'Blue sky' design ideas for crumbling Gardiner unveiled; including buried highway, eight-lane boulevard
13 Jun 2013

by Natalie Alcoba, National Post

The ideas don't come with a price tag, but they span the gamut - everything from building a new Gardiner next to the current one, or replacing it...

The City of Toronto and the agency in charge of waterfront revitalization dusted off three-year-old conceptual designs on Wednesday that present a sky's the limit view of what to do with a dilapidated section of the Gardiner Expressway.

The never-before-seen-renderings from six architectural firms, commissioned back in 2009 at $50,000 apiece, are "ideas" - not plans - officials stressed, that are meant to stimulate debate. They don't come with a price tag, but they span the gamut - everything from demolishing the section east of Jarvis to make way for a street-level highway, to building a new Gardiner next to the current one, or replacing it with a tunnel.

One idea put forward by Diller Scofido + Renfro, which helped develop New York City's celebrated High Line, and architectsAlliance envisions moving Lake Shore Boulevard to one side of the expressway, inhabiting the space beneath it and lining the highway with trees. Another concept suggested replacing the Gardiner with an eight-lane boulevard.

Deputy city manager John Livey called the exercise a kind of "mind-expanding look at some of the possibilities." The images will be shown at a public meeting Thursday evening at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. They are part of a $7.7-million environmental assessment on the section east of Jarvis Street that was put on hold after Mayor Rob Ford took office.

It was recently revived by city council, upon learning that the condition of the two-kilometre eastern stretch is worse than first thought. City council has approved a $500-million, 10-year repair plan, which is subject to change now that the EA is in motion.

It already modified its plans for the east side, reasoning it did not make sense to undertake major rehabilitation if the section might come down in a few years. Instead, crews will shore it up to keep it safe.

Waterfront Toronto and city staff plan to present city council with a preferred option for the Gardiner next spring - which would land smack in the middle of the next municipal election. The proposal will be "practical, feasible but also inspiring," said Mr. Livey, who doubted that any of the concepts produced by the firms would be recommended as is.

"It's not a wholesale design solution to the issue," said John Campbell, president and CEO of Waterfront Toronto. While there is no costing for the public to chew on, officials pointed to what other cities have spent as a point of reference. New York's improvements to the East River Waterfront Esplanade cost $165-million; replacing Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel and at grade boulevard cost $3.8-billion; and removing the West Side Highway in New York had a $690-million price tag.

Councillor Janet Davis lauded Toronto's approach. "This is about visioning our waterfront for the future," she said.

Still, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chairman of the public works and infrastructure committee, cautioned that affordability will be a major issue.

"We're going to make a decision that most certainly will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Likely billions of dollars," he said. "Some of the diagrams appear quite fanciful. Once again, whatever we build we have to pay for, and at some point in time we have to get real."