Thursday, October 27, 2016

Expo 2025? No thanks

I have long been in the habit of poo-pooing any major events that some of the more visionary (and usually less practical) among us have advocated for the city of Toronto e.g. Olympics. These things always sound like much more of a good idea than they actually are, and for a city having difficulty paying for day-to-day necessities, such vanity projects - largely resting on the nugatory premise of a need to be considered a "world-class city" - just cannot be justified.
So, kudos once again to Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has refused to be swayed by blandishments and has kiboshed a burgeoning movement to have Toronto host the 2025 World Expo. Or at least, at this point, to join his executive committee in recommending that a bid not be pursued - a full city council vote will take place next month.
Proponents of the bid (local politicians and business leaders, probably the same people who were recommending an Olympic bid) have wheeled out a whole host of supporters, from arts and community groups, the construction industry, unions, First Nations chiefs, former provincial ministers, even the Toronto Stock Exchange and Facebook Canada.
But many of these people should know better. History has taught us that such mega-projects rarely translate into the economic boons that are initially anticipated. And they almost always end up costing the host city way more than budgeted. A private feasibility study has suggested that capital costs for a Toronto Expo 2025 might amount to $1.9 billion (although this sum conveniently omits billions more that would be needed for the flood prevention measures and clean-up of contaminated land if the Port Lands area were to be developed  as anticipated). Given that the last two Expos cost in the region of $19 billion (Milan) and $60 billion (Shanghai), this looks suspiciously like a ridiculously low-balled estimate. Nor is there any guarantee that the work - and the rapid transit projects and major changes to the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard that would need to accompany it - could even be completed on time. No offers of financial help from the federal or provincial governments have been forthcoming either.
All in all, the event could turn into a white elephant of almost Olympic proportions. So, forgive my lack of vision, but let's spend our scarce resources on things that actually need doing, and not on some feel-good project with dubious chances of success.

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