Toronto – Waterfront of dreams

Newcomer Will Fleissig wants to build a “21st-century city” and redefine how the GTA approaches Lake Ontario. It’s a big dream. Will it float?

Toronto - waterfront of dreams
© Fred Lum

Toronto’s waterfront has long been a place where big dreams go to die. From John Graves Simcoe’s “Walks and Gardens lands” to the powerhouse port of the 1950s – and beyond – one scheme after another has been imagined, half-built and abandoned.

That may be changing. Will Fleissig is betting that it is. The 66-year-old, after a distinguished career as a planner and real estate developer in the United States, answered the call last year to take over as chief executive of Waterfront Toronto, the government agency charged with remaking 2,000 acres of public and private land on the doorstep of downtown.

The plans involve the biggest infrastructure project, and the most valuable real estate play, in the city’s history. The overall waterfront plan could one day house 40,000 residents and 40,000 jobs. And they might just transform how the GTA thinks of itself.

“When a headhunter called me,” Mr. Fleissig says, “he said: ‘One of the tasks is to redefine cities in Canada.’ I asked: ‘Do you really mean that?’ And the answer was yes. That’s pretty hard to resist.”

What Waterfront does – or fails to do – will have a massive impact on the city. Perched on the edge of his office couch on a Friday afternoon, Mr. Fleissig sounds entirely alert to that reality. “If you ask what I do, I’m a city-builder and this is an enormous opportunity.”

Waterfront under Mr. Fleissig is making no little plans. This week, it opened a call for an “innovation and funding partner” to plan Quayside, a new, 12-acre neighbourhood near Queens Quay and Parliament. There are a lot of goals: energy efficiency, resiliency to climate change, creating affordable housing, building a tech jobs hub, making the waterfront a regional destination and raising the bar for architecture, landscape and urban design. All while making money for Waterfront Toronto. […]