It’s time for Toronto’s Green Line

In cities experiencing explosive growth, we have to get creative about green spaces. It’s not easy to find land for new parks. We need new models, new ideas, new thinking. Enter Toronto’s Green Line–a project that I’m working on at Park People.

The Green Line is important, not just because it creates more green space in neighbourhoods that need it, but because it represents a new, creative way to think about parks in Toronto.

The key to the Green Line is that it takes a hydro corridor and a set of nine existing small parks, and connects all of these together with new green spaces to create something larger and more impactful.

Rather than thinking about each park as an individual space, the potential of the Green Line is seeing the entire 5km length, from Earlscourt Park to just east of Spadina Road, as one continuous park. Much like knocking down walls in a small house creates larger, more usable spaces from tinier rooms, creating connections between parks in the corridor creates a much larger, more usable park.

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We’ve been working hard at Park People, along with our partners Workshop Architecture and the Friends of the Green Line, to make the Green Line a reality.

We’ve advocated for new green spaces to be created in the corridor and seen the City commit in the 2016 budget to license the land to create four new parks. We’ve engaged with hundreds of community members with fun activities that bring people to the Green Line through walks, parties, bike rides, and harvest festivals.

We’ve beautified the walls of the Dovercourt underpass with a new mural by celebrated street artist Roadsworth. We’ve created new natural habitat with the Friends of Frankel Lambert Community Garden in a new pollinator garden. We’ve worked with Ryerson University students on a study that lays out the Green Line’s challenges and opportunities. The Toronto Star endorsed the Green Line, calling it “brilliant.”

And we’re just getting started.

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And, if you can forgive the plug, we’re hosting a Green Line Fundraiser and Celebration on Thursday, March 31 at Geary Lane. We want to celebrate the successes that we’ve all had together and raise some money to continue working. If you’re in Toronto, come!

Linear parks like the Green Line are crucial to urban neighbourhoods that find themselves struggling to create new parks. These spaces have become extremely popular in cities around North America, from well-known projects like New York’s High Line and Chicago’s 606 to our local Toronto gems like the Midtown Beltline and West Toronto Railpath.

Because of their long skinny shape, linear parks are able to connect many communities together, providing space to relax, but also a safe, pleasant route to bike, walk, or run along. The Green Line is no exception. It would connect neighbourhoods in the west like Davenport Village to the Annex in the east.

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The Green Line is a key east-west link. If we plug the Green Line into existing bike routes like the West Toronto Railpath to the south, and Prospect Cemetery and the York and Midtown Beltline to the north, it suddenly becomes a part of a much larger already established network of trails and parks.

Linear parks also reach more people than traditional square-shaped parks because they extend their long, skinny shapes farther into neighbourhoods.

This is why the Green Line would have more people within walking distance than a park like Dufferin Grove, which actually contains a similar amount of space. A study by Ryerson University students found more than 65,000 people living within a 10-minute walk of the Green Line—that’s more than the entire population of Aurora, Ontario.

So what needs to happen to bring the Green Line to life? We need to create more green spaces in the corridor, build connections over the roadways, and run a continuous trail through both the parks and the parking lots in the east.

We’ve built a lot of positive momentum in the past year to get this done. With support from local politicians, city staff, community members, and people like you, we can make the Green Line a reality.

photos by Sammy Tangir (people walking) and Dan Bergeron (mural)

 

 

 

 

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Five simple ideas to improve Toronto’s parks

This week Christopher Hume at the Toronto Star wrote about modest steps that could improve Toronto. He talked about more scramble intersections, upgraded St. Lawrence Market area parks, and better pedestrian experiences.

We often get bogged down with big, complex problems in Toronto (we are a big, complex city after all), but it’s good to be reminded that sometimes simple, relatively inexpensive fixes can go a long way to make the city more enjoyable for everyone.

It got me thinking about what five simple, inexpensive things we could do right now to improve parks in Toronto. Here’s my list. I’d love to hear other people’s ideas, as well.

Create a Community Group Event permit

Okay, so it’s not a super sexy topic, but permits are important. They’re important because they regulate our use of public space in ways that are needed (making sure we all have equitable access to our open spaces) and annoying (being costly and confusing for most folks).

In recognition of this, Toronto recently created two new permits for art and music events that are free and simple to apply for.

This is great, but it leaves out the wonderful, small volunteer-run community events that local residents put on in their parks.

Right now these groups need to apply for Social Gathering or Special Event Permits which can cost between $90 and $125 once all fees and insurance requirements are fulfilled. Not cheap when you’re already putting a lot of time and energy into doing an event for your neighbourhood.

So let’s create a new Community Group Event category that is free and simple to apply for. You’d need to be a local community group and limit your event to, say, less than 75 people to ensure it’s not a big impact kind of event on the park.

The City is reviewing its permit system this year. Hopefully it builds on its great work around art and music events with a Community Group Event permit.

Install more benches and social spaces

Whenever I travel to other cities and come back to Toronto I’m always re-amazed at one thing: the lack of places to sit in parks and on streets. It’s gotten better in the last five years, but we are really stingy on benches in Toronto. They’re not super expensive, but they do so much to make a public space, whether it’s a street or park, more inviting and usable.

Benches aren’t just nice-to-haves, they’re crucial for children, older adults, and people with mobility issues who may need to sit down and rest and can’t curl up easily on a blanket on the grass. Even popular parks like Trinity Bellwoods and Christie Pits have a dearth of places to sit.

I’d like to see Toronto get behind the super-long benches that you find along park pathways in New York.

Or how about lunch tables that seat just two or three people rather than big standard picnic tables all the time? I know these would go over well in the downtown park near my office where everyone hunches over take-out containers balanced on their knees.

Put up message boards in parks

Perhaps with the new wayfinding strategy the City is working on, this will soon be an item I can cross off the list. I know from speaking with many community volunteers who do things in their park that reaching out to their neighbours and letting them know what’s happening in the park can be difficult sometimes.

Social media is great, but having a physical place in parks to post notices, event details, upcoming meetings, funny pictures—whatever—would really help people reach their neighbours and share information.

More friendly park signs

My favourite Toronto park sign is found in Sunnybrook Park staked into the ground next to the parking lot overlooking the cricket pitch. Have a nice day, it says. Or the Toronto Islands sign that says, Please walk on the grass. They make me smile.

Toronto park signs don’t often make me smile. Too often I’m greeted with a huge list of items with a red slash through them. Don’t do this. Or that. Nope. Don’t even try it. Forget about it. Oh, and enjoy! I wrote about this previously after visiting Milliken Park, which has some of the harshest NO signs I’ve come across.

Let’s flip our messaging from negative to positive as much as we can. First, welcome people to the park. If there are things that can’t take place (dogs off leash, leaving pathways, etc.), use it as an opportunity to explain why, rather than simply banning the activity with a red slash. Educate people on the sensitivity of natural areas and the erosion that dogs can cause. Maybe include a list of suggested activities (picnics, reading a book under a tree) as a cute way to balance things out.

Outdoor recreation programming

We have a lot of community centres in parks, which have various programs for things like yoga, art, tai chi and lots of other activities. Unfortunately, these take place inside the four walls of the community centre even though there is great, wonderful, life-giving green space right outside.

New York has a big summer program of outdoor classes that take advantage of the city’s great parks. Let’s move some of our recreation programming outside the walls of the community centres and outside into our parks. Or how about libraries that are near parks? Maybe we can get some children literacy programs outside instead of indoors?

What are your ideas for simple, inexpensive ways to improve our parks?