Toronto on Amazon’s shortlist for second headquarters

“U of T is a big part of our success story,” says Mayor Tory

Toronto on Amazon’s shortlist for second headquarters

The Toronto region has earned a spot on Amazon’s shortlist for a second headquarters, to be launched by the end of this year. The addition would bring $5 billion in investments and create as many as 50,000 jobs for its host city.

The 20-city shortlist, released January 18, named Toronto as the only non-American city in the running to host the tech giant’s newest project. The project, called Amazon HQ2, received proposals from 238 North American cities when the company called for submissions in September 2017.

Finalists are to be informed of next steps within the coming weeks. Toby Lennox, CEO of Toronto Global — which worked in shaping Toronto’s HQ2 bid — indicated that the Toronto region is anxiously waiting to hear back from Amazon.

Lennox said that Toronto’s proposal to Amazon, made in October 2017, highlighted Toronto as a hub for high quality talent, stemming from its universities. The proposal was “an opportunity for us to hold up a mirror to ourselves,” he told The Varsity.

“We are now a really big, complicated, dynamic, and vibrant city. We’re a global player,” said Lennox. “It’s all the work that all the people have put in to Toronto to make it the region that it is now. And it’s great to see us for what we are.”

While Amazon provided no explicit rationale for selecting the top 20, Lennox and Toronto Mayor John Tory cited Canadian openness to immigration and the city’s innovative growth as major assets attracting corporate investment.

In a statement to The Varsity, Tory emphasized the significance of educational capital, which he said was incorporated as a key selling point of Toronto in the bid to Amazon.

“Our pitch to Amazon highlights the fact we are building a Future-Proofed Talent Pipeline, including a 25% boost in the number of STEM graduates in Ontario,” reads Tory’s statement. “U of T is a big part of our success story.”

Tory said that the university-affiliated Vector Institute “is helping build our reputation in technology and around the world.”

Lennox noted Amazon’s interest in working with universities engaged in research and development. The company hires university interns and full-time employees in the United States, and Lennox hopes that HQ2 would carry that pattern north.

There would still be drawbacks to HQ2 in Toronto, said Shauna Brail, Director of the Urban Studies Program at U of T and a Senior Associate at the Munk School’s Innovation Policy Lab.

Among those drawbacks would be Amazon shifting the job market away from the service and manufacturing industries with augmented automation. Brail also illuminated the consequences HQ2 could impose on Toronto’s already oversaturated and expensive housing market.

Even if the Toronto region is not Amazon’s ultimate choice, Tory, Lennox, and Brail all agree that this sort of investment interest reflects Toronto’s already flourishing tech sector and economy at large.

If Toronto doesn’t win, “it doesn’t change the city’s fundamental attractiveness to other companies,” said Lennox. “This is our opportunity. It’s like we’ve already won this thing. Let’s keep going at it. And if Amazon comes here, great. We’re still going to keep doing the same things.”

Tory tackles transit, housing at UTSC town hall

Mixed housing, Scarborough subway extension main talking points

Tory tackles transit, housing at UTSC town hall

Transit and housing were the main topics of discussion at a student town hall held at UTSC’s Meeting Place, which featured Mayor John Tory. The forum was organized to discuss a collective vision for Scarborough and to discuss the major issues that affect the UTSC community, including transit, housing, and policing.

The event, titled “Vision for Scarborough,” was organized by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) in collaboration with the Centennial College Student Association, Inc (CCSAI) and the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization.

During the town hall, Tory campaigned for the Scarborough Bloor-Danforth subway extension, explaining his belief that it will stimulate investments and create jobs in Scarborough. “If you said if I thought it was kind of any strange notion that we would have a subway that has been extended to the east before,” Tory said, “No I don’t.”

Tory has faced widespread criticism over the choice to build a one-stop subway that is estimated to cost north of $3.35 billion. Critics have argued that the same amount of money could go toward a series of LRT lines that would serve more residents in Scarborough and beyond.

Tory believes that transit is the key to converting Scarborough into a job hub. He stated that the main reason investors may not find Scarborough attractive for establishing their business is its poor accessibility via transportation. He said the solution is the construction of “higher-order transportation.”

The mayor also said that safety barriers for subways are not part of any immediate transit plans in the city, as the billion dollars needed to install these barriers is currently being put “into building new transit and improving transit.”

When asked about affordable housing for students, Tory emphasized finding a way to step “up the pace” on mixed developments, including monetary subsidies to incentivize developers to build and operate affordable housing. He also spoke of shelter subsidies, where students would be able to find an apartment of their choosing and receive monetary support from the city.

Ravneet Kaur, President of the CCSAI, also expressed satisfaction with Tory’s proposals but “wanted to know more about the subway system.” Sitharsana Srithas, President of the SCSU, told The Varsity that she was satisfied with Tory’s answers in the town hall but felt that “there was still a lot of work to be done in terms of investing in Scarborough.”

Toronto City Council to debate Scarborough subway and LRT plans tomorrow

Scarborough leaders, including UTSC vice president & principal Bruce Kidd, urge council to approve project

Toronto City Council to debate Scarborough subway and LRT plans tomorrow

Toronto City Council is expected to make the final decision tomorrow on the proposed Scarborough transit plans, which include an LRT to UTSC.

The plans, which were approved by the city’s Executive Committee, include a one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to Scarborough Town Centre to replace the aging Scarborough RT and a 17-stop extension on the Eglinton Crosstown LRT to UTSC.

However, critics of the one-stop subway to Scarborough Town Centre, such as city councillor Josh Matlow, argue that it is more economical to build a seven-stop LRT going through Scarborough Town Centre and terminating at Sheppard Avenue instead of a subway.

The seven-stop LRT was the original plan to replace the aging Scarborough RT and was fully funded by the provincial government at a cost of $1.5 billion. In 2013, under then-mayor Rob Ford, City Council voted to replace the project with a three-stop subway line. Mayor Tory further amended these plans in January 2016 with the introduction of the currently proposed one-stop subway and 17-stop LRT.

Matlow has indicated that he will make a motion to replace the $2.9 billion one-stop subway with the original seven-stop LRT.

Five business and community leaders from Scarborough have penned an open letter to Tory and members of council, urging them to approve the plans and move on from the debate between the type of transit. The leaders include UTSC vice-president & principal Bruce Kidd, Centennial College president Ann Buller, Scarborough Hospital CEO Robert F. Biron, Scarborough Business Association president Marg Middleton, and Rouge Valley Health System president Andrée G. Robichaud.

“The debate between subway or LRT or SmartTrack, and which solution is right for Scarborough has been needlessly time-consuming and divisive,” reads a portion of the letter.

The letter continues: “We understand that the financial requirements for comprehensive transit may exceed what we are able to afford today. But this should not stop the City from planning what’s right.”

Kidd told The Varsity that the he and the other four signatories to the letter did not discuss the possibility of a seven-stop LRT, but stressed the importance of a rapid transit connection between Scarborough Town Centre and the Bloor-Danforth line as well as extending the Crosstown LRT eastward.

“Scarborough’s an important part of the city. It needs to be properly served,” said Kidd. “Toronto fails as a city if it cannot adequately serve the people of one of its biggest parts — the most populous area of the city. We’ve got to approve of the plan and then do the necessary steps to implement it without continually reopening these debates and going back to the drawing board.”

Details for Scarborough transit plan revealed

Eglinton East LRT with station at UTSC projected to take 43,400 commuters in 2041

Details for Scarborough transit plan revealed

Details of the proposed Scarborough public transit revamp, which includes the extended Eglinton East Light Rail Transit (LRT) to UTSC and the single-stop subway extension to Scarborough Town Centre (STC), were made public after a Scarborough community meeting on May 31.

New ridership statistics indicated during the presentation illustrate that an estimated 43,400 people will use the Eglinton East LRT daily in 2041, including students commuting between UTSC and Centennial College.

In addition, the $1.48 billion project will provide rapid transit options within walking distance of about 41,500 people and facilitate access to over 7,800 jobs. 

The new LRT route would span an estimated 11 km along Eglinton Avenue and Kingston Road, elevating along Morningside Avenue and running at-grade through Military Trail, with one station at the the heart of UTSC and another at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

The LRT expansions is also set to be integrated with UTSC Master Plan, which is the campus’ plan for revitalization.

The community meeting revealed that the 6 km extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line to STC will have a projected ridership of 7,200 during peak hours in 2031.

Mayor John Tory originally announced the 17-stop extension of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT and the one-stop addition of the subway in January, which was a decision that was met with praise from the UTSC community.

Conflicting visions for rapid transit in Scarborough sparked heated debates between stakeholders and politicians as far back as 2006, with opinion split about using subways or LRT systems to extend service further into Scarborough.

Late Toronto mayor Rob Ford advocated against LRT to connect the city’s east end, repeating the line, “subways, subways, subways.” Ford discarded earlier plans for city-wide LRT and bus rapid transit routes that would have circled UTSC grounds.