By Kenny Yum
“The end justifies the means.”
That, in a phrase, sums up the city’s stand on the Yonge-Dundas redevelopment.
We’ve all passed through these stores that are to be expropriated. Chances are, if you are a Ryerson student, you’ve bought a few things from them. There’s the Licks’ burger shop. There’s the Jean’s store, tacky as hell. We’re even sure some of you went to the arcade in your earlier days, or the Harvey’s right up the street. The two electronics stores have seen better times before the Future Shop landed north a few years ago.
The arguments surrounding the viability of these 12 stores have been tossed around for years. Yes, they are tacky. Yes, they are an eyesore. And yes, the city would rather do away with them. Most of us would agree with that line of reasoning.
So what if a mere 12 property owners and more than a dozen tenants lost their land? Bravo for a city that would initiate a project that would get rid of crime, build another cinema and provide a climate for the rebirth of Yonge Street.
“The end justifies the means.” We’ll add another phrase here.
“The good of the many over the good of the few.”
The media, the city, the businesses were all for it. But for what? Until December, 1996, not a word was spoken about this project. Six months later, the plan was in full effect. Now, two years after the initial announcement, the redevelopment is a done deal.
Not one word of public debate was initially given. Only at the Ontario Municipal Board hearings, held after the city had given the developer the rights to the properties, had the land owners been given a chance to have their say. The process, the city and the developers say, was fully transparent. But to whom?
No one, it seems, criticized the project. Debating the merits of the redevelopment is an insurmountable task and to blast it would put any accuser on shaky ground.
If there is anything to criticize, it is the process, not the product.
The city wore all the hats, from creator of the vision to playing private developer — by assembling the lands — to being a direct beneficiary, as it will get a public square, parking lot and increased business taxes.
And by making the project a public-private venture the city did not necessarily have to make itself, a public body, accountable to the public.
Should the city have the right to tell you what to do with your land? And if they don’t like how you are using it, could they take it away “for any other reason?” Property rights are also at the heart of this debate, and even though the owners don’t ask speak for each of us, their lack of power in this whole game puts to question some basic rights we have as citizens.
The fact that the city is able to spend $53 million to help a developer gather lands and the fact that the whole scheme was the vision of a man who was hired by businesses, not the city, makes due process sure tough to follow.
The project was a very hush hush affair, most of the dealing was done in private meetings rather than in public forums.
The questions we pose are: “Why couldn’t the city make it a public affair?” “Why were the land owners never consulted?” and “Does the city see itself as accountable to its citizens?”
“The end justifies the means. The good of the many over the good of the few.”
In philosophical or political debate, it’s possible to use these arguments. However, in real life, and especially in the case of a few land owners on Yonge Street, it’s not just purely academic.