Chart a new course for Toronto: vote to remove the Gardiner

Chart a new course for Toronto: vote to remove the Gardiner

In the life of every city, some decisions have great power to shift the trajectory and future success of its urban environments, economies and the quality of life of residents. The City of Toronto is facing one such choice right now in determining whether to demolish the eastern portion of the Gardiner Expressway with the ‘remove’ option, or undertake its rehabilitation with the ‘hybrid’ option. It would be a mistake to frame this choice simply by the implications to cost and traffic engineering. The real question is: what kind of city do we want to build for future generations?

Cities across Canada have recently faced, or are currently facing, similar predicaments with aging elevated expressways: Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, and Ottawa to name a few. International cities such as Portland, Chattanooga, San Francisco, New York, Seoul, Madrid and Oslo are also grappling with this dilemma. In every case, the City is capitalizing on the opportunity to deliver a brighter future rather than maintain the past. Now, as Toronto debates what to do with the Gardiner, the time has come to deliver a more livable city.

Two options were put forward in the Environmental Assessment for the future of the Gardiner Expressway East: remove or hybrid. The misleadingly named ‘hybrid’ option elevates cars over all other modes of transportation, and only delivers three to five minutes saved at peak rush-hour for a limited group of car users. Critically, it leaves the physical barriers that encumber Toronto’s downtown and waterfront evolution essentially intact. The ‘hybrid’ option is short-sighted and anchored by old ways of thinking.

In contrast, and at half the cost, the ‘remove’ option clearly sets the course for a better future for our city – enabling new neighbourhoods to emerge, connected by a robust public realm alongside a new boulevard with an integrated transit strategy. This is Toronto’s opportunity to grow in a way that actually promotes the health and wellbeing of families and businesses, to engage our visitors, and to realize the potential of our waterfront. Much is at stake.

Too often the discussion surrounding the Gardiner Expressway East has been positioned as an urban versus suburban debate or as a war-on-cars. It is time to move beyond these combative and futile stereotypes. Despite simplistic depictions, this is not a decision that pits one segment of the population against another. In fact, it is far from that. This is about the brighter, bolder Toronto we all seek. One where all of us can live healthy lifestyles, work in thriving businesses, invest in attractive real-estate supported by sustainable municipal infrastructure, and partake in a welcoming and beautiful waterfront and system of parks. The ‘remove’ option is visionary and depicts a brighter future for all of us to share and be a part of the change. We have dared to imagine, now it is time to be congruent with the vision.

Based on our experience planning and designing urban communities large and small, we know what it means when decision makers get it right; everybody wins, not just a select few.

  • First, Toronto is at a watershed moment. The decision about the future of the Gardiner Expressway East will set the city on a new course for decades.
  • Second, solving the transportation challenges in our city cannot be achieved by prioritizing car-dependency. Rather, we should be shifting the paradigm and prioritizing walking, cycling, public transit and transportation demand management. This strategy is consistent with the City’s Official Plan and transportation policies.
  • Third, the future resilience and economic vitality of our city will require more sustainable infrastructure investments, among them, active transportation (walking and cycling), transit, public spaces and parks.
  • Fourth, unlocking the economic potential of the existing and emerging downtown neighbourhoods and the waterfront requires high-quality urban design, walkable streets, and a connected public realm; only then will we create a welcoming destination.

The ‘remove’ option has brought together many important voices: a public health perspective from Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer; a city-building perspective from Toronto’s current and past Chief Planners; and, many more community and political leaders. To those voices we add our own, and invite our peers in the design community, as well as people who live, work, visit, and invest in this city we love to join us in support of a better, healthier future for Toronto. Together we can dare to imagine a brighter future and imagine the legacy we create for future generations. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and build the city we deserve.

Antonio Gómez-Palacio and Craig Applegath on behalf of DIALOG

(Image Source: Waterfront Toronto Blog, Feb 28, 2014)

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