The City of Toronto plans to create an 8.5 hectare "signature park," named Rail Deck Park, that will cover the railway tracks between Bathurst Street and the Rogers Centre, Mayor John Tory announced Wednesday afternoon.
"I believe that creating a new downtown park is the best thing that we can do for future generations," he said. "Not just any park, a big park, a bold park."
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In a release, the city said the initiative "is part of the City's TOcore project, a response to the rapid growth and intensification of Toronto's downtown that is placing pressure on physical and social infrastructure."
Coun. Joe Cressy, representing Ward 20 (Trinity-Spadina), joined the mayor at the announcement, calling the project a special initiative that will create a central destination for all Toronto residents.
"As our city grows, we need to be creative about how we create public spaces," he said. "We need to ensure we're building neighbourhoods, building communities, not just building towers."
The space will be roughly the size of Christie Pits Park and will provide a link between the King-Spadina neighbourhood, City Place and the Waterfront.
Tory said there isn't a clear timeline or cost for the project as of yet.
"It can't be outlined with precision because it's something that's never been done before," he said, but noted that other parks in the city have cost tens of millions of dollars per acre.
For comparison, Chicago's Millennium Park, which Tory said the city would like to model the project after, cost $33 million per acre (the Toronto park will be 21 acres).
Other cities have also paved the way for this type of transformation, notably New York's Hudson Yards and Manhattan West. The City of Vancouver has also recently agreed to purchase the Arbutus rail corridor for parkland, building on the existing land rather than overtop.
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To build Toronto's park, the city is hoping to get some money from Ottawa and the provincial government.
"I'm sure with the cooperation and partnership of our friends in Ottawa and our friends at Queen's Park, we are going to move this forward and make it happen," Tory said.
In the end, Tory believes it's an important project for making the city's downtown a more pleasant place to live.
"They [parks] are what make our city livable, enjoyable and sustainable," he said. "People will be able to gaze at the skyline on the one hand while enjoying the feeling of grass under their feet in one and the same place."
According to the city's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, downtown has the lowest amount of parkland in the city, with 75 per cent of downtown parks smaller than half a hectare.
A report will go to the mayor's executive committee on Sept. 22, which will include an implementation strategy for the park and plans for public consultations, allowing residents the opportunity to share their thoughts and vision for the space.
Discussions with CN and Toronto Terminal Railways have gone well, Tory said, as they privately own the air rights to the space above the tracks. The city plans to secure those rights, allowing them to ensure the space is reserved for public use.
Tory said the park will complement the work going on with the Bentway, another huge new public space being built under the Gardiner.