By Vibhu Gairola, published in Novae Res Urbis
Optimistic and collaborative in tone, the Urban Land Institute’s panel on whether or not Toronto should submit a bid to host Expo 2025 overwhelmingly recommended its pursuit on Tuesday. The six-month long world fair would draw up to 40-million visitors and transform the host city into a cultural hub, but panellists emphasized legacy investments, state-of-the-art infrastructure and a chance to draw youngpeople into city-building as the event’s lasting contributions to the region.
Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the bid’s most vocal cheerleader, said that the event would unlo
ck “880 acres of untouched land” in the Portlands, the intended host site, and could earn up to an estimated $75-million annually in tax revenue. And the prosperity that would come with hosting Expo wouldn’t be restricted to the Portlands, noted former Ontario premier and Pan Am chair David Peterson, who pointed to the surge in property values around the Pan Am village after the games.
Panellists said that winning the bid would make the city a lightning rod for investments, specially if it could rope in big name innovators like Google.
Panellists said that winning the bid would make the city a lightning rod for investments, specially if it could rope in big name innovators like Google. Additionally, the planning involved in hosting Expo would improve the overall health and social equity within the city, Wellesley Institute CEO Dr. Kwame McKenzie told participants. Animating the Portlands would add up-to-3,000 units of affordable housing, some 400 acres of waterfront development and a host of connecting public transit. Another benefit, according to Wong- Tam, is that bidding for Expo would enable the city to set the agenda for a global conversation, one it can facilitate as a thought leader. Part of the bid submission is to establish a theme to give the event
focus—the last world fair in North America, Vancouver’s 1986 Expo, emphasised transportation and communication, for example.
At the local level, planning nine years in advance of the event encourages the feeling that the city is “going somewhere,” which McKenzie says dramatically reduces stress levels. It would also inspire a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation in young people who would see the city as a part of their future. “Toronto under-punches its weight, and we do it systematically,” McKenzie commented, citing Expo as a way to correct that tendency. Pursuing the bid would also make financial sense according to CIBC senior economist Andrew Grantham.
“This is the kind of thing that’s essential to have a positive future for the city,” said Hall. “I think to turn one’s back on it is to see a city that falters.”
“Toronto is growing very quickly and to continue that growth is the easiest way to reduce any deficits,” said Grantham, highlighting how the city’s 2 per cent employment growth over the past few years has beat the national average of 1 per cent. With Rotterdam, Paris and Osaka already in the competition to host Expo 2015, the city needs to start devising a concrete bid. Former Toronto mayor and Human Rights Commission chair Barbara Hall said that to move forward the city needs a partnership with the other levels of government, strong commitments from the private sector and cutting-edge ideas. “This is the kind of thing that’s essential to have a positive future for the city,” said Hall. “I think to turn one’s back on it is to see a city that falters.”
Vibhu Gairola is a freelance journalist on assignment with NRU.