“A good city is worth paying for,” said Urban Planning Consultant Sean Hertel, who spoke at ”Going to School: A Transit Conference for the GTHA.” Mr. Hertel took part on a panel called “Planning for transit-oriented (campus) development,” which was moderated by Toronto’s Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat.
He sat down with Spacing to talk about the changing nature of the GTHA and how Torontonians need to change the way they view their city.
Spacing: How have suburbs evolved and what did you mean by a more dynamic environment?
Sean Hertel: I think the suburbs have grown up, but our understanding of them has not. They’re no longer extensions of the city any longer, they are something new- something new happened. They are cities unto themselves and they have their own distinct character apart from the city. They’ve become something different, it’s not suburban, it’s not urban, it’s the new city. And we haven’t really recognized that at all. We haven’t acknowledged the authenticity of the suburbs and the fact that they have become the new city. Whereas downtown is the city in history, the suburbs are the city in real time, whether we like it or not. That’s the truth that we have to reconcile our planning and our conceptions of urban space with.
That ties in with what you were talking about, Toronto being a regional city– why don’t we understand Toronto as a regional city?
SH: Yeah we don’t understand the scale and complexity of it. I think it’s beyond our understanding. I worked up in Newmarket for the regional municipality of York and I lived down at High Park. That was my life, my life took me from High Park to Newmarket and to the airport to pick up friends, to the Toronto Zoo to Oshawa to all over. And the planning documents, our conception of the city, the popular media, and the discourse of City Hall doesn’t capture that complexity and it doesn’t capture that scale. People work downtown (Toronto), they live in Hamilton, and they could weekend in Owen Sound. But people think (GTHA)is a lot smaller. I think our infrastructure and social infrastructure needs to capture that.
How can we create a more collaborative environment between transit planners and urban planners?
SH: I think our job as planners, and I’m a land use planner, I think we need to speak to people who wouldn’t normally speak to each other. And I think what’s missing from the conversation is the financiers involved. We need the bean counters, the accountants involved, because they have to write the cheques for the infrastructure. We need to put the engineers, the planners, and the transit providers in the same room. It’s about time these decisions aren’t made by politicians. We have to somehow divorce how we do our planning from the political cycles, because guess what? We’re going nowhere. You have a 25 year planning horizon under the growth plan permeated by six four year terms of council. Its destructive its counter intuitive and it collides with long range planning— ironically, as we’re required to under provincial legislation.
The last question is about cost and financing—it was talked about a lot about it today— how do you want to reconfigure our understanding of financing?
SH: I would like to see us to be progressive and actually put out a compelling vision that’s so tempting, you’d be crazy not to want to be for it. Even if it means a regional sales tax, even if it means a property tax hike, even if it means re-instating the vehicle registration tax. I believe so strongly in planning for transportation and funding it, I wrote a check for what would have been a portion of my vehicle registration of tax after Ford got rid of it two years ago. They still haven’t cashed the cheque. That’s the level of conviction and commitment and passion that I have for this system, it’s worth paying for. A good city is worth paying for. It’s our responsibility to get people talking about (transit funding) and wanting it. Wouldn’t it be amazing to want to be taxed to get something that everyone wants, it’s worth it. And it’s the cost of not doing it, that’s the true cost of inaction, inaction is the true cost.
photo by Pierre Montpellier