Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth, and yeah, the specs for Project: Under Gardiner look pretty nice indeed but you’ll have to excuse my hesitancy in lavishly embracing the idea. It’s still public space under a fucking urban expressway. Lipstick on a pig, and all that. Making the best of a bad situation, Our Strength.
And you’ll also have to excuse me a certain, I don’t know, dubiousness about the timing of all this. Remember back earlier this year when Mayor Tory was fighting tooth-and-nail for his hybrid option to keep the eastern portion of the Gardiner expressway elevated. While pooh-poohing the notion of a grand boulevard if that part of the freeway was brought down and rebuilt at grade, he extolled the virtues of the glorious urban life that could be had under expressways. Granville Island in Vancouver, for example, thrives under an expressway.
London, England — one of the greatest and oldest cities in the world — has developed one of the most expansive animated expressways in the world. Today underneath the Westway Expressway there are tennis courts, rock climbing walls, skateboard parks, riding stables and sports fields. It’s incredible. It’s what we can do here in Toronto: imaginative, animated public space without increasing congestion and damaging the economy.
The mayor won the day. The Gardiner from Jarvis Street east will remain elevated, probably, depending on just how expensive it will ultimately wind up being, which is still to be decided, by the way, and, to use Mayor Tory’s own words, “… lo and behold, two months later, in come the Matthews, and they want to do this incredible philanthropic city-building thing.” Imagine that! Suddenly, we’re all ga-ga over the possibilities of what can happen under those elevated expressway slicing through the downtown core of this city.
It’s hardly surprising then that the mayor ‘leaned on staff’ and ‘moved mountains’ to get this done, and get it done quickly. What better way to deflect from keeping an under-used segment of elevated expressway propped up for cheap political posturing than a well-timed example of philanthropic private sector largesse manifest in near sublime urban design? Lo and behold indeed.
Not to mention my purely ideological opposition to a single person dictating how the city prioritizes providing public space. “The Matthews’ only conditions were that Under Gardiner, as it’s called, be completed by 2017 and that the city agree to maintain it. Failure to do so meant the deal was off.” That’s what I’d call butting in line. For his part, Mayor Tory affectionately referred to it as a ‘bulldog’ approach. “‘We want to do this, but we’re not going to do it if it doesn’t get done quickly, if it doesn’t get done in a way that the city gets behind it,’ and so on.”
Well then. Who are we to get our collective backs up at being dictated to like that? Beggars can’t be choosers, as they say.
And yes, no question, what’s being proposed for that under-Gardiner strip from basically Fort York to Spadina is preferable to the dead zone there currently. I stood on the fort’s grounds in September, entranced by the odd juxtaposition of layered eras of city life on display, emphasized really, by the monstrous intrusion of the Gardiner, a relic of its time. Project: Under Gardiner can only further highlight that fact, underline the folly of our automotive era.
And yes, it isn’t like the Gardiner is going anywhere anytime soon. What with hundreds and millions of dollars being literally poured into its upkeep at this very moment, we’ve insured its presence in our lives for a few decades at least. (But where will the cars go! Where will the car goes?! Oh, the humanity!) Lemon, meet lemonade.
Perhaps there’s a positive take away from this. Rather than focus on what could be considered the coward’s way out, yet another concession to the irrepressible domination of this car-first way of thinking that continues to mar our quality of life, Project: Under Gardiner should be chalked up to a little victory. We’re reclaiming, at a barely perceptible creeping pace, some of the damaging fallout of past mistakes, mistakes we continue to make, mistakes that can’t be fully erased, only modified and made less worse.
That’s something, I guess, just not enough, in my opinion, to celebrate as much of a victory for 21st-century urbanism. It will inevitably suggest to many, including our current mayor, that automobile ascendancy is compatible with city life. What we’re left with is scraps. Scraps provided by a couple enlightened individuals and championed by a politician desperate to show that he’s in any way forward thinking.
— ungratefully submitted by Cityslikr