The Meadoway: a 16km thriving green space and connector

When you hear the words “hydro corridor” it doesn’t necessarily stir up images of native grasses waving in the wind amongst wildflowers with delicate butterflies perched on their petals. And yet, for portions of the Gatineau hydro corridor in Toronto’s Scarborough district, that’s exactly what you will encounter.

This week, with new $25 million in funding announced from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation, that portion of meadow is being extended, with the ultimate goal of creating “The Meadoway”—a complete meadowland trail and bike path from the Don River Valley to Rouge Park through Scarborough.

the-aerial-view-of-the-meadoway-looking-west-toward-downtown-toronto-2880x1913

This follows a recent growth in philanthropic funding for parks and public space projects in Toronto with the $25 million by Wil and Judy Mathews to establish The Bentway and $340,000 from Ken and Eti Greenberg and The Balsam Foundation to support our recent Public Space Incubator.

The project started back in 2013 and 2014, as part of Park People’s Weston Family Parks Challenge program, funded by The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Through this program, funding was provided to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority to transform mowed grass in a hydro corridor into a thriving habitat for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

The project created over 124 acres of meadowland through partnering with 3,000 people from nearby schools and community groups to help with the planting about 10,000 wildflowers and grasses. You can find more about this project in our Breaking New Ground report, which highlights the learnings from the Weston Family Parks Challenge.

imageedit_29_5988987833

Biking through the hydro corridor, as I did in the summer of 2015, the impact upon reaching the meadow was immediate. The air buzzed with insects, things began to smell sweet, and I slowed down to take in my surroundings. I wasn’t the only one either. Whereas the kilometres of hydro corridor trail I had travelled had been mostly empty, snaking around hydro towers in large grassy areas, the bike path through the meadowland was active with people.

As we’ve written about in our Making Connections report, the parks of the 21st century will not look like the parks of years past. As our cities continue to grow and densify, we must get creative in finding new space for parks and focus on tying these spaces together into a connected system across our city. Parks can be places, but they can also be great connectors. Our work on another hydro corridor park and trail project, The Green Line, is a good example of that philosophy.

The Meadoway is forward-thinking on both counts. It revitalizes kilometres of mowed hydro corridor grass with little biodiversity value into a thriving natural habitat that creates a new, natural amenity for people. But it also helps tie communities together through green space with a trail that will ultimately connect people right across Scarborough. When it’s complete, you will be able to ride your bike from Rouge Park through The Meadoway to the Lower Don Trail and down to the central waterfront—almost entirely through off-road trails. That’s pretty astounding.

With a lot of the focus in the last few years on big downtown projects such as Rail Deck Park and The Bentway—both much-needed, innovative public space projects—it’s important that we ensure we’re improving parks and connecting people across the city.

We’re excited at the possibilities of The Meadoway thanks to this generous gift from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and encourage you to hop on your bike or take a walk through the existing meadowland this spring!

 

Insights to Drive Support for Canada’s Public Spaces

City park philanthropy is still a relatively recent phenomenon in Canada, particularly when compared to the US park conservancy movement.

From growing food to restoring natural habitat to bringing arts programming to parks, the Weston Family Parks Challenge kick-started a more creative, collaborative approach to public space in Toronto. Park People’s latest report, Breaking New Ground, highlights what we can learn from the Weston Family Parks Challenge, and how we can apply those lessons to other municipalities in Canada and beyond.

From 2013 to 2016, Park People administered the Weston Family Parks Challenge, which included grants to support 26 projects across Toronto. The W. Garfield Weston Foundation initiated the challenge with $5 million to support vibrant green spaces. Championing innovative approaches that have the potential to be replicated and foster partnerships, the Ontario Trillium Foundation followed, adding $1.125 million to the project. With the combined support of these two funders, this initiative had the scope and scale to make real, measurable change.

As an early example of park philanthropy in Canada based on collaboration and partnership building, the Weston Family Parks Challenge can offer valuable insights that can help guide the future of park philanthropy in Canada. Here are a few of the key insights that can be found in the report.

Rethink Parks: 

Breaking New Ground highlights the importance of thinking beyond traditional city parks and encourages funders, government, organizations, and community members to leverage space in places like hydro corridors, schoolyards and private land to create new green community spaces. However, the report drives home that these spaces bring with them unique and complex challenges. For example, one Weston Family Parks Challenge project brought a community garden and orchard to an underserved tower community. Three private landowners had to commit to the project in order for it to move forward. Today, the towers are surrounded by a productive landscape where families can garden and grow their own food in 66 garden plots.

Friends of Regent Park–CRC Regent Park

Friends of Regent Park. Photo Credit: CRC Regent Park

 

Engage Communities:

Strong community engagement in the design, programming, and maintenance of spaces is critical to the success and sustainability of any park project. The report highlights the importance of creating park engagement plans that are rooted in a community’s unique attributes. For example, the report identifies that in some cases, employing a paid community organizer from the local neighbourhood can help engage residents in the park. Through funding from the Weston Family Parks Challenge, CRC Regent Park was able to secure a park animator who worked with volunteers to form the Friends of Regent Park, igniting interest in park events and improvements in Regent Park. The group has now transitioned into entirely volunteer-run.

New Models to Maintain Green Spaces:

While new green capital projects are often welcomed by organizations like cities, community housing groups, governments and non-profit organizations, there needs to be transparency about what happens to maintain the space long after the ribbon is cut. New parks and green spaces result in additional maintenance and operational costs that need to be accounted and planned for. One learning from the Weston Family Parks Challenge is that budgets to maintain improvements need to built into project budgets and addressed openly with all partners at a project’s outset.

Read the report and watch Leveraging the Power of City Parks featuring presentations from The W. Garfield Weston Foundation and Ontario Trillium Foundation

 

Stay in the loop about Park People opportunities, programs & events

Subscribe to our newsletter!