Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat on How to Think About the Gardiner
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Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat on How to Think About the Gardiner

The City Planner prefers a grand boulevard over "antiquated, dark, crumbling infrastructure."

Photo by Brian Cameron from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Photo by Brian Cameron from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

In conversation with former Chief City Planner Paul Bedford earlier today, Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat came out strongly in favour of removing the Gardiner east in order to create a boulevard. Her statement, made to a university theatre filled with landscape architects and urban planners at the “Second Wave of Modernism III” conference, echoed Bedford’s earlier statements about what they assert is the cheaper and better option from a planning and economic development perspective. Mayor John Tory has supported keeping the Gardiner mostly as is, known as the Hybrid option.

Below, we’ve transcribed a segment from Keesmaat on the Gardiner issue, which goes to council on June 10.

“We know that, at the end of the day, city council is going to make a decision. It’s their decision to make. And they’re going to make that decision based on a whole variety of considerations.

From a city planning perspective, I go back to the point that [former Chief City Planner Paul Bedford] just raised about the context we find ourselves in.

We would never build another expressway. Why would we? Expressways were built in an era when cities were seen as something to get through, not as a place to be. We now recognize that cities are a critical asset and opportunity as places to be, to inhabit.

The portion of the Gardiner Expressway is very close to the downtown core. It is right on our waterfront–you saw some beautiful pictures [of the waterfront]–we’ve invested a significant amount of money, $1.5 billion from all three levels of government for our waterfront, precisely because we recognize it as such a unique asset. Precisely because the waterfront is such a unique asset, and we need to think very carefully about this infrastructure and the role it’s going to have in the longterm in responding to our vision and creating a livable city.

So from my perspective, we’re at a moment right now that is a seminal moment, a decision needs to be made, to think about what would be a grand city-building gesture at this point in time, knowing that something needs to be done. And I would argue that from a city-building perspective, that we have an opportunity to create a brand new streetscape in our city. By taking down this antiquated, dark, crumbling infrastructure, and reinvesting in the public realm. And the irony is that that’s in fact the less expensive option than maintaining it. Which is, over the life cycle of approximately 100 years, it’s about half a billion dollars more to keep it up. So there’s an incredible opportunity to create a place, to create new neighbourhoods, that have already been identified in planning frameworks and planning documents along the Keating Channel.

We also have a really important asset in the Port Lands that we have been working very aggressively to advance, in creating a new waterfront community.

By creating a grand boulevard we would in fact connect our own asset–because the City in fact owns much of that land–connect our own asset into the core of the city. It allows for pedestrians, it allows for cycling. It allows for creating a street life that you never could with this outdate structure.

And really, what that looks like, how livable that is, is a challenge that most of the people in this room, I’m sure, would be very excited to sink their teeth into.

And as University Avenue demonstrates, wide sidewalks, having a landing, some kind of gesture in the middle, these are all ways we can mitigate what really is very high traffic volume.

So from my perspective, this is a decision that needs to be made by looking into the future and thinking about the kind of city we want to be in the future. The kind of places we want to create. And it really is about putting our money where our mouths are, to really care about transforming the waterfront and bringing it to its next evolution. A grand boulevard would in fact be a way to achieve that.”