In November 2015, the City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto announced the creation of a new public space underneath the Gardiner Expressway, thanks to a donation of $25 million from Judy and Wil Matthews. Stretching 1.75 kilometres between Strachan and Spadina Avenues, the initiative known (for now) as Project: Under Gardiner aims at linking the surrounding neighbourhoods through extensive cultural programming in new public spaces and a new trail dedicated to pedestrian and cycling traffic, eventually breathing life into what is mostly now an underused space cutting through the heart of the city.

Indeed, the growth experienced in Downtown Toronto's waterfront over the last decade has brought several thousands of new residents to formerly industrial areas. Now extensively redeveloped, close to 70,000 people live, work, and play in the Liberty Village, Niagara, Wellington Place, CityPlace, Fort York and Bathurst Quay neighbourhoods, creating the urgent need for additional public spaces.

Under Gardiner overall map, image by Public Work

City planner and urban designer Ken Greenberg, in partnership with PUBLIC WORK, has envisioned an extensive plan to revamp the 10-acre area situated, for most part, directly below the elevated highway. Starting at Strachan Avenue, the project proposes a grand staircase connecting the overpass to the now fenced off space below. In this particular area the Gardiner Expressway rises the equivalent of five storeys above ground, creating an airy but sheltered space with large amounts of natural light.

Looking east from the Strachan Street bridge, picture by Nicolas Arnaud-Goddet

Here, far from the first residences, a mixed-used space temporarily referred to as an Active Hub is envisaged, with activities that could range from movie screenings to performances and exhibitions of all kinds. This section of the project will also benefit from a connection with the adjacent Garrison Common, itself connected to the future Garrison Point development and Ordnance Triangle Park by a new pedestrian bridge, further stretching to the future extension of Stanley Park on the south side of Wellington Street.

Looking east at the Under Gardiner project from the Strachan Street bridge, image by Public Work

To the west of Strachan Avenue, a disused triangular lot tangled in between the Gardiner Expressway to the south and the GO Train rail corridor to the north could possibly be transformed into a Pioneer Garden, or be dedicated to urban agriculture and play activities for children and adults. Once again, the substantial distance between this section and the first residences of Liberty Village allows for a more boisterous or more active programming to animate the space, although the details of the possibles activities are yet to be known.

Looking west from Strachan Avenue towards the proposed Pioneer Garden, image by Craig White

Moving east, the area situated between the better integrated Fort York Visitors Centre and the intersection of Lake Shore Boulevard and Fort York Boulevard will designated as Fort Front. Thanks to the highway's generous elevation in that specific area, it may be possible for native plants to grow underneath the concrete structure. Other ideas suggested for this central area include improved landscaping, water features, and possibly a skating rink in the winter. Incorporating water in this area is an interesting idea since Lake Ontario's original shoreline runs under this space.

Looking east underneath the Gardiner Expressway, picture by Nicolas Arnaud-Goddet

As the central section of the Under Gardiner Project, this piece right by Fort York has the potential to become an important connectivity node. The City of Toronto has installed a new pedestrian crossing equipped with traffic lights to allow the passerby to safely cross Fort York Boulevard and reach June Callwood Park, and in the future this could perhaps have improved access further south to Coronation Park and the edge of Lake Ontario.

Looking east at the Under Gardiner project near Fort York, image by Public Work

An iconic crossing is also planned under the the expressway in order to provide a seamless connection to the next section of the linear park, once again overcoming the barrier created by Fort York Boulevard as seen in the image below. Further details about this feature are yet to be determined.

Looking east towards the intersection of Fort York Boulevard and the Gardiner Expressway, picture by Nicolas Arnaud-Goddet

Once past the boulevard, the linear park reaches a densely inhabited area with residential edifices immediately adjacent to the space both north and south sides. This space extending as far as Bathurst Street has already been transformed as a "mineral courtyard" via Adad Hannah's public artwork 'Yard Stones'. The abutting buildings and the Gardiner's decreasing height result in less daylight reaching the heart of the section here. It will be interesting to see what upgrades to the space could do here to create better connectivity and bring more life to the space.

Looking east towards Adad Hannah's public artwork 'Yard Stones', picture by Nicolas Arnaud-Goddet

The pedestrian space is interrupted at the intersection with Bathurst Street. The closest pedestrian crossing is located to the north at Fort York Boulevard, and the succeeding space to the east—located behind the former Loblaws warehouse—is closed off currently due to the redevelopment of the property into a condominium and commercial complex, known as West Block. (An up-to-date demolition story on it here appears here on our front page.) Designed before the Under Gardiner scheme, the Market hub which will be constructed as part of the West Block redevelopment is currently not part of the Under Gardiner project, although it has the potential to work well with it.

Looking east towards the West Block development, picture by Nicolas Arnaud-Goddet

Current renderings for this section by renowned landscape architect Claude Cormier + Associés  include food-oriented activities such as a market, with adjacent cafes and a retail component anchored by Loblaw. The space links the retail to the south to the CityPlace neighbourhood to the north. The main challenge here is the installation of a mid-block pedestrian crossing, an unusual practice in Toronto. It will be very interesting to see how the plans for this section evolve to incorporate the east-west links that Under Gardiner proposes.

Looking at the future space designed by Claude Cormier + Associés, image courtesy of Concord Adex

Further east is 'Mitosis Courtyard', situated underneath the Gardiner Expressway between the foot of Queen's Wharf Road and Dan Leckie Way. Similarly to the Adad Hannah-adorned space previously mentioned, Mitosis Courtyard was created by Canadian artist Pierre Poussin through a public art initiative, part of the greater Concord CityPlace program called Concord Artspace. Upgrades to the courtyard could better connect and animate the space. An at-grade pedestrian crossing of Lake Shore Boulevard would create a better connection to Queens Quay and Harbourfront to the south, and would make a big difference. Upgrading some of the landscaping and bringing the trail across Dan Leckie Way would help tie-in a City-proposed dog park with the rest of the spaces underneath the elevated highway to the east and west.

'Mitosis Courtyard' seen from Don Leckie Way, image retrieved from Google Street View

Phase one of the project is proposed to include extending the trail running north of the Gardiner Expressway from Dan Leckie Way to Spadina Avenue, to connect with the existing path and linear garden and over to the future schools and community centre to be built in the CityPlace neighbourhood. Other features could be added to the Under Gardiner project over time. A series of storage sheds just west of Strachan Avenue, currently in use by Exhibition Place, might be a place to create an Innovation Hub. The old tunnel built for the now gone Grand Trunk Railway is one possible way to connect the project's sections west of Strachan, which would open up the possibility to connect even further west to the nearby Exhibition GO Station.

The Grand Truck Railway tunnel under Strachan Avenue, picture by Nicolas Arnaud-Goddet

Finally, the 99 year lease held by the Canadian Forces for the aging Fort York Armoury near the intersection of Fort York Boulevard and Fleet Street will end sometime around 2031. It is not yet known whether the Forces will choose to relocate to a more modern facility when the lease comes to an end, although there is some speculation about the old structure being turned into a community centre.

Looking north towards the proposed Innovation Hub, currently used as storage, image retrieved from Google Maps Streetview

Construction on phase one of the Under Gardiner Project is expected to start this year, and is currently scheduled for completion in 2017. In the meantime, additional information and images can be found in our dataBase file linked below. Want to get involved in the discussion? Visit the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the field on this page.

Related Companies:  City of Toronto, Greenberg Consultants, Public Work, urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto