Analysis of the Draft Concord GO Centre Secondary Plan of November 1, 2013 – 1. Title and Basic Considerations

Note:  The full text of this document is also available in PDF format.

Re. File 26.3, Committee of the Whole, November 26, 2013
From: Concord West Ratepayers Association

Analysis of the Draft Concord GO Centre Secondary Plan of November 1, 2013

1. Basic Considerations

Very frequently in the past 3 years, and with the full support of the Sierra Club Ontario, the Concord West, Glen Shields and Beverley Glen communities have sent deputants to this Committee and the Vaughan City Council, to advise it not only of the popular will and aspirations, but more, far more, of other and innovative ways to deal with the twin problems of saving the Concord West greenspace, river valley included, and at the same time resolving the location of a tripartite transportation hub. Whereas the Province, the Region and Metrolinx were at best deaf to our input (just did not want it, or even to hear it), this Council took the position that an alternative was possible and desirable to what was being forced from the top down by the Provincial Ministry of Transportation.

On September 13, 2011, Council initiated the path that led to the current study for a preferred solution to the twin problems, a solution that best fitted – in the Secondary Plan – its own vision of what Vaughan should become. This was most welcome and showed political courage on the part of this Council, for which it has been commended several times by various deputants from Concord West. Not so today, as we are here this time to disavow what has been put forth as a “Preferred Solution” in the present Draft of the Concord Go Centre Secondary Plan of November 1, 2013 (from now on referred to herein as the Draft or “Preferred Solution”), despite the great promise this process originally harbored.

Indeed, we must remind the members of Council and this Committee, that we are here because of a process that our community initiated and to which our local politicians responded positively, as they should. However, presently, we find ourselves confronted with what both a private planner (Planning Alliance) and the City Planning Department have presented as the “Preferred Solution” to those twin problems in the Draft they have submitted, and which, on one hand, is no solution to either problem, and on the other, has failed to take into account the desire of our community – one that is also demonstrably shared by the Glen Shields and Beverley Glen communities.  This proposal excludes de facto all essential suggestions that we have made in countless documents and interventions and, what’s worse, it equally excludes the majority of the concrete suggestions made by the participating residents in the so-called “dotmocracy” exercise of last January, and which our representatives in the Steering Committee over and over reiterated and explored.

Remarkably, despite all the attempts to lead the residents by the hand in such “dotmocratic” exercises to accept proposals that might run against their stance, they have remained unanimous to this day in their position. One sad conclusion from all this is that, in the absence of real direct democracy in the management and government of local and regional affairs, the public – which in the present case means residents rather than investors, developers and cadres – is condemned to these pseudo-participatory exercises, with fancy names and conceived as infantilizing and psychologizing games by technobureaucrats, that prove to be exercises in futility and a waste of time and resources; moreover, by all appearances, they only exist to ‘justify’ bad decisions already made by technical cadres and politicians on the basis of the money flows responsible for development. Since development these days has a credo – the ideology of intensification and so-called sustainability – these slogans are raised at every opportunity when developers and infra-structure investment-and-engineering firms (these days they go together) spot a “place to grow”. Then, it is a race to see who wins the lottery: where can intensification be argued so that yesterday’s greenbelt or agricultural land will become the highest density high-rises of tomorrow. Conceived this way, development becomes the sine qua non of an insidious and perverse socialist transformation of democratic government, and inevitably is followed by a degradation of all environments – social, cultural, urban and… natural. The result is, as you politicians should know, what has become more evident over the past few decades: a growing oppressive feeling that leads citizens to contempt for public institutions and laws, seeing that those who are supposed to serve the public only serve themselves and the interests of their sponsors, these days frequently developers and P3-invested firms.

In fact, modern day capitalism with its technically imposed forms of planning, its bureaucratic immensity and its imperviousness to the real desires and aspirations of peoples, resembles far more bureaucratic socialism (yes, everyday a step closer to the People’s Republic of China, minus the party dictatorship) than the capitalism of a liberal democracy, even a socially regulated one. If this continues – without politicians at the base, locally, as is the case here, putting an end to it – the vacuum already formed by the  disaffection of a society from its institutions will eventually spiral into a black hole.

What we have in the proposed Draft is an exemplar of such technobureaucratic perversion, even if perpetrated semi-consciously. Instead of the cadres, private and public, listening to the public and creatively finding arrangements that go at the encounter of what they heard, they managed instead a proposal that abandons the need to think about an integrated tripartite solution to the transportation hub, making it bipartite (GO and Viva/YRT). Imagine if we had done that in our responses to the Ministries of Transportation, on December 10th, 2010, and of Environment, on December 23rd, 2010! We would have been laughed at. But suppose that Metrolinx had put on paper that it had abandoned the Concord 407 transitway station from its wish-list (which it has not); then, yes, we’d be legitimized in thinking the hub was just bi-partite. Yet, all the negotiations (if they can be called that) which went on inside the Technical Committee (from which the community was barred, its input channeled into the Steering Committee that never steered anything) did not apparently produce any indication from Metrolinx regarding flexibility in locating the hub, removal of the heritage bridge, or even whether the transitway will happen and when. In point of fact, our request to the Committee of the Whole of April 9th, 2013 – re. not placing the planned double-tracks for the GO south of Highway #7 – has also gone unheeded in this Draft.

And what about the problem of the Concord West greenspace? That too was glossed over – as if it were not part of the City’s vision. It was not even marked green on the 5 final diagrams of the Draft, as we shall see below in detail. It is the Province’s sacred domain, and there it stands – with all that this implies: that a transitway station may one day be built on it; that a surface parking lot may one day cover its area; that the 407 transitway will one day cut across it and the river, and even likely do so twice over the latter; that, who knows, future planning will put high-rises on it. In other words, it is a land for which the City seemingly cannot even be entitled to have a vision, let alone an intelligent one that addresses the problems on the table with inventive and comprehensive solutions.

Yet, after all, nothing impedes this Council from having a vision, an intelligent one, and from bargaining with the Region and Province to see that vision come through, just as it is bargaining, even if ever so weakly, with Liberty Development Corp. for the latter’s hyper-intensification of the Concord Floral lands. Here too, we wish we could put in a good word in favour of this proposed Draft; but suffice it to say – and we will get to the nitty-gritty below – that Liberty Development Corp. got 6 blocks with maximum density for high-rises, and the same density continues to the south of Highway #7, right on top of the river valley and the tributary junction. And what did the City get in exchange for this? A so-called greenspace made up of turf and sports areas next to the future double-track of GO, and north of the Concord Floral (in one of the dirtiest and most polluted parts of industrial Vaughan), not south where the ecology exists and is in desperate need of protection. If this is the way of the future, soon human beings will not even know what a genuine potato or a rose or a natural ecology is. No amount of manicured gardens atop high-rises – gardens that will soon enough be barred from public access – can ever replace nature or its age-old acquired intelligence and architecture, or a people’s free access to natural environments.

So ask yourselves, why are we here today at this meeting?

We are here because of the will of Concord West to fight for its rights and its social and natural environment, for its rights of access that have been alienated with no reposition for over 19 years now, and the rights of communities to the protection of their natural and cultural environments. We would not be here if in the times of Lorna and Racco the City had responded with action to our pleas and provided us and Glen Shields residents with access to the Bartley Smith Greenway (across the bridge that was removed) and the greenspace in question (across what became the GO line). Nor would we be here had the Ministry of Transportation not invented a gimmick that justified the tripartite hub – the gimmick that can be read in that famous EPR from the Ministry of Transportation (Subsection 6.2.3, rubric “Transportation Function”, p. 5) where it states that “the main function of the GO Barrie (Concord) Station will be to provide park-and-ride and PPUDO facilities for commuters from the surrounding residential communities located to the north and west of the station site”, when the residential community to the north does not even exist, and the community to the west, Concord West, never asked for it, or wanted it in the first place. There could be no clearer admission that the hub was necessary to serve the interests not of any community, but of those planning precisely a community that does not exist: a putative “community” to the north of Highway #7, that as of now only exists on paper as the locus of a planned hyper-intensification. It is that planned “community” that needs the hub, and, in a sort of perverse logic, that hub that needs that “community”, seemingly at the cost of any existing communities and natural environments.

That is what socialist planning from above is all about – inventing fictions to valorize lands and invoking reasons like those based on flawed growth algorithms to speculate to the hilt with intensification, all done at the cost of the public purse, at the cost of mammoth debts, for a public that expressly does not want it, and “desired” only by an imaginary public in the minds of developers, technocrats and bureaucrats (none of whom are truly responsible, since they were just doing their job, “what everybody else does”).

The ideology of growth at all cost, justified by projected growth rates, must not be allowed to override quality of life nor the capacity of the environment to support that growth. We would be well advised to keep in mind that growth projections are, in fact, just that – algorithm-generated projections whose numbers vary, in the Greater Horseshoe area, for example, by as much as 1.1 million by 2031, depending whether one chooses to believe in the Hemson and IBI numbers or those of, for example, Will Dunning (2006).  Clearly, the numbers are highly speculative. It is possible, and even probable, that in reality they will vary still more. This makes present planning, solutions to existing problems and conservation of ‘what is valuable’ of far greater importance than rushing to construct for an entirely speculative future. One has only to witness the extraordinary destruction of landscapes in Europe and on this continent to build housing for residents who never materialized, who for unforeseen reasons went elsewhere – houses and high-rises that now stand empty, decaying and unpopulated; the landscapes they were inserted into ruined forever. We need to get beyond the boom and bust mentality and instead insist on a carefully planned growth that makes sense in the present.

Yet, presently and precisely in this zone, we are suffering the result of decades of mismanagement and misplanning (of the same type, we might add) by just such bureaucrat planners and technocrats; the zone is not just ugly and aggressive (which you well know from the Streetscape Committees), but it already has a traffic problem which has been allowed to reach unmanageable proportions. Should you not be thinking about resolving that problem? Should you not be creating solutions for what exists, instead of spreading the butter around to invent solutions for problems of your own making that only come into being when you approve these out-of-control densities? You answer: this is what Viva is for, to solve the transit problems on Highway #7, etc; but that is not what you, Viva and the Region are doing. What you are doing is diminishing the car lanes and slowing down the flow of traffic, in order to squeeze in dedicated central lanes that, in this zone, run dead against a funnel located just before a curve – where Highway #7 veers northward – that is chronically jammed. There, you are going to allow 6 blocks of hyper-intensification, and a major intersection in the middle of a curve, all dumping on to the same highway. You will only succeed, despite all the new infrastructural works, in making it even worse than it is. It will be another example of top-down decisions that justify infrastructure spending and speculation on construction. You will have done nothing to resolve what eventually out of necessity will become a tripartite hub. This Draft fails to even include the recommendation to place the transitway south of Highway 407, an option which the EPR itself could not help but point out as the cheaper and more ecologically balanced solution: “B5 [the transitway trajectory that hugs the 407 Highway on the south side] is the alternative route with less complex infrastructure to mitigate intrusion on the flood plains of the West Don” (EPR, Section 5, p. 16). How many times has Dr. Correa, representing Concord West, told this to the members of this Council?

Councillors and Mayor, the Draft before you is a whitewash. If this expresses your intent, then you have been deceiving the communities of Concord West and Glen Shields, and all Vaughan residents, with pretty words but no intention to act. Actions indeed speak, not louder, but more convincingly than words.

You should reject the proposed Draft even though it cost you a pretty bundle, and instruct the very able planners employed by the City of Vaughan (for they are indeed able) to do not what the majority of planners customarily do in order to get promotions or good letters of reference – follow the pack and the fads, intensify at all cost, know your place, do not innovate too much or rock the boat, and so on – but to come up with a creative solution that includes specific directives that you give, and which should really reflect the vision that the Vaughan residents and this Council have for Vaughan. Indeed, both your Commissioner of Planning and Roy McQuillin made it abundantly clear in the last public meeting that more than what they had done, could only be done by Council. You need to provide specific directives – that is what you need to do and, in hindsight, what you should have done.

 Next: 2. Summary Analysis

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