The total area stretches like a ribbon running west to east for 1.75 kilometres, starting at Strachan Avenue and ending at Spadina Avenue, in the city’s core. The new space will be located directly underneath the expressway, which runs parallel to the lakeshore and rises up to five stories. Its dozens of concrete columns are providing a readymade rooftop with cathedral-height drama.
Under Gardiner has been in development for a while, but has not been made public until now. A substantial $25-million donation by Will and Judy Matthews has spurred on the project with ambitions to see it complete as early as 2017. The Matthews family has made other major philanthropic donations to the city in the past. This is their largest to date.
The amount will pay for the construction of a variety of environments, with phase one expected to begin construction next summer. Urban designer Ken Greenberg has provided the framework for the project, along with Marc Ryan and Adam Nicklin of the local landscape architecture firm Public Work. Waterfront Toronto is taking the lead in engaging the public, and the city of Toronto is working on finding a self-sufficient way to cover operational costs and maintenance requirements. New York’s High Line is one project that will be studied as a exemplary model of how this might work.
The plans envision the expressway’s underbelly as an all-season, sheltered playground chock full of green spaces and such amenities as an outdoor skating rink, off-leash dog parks, bike and pedestrian pathways, an open-air theatre, a water garden, outdoor fitness areas, plus food markets, kiosks and pop-ups. Loblaws, the grocery store chain, is slated to open at the mid-point area (near Bathurst Street) where dozens of condoniums have gone up in recent years with few food options other than restaurants and convenience stores.
At this morning’s press conference, Matthews explained why she and her family decided to back the project so generously. “Our city is exploding with condos and with that there are struggles. In fast-paced cities, loneliness is a big problem. A project like this can help alleviate that and make a place with activities for all people.”
The planners estimate 70,000 residents in the immediate area, mostly condo dwellers, will benefit from the much-needed urban backyard. But the project’s scale and visual impact is expected to become an attraction for the entire city and its visitors. It will also connect seven surrounding neighbourhoods by providing an artery between districts that now seem disconnected to one another. Completion of the project has been earmarked for July 2017, to open in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.