With land in cities becoming scarce and expensive, we need to get creative about how we provide new parks for growing communities. By using existing land within an urban hydro corridor to create a linear park and trail, the Green Line in Toronto is an innovative way of creating new green space and pedestrian connections in neighbourhoods that need them.
The Green Line started as a community initiative with an ideas competition in 2012 spearheaded by local resident Helena Grdadolnik of Workshop Architecture. Park People got involved in late 2013 to help build support for the idea at the City and lead events like community walks, photo exhibits, mural parties, pollinator gardens, and more. Huge, heartfelt thanks to the many, many community members that contributed time, energy, and expertise over the last several years.
All of this work helped push the project forward, harnessing community energy and political support to keep the dream of a connected linear park alive. We always believed that this project is important to the local communities through which it runs, but also in promoting a vision of what creative park thinking can accomplish.
That work resulted in the City of Toronto hiring a team of consultants led by DTAH and Workshop Architecture in 2017 to produce a Green Line Implementation Plan–the final version of which was recently released and featured in CBC. Park People was a partner with the City on the plan, providing comments throughout the process.
An implementation plan was critical since the parks along the Green Line have only ever been planned and designed as single parks, not as a longer, cohesive public space. Creating a plan that laid out how to connect and improve the entire 5km together is key in building the Green Line over time.
In fact, as we’ll outline below, two new parks are already scheduled to be designed and built as part of the plan, which is very exciting news!
The plan proposes…
- Nearly doubling the number of parks in the corridor from the current 11 to 21.
- Creating six new signalized intersections, including one that will be installed this summer at Dovercourt and Geary.
- Streetscape improvements to improve the public realm on Geary and Bridgeman Avenues.
- New pathway within parks and through parking lots to create new connections.
- Potential opportunities for public art, seating areas, dog parks, community gardens, and other amenities.
What the Green Line could look like
The plan proposes the Green Line as a connected trail from Earlscourt Park in the west to just west of Spadina Road in the east. The trail would run through existing and new parks, across roadways using new signalized crossings, and through and around the existing parking lots east of Christie. In time, those parking lots could become new green spaces as parking needs change in the neighbourhood.
As an overall master plan, the plan’s goal was finding a way to stitch the entire 5km route together into something cohesive, safe, and beautiful. To do so, the plan includes design principles related to pathway design, materials, plantings, lighting, and furniture.
While it does lay out some ideas for where specific amenities like dog parks, public art, and community gardens could be placed, the detailed park design and the placement of these features will happen through a separate public consultation process as those parks are being designed—just like other parks in Toronto.
Green Line = parks + streets
When you have a 5km linear park that threads through neighbourhoods, including parking lots, and across roadways, you need to think about streets as much as about green space. The Green Line is about creating new and better green space to be sure, but it’s also, critically, about creating connections.
To do so, the plan proposes new pathways as well as six new signalized intersections so people won’t have to dart out through a gap in traffic to get from one park to another anymore–something that frequently happens today and creates unsafe conditions. The first of these traffic lights at Dovercourt and Geary is being installed this summer.
The plan also proposes a number of improvements to streets that run alongside the Green Line, including most significantly Geary and Bridgeman Avenues.
On Geary, for example, the plan proposes new traffic calming measures like narrowing the roadway, which also increases room for sidewalks, green space, and tree planting. This will help create a more inviting, walkable public realm for an area that is already a community hub with restaurants and services for this growing neighbourhood.
The Green Line is not your average park
The Green Line is often compared to New York’s High Line in the media, but in fact it’s nothing like it. While the High Line was built on a decommissioned elevated rail line, set apart from city streets, the Green Line must be built at ground level through an active electricity transmission corridor that crosses several roads. This presents opportunities to create a unique space, but also some very difficult challenges.
The land in the hydro corridor, including the current parks and parking lots, is actually owned by the Province of Ontario and operated by Hydro One. In order for the City to create new parks, it must license land from the Province and abide by Hydro One’s regulations related to safety and access in the hydro corridor–regulations that have become more stringent since the original parks were created in the corridor in the 1970s.
For example, Hydro One’s technical requirements meant trees are only allowed to certain heights because of the high-tension wires overhead and amenities, like benches, need to be spaced out from the base of towers to provide access for maintenance vehicles.
It also meant, unfortunately, that the pedestrian bridges over the roadways, dreamed up in the initial community-led ideas competition in 2012, were not allowed by Hydro One, despite the design team and City trying many different iterations of how they could work.
All of this is to outline both the challenge of constructing parks within active hydro corridors and the opportunity that the Green Line Implementation Plan provides in laying out a method for doing so, which could act as a lesson for other hydro corridor parks.
The plan will take time to build, but new parks are coming soon
The Green Line was always going to be a long-term project, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see big improvements to the Green Line within just a few short years.
A few of the priority projects the plan targets to begin within three years include:
- New parks on either side of Dovercourt street, which will help fill a crucial gap in the Green Line and also expand green space in a neighbourhood with growing needs.
- Two new parks west of Spadina, including the western most gateway to the Green Line off of Davenport Road and one just south of the Toronto Archives.
- Streetscape improvements to Geary Avenue between Bartlette Parkette and Dovercourt Road, including enhanced greenery and trees.
- Streetscape improvements to Bridgeman Avenue adjacent to George Brown College, including enhanced cycling and pedestrian routes.
The City also just announced that the as the first step toward implementing the Green Line plan, the City’s Parks Forestry and Recreation division is moving forward with two of the park projects identified in the plan.
PFR will engage in further public consultation, detailed design and tendering of two new parks: one on Geary Avenue which will expand the existing Geary Avenue Parkette and the other a new park in two sections flanking the hydro station on Macpherson Avenue near Davenport. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2020 with completion in 2021-2022, pending approval of the capital budget.
Plans are great, but they are only as good as the budgets that support their implementation, so it’s great to see the City putting money into the plan to get new parks completed quickly.