Half a decade from now, buses from roughly 42 nations will exit Highway 401 at Morningside Avenue to marvel at an immense athletics facility, newly built right here in our backyard. They will step onto freshly paved parking lots and gaze around in every direction at the flourishing city that surrounds it, rejuvenated by the dawn of the Pan American games.
At least, that’s what we would like to believe.
More likely, they will be digesting the sound of a police siren somewhere not-so-far away, and looking at our current cluster of dilapidated apartment buildings that will have had five more years to rot.
Yes, the games may change a few things. They may be excellent for Toronto, an obvious source of tourism revenues and worldwide praise, if all goes well. Locally, it would be excellent for UTSC students, who may finally be treated to an athletics facility suitable for the ninth strongest university on earth, according to Times Higher Education, rather than one barely suitable for a Scarborough high school.
The games may even give Scarborough the transportation the TTC has promised, with the LRT passing directly through the neighbourhood.
What the games will not deliver is a new Scarborough mindset.
The “suburb” has a bad reputation for a reason, and that will not change due to a new building in town. It’s neither fair nor productive to repeat typical Scarborough stereotypes which impact the area’s reputation almost as effectively as reality. But the reality is that the city has talked about improving the area for decades, and things are only getting worse.
Take Kingston Road: thick documents promising revivals for Scarborough roads have existed since the mid-1990s, when the city decided outdated and seedy motel strips, overgrown vacant lots, and sprawling used car dealerships don’t reflect the glitz and glamour of the big city.
Come 2010 and the motels have only got seedier, the lots further overgrown, and the used cars older. Toronto’s latest approach is to replace such holes with rows of condominiums, but since residents wouldn’t want the already jammed road to receive any more traffic, it is unlikely our reps at city hall will do anything this time either. Instead, the city will likely plant a few perennials and pussyfoot around the issue for another lifetime.
Oh, and the taxes will probably get hiked again, too.
The fact is that Scarborough is too far gone for a mere athletics facility to bring some life into the dead town. Anything new that comes with the games will simply fade into a desuetude state a few years later.
The LRT will most likely be made obsolete by 2020 in favour of some new form of technology, just as the Scarborough RT was several years after its haphazard creation. These glorified streetcars will bring their own traffic implications to already unmanageable streets in the area, and the TTC already has lobby groups detracting from its positive impact. The LRT will be old, loud, and disliked before long, not to mention its windows covered in fresh graffiti, its floors covered in fresh garbage, and filled with the same stink that plagues the RT. Bringing in something new does not keep people from using it, abusing it, and making it old all over again.
This also applies to new businesses that are to appear with the games as well. Sure, they will thrive during the games, but eventually they will fall into disrepair like almost every other business in the vicinity. Once they begin to bottom out, they will receive help from neither investors nor the city, and an entirely new generation of businesses will suffer the same fate as other Scarborough businesses have for years.
It is too bad, because locals care about the state of their town, but with an infrastructure that is suspect, and violence rates that do not want to drop, the area can’t seem to shake its penchant for being the armpit of Toronto.
The motto for the 2015 Pan Am games is “Your moment is here.”
But Scarborough, this is not your moment — not yet, anyway.