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No big Park in the city core: lost opportunity or future development?

13858 Views 156 Replies 15 Participants Last post by  Taller, Better
I have noticed that there is no big park in or near the downtown core.

There are the areas of trinity-bellwods and cabbagetown but they are not big enough.

Plenty of lands has been repurposed but none of that has gone to parks.

Is there hope for a big park in central Toronto or is gone?

Could Toronto have its own Central, Hyde, Regent Park?

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Cities with huge central parks, like New York City, benefit from the planning of hundreds of years ago. Cities grew up around the parks; you cannot reverse the process; to make a park that size in downtown Toronto, you'd have to bulldoze everything from Bloor Street south to Queen Street, and bulldoze entire neighbourhoods to the east and west.

In 2018, that is simply impossible in a highly developed and built up downtown area.

The islands could be a park but there should be a rapid transit that links them to the city.
But, the islands are a park, and have been so for two centuries. In fact they are our most superb urban park, and are widely adored by Torontonians; they are also our largest downtown park, but they are separated from downtown by a ten minute ferry ride. They are car-free and about the same size as Central Park. . Rapid transit links would be a huge mistake. The islands are a bit of nature right next door to downtown Toronto that should not become overly commercialized; it would destroy the tranquility. People who want to go will take the old fashioned wooden ferries that have been running since the 1830's and will enjoy the ride. That would be like putting a nice big paved four lane road through Boston Commons to make it more accessible; definitely not necessary. And you'll have to trust me on this one, the Islands are most definitely not a park that hundreds of thousands of other cities have.

The largest park on the mainland in downtown Toronto is High Park, and it is 3.41 km², which is half the size of Central Park,and considerably larger than Hyde Park in London. It is no further away from the central business district than Central Park is in New York, or than Hyde Park from "The City" in London.

Toronto has lots of beaches, and lots of parks; 1473 named parks to be exact. We sit on the edge of a fresh water lake the size of Wales, so have lots and lots of shorelines. I could not possibly show photos of all but here are some snapshots of downtown parks including Toronto Islands, Queen's Park, High Park, Scarborough Bluffs, Riverdale Park, and some of our beaches. I've not really organised or grouped them well as it is close to my bedtime!:
There is a massive ravine system that runs most of the way from the south to the north of Toronto, and is quite a massive amount of green space. As it stands, Toronto has enormous green cover; I cannot actually think of a city that has more.
If you are interested in Toronto parks, here is a really interesting thread to read:

This shows you how close the Toronto Islands are to the CN Tower:

Winter fun down the ravine hills in Riverdale Park:

ravine system:

and finally, a few photos that are not mine:

Queen's Park downtown:

If it is a designation you are creating to bestow upon yourself then it is a bit of hype, but I do like the intent to create greener cities!

I don't think there is a universal designation on national parks, as each national park is designated by their country's respective governments. So this National Park City designation is a UK-specific designation. The Canadian government can copy this and declare Toronto or Vancouver as a National Park City. As with any designation, there are benefits, such as enhanced protection on green spaces (which 47% of London is), increased accessibility on said parklands, probably a more stringent enforcement in tackling air pollution, etc. Of course, you don't need a designation for these things, but it does help.
I'm late to the conversation, but isn't High Park in the core? Sure, it's not right in the Financial District, but what cities have huge parks right at their Downtowns? Chicago with Grant Park? Boston with Boston Common (which isn't a true landscaped park anyway)? More often than not, the big parks are close, but not in, the Downtown core. Central Park was built away from Lower Manhattan, and all of Manhattan is now a central business district, it seems, but it was away from the original Downtown. Fairmount Park in Philadelphia is away from the CBD. Golden Gate Park in San Francisco is away from the CBD. City Park in New Orleans is away from the CBD. There are more, less-famous examples of big parks a little distance away from Downtowns.
This has always been my point, too. High Park is not far from downtown and as I said earlier it is no farther from the CBD than Central Park in NYC or Hyde Park in London. Big cities normally do not have massive
parks in their Central Business core. High Park is big; only half as big as Central Park but bigger than Hyde Park.

By the way, anyone who has ever visited Kensington Gardens in London will recognize the twin of this wonderful statue of Peter Pan for children. This particular statue was made from the same mould and placed in Amsterdam Park here in Toronto.

Amsterdam Park also has a lovely stone memorial fountain dedicated to the Netherlands:

Thanks for your concern, Jake, but I think you'll find that no one said Hyde Park is the largest park in London... if you read what has been posted thus far. The point was made that there are no large parks in downtown Toronto, and I mentioned that there is one the size of Central Park (Toronto Islands), and one half the size of Hyde Park (High Park). Not to be pedantic, but walk just north of Bloor Street (which is downtown by most people's reckoning) and a massive ravine system of parkland begins that runs all the way the city.


Not to be pedantic, but technically Hyde Park is one part of four connected parks that includes St James’s Park, Green Park and Kensington Gardens. Regent’s Park is to the north. Still even when combined, far from being the largest park in London.
How many people actually walk to High Park from downtown Toronto?
High Park is in our West End, and for all intents and purposes is a downtown park. Toronto Islands are extremely close to downtown Toronto, but no one walks to them because they would drown! ;)
Toronto and London are different cities, so I'm not sure what we are attempting to prove here....these types of city vs city measuring contests generally do go around in circles and this one is starting
to spin in the mud! :D

And on that happy note, I do believe it is time we turned the sprinklers on yet another Toronto vs London fest in the Toronto forums. These seem to have been particularly
popular this past year. Thanks to one and all for the discussion, but a thread about parks in Toronto does not have to centre around London and it's park system. I am sure there are plenty of other forums in SSC where those parks can be discussed.

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^^ I've not really looked into what they have planned, to be honest. I really love the park system as it is, personally.... but I know a lot of people won't use it until it is made more accessible and given some amenities like washrooms/drinking fountains, etc.... I love the wildness of it, and there are trails throughout it and different access points and wooden stairs down.. but many people don't seem to know it even exists. It is kind of like our Stanley Park (from Vancouver). I just hope they don't do it up to death and make it twee... it is a breathtaking bit of Mother Nature right under our noses.
When you start strolling through the ravine park system, you are struck by the immensity and the wildness of it; so incredibly close to the heart of the city. For those who are not familiar with it, do a google images search of David Balfour Park (just one of a string of parks that go northward through the city:

Truly, it is a stunning expanse of land that is just trees trees trees and paths. Plus little gurgling streams, and even a (man made) fountain:

And again, a few of my own pictures:

It is just so calming and peaceful to stroll through the woods and stand by the gurgling streams.

By the way, if you get off the subway at Old Mill station, you can wander through the beautiful Étienne Brûlé Park on the Humber River. The park is named
for Étienne Brûlé, the first European to explore Lake Ontario and the first one to set eyes upon what has now become Toronto.. back in September of 1615.
My favourite time of year is in October when the salmon are swimming upstream to spawn, and jumping the ladders:

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On the waterfront, Toronto's next great park takes shape

At a public meeting on Thursday, Waterfront Toronto will present its current vision for a project that will reshape the tail of the Don River

Alex Bozikovic
Published 2 days ago
Updated February 21, 2018

As central Toronto booms, many people have come to see the need for new open space in the core. But not far away, a great collection of park space is in the works: It will cover 80 hectares at the mouth of the Don River, and you'll be able to splash in the river within less than a decade.

"The experience of having your feet in the Don River will be something entirely new," landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh says. "That'll be a great gift for the city."

At a public meeting on Thursday, Waterfront Toronto will present the current vision for that park; it is part of the $1.185-billion Port Lands Flood Protection program announced last June.....

read it all here:
It would be a huge mistake. You can put a luxury condo/hotel anywhere in downtown Toronto; it doesn't have to hog the waterfront.
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I just could not get excited by a condo or hotel taking over the Toronto Island airport. This is not Dubai, and we have different goals.
Are you saying that urban designers would prefer a hotel/condo in place of the Island Airport?

I trust urban designers way more than non-neutral business organizations.
You wouldn't find an airport so close to city centre in any world city.

Would you be more comfortable with it if there were urban airports like this in other world cities?
I used Dubai as an example, because I'm always mystified at the logic of the way they have built their city; it seems to my eye to have been built to be showy rather than on good principles of urban planning. It is such a car oriented city that I don't think they really give much thought to things like pedestrians, for example.
Building a big hotel or condo on the waterfront there seems to be more for show, also, in my books. Sure it benefits the people living or staying there, but not the general population. The Island Airport, however, benefits us all.

I just said that because you said Toronto is not Dubai.
I'd also fly from there depending on the prices.
For many of us it is more than just a case of price; it is immensely convenient for people living downtown. Going all the way out to Pearson is a pain in the neck when you live downtown.

Agreed, the discussion has probably run it's course.. but it was pretty interesting! :eek:kay:
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I think the train is a 25 minute ride... but why would that make us get rid of a secondary airport? The process of checking in, boarding and taking off is a fraction of the time taken in the massive Pearson airport. I think it is wonderful having an alternative.
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Better for the city? Not at all, just the converse. The amount of flights from Island Airport would be a drop in the bucket for Pearson; I'm not sure you understand how small the island airport is. It is a convenience for not only downtown residents but also business people. Toronto is the business centre of Canada and this is a big boost for executives flying in and out of the city. The Island airport would be about a half hour walk from the Central Business District. It is at the foot of Spadina St, on a very, very, very long lakeshore. It's not like this is the only access the city has to the water; Lake Ontario is the size of Wales. The entire city stretches along its shores. The airport takes up one tiny little spot. When you come to visit Toronto, you will see what I am talking about.

Please, let's not drag this back to another London vs Toronto thing; we do our own thing and yes it is different than London but let's not go there again.
I'm going to have to start deleting stuff otherwise because this is NOT going to become another London vs Toronto competition. Thanks

Clearly people didn't give a damn:
You do understand that all of that land was owned by either the railway or the federal government for port use, right? It had nothing to do with whether anyone gave a damn or not.
There was NO opportunity for anything to be built down there otherwise. Good planning and hard work have turned things around and made our waterfront what it is today, so I'm not
understanding why you would drag that old photo into the discussion as it is completely irrelevant and kind of ignoring all the hard work that has been done in revitalization since the 1970's.

Really? Your argument is that condos look cheaper in photographs because a plane will no doubt be in front of them? That is your reason why there should be no island airport, to make
condos look better in photos? I can assure you that the Island Airport does not lower the desirability or value of downtown condominiums.
You cannot imagine how tired I am of hearing the argument that Toronto should not do something because exactly the same thing has not been done first in London or New York.
Why do people have such difficulty imagining that we are our own city and do not need to copy everything done elsewhere? Hopefully we can make up our own minds. And drawing a comparison to having an airport beside Central Park or Big Ben is a little... well, ridiculous. Have you ever been to the island airport? Did it strike you as being in an area that was anywhere similar to Big Ben or Central Park? Would you like that area to go back to how it was in the 1970's?
And don't make up stuff please, about airport not lowering desirability:
So yes, that area needs to be livable and "pretty," not an industrial area shit gets dumped like the 1970's.
And you think building a hotel in place of the airport makes it livable or pretty?
Hundreds of condominiums have sprung up downtown in the past 20 years. We have entire new neighbourhoods like Southcorre, where practically nothing existed ten years ago. How am I "making up stuff" by saying the desirability of these new neighborhoods has not been lowered because a photo of the condo might include a small airplane flying by? Even right beside the Island airport expensive condos have sprung up. The airport was there first and the condos have arrived secondly, not the other way around. The noise from the island airport isn't even remotely similar to the noise at Pearson airport.

Again, I ask, have you ever actually been to the island airport? Do you live downtown?

The way I'm seeing it, this discussion is going in circles. You want a hotel or a condo to replace the island airport, and you are never going to change your mind about that. I want the island airport to stay where it is as it is a
stellar addition to downtown services. You say people in the 70's didn't give a damn when in fact all of that land was privately owned by the railway or the Ports Authority. I can tell you that people in 2018 very much care and there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that a hotel will be built at this point on our waterfront. That is not what people want our waterfront to be used for because they are not planning downtown based on what might look pretty in a photograph, but rather what is the best for people living and working there.
This could just go on for ever and ever but clearly the wheels are spinning in the mud. I suggest we just agree to disagree and move on to another topic.
I invite you this summer to go down to the foot of Spadina and check out what the situation is with the tiny island airport. You can cross under in the tunnel and have a look a the airport if you like.
I hope lezgotolondon gets a chance to visit our city as this will give him more of an idea what is happening here; it can be difficult and even sometimes misleading to envision how another city works until you have visited it.

Okay, has everyone had their say? If so, let's move on. We're a small group here, so let's keep the discussions friendly. Thanks. :)
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That simply cannot be true and frankly I do not believe it. This report was developed to fight the proposed extension of runways, which never happened by the way.
And again, these condos came to the area of the island airport and were built, not the other way around.
I'm reading that report and it states that the waterfront is home to a higher proportion of lower income residents. Really? The Harbourfront, with all its condos and development, seems to be one of the more desirable areas in Toronto. With the rejuvenation of waterfronts around the globe, I don't know of too many waterfronts near central business districts that are low-income areas.
The entire downtown Toronto also has air and noise pollution, as do downtowns in all big world cities. What about the pollution of cars, trucks and buses? What about the pollution of salt being spread on ice in the winter? Again, people should not have built or bought condos beside an airport if they didn't like the idea of it being there.
You'd think so, right? I get the feeling that there is opposition to trying something in Toronto that hasn't already been proven in cities like New York, or London. Sadly, this type of thinking keeps cities from
reaching for the next level; the belief that we must follow the pattern of more established cities.

I can't help but think that any progressive city would jump at the opportunity to have a smaller airport so close and convenient to downtown. Just as Redpath Sugar is a working part of Toronto harbour, so is Billy Bishop. I was originally against the island airport but I only had to use it once to discover how easy it makes travel compared to the nightmare of Pearson.
Airport-related pollution, noise, and traffic may be negligible compared to the regular pollution, noise, and traffic that Downtown Toronto already produces.

Yes, of course it is. The City was not trying to shut down the Toronto Island airport, but rather refuse permission to extend the runways. Permission was not granted for that, but as we know the
Island Airport is still open, and neither the City of Toronto nor Toronto Public Health want to get rid of it.

I'm not gonna bother further...
Me either.
Toronto Islands are surrounded by water, but are close to the city. If you want "rural", it is easy to find in Toronto as we have countless acres of ravines that run through the city and are mostly untouched by gentrification.
I know you will visit Toronto one day, and then you will begin to understand our city and our downtown somewhat; it can be difficult to grasp subtleties when you are talking about generalities. Toronto is sprawled along the lakeshore of a MASSIVE lake which is the size of Wales. We have opportunities galore if we want to add to the parkland that is already on the lakeshore.... the area taken up by this small airport is miniscule. It does not impinge upon the beauty of the Toronto Islands proper and very few people who visit the Toronto Islands would ever be aware of its existence other than seeing a small propeller plane (no large or jet planes) landing in the distance once in awhile when they are loading the ferry on Hanlans. When I moved here 32 years ago it was a tip of the islands that was marshland, and no one actually went out there. I'm not entirely certain why you are dead set against the little Billy Bishop airport, but I'd be curious to see if you still feel the same way after you come to visit. Perhaps you are thinking of big airports, but this little one only has small propeller aircraft; no jumbo jets and nothing breaking the sound barrier so it is not a noisy airport like a large one is.
Rather than me laboriously post photos of the islands, check out the Google page of images from the Toronto Islands:

a proper rural place must be much bigger and not surrounded by a city.
Rural places don't have airports in the middle.

The airport is not in the middle of the Toronto islands, it was built off one edge that used to be unused marsh land when I moved here 32 years ago, and is actually quite close to the city shore; hence the short tunnel underneath that connects the airport to the mainland. The airport is no where close to the bulk of the islands that people visit like Centre or Ward's Island. You can see it from the north west tip of Hanlans island, but it is rather far away. I think people are reading too much into the metaphor "rural". He is saying that there is a feeling of being out in a rural place when you are on the Toronto islands, not that there are farms and wheatfields and pastures full of cows and sheep. You do feel like you are out in the country when you wander around the Toronto Islands; absolutely true.. Again, a person must visit the
Islands to understand this, otherwise it is just a theory one might have by looking at a map with some little dots in the water. The Toronto Islands are probably much larger that out of towners realise, and in fact are roughly the same size as Central Park in New York City. Clearly this is no dinky little parkette, but a proper nature park within a short distance of downtown. :)

Again, lots and lots of nice photos of the Toronto Islands:

For anyone unfamiliar with our most beautiful urban park, here is a map of the Toronto Islands. The airport is the little part on the lower right hand side of the map:

The benefit you get from the airport is very limited as few people fly more than a couple of times per year. .

I don't know what you mean by saying the benefit is "very limited"; they put through 2.3 million people a year. What does it matter if it is a mix of frequent flyers and those
like myself that might use it once a year? It greatly benefits a surprisingly broad cross-section of downtown people, and tourists from other cities in North America that travel
to visit us. The experience of using it is lovely; it is within walking distance or a short taxi ride from most downtown residents; you breeze into the small terminal, and of course there is only
one flight scheduled at a time so no great long lineups and no hassle. You sit in a lovely lounge waiting for your flight, and they give you a little complimentary meal/drink on even a short flight
to New York City. It is probably more like what flying was like back in the 50's... why anyone would want to get rid of it is beyond me.
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