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Toronto seeks to design its own version of the High Line

Posted by Derek Flack / December 5, 2012

Green Line TorontoNew York City's High Line, a public park built atop a disused elevated railway along the Manhattan's west side, is something that would make a damn fine addition to any urban centre. The problem is, of course, that not every city has an old elevated railway with which to work. And then there's the problem of civic will. The High Line remains the product of a tireless campaign on the part of community members to adapt and reuse a structure that was destined to be demolished many times over.

In Toronto there has been more than one proposal to turn the Gardiner Expressway into a similar type of public greenspace, but the likelihood of converting an active highway into a park is, you'll forgive me, anything but realistic in a city that's struggled to show vision on projects of this nature (let's get the West Toronto Railpath extended downtown, and then we can talk, ok?).

That said, there are other urban elements in this city — hiding in plain view, as it were — that could be converted into valuable public space. The Railpath is a good example of this, but so to is the so-called Green Line, a meandering five kilometre hydro corridor that stretches between Lansdowne and Davenport to around Spadina and Dupont. While lacking the intrigue of an elevated railway, much could be done to make this a marquee addition to our portfolio of parkland.

Green Line TorontoAnd a newly launched design competition is looking to do just that. The Green Line Ideas Competition asks "architects, landscape architects, designers, planners, artists and community members" to "propose how a piece of infrastructure can be transformed into exemplary public space."

Many elements along the five kilometre route are already used as parks — both officially and otherwise — but the competition would like to showcase novel ideas for ways to create a continuous corridor. Alas, this is the earliest stage of the transformation process, and the winning design isn't destined to be built. The City of Toronto is missing key parts of land to complete the link, but according to a press release, local councillors are already negotiating for licences to the missing pieces.

And, really, if comparisons to the High Line are warranted it'd be good to remember just how long it took to get that project realized. This ideas competition will culminate in a community event in the spring, which should serve to get discussion and momentum going for a full-scale push to bring the Green Line into reality.

Lead image Derek Flack / Map courtesy of the Green Line Ideas Competition



Todd / December 5, 2012 at 11:31 am
Won't happen. Someone from Scarborough will complain about downtown getting all the nice things again.
gbenji / December 5, 2012 at 11:58 am
I agree with Todd. Anything progressive, urban or forward thinking is going to be blocked in a city when suburban policy dictates.
McRib / December 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm
thats the spirit.
Merv / December 5, 2012 at 12:27 pm
I thought the Belt Line path was parkland built on the remains of a former railway.
zkpxxo replying to a comment from Todd / December 5, 2012 at 01:17 pm
Have any of you ever lived in Scarborough? I think there's a reason why people from where I live complain about things like this.
wtfskies / December 5, 2012 at 01:23 pm
pretty sure the west toronto railpath is also built on a disused railway corridor (regardless of how insignificant and stumpy it is).

and if you ask me, anywhere where people walk their dogs off-leash and has grass, is a park. so that makes the WTR a park imo
Dick replying to a comment from zkpxxo / December 5, 2012 at 01:27 pm
Because you're poor?
Gordon / December 5, 2012 at 01:29 pm
The main problem with this city is we're too focused on our own little worlds, instead of thinking of the bigger picture.
Ford as a Mayor has divided us deeply. The next Mayor needs to unite the city together.
MK / December 5, 2012 at 01:45 pm
NEVER going to happen. In this city, we can't get beyond a 4 year thought process.

I'd love to see a TO version of the magnificent High Line project. Recently in NYC, I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours there. But really, how can Toronto Council be expected to work on a High Line project, when they spend their time worrying about banning bullets and plastic friggin bags. lol.
Todd replying to a comment from MK / December 5, 2012 at 01:58 pm
They worry about stuff like that because they're too afraid to take a stand on challenging issues. The only person with a sack at City Hall is, unfortunately, Rob Ford. It's such a shame that he's completely unwilling to compromise and prefers to take the most pedantic route at all times, because we desperately need someone forward-thinking, creative, with excellent communication skills at City Hall that will not give a fuck if his/her ideas are unpopular.
Todd replying to a comment from Todd / December 5, 2012 at 02:02 pm
Until that person comes or until Toronto is quartered off and brought back to 1994 boundaries, we're going to get nothing but blowhards because it's so much easier to make it us vs. them opposed to "here's a damn idea to fix city problems, I want your thoughts". Instead we'll continue to get more crap about plastic bags, whether you can get a proper lapper at the strip club, bullet bans, and other associated nonsense because everyone's too afraid to have an opinion.
MK replying to a comment from Todd / December 5, 2012 at 02:08 pm
Hear Hear!

So sad for me as a former UK resident, and traveller of most global major cities to see my birthplace in such a political shit cauldron all of the time. Ford is at least carrying some balls to make change but his methods are so childish he destroys his effort. A pity TO can't progress beyond the playground.
the lemur replying to a comment from zkpxxo / December 5, 2012 at 02:29 pm
Balls. Scarborough already has a ton of green space and parkland extending over a much longer distance than this proposed linear park, and if I'm not mistaken some mixed-use trails have gone into Scarborough hydro corridors in recent years. Seems that Scarborough can have nice things.
Me / December 5, 2012 at 02:33 pm
People in Scarborough are too busy selling drugs and guns to worry about what's going on Downtown.
the lemur replying to a comment from Todd / December 5, 2012 at 02:37 pm
Ford tends to vote against these kinds of projects, like the Railpath (hmm, even though they take bikes off the streets).
iSkyscraper / December 5, 2012 at 06:14 pm
I live in Manhattan, friends of mine were involved with funding the High Line and I've spent quite a bit of time walking the High Line with its chief architect. In other words, I know the High Line and Green Line, you're no High Line. And that's a-ok.

You would think they would be riding a High Line tidal wave by now but the HL designers are in fact rather weary of being asked by countless cities to design them a High Line of their own. Context is everything, and the original High Line would be a very tricky thing to replicate. This Toronto site could be very nice, better even in its own way (High Line bans bikes and is very hostile to joggers and strollers, a no-no in Toronto) but the goal should be to make the space the best space it can be, not to make another High Line.

And that seems to be what the Green Line folks are up to. Name aside, they are shooting for what possibilities the site lends itself to. They have a good panel, will be interesting to see what results.

And don't worry about Ford. The High Line was nearly torn down by Guiliani, the only thing government really ever did was to stop the demolition, and then later rezone the area to spur complementary (i.e. residential) development. 99% of the work was done by private hands (including Conrail, the railroad that owned the thing), and that's the way it would have to be in Toronto. Granted, there is a lot more philanthropic cash floating around NYC than Toronto (probably on the order of one hundred or one thousand times more) but it's not impossible that a Friends of the Green Line could make this thing happen without needing much from Council or the Mayor.
The truth / December 5, 2012 at 06:31 pm
For those who are championing this as Toronto's potential answer to our 'high line' need, which is more of a need to acquire something we have not in order to pretend we are something, is utterly missing the significance and magnificence of what is the high line and how it integrates into the existing community. The hydro corridor, even with all the political might one can muster, will never be anything as half as dynamic or central the high line is to the chelsea experience. There aren't even the population relationship or dynamics within those communities who live near it, who are inherently the ones that have to use the park to bring life to it,

Woody A. / December 5, 2012 at 08:16 pm
And yet another delusional escapade of Toronto desperately trying to emulate New York. Face it, Toronto will never be trend setters, only perennial trend followers.
the truth replying to a comment from Woody A. / December 5, 2012 at 08:45 pm
You are spouting tired truths without suggesting any solution. You are the perfect example of all things wrong about Toronto.
seanm replying to a comment from the lemur / December 5, 2012 at 11:17 pm
Yes, thank you. The Gatineau Hydro Corridor runs diagonally across a large swath of Scarborough, with a well paved bike path that has its own traffic lights at major roads. There are countless other examples of parks and recreation infrastructure in Toronto; one just has to look past the stereotypes.

I think a majority of BlogTO's readership is too afraid to step foot in scary Scarborough though, so the mysterious Scarborough parklands will forever remain a mystery to these downtown denizens.
Tosh / December 5, 2012 at 11:28 pm
And where does all the traffic from the Gardiner go? Ohh we don't worry about that? We just plant the grass, and let it happen organically! That's right Organic Y'all!!!
Jamie replying to a comment from Tosh / December 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm
Will there be cops? OR can we drink up there? No reason to go down there really, BUT if there was a good secret drinking/chill out spot.. Wed go to hang out and enjoy the vibe...
the lemur / December 5, 2012 at 11:32 pm
Then we should stop thinking of it as a way to emulate the High Line and focus on making something that works for what is there and which makes the area better. Nowhere in this information does it say 'Make something like the High Line'. It's more 'What can be done with this space?'.
avas / December 6, 2012 at 12:54 am
i had some of my most memorable moments as as child playing around that rail path and on the cn tracks directly south. its not broke no need to fix it.
avas replying to a comment from Me / December 6, 2012 at 12:55 am
i think you should look up the city crime stats , downtown still has the highest crimes rate sin the city .
The Shakes / December 6, 2012 at 11:03 am
No knock on the HighLine, but basically it is a glorified park. The long continuous nature of this piece of land and it's proximity to the subway, makes it perfect for being used for more than just recreation. Why not also have it serve as a place for retail, pedestrian and bike traffic and social gatherings. Parts of it could become a pedestrian street like Florida Street in Buenos Aires. Why just stop at being a park, when it could become a true attraction and destination?
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