Toronto plans huge downtown park by decking over rail corridor

The leadership of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto, wants to build a massive deck over a rail corridor cutting through a bristling downtown district in order to make a new park for its fast-growing population.

Following the lead of Chicago and New York City, the bold move would create a 21-acre green space for the city, which is projected to double its population in 25 years. In size, the new "Rail Deck Park" would dwarf any existing green space in the downtown core.

"Great cities have great parks. As Toronto grows, we need to take bold action to create public space and make sure we build a city that makes future generations proud," Toronto Mayor John Tory said yesterday in announcing the plan.

"This is our last chance to secure a piece of land that could transform the way we experience our city," he added.

No time frame was given, however, and the first move will be to secure the rights to the airspace above the rails, currently held by CN Rail and Toronto Terminals Railway.

The new, 21-acre green space would dwarf any existing local parks in size (City of Toronto)

The council will also need to create an Official Plan Amendment to ensure that the space is developed for public use only.

Mayor Tory said an inter-divisional staff team will advance the so-called "Rail Decking Project", which targets Toronto’s western rail corridor from Bathurst Street to Blue Jays Way. This team will report to the September meeting of the council’s Executive Committee.

According to the council, the population of downtown Toronto has the potential to nearly double to 475,000 people by 2041.

People want to live downtown, but they are relatively deprived of opportunities to feel grass under their feet, because this part of the city has one of the lowest levels of parkland to other Toronto districts.

"More and more families are choosing to call downtown home, and they need somewhere to play with their kids, enjoy the outdoors and relax with friends," said Councillor Joe Cressy. "Turning this underutilized part of our city into a beautiful and sustainable public space is truly a win-win, and will complement the transformative work being done with The Bentway and Fort York."

Artist’s impression of the future Rail Deck Park (City of Toronto)

Toronto would follow other cities that have transformed rail corridors into iconic spaces, notably Chicago, with its Millennial Park, and New York City, with its Hudson Yards.

On Canada’s west coast, the City of Vancouver recently agreed to purchase the Arbutus rail corridor for parkland.

Top image: Aerial view of the rail corridor in downtown Toronto (City of Toronto)

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