International Mega-Events and Urban Planning in the Context of Toronto

Kevin Ayala Diaz, 2017
Vol. 23 No. 10 ISSN 1702-3548


This paper explores mega-events and their relationship to urban planning and public participation. Mega-events, often referred to as hallmark events, are short-term, high profile spectacles that have a massive popular appeal, a large mediated reach, and international significance (Hall, 1992; Roche, 2000). Mega-events include major fairs, festivals, expositions, such as the World Expo and significant sporting events like the Olympic games and the FIFA World Cup. For many cities, mega-events are an alluring urban strategy that “promises” tangible and intangible benefits for cities and nations (Burbank et al., 2001). These short-lived events can have tremendous influence over urban spaces, built environments, and city populations (Greenhalgh, 1988; Roche, 2003). Given their impacts, it should not be a surprise that these events have encountered various forms of resistance (Lenskyj, 2008; Cottrell, 2011; Gotham, 2016). A significant amount of this opposition focuses on the lack of accountability, transparency, and public engagement that is often seen in the various mega-event hosting processes (Kidd, 1992; Flyvbjerg, 2003; Hall, 2006). Those that oppose these events critique the undemocratic nature of decision-making processes used to bid for and plan hallmark events (Kidd, 1992; Gotham, 2011). Through this essay, I will argue why participatory planning strategies must be used for the development of inclusive decision-making processes in mega-event planning within the city of Toronto. I will argue that although public engagement and a commitment to participatory planning has seemingly been devalued in the city’s history of pursuing the hosting of a hallmark event, they are essential components for the successful and equitable bidding and planning of such events. I believe participatory planning can be used for the meaningful consideration of various public interests and the creation of a “hosting concept/vision” that works towards the advancement of varying city priorities across a wide range of local communities. When thinking of how to engage varying communities in mega-event planning processes, it is vital to consider what engagement approaches have been used in previous mega-event hosting attempts, and what future strategies are recommended for the city of Toronto.