The Pan Am Path: Proposal Unveiled for an 80-Kilometre Multi-Use Trail
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The Pan Am Path: Proposal Unveiled for an 80-Kilometre Multi-Use Trail

A group of local residents is proposing one major Pan Am legacy project: a multi-use trail that would link Toronto neighbourhoods, and connect up some currently fragmented trails into a continuous path throughout the city.

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The proposed route for the Pan Am Path. The heavy blue line indicates existing trails and the orange bars show gaps between them that would be filled in as part of this project. (Click on the map to view a larger version.)

In the buildup to the 2015 Pan/Parapan Games, attention has largely been focused on basic infrastructure: sports facilities, an athletes’ village, transit, and other essentials. The appeal of hosting a major sporting event like the Pan Am Games isn’t just gaining a few weeks of flash and international media, though: it also provides the impetus to create developments that can permanently boost a city, enhance things not just for short-term visitors, but for residents on an ongoing basis. There’s a very mixed track record when it comes to these marquee global sports events—Montreal’s Olympic stadium is the nearest disaster, and there are plenty of other examples—and many cities decide against bidding on those events precisely to avoid being saddled with unaffordable and underused vanity projects.

If the scale is right, however, there are real opportunities to use such events to motivate projects that otherwise could take years or decades.

A set of proposed legacy projects for the 2015 Pan Am Games has just been unveiled. Among those proposals: one for an 80-kilometre continuous multi-use trail that would run throughout the city, with hubs along the way to host art, local events, food carts, and just about anything else bordering communities can think of.

“The Pan Am Path is a multi-use path that connects the city from Brampton, down along the Humber River, along to the waterfront, up the Lower Don, and then up to Scarborough through the hydro corridor,” explains James Gen Meers, one of the founders of Friends of the Pan Am Path, the non-profit that’s formed to champion this project. “It is a trail system that already kind of exists in the city of Toronto, but is missing certain pieces that are required to make it a non-stop continuous path, and that’s what the path is about: leveraging some of the political capital in time for the Pan Am Games to invest in the infrastructure required to make a continuous path.”

Essentially, the idea is to use a small amount of money—the infrastructure costs and initial programming are estimated at $1.9 million—to create a much greater benefit by linking together a bunch of trails that, right now, come close to each other, but are not part of a single travel route. Of the 80-kilometre total, only 5–10 per cent would be new construction. It’s a small number, but filling in those blanks will remake the trails into an entirely new experience for the city, Friends of the Pan Am Path thinks.

All the Pan Am legacy proposals was unanimously approved by the City’s executive committee on July 3; it’ll move on to full city council for a final vote on July 16. If passed, the municipal government would contribute that $1.9 million in construction and start-up money. What comes after that, however, would be up to the citizens’ group that came up with the idea in the first place. They’ve got some seed funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and will need to embark on a fundraising and sponsorship campaign to generate the money to layer-in additional programming and amenities once the trail is built.

Five of the six founding members of Friends of the Pan Am Path came out of DiverseCity Fellows, a non-partisan project working at improving the diversity in Toronto’s leadership; the sixth is Devon Ostrom, a Toronto artist and community organizer (among other things, he co-founded Manifesto and the Beautiful City billboard campaign). They’ve been holding discussions with City staff, councillors, the mayor’s office, and the Pan Am Games about the project for months, and are optimistic it will find the support it needs at council.

If it does, their ambitions range from creating a dozen arts hubs (featuring work from both local artists and those representing Pan Am participating countries), to hosting yoga classes, installing Wi-Fi hot spots, and offering a range of seasonal activities. We asked Meers to describe what he hopes the path might be like in 2016, once the Pan Am Games are over and residents have incorporated the path into their communities. He describes a familiar multi-use trail—dog walkers and cyclists and families out for a stroll—but with many twists: “There’s a zombie theme party happening on the side, there’s a film festival happening in the evening, there are cargo containers with local vendors…it’s really up to the imagination of Torontonians.” The mundane stuff matters too: proper signage is essential, he says—many people don’t know about the trails that currently exists—as are tools like interactive apps that show you the nearest access points to the trail and highlight landmarks and events nearby.

Ideally, the non-profit hopes the path would become one long ribbon of vibrant public space that helps people get out in their communities, but also discover other parts of the city—something Meers calls “local tourism.”

Various community groups have tried to work on this issue before, asking the City to build some of the connecting bits that would join up the existing trails. What Friends of the Pan Am Path is hoping is that by presenting those small bits as part of a much larger whole, they can convince the City to spend a relatively small amount of money to get the construction done quickly rather than by inches, over years.

“It’s a very simple idea,” Meers concludes. “It’s not rocket science. We want to animate public space.”

UPDATE, JULY 4, 2013; 12:02 PM: Since we first published the proposal for the Pan Am Path was approved by council’s executive committee; we’ve updated the article to reflect that vote.