It’s only 1.05 hectares in size, but Underpass Park in Toronto is making big waves for its innovative use of a patch of derelict land beneath one of the city’s elevated streets near the lakeshore.
Designed by Vancouver landscape architects Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg and Toronto’s Planning Partnership, the park is kitted out with swing sets, jungle gyms, hopscotch grids and big colourful structures for kids to climb on. In another area, basketball hoops and skateboard ramps have been installed to attract teenagers. Added to the mix are park benches and flexible spaces designed to attract community events, such as local festivals and farmers markets.
The architects have made the most of the location’s urban grit. Undeniably present, the grey concrete pillars and underbelly of the raised street above provide solid shelter from wet weather and walls for bouncing balls. The park is also surprisingly quiet, since most of the noise (and car exhaust) happens overhead.
The most eye-catching feature is a newly installed public work of art called Mirage. Created by local, renowned architect Paul Raff of Paul Raff Studios, it is composed of 57 polished, stainless steel, octagonal surfaces suspended from the underside of the overpass. Reflected light rays bend to produce a displaced image, much like a mirage.
Underpass Park is one of the first projects to reach completion in the West Don Lands, one of the city’s newest neighbourhoods. The massive parcel of land is now under construction with more parkland and multiple residential units nearing completion. The push is on to complete the neighbourhood by 2015, when Toronto will host the Pan Am Games, making the West Don Lands the main hub for the international sporting event and the location of the Athletes Village.