Big changes are planned for one of the most heavily used routes into Toronto’s downtown core. The elevated west side of the Gardiner Expressway stretching 1.75 km from Spadina Ave. to Stratchan Ave. contains a barren shadowy underside that could become the city’s newest cultural hotspot. Project: Under Gardiner plans to create a vibrant public space for recreation, arts, and community.
The project would connect seven of Toronto’s fast growing neighbourhoods through an innovative multi-use trail for pedestrians and cyclists. Over 70,000 residents would be directly connected to an astounding number of Toronto attractions, destinations, and transport hubs (see list: Backgrounder for Project: Under Gardiner). Imaginations are running wild with thoughts of gardens, dog parks, performance halls, farmers markets, adventure playgrounds, and a skating rink being some possibilities hinted at in the promotional video from UnderGardiner.com
Architecture plans are being drawn up by urban designer Ken Greenberg and landscape firm Public Work. Envisioning an urban trail where travellers encounter a series of 55 outdoor civic ‘rooms’ formed by the Gardiner’s structure of columns and beams (also known as bents) (1). The project has been compared to the popular High Line park in New York City that’s built up on an old elevated railway line (2). In an apparent homage, the name ‘Underline’ is even being considered for the Toronto project (3).
The Mayor of Toronto John Tory has endorsed the project citing an expressway in London, England, as an example during a speech at the Empire Club. “Today underneath the Westway Expressway there are tennis courts, rock climbing walls, skateboard parks, riding stables and sports fields. It’s incredible. It’s what we can do here in Toronto – imaginative animated public space without increasing congestion and damaging the economy.” (4)
One of the most surprising and aspects of the project is that it’s being entirely funded by private philanthropy in the form of a $25-million donation by Judy and Wil Matthews to the City of Toronto. With the Executive Committee and City Council expected to accept the donation in early December and transfer the funds to Waterfront Toronto who will oversee the construction. Mayor John Tory boasted “I’m very hopeful that this stunning example set by the Matthews will be replicated many times over.”
The Gardiner Expressway is aging infrastructure and safety remains an issue. City of Toronto has approved about $900 million for repairs to expressway over the next decade (5). So far this year alone ten incidents of falling concrete have been verified (6) including at least one instance of a shattered car windshield.(7)
Also the question of just what exactly will be installed is to be decided in the coming months with the public being encouraged to join in the process. According to the City of Toronto website feedback is a cornerstone of the project, inviting Torontonians to participate in creating this new public space through social media, the project website, public meetings and special events.(8)
The Project: Under Gardiner hopes to be substantially completed by July 2017 in time to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.