03 Dec Thoughts on the Under Gardiner
Christmas has come early for the good people of Toronto. Last week, it was announced that a ten-acre parcel of land below the Gardiner Expressway would be transformed into a vibrant linear park. This project is exciting for many reasons, but here are a few things that make the Under Gardiner really special.
1. Public space is everywhere!
The Under Gardiner is a reminder that public space is all around us. Our streets, sidewalks, laneways, and spaces in between are every bit as vital to our public space networks as our neighbourhood parks or central plazas. These forgotten spaces function as the connective tissue that bind our parks and plazas together, but are equally important in creating a cohesive and livable city. Public spaces like the Gardiner’s basement aren’t always pretty. They may be loud, smelly, and downright scary – but they are still our loud, smelly, and scary spaces and we should expect better.
2. Freedom for pedestrians
The Gardiner Expressway has restricted pedestrian access to the Toronto waterfront for the better half of a century. After Toronto City Council’s disappointing decision to not tear down the eastern end of the highway, the Under Gardiner is a welcomed consolation prize. Though some may view this project as slapping lipstick on a pig, the Under Gardiner demonstrates that foreboding and unpleasant infrastructure can become an opportunity – not a barrier – for creative placemaking.
3. New landmark, new city
New York has the High Line, Chicago has Millennium Park, Detroit has Campus Martius, Melbourne has Federation Square, and now Toronto will have the Under Gardiner. Across North America and around the world we’ve seen neighbourhoods and cities transform their identity with major investments in high quality public space. Not only have these projects improved access to innovative programming and physical activity for local residents, but they also raised each city’s reputation as an enviable place to live and visit. These reputations are more vital than ever, now that cities compete on the global stage to attract and retain talented people and innovative industries. These examples prove that the construction costs and inevitable headaches of building the Under Gardiner will be sound investments.
4. Connecting neighbourhoods, and people
Linear parks stitch diverse neighbourhoods together and generally serve larger populations than typical local parks. The Under Gardiner will serve seven neighbourhoods, stretching from Liberty Village to CityPlace where 70,000 people already live and rapid growth is expected. Most residents live in condo towers boxed in by the railyards, the highway, and busy arterial roads. The Under Gardiner will connect these neighbourhoods with a pedestrian and cyclist path between Stachan Avenue and Spadina Avenue. In addition, 55 outdoor hubs with innovative programming, events, and design will punctuate the space and provide gathering spots and focal points of activity.