Possibilities abound for the Under Gardiner project.
It may be hard to envision it, but the Gardiner Expressway’s underside is poised to become a communal cultural space.
With $25 million to work with, the Under Gardiner project, a partnership between the City of Toronto and private donors, will attempt to animate 10 acres of space with year-round programming.
We joined a brainstorming Jane’s Walk led by Park People’s Jake Tobin Garrett to hear what Torontonians would like to see at the site, including hanging gardens, sound sculptures, and pop-up markets.
Garrett is holding tours to give the public a preview of what the space will look like, and to collect feedback on what programming people are interested in. The new linear park, 1.75 kilometres underneath the expressway, will stretch from Strachan to Spadina avenues once the first phase is completed in 2017.
Despite the rain, a sizeable crowd of about 50 people trekked to Fort York and waded through the mud to have their say.
“I would like to see a continuous trail for people to traverse the space quickly,” says Michael, a grad student enrolled in landscape architecture. “I’d also want to see a place for pop-up events. What I think is a really cool thing is the container market, [Market 707].”
University students DJ and Mayo, transplants from Winnipeg and Calgary, hope to see the space used for music and art.
“I find it cool that they’re actually doing something,” says Mayo. “Back home in Calgary, we don’t really do much. It seemed like something so innovative.”
The evolving blueprint outlines proposals for different sections: a skating trail by Bathurst and Fort York, an urban theatre by Strachan Avenue, and a public market that could serve the communities that have sprung up along the Gardiner.
Much of the discussion addressed the challenges—and opportunities—that come with designing recreational spaces using a structure widely viewed as an eyesore and awash in noise.
To the untrained ear, the Gardiner is just an echo chamber for the stream of traffic whizzing by and the rumbling streetcars snaking through. But urban designers and planners are listening for the possibilities.
The area dubbed “liquid landscape,” in front of the Fort York Visitor Centre, has been pegged as the best spot for performances because of its acoustics. “Part of the idea is to have these docks that would be able to be performance spaces,” says Garrett.
This particular spot is also the highest point of the elevated passage, so tall that it can actually fit a five-storey building underneath, notes Garrett.
“Liquid landscape” is a throwback to the historic shoreline, which is now the path that the Gardiner roughly traces. The site has layers upon layers of history embedded within; this birthplace of urban Toronto is also where the Battle of York was waged. It was also once the course that the Grand Trunk Railway ran through.
“We’re not really working with a blank slate here,” he explains. “We have all these interesting cultures converging in this spot.”
Among the other suggestions offered by participants were an illustrated timeline that narrates the site’s history as people walk through, a civic museum dedicated to Toronto’s history, and a designated area for food trucks to set up shop.
“I really want the history of the site to be reinterpreted,” says Michael. “If the project is really able to make the visitor aware of the historical landscape, like the shoreline, it would be a really effective use of the space.”