Creating a new downtown park on city-owned land

If you stand at the corner of Bathurst and Front Street you can still see the old development proposal sign for a mixed-use development that never came to be. And if Councillor Mike Layton’s proposal is approved—and we at Park People think it should—this currently vacant, somewhat triangular 2.3 acre piece of city-owned land will actually become a new park instead.

A staff report going to City Council next week seeks approval to re-designate the land to Open Space, preserving its future as a park. This would remove the ability of the land to be developed into residential or commercial. Before the site became a park, an existing agreement will see a temporary open-air shipping container market set up on the site for two to three years.

The site has a somewhat complex history. It was originally supposed to be part of the Front Street extension, but when that plan was abandoned in 2008 it was declared surplus by the City. In 2011, Council voted to move the property to Build Toronto, which is the development arm of the City that seeks to create value through real estate development.

A year later Build proposed a mixed-use development with three towers on a podium and a small park—the development sign that is there today—which was not supported by City Planning for a number of reasons. Build has said that because of the environmental remediation required, a development that conforms with the planning policies for the site is not financially feasible. City staff note that this same issue makes other mixed-use developments on the site challenging.

And so: a park.

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This site is located within the extremely high-growth South Niagara neighbourhood—which is underserved by parkland. In fact, if you stand there today you can watch a new development going up right across the street. The park would also plug into the existing and future public space network in the area, connecting with the extension of the West Toronto Railpath and acting as a green link into the future Rail Deck Park, which would be to the immediate southeast. Its street frontage on Bathurst makes it a highly visible public space and the rail corridor along its southern edge means the park will have a unique view of the Fort York neighbourhood.

While the site is contaminated, as it’s a former location of a lead smelter, cleaning it up (which is estimated to cost at least $4 million) is still much cheaper than purchasing an equivalent-sized piece of land in the area—if you could even find a 2-acre site. Land prices in downtown can range from $30 to $60 million an acre, meaning a 2-acre park could cost as much as $120 million—and that’s just to buy the land, never mind actually design and build the park.

In this super-charged real estate market, it doesn’t just make sense, but becomes a necessity to seize opportunities like already City-owned land to create new public space. It is financially prudent.

For these reasons, we support the staff recommendation and Mike Layton’s proposal to create a new park in this area from this piece of city-owned land. If you do too, please make sure to let your local councillor and the mayor know before April 26.

Click here to sign Councillor Layton’s petition.

Sometimes a street is a park that just doesn’t know it yet

This Land is Parkland is the park blog of Park People’s manager of policy and research, Jake Tobin Garrett. Read more here.

I pass by Phoebe Street in downtown Toronto often on my way to work. It travels east off of busy Spadina Street and into a calm, quiet residential area with a school. Despite its width there are few cars that travel its length due to a barrier installed to reduce traffic because the school’s playground faces the street.

The whole thing seems like a half-done project to me. Why leave all that asphalt there after going through the trouble of basically barricading the street?

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I can’t help but think of the mini-parks in my old neighbourhood in Vancouver’s West End. There are nine of them now, but the first started in 1973 as a traffic calming initiative. The idea was that a half block of a street would be transformed into a green space with gardens, benches and a pathway to allow pedestrians and cyclists through, but not cars.

Vancouver Mini Park Elements

They are one of my favourite features of the West End, a dense tower neighbourhood with big leafy trees. And I’m not alone. A recent city survey found that the mini-parks were near the top of the list of what people loved about the West End’s streets and that 93% indicated they visited a mini-park several times per week.

The area of Toronto where Phoebe Street is has some of the lowest levels of parkland in the city relative to population and is just north of an area City staff recently said needed new parkland. Not only that, but it would benefit the nearby schoolyard by increasing green space and could actually create a green corridor to help link Spadina through to Grange Park.

So let’s finish what we started and use Vancouver’s mini-parks as a model to turn this part of the street into a park.

Mini-park image from the 2012 West End Community Profile

A community garden with accessibility at its heart

The Green Line is a vision to create a 5km linear park and trail to connect communities through the Dupont hydro corridor. Read more about the project here and sign up as a supporter. Written by Friends of the Green Line member Erika Hennebury.

It’s a bucolic late-summer scene at the Frankel Lambert Community Garden. Bees drift between heavy sunflowers. Crickets (almost) drown out the street noise. The trees that line the garden cast cool shadows over the communal picnic table, where meetings and monthly potluck suppers are held, and the garden is heaving with ripe produce ready to harvest.

The distinctive sunflower mural at the eastern entrance to Frankel Lambert Park, where the garden is located, acts as a cheerful greeting. It was coordinated by retired art teacher Barbara Bunting and maintained by a team of senior artists from nearby Christie Gardens, a long-term care and retirement community.

Wherever you look you see the dedication and energy of local community members.

In 2008 Councillor Joe Mihevc and his staff held a community meeting at Christie Gardens to propose a community garden along the linear park just north of the corner of Dupont and Christie Streets. One year later shovels were in the ground and the Frankel Lambert Community Garden was born.

 

Councillor Mihevc’s support has been instrumental, offering help with permits and applications and helping to secure resources such as fencing, a shed (with a green roof), and access to water. Local community members and businesses pitched in too, donating building materials, expertise and labour to dig garden plots, build a compost bin and raised beds. They even helped to erect a weathervane as a memorial to a respected community member.

What makes Frankel Lambert Community Garden unique is its commitment to accessibility.

“We strive to ensure that the garden is a space that everyone who lives in the neighbourhood feels welcome”, says Charles Levkoe, one of the garden’s founding members. The garden, designed by a local architect and garden member, is composed of ground level and raised garden beds (for easier access), and carves a more organic path than many of the grid-like allotment gardens in the city.

 

As well as family and individual plots, the garden includes communal plots, lush landscaping of trees and plantings, and paths to stroll along. A recent expansion includes a pollinator garden that celebrates the Green Line.

 

“These kinds of projects, including day-to-day activities, highlight the value of the garden as a space for a wide range of people from the neighbourhood to come together and form relationships – not to mention grow and share amazing food”, says Levkoe. Membership is comprised of Christie Gardens community members, Fred Dowling Co-op members and residents from local Toronto Community Housing as well as private homes and apartments in the neighbourhood.

Zooming out on Green Line connections

Intro: The Green Line is a vision to create a 5km linear park and trail to connect communities through the Dupont hydro corridor. Read more about the project here and sign up as a supporter.

Zooming out on Green Line connections

One of the exciting things about the Green Line is how it can connect multiple communities from Davenport Village in the west to the Annex in the east. The Green Line runs through three City wards, nearby three others, and passes within or near approximately 11 resident association areas.

But if you zoom out from the Green Line you begin to see a number of other connections that thread out to other areas of the city.

In the west, there is the West Toronto Railpath, an off-road cycling and walking trail that ends just north of Dupont Street and travels down to College Street. While the Green Line doesn’t immediately connect with the rail path now, its a future possibility with the bike lanes on Davenport acting as the go-between. Currently, the City is working on plans for the second phase of the railpath, which will extend it down to King West. Once there, it will connect in with the planned Fort York Pedestrian Bridgeover the rail corridor, allowing people to travel down to the waterfront and access the great parks around Fort York.

There are also potential opportunities for public space improvements and connections to the Green Line with the recently announced Metrolinx project in theDavenport Diamond Overpass. This will elevate the GO tracks between Bloor and Dupont Street just west of Lansdowne, opening up space underneath for improvements. Right now a citizen’s committee is working with Metrolinx on what those could be.

Another connection is found in green space. The Green line starts at the bottom of Earlscourt Park at Davenport and Lansdowne, with the park acting as a green connection up to St. Clair Avenue West. From there, the Prospect Cemetery stretches all the way up to Eglinton, offering a large green northern connection to the Green Line.

In the east, the Green Line connects to the Shaw Street Bikeway, which travels south to King West, passing by a number of great parks along the way like Christie Pits, Fred Hamilton, Trinity Bellwoods and Stanley Park. It also acts as one connection to the Davenport Road bike lanes which roughly follow the route of the Green Line in the north.

When you put all these together, the Green Line acts as a needed off-street east-west connection to several already established or planned north-south routes that connect to both the downtown core, waterfront, and neighbourhoods to the north. Can you think of any others?

Green Line would serve neighbourhoods low in parkland

Intro: The Green Line is a vision to create a 5km linear park and trail to connect communities through the Dupont hydro corridor. Read more about the project here and sign up as a supporter.

Green Line would serve neighbourhoods low in parkland

In our last blog post, we took a look at some of the ways that the Green Line would connect in with the parks, trails, and bike lanes that surround it. This week, we wanted to explore how the Green Line would create new green space in several neighbourhoods that are low in parkland.

Currently, the City scores parkland by using Local Parkland Assessment Cells that divide up the city into areas based on barriers, such as rail lines, ravines, and high-speed roads. They then measure the level of parkland within those cells compared with the population of that area to see where it falls. Areas that are low in parkland (shown in red and peach) are prioritized for parkland acquisitions. Areas that are dark green and light green are areas that are already well served by parks.

While this method doesn’t provide a complete picture of parkland needs (it’s based solely on space provided, rather than whether those spaces actually serve community needs, for example), it does give us an indication of where existing park space might not be enough to satisfy the needs of residents.

What’s immediately clear is that neighbourhoods in the city’s core and midtown area are the ones that are in most need of more park space. This isn’t surprising considering how many people live in these neighbourhoods, with some of them containing many high-rise towers packing more people together to share limited park spaces.

The Green Line, shown in light blue on the map above, travels through several neighbourhoods that are low in parkland, falling within the two lowest categories of amount of parkland in the city.

One of the benefits of the Green Line is that it would take existing small parks within the hydro corridor and create one linear park and trail by connecting these together. This would ultimately create a “larger” park by linking all these spaces together, much like knocking down the walls in a house creates a larger room from multiple smaller ones.

The map above, which shows the west portion of the Green Line from Earlscourt Park to Christie Street, illustrates how this could be done by filling in some of the gaps that exist between current parks.

This would not only create those connections between communities and allow people to travel through a green corridor, but it would also add much needed parkland to neighbourhoods that need it by building from the parks we already have.

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