Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Green roof meets Gardiner Expressway

Read more articles by

As the debate heats up over what the future of the Gardiner holds, local architect Les Klein proposes a radical new plan.  Vannessa Lu’s article in the Star looks at Klein’s new design that is being called the ‘Green Ribbon,’ which calls for installing a garden roof over the Gardiner.  Not only is it appealing to think of putting a garden on the ‘Gardiner,’ the plan also falls nicely in line with the City’s new green roof policy.

Although much has already been said about what to do with the Gardiner, a proposal like this which preserves the expressway might actually serve to expand the waterfront site.  Rather than limiting projects to sites along the waterfront, the expressway could become a new symbolic shoreline into the waterfront site.  The plan also seems similar to New York’s new highly popular High Line park.  Your thoughts?



  1. Uh, the High Line doesn’t still have trains spewing exhaust that you have to walk on top of. Plus, adding even more height to the visual barrier of the Gardiner is asinine, and who is going to in turn maintain the ribbon structure once it starts crumbling on top of the already-crumbling expressway structure?

    The effort would be better spent greening the underside of the Gardiner and making pleasant the negative spaces that already exist.

  2. Well I believe we were all expecting something like this after the media blitz about the High Line over the past week. Certainly a nice idea (put bike lanes running down the sides) but I do agree that it doesn’t solve the issue of the Lakeshore running below it.

    Maybe if just a portion was kept.

  3. I have to agree with uSkyscraper. The “Green Ribbon” improves the least important side of the Gardiner – the top! It’s a solution to a nonexistent problem, and an expensive one at that.

  4. I can’t believe (I WON’T believe) that this is a serious proposal. Sounds mean, perhaps, but there is so much that is fundamentally wrong, it reminds me of the “Legacy” proposal ( a few weeks ago – not thought out.

    Firstly, there is the issue of the visual barrier (already an issue): While all the condos being built around it make the Gardiner appear less imposing, it remains tall. Another level would only increase the eyesore that so many take issue with An extra 8 metres along the eastern part of the expressway would block off views of Tommy Thompson/Lake Ontario Park from the Don Lands area.

    Secondly, I want to know: For who is the park built? To make it viable, there would have to be several ramps (stairs?) to reach the park, which is at least 15 metres above Lakeshore. If cyclists were allowed onto the park, the ramps would have to be gradual, or they would have to carry their bikes. Pedestrians could use stairs, which leads to accessibility issues, and the safety issues surrounding the flights of stairs located right next to a freeway.

    I don’t think that this park warrants comparison to the High Line park, because the High Line is a re-use, where this superGardiner would be a addition.

    The idea is fun, intriguing, and in my opinion, exactly that – an idea. It comes from ideaCity, which is the perfect place for it. People are pondering outside the box, which is what this city needs. But to say this is a serious proposal is a bit… fanciful?

  5. This plan would certainly have esthetic benefit to dwellers in all those condos that are squeezed up against the Gardiner. The rest of us will have a warm and fuzzy feeling that nasty runoff will be reduced (although all the leaked fluids and rubber powder from cars will still have to be cleaned up somehow.)

    But not a whole lot of esthetic benefit for those of us who find the Gardiner to be a visual barrier–it’ll just become bigger and greener. (No, I’m not thrilled by the Luminous Veil thingmy on the Bloor Viaduct either.)

    The illustration doesn’t show how anyone would get up to use the park, if that’s what it becomes. The traffic fumes from below the deck aren’t going away either, so it won’t exactly be fresh air up there.

    Also, for many people, the view of downtown from the Gardiner is the key attraction of keeping it as a raised structure. A roof will just make it into a tunnel in the sky.

  6. Lipstick on a pig.

    The Gardiner needs to go. There needs to be another way through the city. For those entering/exiting the core, they should pay…like London UK.

    If only we could get a real transit system without paying exorbitant taxpayer dollars. I live in bloor west and work near the airport – and there is no practical way to get there in a reasonable time.

    Solve this. Give us pedestrian neighbourhoods. Reduce reliance on cars.

    Don’t create a solution to the wrong problem.

  7. Well. I can’t take this too seriously, but I give credit for creativity. This range of modeling is what is necessary to address the Gardiner issues.

  8. “lipstick on a pig”

    Hey, no insulting the pork! The pigs don’t look or smell nearly as bad as the Gardiner!

    Seriously, what a waste of time and money to even think up this idea.

    Most of those above have pointing out the obvious, gaping holes of logic with this proposal.

    The current Gardiner freeway is, generally at level with a 3-4 storey building above Lakeshore Blvd.

    Adding another deck means the park would be six storeys or more than 18M or 55ft above Lakeshore Blvd.

    Who in their right mind would want to climb that?

    The highline is better compared with Toronto’s belt line, an old disused rail corridor, no pollution/noise issues and generally at grade or 1-storey up.

    Aside from the access issues you would have an increased visual barrier to the Lake, on-going pollution and noise issues (in fact likely an increase in the latter do to the roof deck causing lateral dispersion of the noise); AND you still haven’t managed to get rid of one polluting car or improve one public transport option.

    This idea needs to go to the bottom of the heap, or better still the shredder!

  9. Shocking! Sketicism and criticism for an idealistic vision. How dare anyone try and propose anything but the most pessimistic, cynical position! I’m glad to see that pigs are indeed not yet flying and that we still crap on anything remotely positive.

  10. Like another reader said, this is the most asinine idea thus far and to actually have it presented at a serious event and subsequently reported by media is unbelievable.
    A couple of the major reasons for getting rid of the Gardiner is because it’s ugly and it creates a physical barrier to the waterfront. So with this idea, you plop some green on top of an ugly structure and all of a sudden it’s not ugly anymore? And at the same time, you “remove” the physical barrier of the Gardiner by making it higher and thus a more imposing physical barrier? What is Les smoking?

    I know the Gardiner does present a physical barrier to the lake but at the same time, you still have myriads of condo buildings as a second physical layer to the lake. So what’s next? take down all the condo buildings too after you take down the Gardiner?

  11. This just seems like an April Fools day joke. There are so many things wrong with this I dont know where to start. In the fall and winter this would be a giant grey snake again, just like the highway is now.

  12. Non-typical,

    Idealistic and realistic can go hand in hand, just not in this case. I’m not even quite sure where that picture is supposed to be, especially with all the green space on the left side of the image. The Don Valley? The green on top of the Gardiner is great, but the only feasible way it will happen is if we bury it…

    In general, there is pessimism and cynicism to be had, but I don’t usually come to Spacing for my daily fix. Quite the opposite in fact.

  13. Terrible idea. Way too high off the ground for anyone to access by foot, elevators are impractical, and once you’re up there, there’s few avenues of escape. Jane Jacobs wouldn’t approve.

    Better to build a good public space UNDER the gardiner, that at least you could walk through.

  14. “The pigs don’t look or smell nearly as bad as the Gardiner!”

    I guess you haven’t been biking along the Martin Goodman trail when a semitrailer full of pigs going to the slaughterhouse goes by.

  15. When we’ve done the Allen Expressway and Lakeshore West Rail Corridor, both technically far easier and more in keeping with grades, then we’ll worry about the Gardiner.

  16. This idea would be better suited to covering the DVP through Riverdale Park. Since the highway is at the bottem of the hill, the height would not be such a barrier to access for users. By closing it in on both sides (basically burying it through the park), the park would be reconnected to the Don River and it would become significantly quieter (possibly even peaceful).

  17. Why does Toronto compare itself to NYC so often? This is jumping one step ahead of the Gardiner’s real issue. Maybe this is supposed to be just a fantastical idea moreso than a real proposal, but it’s too in-line with the events of the High Line opening this week. Too obvious. I love Toronto. Let’s try and make the Gardiner situation into something really unique!!!

  18. Covering the sunken parts of the Allen and re-connecting the city is an appealling idea. It wouldn’t have to be completely covered to work. Why not widen the existing bridges so they can be lined by buildings, like London Bridge of old, or Venice’s Ponto di Rialto?

    Starting from the south, the existing bridges are on Farleigh Crescent, Roselawn, Ridelle, Viewmount, Glencairn, Glengrove, Dell Park, Lawrence, Flemmingdon Road. This is pretty good connectivity for drivers, but a significant pedestrian barrier.

    I suggest:
    1. a land-bridge over the Allen from Farleigh to Ridelle, connecting the two sides of the beltline trail.
    2. a second land-bridge from Viewmount to Glengrove, with medium density mixed-use around the Glencairn subway.
    3. a third land-bridge from Dell Park to 400 yards north of Flemmingdon Road, with medium to high density mixed-use around the Lawrence West subway, and a new local road connecting the two halves of Flemmingdon Park joining Amaranth Court to Leila Lane.

    Except at Glencairn and Lawrence West, where mixed-use should be introduced next the subway stops, the land bridge would support residential housing typical of the residential streets. Public parks with lots of trees and shrubs along the edges of these land-bridges would buffer back-yards that would otherwise be overlooking the Allen.

  19. This is not a particularly unique or groundbreaking proposal in my opinion. At this point, the Gardiner is good for one thing: transporting automotive vehicles. Unless it is used in the future for trains or moving people in and out of downtown, it remains a barrier to promoting a REAL park and real livability along the waterfront.

    I for one and quite comfortable with the plan to take it down east of Jarvis, where urban infill has not boxed it in and made it vital. This will open up the possibility for some real urban connections to be made between the Distillery, West Donlands, Don Valley, Portlands, Old town of York and Central Waterfront. This is where Toronto’s soul and its future lies. Let this be the termination spot of two freeways, not a place for suburban road-warriors to speed through on their way somewhere else…

    And Jo: thank you for pointing out the irritating habit of many in this city who never look further than New York for creative inspiration. San Francisco, Chicago, London, Berlin, Amsterdam, Seoul, Barcelona, Melbourne and countless other urban centres around the world can provide excellent lessons for Toronto and its creative professionals yet so many here seem to be hopelessly, pathetically fixated on aping what is happening in New york.

    Is it because they can’t afford to travel anywhere else?

  20. Why is this in the news again? I remember this being one of the ideas that sprung up when the Gardiner stay up/come down issue was a hot topic a year or two ago.

    Again though I think this is a horrible idea. The Gardiner is a physical boundary dividing our city and falling apart and all they’d like to do is plant some flowers and trees on top and say it’s fixed? Then again this is typical of Toronto’s temporary-quick-fix approach to all sorts of problems throughout the city. Would it kill them to do some long-term thinking?

  21. Here’s my counter proposal: build a new expressway over the rail cut, and do this treatment to the TRAFFIC DECK of the Gardener. Plenty of nice ramps to get up to the park, lovely views of downtown, preserves a historic structure, probably the same level of expense….

  22. I think the Gardiner should be decommissioned east of Jarvis – if we are serious about the waterfront, this needs to happen. BUT, I like the idea of leaving a few pieces of it up and greening the old road deck with local flora. This would be more in keeping with the NYC Lighline project, and look quite cool, I think. Also, there is the precedent of leaving some of the old concrete supports near Leslie as urban art. West of Jarvis, I would agree with above posters that the focus should be beautifying the highway’s underside.

  23. I may be biased because I work for a company that makes tunneling machines, but one of the options, albeit an expensive one, is to drop the gardiner into a tunnel, or more appropriately, twin tunnels.

    My idea is to drop the gardiner underground right where the gardiner currently rises above grade at the Ex. Have twin tunnels then follow the rail corridor, but underneath it all the way under downtown and even across the Don River. Have it pop up in the land currently occupied by the Eastern Ave. on ramp just north of the BMW dealership. If this layout was taken, Eastern could take back its original aligment and re-use its original bridge (which is still there), albeit with a new underpass allowing the single north-south GO line to go under it.

    If you take a look at the M30 in Madrid (, they’ve done the same thing…and there’s a beneficial offshoot. Twin 3-lane tunnels have space underneath the road decks. In the westbound tunnel, you could have twin subway lines running along the exact allignment people are suggesting for the Downtown Relief Line. In the eastbound tunnel, you have an emergency lane underneath allowing ambulances and fire trucks access in emergencies.

    Bury the Gardiner and gain the DRL in one shot. At the same time, the above-ground allignment of Lakeshore can be optimized. In the interest of cutting costs, the optimization can release new land for developement…some condos in larger spots, and low-rise residential in others, as well as the opportunity to create new street level commerical on Lakeshore.

    With the Gardiner buried, build a park over the exisiting Gardiner/rail ditch at the Ex before the tunnel started, and do the same over the rail ditch from Cityplace to west of Union and you’ve acheived a great result.

    Selling of land could offset some cost, but it would still be incredibly expensive…but who says you can;t dream.

  24. BURY THE GARDINER!! Let it exist underground, with the park ABOVE it. Connect the Lake to the City!
    PS: I think Gardiner with a green roof is the scariest thing I’ve seen in a while, although to come up with that you really do need to think outside the box

  25. I think this idea is better suited to the Allen Expressway. I think that both the Gardiner and Allen Expressways need redoing. I say that we should leave the Allen Expressway as it is in a trench and greenroof parts of it. I totally agree with Laurie Gordon’s proposal for land bridges across the trenched parts of the Allen south of Yorkdale with landscaping and parks above it as well as residential units and bike paths. This would reconnect the neighbourhoods on both sides of it and restore Viewmount Park as it was before the Allen Expressway was built – across the right-of-way.
    As for the Gardiner Expressway, I think we should totally rebuild it above the parallel Lakeshore rail lines on a beautiful cable-stayed viaduct, complete with a green skypath under it ( Then we could remove the entire existing elevated Gardiner Expressway and turn Lake Shore Boulevard into a beautiful green boulevard complete with bike lanes and transit.

  26. Re: the “gardens of the Gardiner” concept – I think some improvement is better to none; as has been pointed out, there may be bigger and better improvements, but nobody’s talking. I think that Les Klein deserves credit for his imaginative concepts.

    I was interested in Spacing readers’ comments about other locations which could gain from this type of approach, especially Laurie Gordon’s thoughts on the Allen Expressway. I agree with her.

    Ms Gordon(and your readers) may not be aware of it, but approx. 30 years ago the architectural firm of Barton Myers Associates proposed similar ideas in a study commissioned by the City of Toronto Parking Authority. (I know a little bit about it as I was involved.)

    The concept in the BMA study was to construct parking garages adjacent to the Allen’s subway stops, filling in the ‘cut’ to grade level at the sides – to accommodate commuters to downtown Toronto from further north, to increase use of the Spadina line of the subway, and to relieve traffic congestion in the downtown area. The roofs were proposed as ‘green space’ and/or residential development, as Ms Gordon has suggested. And commuters would be encouraged to use this parking by getting a break on transit fares.

    Two station locations were studied in detail – Eglinton and Glencairn. Both would knit the 2 sides of the expressway gap back together, and south of Glencairn would reconnect Viewmount Park.

    Still possible . . . still good ideas.

  27. This is definitely a good use of available space. It helps the environment and provides for the future of mankind. Kudos!!

  28. Just got back from London and Paris and as much as I love Toronto, it is far from world class, but I also don’t think that is where it needs to go, neither should that be something it should focus on becoming. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Torontonians should forget this world class dream and just get down to reality, start with things like the Gardiner, making a better waterfront, Yonge and Bloor improvements, TTC improvements and expansions, more density and urban intensity, greenery, and just make it a great place to live.

    It needs to focus on being more liveable, sustainable, and enjoyable for people on foot. And who knows, perhaps that is how it will develop and maybe even be world class one day, but I don’t think that that is something that happens on purpose, it just does.

    As a final note, agreed, the Gardiner is awful, but what about the much more awful eyesore before the expressway (if you’re walking south). IMHO the Gardiner going down won’t seem significant enough since the Union Station train tracks create a dark cavernous tunnel which kills any mood to enjoy the waterfront. I’m not even sure if the tracks can or will ever be put underground or out of sight, but who cares about the Gardiner when pedestrians have that much more awful eyesore and atmosphere killer to deal with.

  29. I have a proposal that I have presented to the city more then a week before this came out and was shown on cp24 and write about on their website
    Please check it out I am of a strong believe that it is time that Toronto actually starts to look at the future, and plans for it. Taken down the Gardiner not only is a bad idea but is one that will decrease the quality of life for everyone in and around the city of Toronto, it will put more cars on all of our local streets, and increase the pollution, and drive times for everyone, would anyone ever think of taking down the 401, is it not a major eye sore for many people that live around it, does it not divide the city, and create access issue for thousand of people who have to find there way around it in order to get across it to stores and jobs that they have on the other side, yet we would never think of taking it away because of the amount of traffic that goes across it everyday would clog up the city so much if we took it away that no one would be able to drive anywhere, but the Gardiner for some reason we believe that all the traffic that uses it will magically disappear, that all the cars that use it each and everyday will either just stop driving, or will somehow manage to not make our city streets, and all other highways even more clogged.
    Please lets all make sure that they don’t tear it down, I just know that the future of Toronto depends on it, why would any company open up business in a city where it take hours for their workforce to get there, it means that many will be late on a regular basis, and cause of this they will be more stressed when at work meaning they are less productive. I mean do you people not think that when a company is looking to invest in a city it thinks about these things, these are the exact kids of things they think of cause these are the kind of things that cost them money.
    Lets do something that it cutting edge for once, lets be a city know for innovation rather then just another city, or worse one that is behind the times.

  30. Les Klein’s vision of a green roof is by far one of the best concepts. The automobile will not go away despite what the green people want. We have no more space in the city to expand our transportation network and urban sprawl continues to expand. If our city is to survive, we need to improve our existing roads.

    I would take it one step further and make both the Gardiner and the DVP 2 level expressways with a green roof. The bigger question and if such a proposal becomes a reality is how will we pay for it? My suggestion is to make one of the 2 levels a toll road like the 407. Whether you like it or not, toll roads are coming and this proposal would keep those for and against from going to war. Those who can afford to pay and want faster drive can pay while those who take the slow route can opt for the free road.

    I’ve forwarded my comments to Les Klein’s office stating how wonderful his idea was and added my suggestion of the toll road to pay for the construction of it. I’ve sent this suggestion to Mayor Miller’s office (but he’s useless since he won’t running in the next election not that he did much when he was in office). I will be sending my comments to the future mayor and to the leading candidates for mayor.

    I have no love for the car as I no longer own one and live and work in the downtown so I’m just a small voice here. I’ve lived here for half a century (yes I’m old) and my vocation was urban planning (though not practicing) but I would like to see this city I call home a better place to live. It’s time to look at the future of this city and not let our city die by not doing any planning for present and future residents.

  31. Mark’s idea is not bad either and may require more study but it doesn’t really address the aesthetics issue above ground. I’m no expert but an underground tunnel construction and costs can be excessive to build and maintain compared to a dual level covered roadway for our climate here. Again this warrants cost and comparison analysis by the city planners.