Underlining The Issues: Under The Gardiner

Image courtesy of Public Work.

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Underlining The Issues: Under The Gardiner

Story by Zach Ruiter

Last November, Toronto philanthropists Judy and Wilmot Matthews announced they would donate $25 million to makeover a neglected 1.75 kilometre stretch between Strachan and Spadina Avenues beneath the raised Gardiner Expressway.

“My husband Wilmot and I hope Project: Under Gardiner will become a warm and wel- coming place for all Torontonians year round,” said Judy Matthews. “Designed by Torontonians for Torontonians, this project will distinguish us and reflect who we are as a city.”

The project puts cars over people, but nonetheless promises to create a huge recreational public space with a linear pedestrian, cycling, and wintertime ice-skating path, that connects a community of approximately 70,000 condo dwellers across Liberty Village, Wellington Place, Bathurst Quay, and City Place to the rest of the city.

Ken Greenberg is the former director of urban design and architecture for the City of Toronto who is now leading the project with the urban design and landscape architecture firm Public Work. Greenberg explains that the Under Gardiner project is part of a larger trend he sees as the “inevitable reverse engineering of the city away from total dependence on the automobile [and] towards other forms of mobility.”

But just how fast can we wean Hogtown off the autos? Greenberg offered the following reflections; “We are perhaps a little slower off the mark [than] other cities...sometimes we are reluctant to get off the old horse and get on the new one.” Perhaps one of the most exceptional aspects then, of Under Gardiner is the acceleration of the municipal process to meet Judy and Wilmot’s condition for the gift, that it be completed in 2017. Mayor John Tory said he, along with city staff and local councillors, “moved mountains” to fast track the project.

The venerable architecture and urban issues columnist, Christopher Hume of the Toronto Star wrote, “moving at such speed isn’t easy for a city whose natural pace is glacial, pre-global warming glacial.”

In his presentation to approximately 70 people who attended the a public meeting in April, Marc Ryan of Public Work projected the image of a rainbow and explained the possibility of using mist and lighting to create a synthetic rainbow under the expressway. He said, “A rainbow under what was seen as part of this dark ominous structure would be kind of beautiful.”

Ryan added the present design includes a so-called liquid landscape in the section under the Gardiner in front of the Fort York Visitors Centre. The liquid landscape would include “grasses that would move in the wind to recall what was a long time ago the original shoreline.” Based on historical maps the plans also call for recreating a shingle beach to demark the shoreline of Fort York before the city was expanded into Lake Ontario.

The addition of fountains or an artificial fog, for Ryan, would be part of “a dream of how that water would be linked to storm [water] management.”

Another exciting aspect of the Under Gardiner project will be its connection to an adjacent project to build a pedestrian and cycle bridge from Fort York that will touch down on the future Garrison Point Park which is now an inaccessible triangle of land between rail lines. From the Garrison Point Park another bridge will connect it to Stanley Park and the rest of the city to the North.

Not everyone, however, is celebrating the area renewal. The development of Garrison Point includes a condominium development that runs east off Strachan Avenue on Ordnance Road that has necessitated the reloca- tion of Eva’s Phoenix, a homeless shelter for youth.

Nat Dawn, an outreach work- er who recently lived at Eva’s Phoenix, says that in addition to the nearby shelter, there are upwards of 30 homeless youth camping out under the Gardiner. “The city is constantly destroying what little shelter they have made for themselves,” says Dawn. “These kids need to be housed before anything [else].”

Mark Mattson of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper applauds the Under Gardiner project for making the city more bikeable and walkable, but condemns the continued presence of the Gardiner Expressway. He wonders if the project is part of the solution or “just a really great idea to start getting people to think about making up for the mistakes... that ultimately cut the city off from the lake.”

Photo by Zach Ruiter

Adam Nicklin - Photo by Zach Ruiter

“The project tries to exist in a world where it is not making a statement whether the highway should or shouldn’t be there,” says Adam Nicklin at Public Work. “It is simply looking at the opportunity this has left us.”

Nicklin, who is an everyday cyclist, views the project as an important element in build- ing bicycle infrastructure in Toronto. “Every city that has taken on cycling as a serious form of transportation changed by example, project by project [and] connection by connec- tion, until [they] hit a critical mass,” explains Nicklin. “[At that point,] the question is not whether you should bike that day, the question is [whether] you can afford not to, because it is just so much quicker and more convenient.”

“The Under Gardiner park is becoming the missing link and this kind of philanthropy can add value to the [surrounding] land,” says Claude Cormier, the landscape designer behind the Garrison Point project.“The $25 million that has been given for the Under Gardiner project is an amazing act of urban generosity.”

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