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Connecting Toronto One Park at a Time

A hydro corridor is at the heart of a movement to link up the city's green spaces.

A map of Toronto’s existing and developing urban greenways. Image courtesy of Park People and the Centre for City Ecology.

There are certain corners of Toronto that act as incubators for urban design—sites such as the Davenport hydro corridor, which inspire activists and community members to imagine new development opportunities. The corridor is the focus of the Green Line initiative, which is bringing together non-governmental organizations and members of the public to help create a “greenway” between Spadina Road and Lansdowne Avenue—a linear green space that links parks and parkettes, facilitating active transportation such as walking and cycling.

“As Toronto becomes more and more dense and people are living in tower communities and apartment buildings, we really need to use every scrap of green space in the city,” says Anna Hill, community outreach and neighbourhood parks co-ordinator for Park People, a non-profit organization that strives to improve Toronto’s parks. “Wherever we can create these extended green spaces by connecting parks together, it really helps Toronto become a more livable city.”

Park People has teamed up with community members to found Friends of the Green Line in hopes of building support for a greenway along the hydro corridor. But the organization is interested in how the rest of the city is developing greenways, too.

“We are actively working on a specific project called the Green Line, but as part of that it’s always important to look at the broader city-building context,” Hill says. “And within Toronto, where are the other efforts to create extended green spaces?” That’s why Park People and the Centre for City Ecology have produced a map of Toronto’s existing and developing greenways, showing where they lie in relation to each other and to public transit.

Opportunities for creating greenways and active transportation corridors are often found in underused areas that are home to big pieces of infrastructure—or once were. The Green Line is located in a hydro corridor, the Kay Gardiner Beltline used to be a railway, and the West Toronto Railpath runs along a rail corridor that’s still in use. Even natural corridors, particularly the ravines along the Don River, are often readymade for extended greenways.

The first step toward spurring more greenway development is to sell the idea to community members. Park People and Friends of the Green Line have been engaging residents who live nearby the Davenport hydro corridor, discussing its potential at events such as a June 19 walking tour. On July 8, Park People and the Centre for City Ecology hosted an event with Ryan Gravel, the urban designer behind the Atlanta BeltLine, a 35-kilometre former railway loop encircling downtown Atlanta that is currently being transformed into a linear park.

Going back even further, local firm Workshop Architects (some of whose staff members are now involved with Friends of the Green Line) engaged the public with the Green Line Ideas Competition, concluded in 2013. Organized with the support from the Canada Arts Council, the Ontario Association of Architects, and Spacing magazine, the competition invited architects, planners, artists, and lay people to submit their visions for the Green Line.

The outreach efforts appear to be working. “There does seem to be a tremendous amount of interest in the local community,” Hill says. “But we need to galvanize community interest, create a united voice, and share with city councillors and people who are running for office that there is interest in repurposing the hydro corridor as extended green space.”

On August 7, a City study of land use, urban design, and potential improvements along Dupont Street will deliver its final report. Although the study didn’t specifically look at the Green Line, proponents are hopeful the final report will recommend that, at the very least, the greenway be examined in a future study.

More greenways and active transportation corridors mean improved access to parks and improved mobility between different parts of the city—particularly for those who get around without the use of a car. They even have the potential to spark private sector development by offering more and different access to neighbourhoods.

“In Toronto it’s so important to start connecting communities together,” says Hill. “If you look at the development of cities, you had waterways first, and then railways, and then subways, and then highways, as the harbingers of urban development… I think you could make a case that greenways are a new and very legitimate way to connect communities and create urban development.”


  • Matt Patterson

    I don’t think this is a zero/sum game. An expanded system of greenways could make biking a more attractive option for suburban-to-downtown commuting. As a result, more bikes would fill the downtown roadways and create more demand for on-road bike lanes.

    As well, I don’t think the greenways and the bike lanes actually come out of the same budget – or that a lack of funds is the main barrier toward building more on-road bike lanes.

  • Suicide Boi

    I’d like to see a linear park/greenway on the north side of Danforth Ave. between Jackman (Broadview) and Drewhurst Blvd. (Donlands). It could continue east on Strathmore Blvd.

    I rode along there last week and it’s possible but very awkwardly connected. It has good potential though.

    There was even a Jane’s Walk about this in April.

  • you know my name

    Martin Goodman Trail not on the map?

  • Matt Patterson

    As I said, I don’t think investment in greenways will have any impact whatsoever on whether or not Bloor West (or any other downtown street) gets bike lanes. These projects are not coming from the same budget, and I really can’t see the councilors who oppose bike lanes suddenly changing their minds if we stopped investing in greenways.

    • hamish

      With some respect, having been in some of the struggles for better biking over the last too-many years, the off-road parts of the Bike Plan have surged to be over and above the targets though it all costs more (often from the same budget), and the on-road languishes undone c. 22%. The classic example is the tiny bit of Bloor St. E in the Bike Plan for bike lanes between Church and Sherbourne for $20,000 to repaint. Not yet done….

      • Matt Patterson

        Yeah, but you still haven’t given me any evidence to make me believe that reducing our investment in greenways will result in more on-road bike lanes. I just don’t buy it.

        How are the greenways and on-road bike lanes coming out of the same budget? My understanding is that the Bloor Street revitalization was a combination of routine road repair and BIA investment. The greenways are coming from Pan Am legacy funds and the federal Canada Action Plan.

        And, as I said before, the reason there’s not more bike lanes along Bloor is not because we couldn’t afford it and not because we built greenways. It’s because of political opposition from people who aren’t going to change their minds based on whether or not we’re building greenways.

  • Roger Brook

    Greenways tend not to serve every user, but proposed lanes along Davenport would be ideal for recreation & utilitarian travel; including walking, jogging and slower moving careful cyclists.
    Unfortunately many politicians (not just the Fords) do not believe that cyclists should share the roads, preferring to steer funding into less controversial off road paths. Conflicts arise, when beneficial greenways, like Railpath, are oversold as speedy commuting routes, when they have so many other benefits. At meetings, drivers argued to eliminate bike lanes on Dupont, (it was shortened), and other streets, saying that cyclists should stick to Railpath.