March 22, 2010
by Canadian Architect
A derelict area beneath a series of overpasses in the West Don Lands is going to be transformed into an urban jewel. Waterfront Toronto unveiled plans for Underpass Park, the most extensive park to ever be built under an overpass in Canada, and the first in Toronto.
Located within the West Don Lands – home to the 2015 Pan American Games Athletes’ Village – Underpass Park will cover a total of 1.05 hectares (2.5 acres) under and around the Eastern Avenue and Richmond/Adelaide overpasses, between Cherry Street and Bayview Avenue.
The overpasses transect the West Don Lands; the park will remove a psychological barrier by converting the derelict space beneath the ramps into a bright, new neighbourhood destination. Residents of the soon-to-be-built housing developments in the northeastern section of the West Don Lands will have park space and safe beautiful connections to the rest of the neighbourhood.
“Underpass Park is a crucial step in delivering on our promise to revitalize the West Don Lands into Toronto’s next great neighbourhood,” said John Campbell, President and CEO of Waterfront Toronto. “Influenced by the massive overpass structures, the park’s design transforms the derelict and underused space into a bright, fully accessible urban neighbourhood amenity that will contribute to the success of the developments being built in the community.”
Designed by renowned landscape architects Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg in association with The Planning Partnership, Underpass Park embodies design excellence and is the epitome of innovative urban park design. The design creates a socially engaging park for community members of all ages and abilities by incorporating public art, recreational space, playful climbing structures and play areas, flexible community space, community gardens, and public gathering places.
“Underpass Park is all about the community, the everyday, and creating ‘place’,” said Greg Smallenberg, Partner, Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg. “The design takes full advantage of the existing site’s eccentricities and its free-for-the-taking weather protection, transforming something that might otherwise be incidental into a delightful urban patch.”
Public art will play a critical role in the design of Underpass Park. When planning the overarching public art strategy for the West Don Lands, Underpass Park was identified as a high priority public art opportunity. Late in 2009, Waterfront Toronto launched its first open artist competition. The selected artist, Paul Raff of Toronto, is an award-winning artist and architect.
In keeping with Waterfront Toronto’s sustainable development approach, Underpass Park incorporates many sustainability best practices into the design. The organization’s goal is to ensure that everything built on Toronto’s waterfront sets new standards for architecture and public space.
Some of the innovative and sustainable features include: repurposing reclaimed granite cobblestones excavated from Eastern Avenue into the community garden structures; using recycled rubber materials for the recreational court surfaces; planting more than 50 trees to beautify and naturalize the space, including between the existing ramps; utilizing energy-efficient LED lighting and drought-, salt-and shade-tolerant plantings for minimal maintenance and irrigation.
Construction of Underpass Park is slated to start in May 2010 and is another sign of the momentum and progress being made in the West Don Lands. Construction of the area’s flood protection landform is nearing completion and work has begun on municipal servicing and preparing for new street construction. Construction of the first affordable rental housing building by Toronto Community Housing is expected to start later this year. The initial sales launch for River City – a LEED Gold, carbon-neutral development and the first private-sector initiative in the West Don Lands – was hugely successful. Construction is slated to begin this fall. Don River Park, the seven-hectare (17-acre) centrepiece of the community, is scheduled to break ground this summer.
The Pan Am Games Athletes’ Village in the West Don Lands means a significant increase in the pace of transformation of the area. Underpass Park, while outside of the Village, is a significant start to turning the former industrial lands into a beautiful, sustainable, mixed-use neighbourhood. The original timelines for buildout of the 32-hectare (80-acre) West Don Lands was planned for 10 to 12 years, in three strategic phases, subject to market conditions. With the acceleration for the Pan Am Games, more than half of the community will be in place by June 2015.