which would be a mixture of city and provincial tax revenue, including a tax on land that would help pay for the subway and other infrastructure improvements. “
This is a big step forward, and I think it’s the right direction for Toronto.”
In the coming months, city council will consider another round of funding, which would be a mixture of city and provincial tax revenue, including a tax on land that would help pay for the subway and other infrastructure improvements.
But until then, Keenan says, the city will have to rely on its own tax revenue.
Keenans group also supports the creation of a $10-million provincial transit bond program, which could be used to finance the construction of two new light rail lines.
The first line would run from downtown to the Scarborough subway station and connect to the rest of the province.
The second line would connect to Scarborough’s airport and be able take people from the airport to the downtown subway station.
The government has committed $500 million in funding for transit, but Keenan is skeptical that will cover the costs.
“What’s happened is the private sector has had an opportunity to do this,” he said.
“We have a surplus of public dollars, but they’ve taken it.
They’ve taken the risk, but now they’ve got to put it to work and get it going.”
Keenans book is now in the hands of The Globe and Mail.