City streets, sidewalks, and public spaces are not only links between destinations but are places to be enjoyed in their own right.
Public realm plans articulate policy principles, stakeholder priorities, and shared objectives. Cities use public realm plans to guide future investment and the enhancement of existing assets.
The Greater Toronto Area is the fastest-growing region in the Province of Ontario, with a population of 10 million people expected by 2050. This growth involves significant development and densification of residential mixed-use communities adjacent to the Under Gardiner and will result in an increased demand for transportation, public amenities, and social infrastructure.
As Toronto continues to grow and the waterfront supports new residential, commercial, and cultural activities, Under Gardiner spaces must be recognized as a vital part of the city’s evolving public realm and woven into an emerging network of improvements that facilitate access, connectivity, and supports enhanced safety and civic life.
The City of Toronto is undertaking a major Rehabilitation Plan in order to keep the entire Gardiner Expressway in a safe and operable condition, now and in the future.Extensive reinvestment in the Gardiner Expressway presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to realize a new future both above and below the roadway.
The Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan will provide guidance for spaces under, and adjacent to, the Gardiner Expressway’s central elevated section between Dufferin Street and Yonge Street (primary study area), as well as high-level recommendations for the eastern section between Yonge Street and the Don Valley Parkway (secondary study area). Leveraging the value of existing assets, and aligning with large-scale infrastructure improvements, the plan will amplify advancements for pedestrians, cyclists, neighbours, and drivers.
Principles & Objectives
To deliver the full potential of the Gardiner Expressway as civic infrastructure, the Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan is anchored by principles and key objectives informed by project stakeholders.
From Obstacle to Connector Create inviting physical and visual connections that link neighborhoods, community assets, transportation hubs, and public rights-of-way in order to address concerns around the safety and accessibility of Under Gardiner spaces.
Prioritize the Public Realm Guide the development of distinctive and exceptional public and semi-public spaces to support a diversity of use, fostering unique gathering places for civic engagement and activity.
Harness the Gardiner’s Unique Character Enhance the identity of Under Gardiner spaces through design and programming strategies that celebrate its uniquely urban quality, built heritage, layered history, and distinct communities.
From Highway to Hybrid Infrastructure Develop protocols and budgets to support an efficient and coordinated approach to Gardiner Expressway maintenance and upkeep, leading to new efficiencies, cost savings, and a cohesive vision for long-term viability.
Advocate for Equitable and Sustainable Growth Support the development of socially and economically resilient public infrastructure that addresses long-standing environmental and public health concerns along the Gardiner Expressway.
Resilient Economic Development for Toronto’s Recovery Aid the city’s economic recovery by repurposing underutilized infrastructure, investing in downtown neighbourhoods, and developing creative programming for residents and visitors alike.
Tactically, this public realm plan aims to
Identify and solve infrastructure challenges such as stormwater management, cycling and pedestrian safety, and ongoing maintenance needs.
Recommend short, medium, and long-term opportunities for public realm and mobility improvements that align with existing work by public and private partners.
Establish a cohesive sense of place for the Under Gardiner through enhanced wayfinding, material palettes, approaches to planting and vegetation, and more.
Support the advancement of pilot projects and prototypes that highlight shared interest between municipal efforts and local stakeholders.
Define the scope and timeframe for various initiatives impacting the Under Gardiner, in order to facilitate investment and promote engagement in the process of transformation.
Multiple experiences under one roof
The elevated Gardiner Expressway stretches 6.5km through the heart of the city, from Dufferin Street to the Don River. The primary study area for the Under Gardiner PRP is the portion from Dufferin Street to Yonge Street. This area is further articulated by a series of sub-districts, each bounded by different neighbourhoods with unique civic assets, existing public realm networks, trails, landmark destinations, and relationships to the Gardiner Expressway. The secondary study area is the portion from Yonge Street to the Don Valley Parkway.
PRIMARY STUDY AREA
EXHIBITION PLACE WEST ANCHOR
This district is characterized by linear spaces including Manitoba Drive, a TTC loop, a long straight Under Gardiner space, and large enclosed storage rooms under the Gardiner Expressway. As a key gateway to Exhibition Place, The Bentway Phase 1 site, Ontario Place, and other waterfront destinations, as well as the future Ontario Line terminus station, the Exhibition Anchor can play a critical role in connecting transit users, local residents, and event-goers.
BENTWAY – FORT YORK
The Bentway Phase 1 and Fort York National Historic Site tell complementary stories about the history of Tkaronto/Toronto. Year-round indoor and outdoor programming of these exceptional spaces has shown a glimpse of what is possible for Under Gardiner spaces.
UNDER GARDINER ISLANDS
As the name suggests, this district contains a series of disconnected Under Gardiner spaces that are either privately owned public spaces (POPS) or under City jurisdiction. Strengthened connections, expanded park networks, and new amenities for retail and recreation will further enhance the public realm to better serve the surrounding vertical neighbourhoods.
This district is marked by a cultural and tourist plateau to the north of the Gardiner Expressway, and a low-elevation waterfront neighbourhood to the south. Here, improvements to underutilized spaces along Lake Shore Boulevard, including traffic medians and Under-Gardiner intersections, will grant more people safe, comfortable, and inspiring access points to one of the City’s greatest assets, Lake Ontario.
In this hyper-urban stretch, the presence of Lake Shore Boulevard West below the elevated expressway forms a double-stacked highway with high-speed traffic on both levels. At the ground level, a mix of residential lobbies, enlarged traffic medians, and back of house conditions compose a dynamic and lively streetscape that supports the vertical communities and connects the City to waterfront destinations.
SECONDARY STUDY AREA
SOUTH ST. LAWRENCE
Part of the secondary study area, this district is undergoing large-scale transformation through coordinated efforts of City agencies and private landowners. Anticipated parks, expanded pedestrian and cycling connections, major roadway improvements, Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation, and an influx of residential and commercial offerings make this one of the City’s most critical and exciting public realm projects.
Part of the secondary study area, this district contains a number of pilot projects and long-term improvements as outlined in the Lake Shore Boulevard East Public Realm Plan. With the completion of the expressway rehabilitation and the ongoing development of new residential neighbourhoods, enhancement of the Under Gardiner will provide essential connections and amenities to new communities and trail users.
RIVER DELTA EAST ANCHOR
Part of the secondary study area, this district is impacted by a number of ongoing City efforts, including the Gardiner Expressway Realignment, Lower Don Lands Revitalization Project, Portlands Development, and Lake Shore Boulevard East Public Realm Plan.
This diagram highlights the major milestones of the Under Gardiner PRP process. It is important to note that public consultation is not limited to a specific phase or window in time, rather, our standing process is informed by, and with, our program users, site visitors, and extended network of community partners. From the very existence of The Bentway as proof of concept to the ongoing working relationships with City Staff and other partners, we are always looking to learn from and with our community.
We are currently hosting a map-based online public engagement survey and conducting ongoing consultation with our stakeholder groups. We will be hosting live engagement activities over the summer as well as a second round of public report-back sessions later in the year. To stay up to date with the project, sign up for project updates here.
To kickstart the Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan, Toronto City Council adopted recommendations put forward by Councillor Joe Cressy (and seconded by Councillor Mike Layton) on September 30, 2020. This member’s motion initiated a unique partnership between The Bentway and the City of Toronto to deliver the Under Gardiner PRP.
The Bentway Conservancy specializes in bringing different interests together to help create and program ambitious and accessible public spaces in the space underneath the Gardiner Expressway. The Bentway Conservancy is taking a leadership role in developing a proposed public realm plan for the space under the Gardiner, in close collaboration with the City of Toronto, Indigenous voices, and a wide range of diverse communities and other stakeholders. The final decision on whether the City of Toronto will adopt the Under Gardiner PRP that will emerge (following an extensive engagement process), ultimately rests with Toronto City Council.
The City of Toronto and its many Divisions work hard to meet the needs of the people they serve by allocating public resources according to public values. City staff and elected officials have powerful insights into the needs and priorities of the people that live, work, and play in and around the space under the Gardiner Expressway. They also are responsible for maintaining infrastructure, investing in new projects, developing new policies, and delivering public services. The City is working in close collaboration with The Bentway Conservancy on the Under Gardiner PRP to identify opportunities for that best align community and stakeholder priorities with the City’s public policy priorities.
This collaborative effort between the City and the Bentway Conservancy brings together asset owners, subject matter experts, diverse perspectives, and practical experience in planning, programming, operating, and animating the public realm.
Project Partners & Design Team
A partnership between The Bentway & The City of Toronto
The Bentway Conservancy is an independent not-for-profit and registered charity that was founded in 2016 to help drive forward a re-imagining of the Gardiner. The Conservancy currently operates, programs, and animates Phase 1 of The Bentway site, located just west of Bathurst St. Today, The Bentway is an internationally recognized exemplar of active re-use and hybrid infrastructure.
The City of Toronto as a partner is represented in this project by a wide range of City Divisions to represent the City’s focus on providing needed public services and at the same time, building a great City. The City’s Under Gardiner teams have representatives from our Senior Management in the Leadership Team representing Economic Development & Culture, Transportation Services, and Parks, Forestry & Recreation. A Technical Advisory team includes City staff from the various divisions and a Core Team with representatives from the Urban Design team and the Waterfront Secretariat.
PUBLIC WORKis an urban design and landscape architecture studio focused on the intelligent evolution of the contemporary city. The studio aims to produce transformative works that invigorate the public realm, optimize and enhance the performance of urban and natural systems, and support public life by adding new layers of experience to the city.
Established in 1992, Two Row Architect is a 100% native-owned and operated firm from the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario. Two Row Architect focuses on guiding the realignment of mainstream ways of thinking on their journey towards Indigenous ways of knowing, being, design and architecture. Their ultimate goal is to promote architecture that has a positive impact on nature, humanity, and our current sense of civilization.
Transsolar KlimaEngineering is a diverse team of engineers focused on creating climate-responsive built environments. In partnership with the world’s leading architects, Transsolar’s unique approach has led to numerous breakthrough projects including the most energy-efficient office tower in North America. Transsolar has been operating for more than 25 years with offices in Stuttgart, Munich, Paris, and New York.
Third Party Public specializes in making large, complex, multi-stakeholder projects constructive and manageable. Established in 2004 under Swerhun Inc., the team works exclusively for governments, public agencies, and occasionally non-profits working to serve public interests. Third Party Public is advising and supporting the Bentway-led public and stakeholder consultation process that will inform the Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan.
The Under Gardiner is the area below the elevated portion of the Gardiner Expressway, stretching from Dufferin Street in the west, to the Don River in the east. This corridor supports a variety of street-oriented uses, modes of transportation and connects key residential, retail, employment, and cultural destinations.
The public realm is the network of public and private spaces including streets, sidewalks and pedestrian connections, parks and open spaces, the publicly accessible portions of civic buildings, and other privately owned and publicly accessible spaces.
The public realm is a fundamental organizing element of our city and neighbourhoods, and plays an important role in supporting the development of safer, healthier, and more complete communities.
The Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan is both a process and a series of recommendations.
The process involves studying the spaces under the Gardiner and gathering input from a multitude of people.
The Under Gardiner PRP document will report on the existing condition of the public realm under the Gardiner Expressway, identify the constraints and opportunities of these spaces, and present recommendations.
The Under Gardiner PRP is a joint effort between the City of Toronto and The Bentway Conservancy, representing a collaboration of subject matter expertise, bringing together diverse perspectives on how the Under Gardiner spaces could better serve a range of civic needs.
Our relationship to civic infrastructure like the Gardiner Expressway is complex. These vital systems are often taken for granted and understood as a static feature of our shared urban landscape. As our cities continue to grow and serve a broader range of needs, we must ask our physical infrastructure to do more. In thinking about our collective future, it is imperative that we foster new ways of thinking about the Gardiner Expressway to support the intertwined challenges of urban mobility and safety, rising socio-economic inequality, climate change, public health, and access to community services and amenities.
The Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan presents an exciting opportunity to build upon the larger waterfront revitalization effort and the Gardiner Expressway rehabilitation project. It is a chance to develop an inclusive process, involving multiple public and private stakeholders, and demonstrate the potential of the Under Gardiner to become an integral part of the larger downtown public realm.
The elevated portion of the Gardiner Expressway extends the full length of the downtown and central waterfront, from Dufferin Street to the Don River. The City is currently engaged in a number of active planning and design projects along the east waterfront. To ensure there is coordination with ongoing planning efforts, the Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan will have a primary study area between Dufferin Street to Yonge Street, while the secondary study area comprises the remainder of the elevated corridor, from Yonge Street to the DVP.
Establishing a coherent vision for the Under Gardiner PRP will require a different approach and level of detailed recommendations. For the primary study area, we will be identifying key projects, conceptual design directions, and implementation strategy recommendations, whereas in the secondary study area our recommendations will focus on identifying corridor-wide systems that will enhance the public experience and build on the work already underway by City staff.
If you’re a local resident or a visitor, a pedestrian, use a mobility device, a cyclist, or a motorist, your experience of the Gardiner Expressway is unique. We want to hear your stories and learn about your experiences, ideas, and aspirations for the Under Gardiner.
Your feedback will inform the development of the Under Gardiner Public Realm Plan. City of Toronto staff and Toronto City Council will consider opportunities to align community priorities with public policy priorities. A second round of engagement is expected to follow later in the year.