Well-maintained and accessible green space is necessary for the health of a city’s downtown core, but this essential component is more often than not given second thought as a city densifies. Toronto is currently victim to this trend, writes a recent report by Ryerson’s City Building Institute (CBI), but the proposed Rail Deck Park would relieve the City of its growing need to provide residents with “large format” park space.

Aerial View of Proposed Rail Deck Park, 20 acre park. Rendering by PUBLIC WORK.Aerial View of Proposed Rail Deck Park. Rendering by PUBLIC WORK for TOcore.

Mayor John Tory officially announced the proposed Rail Deck Park last summer, which would construct a decking structure over the rail corridor in downtown Toronto between Blue Jays Way and Bathurst Street to facilitate the development of approximately 20 acres of new parkland with associated pedestrian / cycle connections. Written by Graham Haines and Claire Nelischer, the report from CBI comes after the City of Toronto published an Engineering and Costing Study Executive Summary two weeks ago providing an update on the Rail Deck Park

Cash-in-Lieu of Parkland Dedicated, 2006-2016. Image by City Building Institute.District-specific Cash-in-Lieu of Parkland Dedication, by district, 2006-2016. Image by the City Building Institute.

As the report describes, funding is available for new green space for Toronto’s downtown core, but it is stalled in reserves because the cost of land precludes development of a substantial park. Toronto has a policy in place that requires large scale development to reserve a portion of land relative to the size of the new development (0.4 hectares per 300 units is required for downtown Toronto). However, in many cases, this portion would not add up to a significant park size, so the City proposed an alternative. Titled 'cash-in-lieu,' this option allows developers to provide funds instead of park space.

The cash-in-lieu funds are distributed to the area that it came from, but also distributed to the City of Toronto as a whole. More specifically, the funds are split equally for “parkland acquisition in the district in which it was collected, parkland development in the district in which it was collected, parkland acquisition city-wide, and parkland development city-wide.”

However, the possibility of acquiring new parkland in downtown Toronto is cost-prohibitive as land value increases. As a result, from 2006 to 2016 the South District (i.e. downtown Toronto) collected $225 million district-specific cash-in-lieu funds, but only spent $94.9 million. The CBI states that the Rail Deck Park will provide an outlet for these stalled funds, and will be one of the last opportunities to acquire parkland as the cost of land increases in downtown. 

Phased approach for Rail Deck. Image from City of Toronto's Executive Summary.Phased approach for the Rail Deck Park. Image from the City of Toronto's Engineering and Costing Study Executive Summary.

Rail Deck Park has an updated estimated cost of approximately $1.665 billion, and the existing and projected cash-in-lieu revenues could fund a small but important portion of the cost to acquire the air rights and develop Rail Deck Park, writes the report. For comparison, the Park would be less than half of the $3.623 billion cost to rehabilitate the entire Gardiner Expressway. Cash-in-lieu funds could be an early source of funding, but the City is also evaluating other revenue tools, including Section 37 funding and development charges, and considering contribution from other orders of government.

The City is currently evaluating a phased approach to the Rail Deck Park. Phase 1 would span from Spadina Avenue to the Puente de Luz pedestrian bridge, totaling 3.9 hectares at an estimated cost of $872 million. The report argues that a phased approach could work toward a long-term goal of constructing the full 20 acre park, while meeting the immediate needs of residents in the area. 

Street View of Proposed Rail Deck Park, 20 acre park. Rendering by PUBLIC WORK.Street View of Proposed Rail Deck Park. Rendering by PUBLIC WORK for TOcore.

As the proposal circulates and evolves through the planning process, we will keep you updated as new information becomes available. In the meantime, you can find more renderings in our Forum tread for the development, where you can also join in the conversation, or you may share your thoughts in the space provided on this page.