It might be the best, and greenest, east Gardiner Expressway that Toronto never had. City staff recently reviewed five proposals including the “Green Gardiner,” an ambitious plan to reroute the eastern end of the highway in close alignment with the rail corridor, and cover that with a long narrow park. Architect and planner Cal Brook of Brook McIlroy Inc. gives us his pitch.
What, in a nutshell, is your proposal?
The Gardiner from Cherry to Jarvis St. would be rebuilt on top of the railway. You’re really taking two barriers between downtown and the water — the Gardiner and the railway — and consolidating it in one narrow strip. On top of the Gardiner would be a 1.1-kilometre linear park, like a vast green roof. That frees up Lake Shore Blvd. to become a normal, beautiful waterfront boulevard that everyone has always aspired to. It also frees up a whole swath of city-owned land on the north side for mixed-use development. East of that, the link to the DVP is the same as the city’s “hybrid number 3” option.
So the roadway above the rail tracks becomes like an above-ground tunnel. What happens in the park on top?
It would be entirely public space — bike lanes, walkways, all the same kinds of things we see in the High Line in New York. Landscaping, mature trees — a linear park connecting the St. Lawrence, Market District and Distillery neighbourhoods, and waterfront pedestrian and cycling connections. There would be multiple access points, ramps and urban stairs, for maximum north-south permeability.
City staff declined to recommend the Green Gardiner as an option for council to consider, except in the long term. Reasons included a “lengthy and uncertain” approvals process to cover the rail corridor and an estimated $735 million cost on top of rebuilding and reconfiguring the “hybrid” east Gardiner.
With all due respect to the city, I do not understand the numbers they’re using at all. They were a total surprise to us. The price that they’re allocating for that eastern segment — rebuilding the connection from the Don to Cherry St., demolishing the Gardiner in that new segment, building a new bridge and reconstructing Lake Shore Blvd., is $265 million. In our segment, about 1.1 kilometres, they’re ascribing a cost of $735 million. Also, their number doesn’t take into account revenues from city and (provincial) Metrolinx land freed up for development.
So is there any chance Torontonians will be able to stroll barefoot through grass on top of the Gardiner?
Absolutely. I’m not giving up. Some people think these projects are a far-out idea, but it’s actually really commonplace. What’s interesting is these types of (platform) projects happening in New York are being done by Canadians — Oxford (Properties) is doing Hudson Yards and Brookfield (Properties) is doing Manhattan West.
This interview was edited for length and content.
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