The Urban Land Institute (ULI) Toronto Electric Cities Symposium at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre brought representatives of major urban parks from around the world together today for a panel discussion titled Super Park Panel – From High Line to Millennium Park: How Major Parks Transform the Urban Experience. The panel happened as city staff continue to work towards an implementation strategy for the much-anticipated Rail Deck Park, a new 8.5-hectare (21-acre) public space to be built above a section of existing rail corridor between Bathurst Street and Blue Jays Way.

Rail Deck Park, Toronto, Urban Land Institute, ULIView of the rail corridor facing east from Bathurst, image by David Timchuck via Flickr

It was a Fall 2016 council request that asked staff for a strategy to implement the new park, incorporating factors like real estate analysis, engineering and structural assessment, financial analysis such as preliminary project costs and funding sources, and a partnership strategy to support involvement from the community and corporate world. An updated report on the work carried out to date will be presented to councillors at the upcoming June 13th meeting of the Toronto and East York Community Council, while a public meeting detailing the associated planning framework will take place that same month. A final report on the project's required Official Plan amendment and the implementation strategy is expected to follow this Fall.

Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, said in a prepared statement today that "There is a significant park deficiency in the downtown, where 75 per cent of parks are less than half a hectare, and where we are seeing a significant amount of [population] growth. In order to ensure we are creating complete communities, we need to respond to the park deficiency that exists today. The rail corridor is the last opportunity to secure 21 acres of contiguous space. This is a once in a generation opportunity."

The statement ties in with ULI's timely panel discussion on public parks and design. The panel participants include Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director of the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway Conservancy (Boston); Daniel Jongtien, Benthem Crouwel Architects (Netherlands); Matt Nielson, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Millennium Park (Chicago); and Jamie Torres Springer, Senior Principal, HR&A Advisors Inc., High Line (New York City).

“Today’s international panel of modern, urban public realm projects provides a different lens on Toronto’s consideration of Rail Deck Park,” said Richard Joy, Executive Director of the Urban Land Institute's Toronto District Council. “Such projects can serve more than providing civic open space; they can become essential economic generators.” 

One significant public space often referenced when discussing the design of new parks is the wildly popular High Line in Manhattan. Like Toronto's planned Rail Deck Park, the High Line incorporates railway infrastructure into its design. This well known linear park in New York will be one of the topics discussed at a free City of Toronto event tonight, featuring acclaimed architect Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who worked closely on the High line project. The event will take place this evening from 5:30 to 7 PM at the Isabel Bader Theatre. While attendance is free, attendees must register here.