A Linear Park in the Sky?
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A Linear Park in the Sky?


The Gardiner Expressway has become Toronto’s great quagmire. The elevated, concrete traffic artery has sliced through the downtown core since 1965, and has been the bane of urban planners, real-estate developers, environmentalists, and commuters ever since. The debate over how to update the decaying structure is a heated one. Should we tear it down? Repair it? Build under it? Around it? Through it? How about on top of it?
Quadrangle Architects, the Toronto-based architectural firm responsible for the BMW building near Eastern Avenue and the Candy Factory Lofts in Liberty Village, has proposed building what they call a “Green Ribbon”—a seven kilometre green roof constructed on top of the existing highway. The Green Ribbon, first unveiled by the company at IdeaCity earlier this year, was one of many urban planning ideas discussed at Construct Canada, a trade expo and conference held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from December 1–4.

During the “Greening the Gardiner” panel discussion yesterday morning, founder and principal of Quandrangle, Les Klein, said this “linear park in the sky” would feature paths for walking, biking, and rollerblading; a lush landscape of grass, shrubs, and trees; concession stands; and washrooms just in case you can’t make it back to the mainland in time. There’s even talk of creating skate and ski paths in the winter. Adding solar panels and wind turbines would generate enough energy to power all three levels—street, highway, and roof.
The glass veils on either side would provide extra safety, and direct much of the noise and exhaust pollution away from the park-goers above.
In terms of access, there would be staircases at every major intersection, zig-zag ramps at busier entrance points, gradual slopes at each end, and possibly connections to the dozens of condos springing up in the adjacent areas.
Former Mayor of Toronto David Crombie said that the Gardiner “will always be a transmission belt for automobiles. But we need to find new designs for roads and streets, large and small, that accommodate new vehicles for mobility…and redesign them so they’re human.”
That sounds all well and good for up top, but what about underneath the great structure? It’s one of the most inhospitable areas in the downtown core. Calvin Brook of Brook McIlroy Inc., an urban planning and design firm, calls this region “a blind spot in our collective understanding of civic space.” But he says we can create landmark gateways to the waterfront, replacing the wasteland that exists today. Open-air markets, skateboard parks, new lighting, public art, and gardens can revolutionize this inhabitable space.
Greg Kalil, managing director at Brookfield Financial, said, “tolling is really the only way to actually pay for this…so it’s probably not going to be politically popular.” And, if the city’s pockets run dry, they can always turn to private sponsorship. How does “Tim Horton’s Green Ribbon” sound?
Yes, the whole idea appears a bit crazy, but there is precedent elsewhere in the world. The High Line on New York’s west side and the Promenade Plantée in Paris are just two examples of other elevated urban parks.
Klein said putting the roadway on the ground level is an absurd idea. “The idea of taking down the two hundred thousand cars a day onto a surface roadway would create a huge obstacle to the waterfront, not to mention endless traffic jams, frustrated drivers and pedestrians…and still not deal with the railroads which actually are an obstacle to the waterfront.” It’s estimated that the cost to demolish the existing structure would be twice as much as the cost to build the Green Ribbon.
“It’s undeniable that the Gardiner Expressway is an essential part of providing access in and out of the city, and it deserves a better and more creative fate than demolition and relegation to a landfill site,” Klein added. “It deserves and demands creative, adaptive reuse.”
Follow GreenRibbonTO on Twitter to keep up with the proposal’s progress.
All images by Quadrangle Architects Limited