Building up will allow us to create the sizable park downtown needs
By Joe Cressy
A central park in downtown Toronto. It’s an old idea whose time has come. Now, all we need is a little creativity, political will, and a commitment from Toronto City Council to invest significant money to make it happen. Let’s get it done.
Last month I was pleased to join Mayor Tory in announcing our intention to deck the rail corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way to build a new 21-acre signature park. That’s the size of Christie Pits. Or, put another way, 16 full-size football fields.
This will be a new central park for all of Toronto.
Now, why is such a new signature park in downtown Toronto needed? Well, it starts with livability. Public spaces — parks and community facilities — make our neighbourhoods livable. For residents and families in downtown, parkland is not only critical, it is desperately needed.
Over the next 25 years the population of downtown Toronto is expected to double to nearly 500,000 people. And in the local neighbourhood where Rail Deck Park will be located, the population has already grown from 945 people in 1996 to 50,000 residents today. Those are simply astounding numbers. Unfortunately, the development of new parkland has not kept pace with this growth.
Decking the rail corridor, just like building the new Bentway Park under the Gardiner, is the type of thinking we need.
The reality for many downtown residents, especially those living in condo towers, is that the park becomes your backyard. The local community centre becomes your play room. It’s these public spaces that make our neighbourhoods livable and our city great.
It should be stated explicitly that a new central park in downtown will not be just for downtowners. It will be a new central destination for all of Toronto.
Now decking the rail corridor — literally building a structure in the air for a park — will not be easy, but it is possible. Cities around the world have proven that it can be done. Millennium Park in Chicago, Federation Square in Melbourne, and Hudson Yards in New York have already shown us the way.
As our city continues to grow, we have to be more creative about how we create public spaces and parks. There simply are not 21 acres of land waiting to be bought or assembled in downtown Toronto. The only way we can create new signature public spaces is by thinking outside the box. Decking the rail corridor, just like building the new Bentway Park under the Gardiner, is the type of new thinking we need.
Since I announced our Rail Deck Park plan last month the overwhelming response has been positive, but also understandably skeptical. How much will it cost? Will it happen in my lifetime? Will city council really vote to spend significant money for a park in downtown? These questions have been asked again and again.
Let’s be clear, building this park will require a significant investment, but in the context of the cost of land in downtown Toronto, it is an effective use of public funds. The City of Toronto collects funds from developers to acquire parkland. These funds — under Section 42 of the Planning Act — can only be spent on one thing, buying parkland. In downtown Toronto the going cost of one acre of land is in the $50 to $70 million range. By purchasing the air rights over the rail corridor and building above it, we can significantly reduce that per acre cost. Moreover, it allows us to develop the type of large signature park we need.
That’s not to say this is cheap. Anything but. But for too long big ideas in Toronto have fallen on the floor of a nickel and diming city hall. In this case, Mayor Tory and I have teamed up to make this project a reality. Together, we intend to build the political support at city hall and funding support from the provincial and federal governments to make it happen.
Rail Deck Park won’t happen overnight. It will take years. But it is bold. It is ambitious. And it is exactly the type of big thinking Toronto is ready for.
Rail Deck Park is about planning for the future needs of our city. Let’s get it done.
Joe Cressy is the councillor for Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina.
NEWS: Green sanctuaries in the heart of the city (June 2016)
NEWS: City seeking street greening opportunities (February 2016)
READ MORE BY JOE CRESSY:
FORUM: Building a livable city (July 2016)
FORUM: Bike lanes on Bloor Street (May 2016)
FORUM: Untapped potential (February 2016)