Project: Under Gardiner would transform an elevated highway into a public park space with dozens of uses.
Back in June, the Toronto City Council voted against removing the Gardiner Expressway that rumbles through the city along the shore of Lake Ontario. The council voted instead for a “hybrid” plan that would reconfigure part of the freeway in eastern Toronto while preserving the elevated road in downtown and western Toronto.
So Toronto still has to live with the elevated expressway. But the city doesn’t have to like it. And since Toronto can’t (or won’t) undo the Gardiner Expressway altogether, the city is planning around it. Project: Under Gardiner, a public–private park partnership, might be the best way to make do.
The project would convert a roughly 10-acre parcel stretching underneath the Gardiner into space for markets, park space, event areas, and other public uses. It will be built with a $25 million private donation. Public Work, a Toronto-based architecture firm, is responsible for the design for Project: Under Gardiner, which will draw inevitable comparisons to New York’s High Line.
In fact, while the Under Gardiner and the High Line both make use of outmoded city infrastructure, the projects will be quite different. Like the High Line, the Under Gardiner will touch a number of neighborhoods (Liberty Village, Niagara, Fort York, CityPlace, Bathurst Quay, and Wellington Place). But the Under Gardiner will be divided into as many as 55 “civic rooms” that will provide different kinds of programming: from shopping and entertainment to education and recreation. Notwithstanding the art put on by Friends of the High Line, the New York park is a pretty much an elevated park.
The core of the Under Gardiner will be a pedestrian and cycling trail that’s just over a mile long. The trail will run from Stratchan Avenue to Spadina Avenue and connect with two major design elements, according to The Globe and Mail architecture critic Alex Bozikovic. One will be an outdoor “grand stair” at Strachan; the other is a pedestrian foot bridge over Fort York Boulevard.
The infrastructure itself will be put to use to host the functions of Project: Under Gardiner. The elevated expressway, which rises about 50 feet in the air, is supported by 55 “bents” or spans of concrete. These will form natural dividers for the program space and support lighting and other mechanical needs. “For Public Work, the highway’s bone structure provides a powerful aesthetic starting point,” Bozikovic writes.
More than the High Line, this space more closely resembles another infrastructure-reuse project: the 11th Street Bridge Park design for Washington, D.C. But unlike that proposal for a river-spanning park over disused bridge piers, the Under Gardiner has already garnered all the financial support it needs to become a reality, thanks to a major gift from two philanthropists.
That doesn’t mean that the proposal hasn’t attracted criticism in Toronto.
Planners aim to finish the initial phase of Project: Under Gardiner by 2017, an ambitious schedule. As Bozikovic writes, it makes sense to plan the construction of the Under Gardiner with the $145 million in work already planned for the western part of the Gardiner. Although, presumably, if the Under Gardiner is completed sooner rather than later, it might inform any future debate about what happens next with the eastern stretch of the highway.
The Toronto City Council will decide early next month whether they should accept the $25 million, and since they almost certainly will, work could begin on the park quite soon. One of the first items of business: “Reclaim the Name,” a campaign to give the Under Gardiner a name that’s “uniquely Torontonian.” The obvious choice would be the Under Line, although that’s not especially nor uniquely Torontonian. “Under Gardiner” does sound a bit close to “Undergarment,” which is kind of a cool name for a park.