Gardiner Expressway park? Sure!

Oh man.

A park, over a highway. How great is that?

The problem (the only one of course!) in Toronto is the Gardiner, an elevated expressway roughly parallel to the waterfront. It snakes along the base of the city and the argument has always been it cuts off the city from its lake.
What to do?

Toronto's been working on some ideas: keep it up (with repairs), improve the existing expressway, build a new elevated roadway or take it down, but only east of Jarvis and so on.

Unfortunately, you can't just straight knock it down because you still need to get all those people (errr cars) into the city.

Makes sense.
This particular idea is courtesy of Quadrangle Architects and on first blush it sounds like a goody.

Les Klein (of Quadrangle) says a surface road would cut-off the waterfront even more fully and I agree. Also, I'm assuming burying the thing à la Boston's Big Dig would be too costly and problematic, so that's out.

In a perfect world public transit gets so dirty good that no one wants or needs to drive into the core anymore, but that's not going to happen, so it seems we're left with a big concrete snake, standing guard. Protecting the city from lake monsters.

Lake Monsters!

But there's so much to consider beyond the Gardiner's monster fighting ability.

First off, the concrete snake isn't a standalone anymore, as its condo buddies show up in increasing numbers. The city is increasingly surrounding the road, encroaching on its carness, hiding it and pulling it into a more lived urban fabric that stretches ever lakeward. The growth and use of the island airport and The Wavedeck also fall into this lake grab, something that has been taking place all while people bickered about the city ignoring its waterfront.

So, if it's going to stand there - hidden or not - we might as well make it look awesome and a park up top with fences and walls to keep people safe and exhaust free does that. Not to mention the green goodness the space promises to provide. And imagine the views! I would expect there to be plenty of points to look up towards the city or out to the harbour, island and the lake beyond.
Between the condo towers of course...I'm not saying I'm a mega fan of the condos or necessarily everything about an increasingly busy island airport. Just that I like what they represent in terms of density and urban life.
Oh heck! We should totally add a glass floor (similar to the one up The Tower) just so park users could moon motorists stuck beneath in traffic jams.

And, AND! as an example of poured concrete modernist architecture the Gardiner Expressway is slowly losing its eyesore tag (at least to my mind). Such style was a popular deal in the '60s and 70's and as retro-chic continues its unstoppable cyclical march it's starting to enter a cool phase again. This is to say nothing of the other aesthetic gifts a giant chunk of concrete can provide, acting as a versatile canvas for art of all sorts.

A couple years back the talk was of a river of light.
Just recently, the underside of the Gardiner became the setting for Watertable, art that marked the old Lake Ontario shoreline with an LED display.
I particularly like this project as it reminds us of urban space's vital connection to the, hrrrm, natural world. I'm hesitant to even make the division because a city without the rest of the world is dead dead dead, no matter how much we pretend to pull back and exist independently. But that amorphous, organic city is something to be considered elsewhere (in the first chapter of this book for instance).
As an aside Toronto as a whole is being recognized for some green initiatives at the current Copenhagen summit. I've posted the city's video, apparently playing in Denmark on a loop, at the bottom.

As if we needed any more support for the idea, someone else has already done it, therefore it must be good. The High Line in New York is a park built onto a disused railway viaduct. The city gets more green space and overall quality of life goes up as the park has become a place for art and interaction; so much more than just a place to stroll! (and for those looking for more staid markers of well-being, there are more people in the area for shopping and to drive up property values). Similarly, Paris has its Promenade Plantée.

I think a Gardiner park is a great idea and given that no matter what the greeners might hope, we're stuck with a car culture for the time being and still need to live with it as best we can. That doesn't mean we need to be subservient though. More scramble intersections that let the pedestrians take the road and more projects like this where pedestrians are allowed to move under, over and around a main thoroughfare.

Eventually it has to enter a person's mind I am as important as these cars, and in time, I am more important than these cars.

The world isn't going to change overnight, but through these acts and architectures - realized demonstrations in urban space that people are the prime unit - we will start to see change. People, allowed to feel and live their importance, subsequently have an easier time of moving past autocentric paradigms. The change happens, but it does so organically.

Theory is given life and people believe, but only if we can build those spaces so the imagination can take hold.

(This is a little west end of the Gardiner Expressway centric due to personal geographic experience...methinks I just found my first springtime bike trip/urban hike)

Toronto's green leadership video currently being shown at the climate summit in Copenhagen.

1 comment:

  1. loving sunny's cameo in the vid!

    great post, keep up the thinkin' and the writin'