A City Within a Park. In Canada’s largest city, the aspirational motto of Toronto’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Division conveys a whiff of truth. Yet, while a summertime view from the top of the CN Tower reveals a majestic green canopy across the horizon, Toronto’s fast-growing downtown unfolds in shades of grey concrete and blue-green glass. Tucked behind the high-rise curtain, however, the instantly iconic 8,000-square-metre Love Park now meets the fast-growing urban core with a vivid splash of colour.
While the new park isn’t quite visible from the CN Tower, you won’t miss it at street level. Situated on the site of a former highway off-ramp — which was rebuilt with a much more compact footprint to the north — the park is anchored by a water feature in the shape of a heart, and framed by a 165-metre red mosaic ribbon of public seating. Designed by Montreal-based landscape architecture firm CCxA (previously known as Claude Cormier et Associés) and delivered by Waterfront Toronto, the aptly named Love Park opened to the public on Friday, June 23.
When I passed through a day later, the place was packed. Entering from Queens Quay, the southeast corner of the park is fronted by a dramatic vine trellis of curved, intersecting arcs, which hint at the form of the fountain ahead. Designed by Toronto’s Gh3*, the open-air pavilion (which will gradually fill out with climbing greenery) demarcates a tranquil inner space in the bustling park, elegantly outfitted with Hay’s Pallisade Cone tables and lounge chairs. In a municipality where public furniture is typically bolted to the ground or zip-tied into an awkward cluster, the movable park chairs are the first of their kind. From the outset, it makes for a more relaxed and comfortable environment, one where the public is welcomed to re-arrange the furniture — and trusted not to steal it.
Past the pavilion, a bustling promenade frames the showpiece water feature. Paved with elegant grey stones and lined with ample seating on either side — including both traditional benches and the heart shape’s bright red lip — the walkway creates diagonal paths that convey visitors into the financial core or down to the waterfront. And while the heart-shaped pond is a playfully expressive gesture, it’s also carefully contoured to allow for convenient, intuitive navigation across the two-acre space. (It’s early days, but I doubt we’ll see desire lines across the grass).
The pond was also designed to preserve a mature tree that now sits on a sort of island within the water. It’s a whimsical — and sensitive — gesture of preservation, one that lends the flowering tree a sort of exalted presence amidst the urban bustle. Framing the park, gently elevated grass berms create a pleasantly languid venue for people-watching. The careful balance of space to linger and pass through makes for a dynamic civic forum, where the blend of hurried Bay Street suits, meandering tourists and park-loving locals feels mutually complementary. Finally, a small off-leash dog area and a long bike share rack round out the northern end of the park.
For Claude Cormier and co., Love Park is the latest in a series of spirited Toronto commissions. In the nearby St. Lawrence neighbourhood, the triangular Berczy Park offers a similarly ludic yet urbane setting, anchored by a fountain decorated with dog sculptures. Alongside the massive redevelopment at The Well, meanwhile, CCxA have introduced generous wide sidewalks and seating, accented by sculptures of cats. And at Love Park? Linger for a while and be rewarded with sightings of a squirrel, rabbit, raccoon and beaver, to name just a few. In typical Cormier fashion, it all draws the eyes and invites a smile. Even the Bay Street crowd will be tempted to slow down — and feel the love.
A public space with a big heart replaces a former off-ramp in the city’s evolving downtown.