Skating, live arts, play area ideas for new Gardiner park

Dennis Hanagan–

Imagine skating under the Gardiner Expressway, not on a rink but along a winding trail that stretches between Spadina and Strachan Ave.

That’s what designers have in mind for the new 1.75 km-long park that’s to be developed under the Gardiner and be open in time for Canada Day 2017. It would have 10 gateways for the public to enter.

Other ideas include terraced areas for public gatherings, a children’s adventure playground, a special connection where it meets Strachan known as the Strachan Gate, washrooms, space for visual and performing arts, and a shoreline garden and plaza with a water feature—maybe with a fog producing device—to depict Lake Ontario’s original shoreline.

The ideas were presented at a public meeting April 7 at the Harbourfront Community Centre.

The venture has been triggered by a $25 million philanthropic gift for capital costs from the Matthews Foundation. Waterfront Toronto is managing the project known as Project: Under Gardiner (PUG).

Urban designer Ken Greenberg called the project “a hidden treasure” that can be made out of the oft-forgotten land under the expressway.

“This is an area that is sitting in the middle of extraordinary change … This was an industrial area a very short time ago,” Greenberg said, adding it was home to Ingles, Massey Ferguson and Labatt Breweries.

He said this area of the city is developing rapidly and an estimated 70,000 people now live there in places such as the Fort York neighbourhood, CityPlace, Bathurst Quay and Liberty Village.

Greenberg said this area has been deficient in open space. He said that with the philanthropic gift and the city’s $150 million work to rehabilitate the Gardiner deck the project becomes a $175 investment in the area.

Greenberg said the five-storey high space under the expressway and its 24 metres in width gives the project team room to work. “There are amazing spaces under the Gardiner which we say have been hiding in plain sight.”

He said that what many see as “an ugly barrier” between the city and its waterfront can be made into something beautiful. “It has a kind of strange beauty to it,” he said.

“We’re imaging a whole range of activities from performing arts, visual arts, specialty markets, children’s play, everyday recreation, relationships to the national historic site (Fort York). All these things are coming to pass” under the Gardiner, said Greenberg.

He said there are some “critical places” along the park at Strachan and Fort York Blvd. that need “special measures” to make the park contiguous.

Merrilees Willemse of Dillon Consulting said an environmental assessment will be required to determine how to handle Fort York Blvd. where it crosses the new park’s would-be path.

She suggested either a tunnel under the boulevard or a bridge over it so pedestrians can connect easily with the park’s east and west sections. A bridge is most favoured because it would cost less to build and allow crossers to view Fort York.

Christopher Glaisek, vice-president of planning and design with Waterfront Toronto, said ways are being looked at to generate operating funds for the park without relying on city tax dollars. One way would be pay-for-use programming.

“As we know the city’s parks department already has a lot of budget challenges. They’re not particularly eager to have a new park added when they’re still trying to take care of the parks they’ve already got,” said Glaisek.

He said local volunteers might be another way to help keep the park functioning.