The Star had an interesting piece in the Sunday paper about what to do with the Gardiner Expressway and how other cities have embraced their elevated highways. The photos used are images I have inserted for reference. Read the article in full to see some of the ideas proposed for the Gardiner, but here’s the teaser excerpt:
The city’s Waterfront Secretariat is now reviewing the recommendations and cost estimates of recent waterfront task forces on the fate of the Gardiner. The options: Do nothing; bury sections of it; improve it. The plan is to synthesize the findings, report back to the city in a year and follow up with a public consultation.
What is clear is that the city doesn’t have the money nor the appetite for a Boston-style Big Dig that will bury the expressway, create a decade or so of traffic turmoil and cost more than $1.5 billion. (It’s for good reason the Big Dig is also called the Highway to Hell.
Toronto wouldn’t be the first to embrace its elevated highway — cities from London to Shanghai have instead opted to revel in the creative possibilities above and below their downtown expressways. And in that, there may be some valuable lessons for Hogtown.
• In Shanghai, a dizzying maze of highways is illuminated at night in vibrant neon colors. “It’s Shanghai so it’s a bit over the top, but what’s important is that they are consciously trying to make a place that people would enjoy walking through, beneath and beside. And they do — it attracts wide public use,” says Toronto architect Calvin Brook. “That’s a great, original way to rethink the possibilities of what an expressway’s role can be in a city.”
Shanghai highway photo by Jacob Montrasio
• Also diverting, though more traditionally, is Quebec City’s painted columns under its elevated Autoroute 440, which looks similar to the Gardiner, in the neighbourhood of St. Roch. These murals include beguiling trompe d’oeil illusions of an Egyptian temple, a surrealist fantasy and the entrance to a Gothic cathedral.
Still, not everyone is keen on this kind of trickery. “It starts to trivialize a piece of public infrastructure,” says architect John van Nostrand. “It undermines it.”
Autoroute 440 photo by Joel Mann
• In Louisville, Ky., the not-for-profit Waterfront Development Corporation created an 34-hectare park, great swaths of it under the elevated Interstate 64, out of what was once a sand and gravel pit, scrap yard and mess of rail lines. “It was a terrible area,” says corporation president David Karem. “Not only because of the elevated expressway but the city was cut off from the (Ohio) River.”
They never considered burying the highway, he says. “It wasn’t just the extraordinary expense. The park has been open for 10 years. If we had built a tunnel, it would not have been anything in anybody’s lifetime. Nobody would have been able to enjoy it.”
Now there is a Great Lawn, home to concerts, picnics, touch football, kite-flying and the like. Nearby are plazas, a water park and Karem adds, the $100 million development has been a catalyst, drawing new residents to the riverside area.
Louisville I-64 photo by Derek Cook
• In New York, redevelopment of the High Line, a 22-block-long elevated rail line that runs through Hell’s Kitchen and West Chelsea, is now underway. It will become a green promenade with views of the skyline and the Hudson River and, this being Manhattan, luxury housing alongside.
High Line photo by Charles Star
• Also in New York, a market was built under the Queensborough bridge at 59th Street. At the turn of the 20th Century it had been a farmer’s market, but fell into disrepair and became a department of transport storage depot and paint shop. It was revitalized in 2000, when the Bridgemarket was built — posh food emporium, restaurant and design store.
Bridgemarket photo by Mark Chang
• In Portland, Ore., skateboarders claimed an abandoned space that was a drug users’ and squatters’ haven under the Burnside Bridge. Without city approval, the young boarders built a park themselves, starting with concrete they found in their garages at home. Now it’s one of the best skate parks in the world and skateboard icon Tony Hawk names it among his top five.
photo by Stephie van de Graeff
• In London, the Westway under the A40 (running from London to Oxford) is a model of what could be done with the Gardiner — with jewelery shops, soccer fields, stables, tennis courts, a refugee centre and markets tucked tidily under the elevated highway. About 80 per cent are community services, 20 percent commercial.
photo by Charles Fred
Such examples won’t silence those who remain deadset against the Gardiner, seeing in its destruction a newfound opening to the lake.
But what Shanghai, London and others have done is inspiring a growing number of critics who say it’s time to make peace with the highway and make the best of it.
The Gardiner, after all, isn’t going away anytime soon. So how can we live it? Not only that, how to make it, dare we say, beautiful.
top photo by Sam Javanrouh