Dynamic new linear public space coming to Toronto

Today, an exciting and ambitious public space project was announced in Toronto. Linking 7 communities by reimagining the dramatic space underneath the western leg of the elevated Gardiner Expressway, this new project will transform land that is now derelict and unused into an active 1.75km public space. The working title is Under Gardiner, but a new name will come. It will create 10 acres of new public space in downtown.

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It’s also exactly the kind of creative public space project that is necessary in cities as built-out as Toronto where finding land for new parks is difficult. The days of buying up a chunk of land and building a park for new residents are virtually gone in the downtown. But with this challenge comes an opportunity to look at our existing city spaces with fresh eyes and find the potential in areas we may have ignored or dismissed before.

In April of this year, Park People (where I work) released a report called Making Connections, which focused on exactly these kind of creative public space opportunities for intensifying cities. In that report, we specifically called out the space underneath this section of the Gardiner as an opportunity to be viewed as a “dynamic open space, not a concrete barrier.”

Here’s a picture we took at the launch of the report, which was held at the Fort York Visitor’s Centre which opens up underneath the Gardiner (and the site of the new Under Gardiner project.)

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Now, with a generous donation from one of Park People’s board members, Judy Matthews, and under the guidance of another Park People board member, Ken Greenberg, as well as essential partners in the City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto, this vision, designed by Public Work and set to open in 2017, will become a reality, .

The Under Gardiner touches on almost all of the 8 guiding principles for a new way of planning parks and open spaces that we outlined in Making Connections (which you can read in more detail here.)

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Crucially, and most obviously, the Under Gardiner “discovers” new space right in the heart of the city by flipping what we normally see as dead space into something that can thrive and attract people. The barrier becomes the connector. And this project links many different communities and existing green spaces together, acting as the backbone for a network of existing and planned parks from Garrison Common to Canoe Landing Park.

One of the most exciting things about the Under Gardiner is how programming is presented as a key part right from the very beginning, whether children’s activities or an ice skating trail or concerts or art exhibits—the possibilities for bringing this space to life are endless. Good design is important, but creative partnerships and programming are what make places like this alive for years. This space will be an on-going, evolving project, not one that is done when the ribbon is cut.

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Finally, the Under Gardiner project is the result of a collaboration between many different partners and the pooling of a large private donation to build the space with City funds for operations and maintenance. It also calls for a collaboration between different city divisions as this space is not a traditional “park” and blends many different areas from parks to transportation to culture to tourism.

Already there have been comparisons to New York’s High Line and Miami’s Underline, but this is a completely unique project in a space that is distinctly Toronto.

Sign-up here for updates on the project, including upcoming consultations, and be sure to follow Under Gardiner and Park People on Twitter for more.

Renderings from Public Work.

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