Toronto OKs 20-year parks and rec master plan, but will need $2B to pay for it

With Toronto's parks and recreation facilities in huge demand, city council approved a long-term $2 billion plan to build and maintain them across the city.

Parks staff warn nearly 200,000 on waiting list for recreational programs and facilities

Toronto's parks are already in high demand, and that's only expected to increase in the coming year as more than 450,000 people move to the city in the coming decades. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

With Toronto's parks and recreation facilities in huge demand, city council approved a long-term $2 billion plan Thursday to build and maintain them across the city.

In 2016, parks staff reported the waiting lists for programs and facilities had 198, 228 names on them — more than double what it was in 2007. At that rate, they warn that number could top 400,000 by 2025.

To keep up, councillors unanimously voted to approve a 20-year master plan on Thursday afternoon.

"We want an active city; we want active, healthy people," said Coun. Mary-Margaret McMahon, who chairs the parks and recreation committee.

Parks staff will now work on an implementation plan that's set to be released next summer. At that time, Mayor John Tory's executive committee will be tasked with figuring out how to pay for the ambitious plan.

"That's when we need to pack power in our punch with financing behind it," McMahon said.

McMahon was among several councillors to praise the ambitious plan, while pointing out it won't matter if the city doesn't find a way to pay for it. 

"The question is how the heck are you going to find that?" said Coun. David Shiner, noting the city would need to increase parks spending by some $38 million a year to meet the goal.

Plan calls for improvements across the city

The plan also aims to equalize park availability and maintenance funding across the city, something councillors in lower-density wards have been calling for, noting they don't always have the same access to funding as others.

For example, downtown's development boom has netted huge amounts of Section 37 money — which developers pay the city in exchange for benefits like increased density — while other areas don't bring in the same amount of cash.

"There are a lot of councillors in this room who have zero dollars in the bank," said Coun. Jaye Robinson.

However, Coun. Josh Matlow says the city would need provincial changes in order to transfer that money around the city. He also noted it can't be used for operating costs, limiting the funding's potential when it comes to building new recreation facilities.