Rail Deck Park: A Plan for Toronto’s Backyard (U. Khan)

This past week, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced his plan for a new park in downtown Toronto. The proposed “Rail Deck Park” would consists of 21 acres of space over the current rail yards in downtown Toronto. The park will provide green space to downtown Toronto, a region of the city that does not have a lot of greenery. Although there are many challenges in completing a project of this magnitude, it has the potential to transform the face of the city of Toronto in the coming decades.

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Location of the proposed Rail Deck Park in Downtown Toronto. Source: NowToronto.com

 

Ideas about building urban parks are not uncommon. Mayor Tory even referenced the Millennium park in Chicago as a model for this project. That park has become a defining mark of the city of Chicago, and continues to attract tourists to the city. The benefits of parks are also manifold. They provide an open space for the residents of high density areas. The city is expected to double its downtown population in the next 25 years and thus will have an ever growing need for open spaces.

According to the American Planning Association, parks have a cooling effect on the area where they are located. Trees provide shade from sunlight, and reflect sunlight that would otherwise be absorbed by asphalt. They are also great for human health as they provide open spaces where community members can exercise and stay active. Creating urban parks can also slow the advance of urban sprawl. If people have access to natural areas close to the city, they would be more inclined to stay in high density areas rather than moving to the suburbs.

Ontario is not a stranger to urban planning. The Ontario Greenbelt is a great example of forward thinking that allowed the province to secure farmland required to support the growing urban areas in the region. The project has been a success, and has been able to offset the equivalent of 27 million cars driven in one year. Toronto is also working on the Bentway project under the Gardiner Expressway. Work on the proposed open space is expected to be completed by 2017, and upon completion will provide 1.75 km of green space to the residents of the area. The projects prove that innovative thinking has a big impact on the development of communities, and that the provincial government should support the construction of this park as it will help the citizens of Toronto get an amazing open space for their city.

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Artistic representation of the proposed Rail Deck Park in Downtown Toronto.

Source: The Globe and Mail

 

The big detractor of this proposed project is the cost. The current plan proposed by Mayor Tory does not specify how the project will be funded, but it does say that the project will depend on the help of the provincial and federal government. The commercial real estate in the area is priced at between 55 and 60 million an acre. Millennium park in Chicago had an estimated cost of $150 million, but ended up costing over $500 million. The mayor needs to create an effective plan to secure funding for this project that accounts for possible budget overruns. The timeline for completion of the project is currently estimated to be between four and five years. Again, the plan for this project should have contingency measures if there are delays in the completion of the project. The first step in the project is to have a staff report on the potential cost and timeline of the project completed by September 22nd 2016.

Although it is left to be seen if this project will ever get build, I think it would be a great addition to the downtown core. It would provide various benefits to the people of the area and ensure that future generations have a great space to live in. The mayor and his council should work on developing a cost effective plan that can realistically see the park being built in the near future.

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