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Competition Seeks Ideas for Turning a Downtown Hydro Corridor Into an Urban Oasis

A local architecture firm is trying to spark discussion about developing a "Green Line" for Toronto.

Photo by Mark Kasumovic.

A utility tower looms over a downtown hydro corridor that some would like to see converted into parkland.

In New York City, an elevated freight rail lane in west Manhattan became the High Line, a celebrated linear park running through a busy part of the borough. Design firm Workshop Architecture hopes that one of Toronto’s hydro corridors can be similarly transformed into a continuous recreation area for Toronto’s pedestrians and cyclists, and that an international contest soliciting ideas for the space will help hasten the process.

The corridor in question is a strip of grass, more than five kilometres long and filled with massive hydro towers (like the one in the picture at the top of this post). It connects several neighbourhoods in the city, from the Annex to Davenport. These, according to Helena Grdadolnik, Workshop Architecture’s associate director, are areas that lack the park space that other parts of Toronto enjoy.

Right now, the City licenses space from Hydro One for eight separate small, unconnected parks along the corridor. Last year, Toronto’s parks department invited area residents to give input on an upgrade for one of those parks. This led Grdadolnik to think that it may be time for a larger vision for the entire corridor.

An electricity corridor may not seem like the ideal spot for a park, but Grdadolnik thinks that with the right plan, it could happen. “I thought it would be great for the communities along this route to be galvanized to input into a full vision for this area, as one linear park,” she said. “I also thought it was important to extend beyond the green strip of the electricity infrastructure and include the sidewalks and streets adjacent to this corridor in any future planning. My office and home are nearby, and I see many people using this corridor as a shortcut to the grocery store, but it is broken up by streets that are hard to cross, and by fences and steep grade changes.”

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That, Grdadolnik said, is why Workshop started the Green Line competition, which challenges designers around the world to come up with ideas for revamping the corridor. The land is geographically different from the railway that gave rise to New York’s High Line, but the ethos is similar: citizens working to reinvent industrial infrastructure into a beloved public space. (The High Line’s development also began with an international competition.) “We have had lots of people interested and asking questions from as far away as Peru and Turkey, as well as many locals,” Grdadolnik said. The deadline for the competition has been extended to February 11.

And, as with the High Line, Workshop Architecture commissioned a photographer—in this case, Mark Kasumovic—to shoot the corridor. Those photos, along with the winning contest entries, will be shown in an outdoor exhibition in May, which will kick off with a community event. Judges for the competition include Spacing senior editor Shawn Micallef and gh3 partner Diana Gerrard, and the results will be published in Spacing. (Micallef has already written a series of articles about walking the Green Line.)

Right now, the public entities responsible for the hydro corridor—the City, Hydro One, and Infrastructure Ontario—aren’t involved in the competition, and there are no plans to build the winning design. But Grdadolnik hopes that the exercise will provide an opportunity for public input before anything official happens.

“As designers, we have our own ideas of what we’d like to see happen, but instead of drafting something up and imposing it on the neighbourhood, we have decided to hold an open competition to get dozens of ideas from around the world,” Grdadolnik said. “Some will be reasonable and others will be pie-in-the-sky, but they are meant to start a real dialogue about the Green Line.”

All photos by Mark Kasumovic.

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