For a very long time, there was a great debate in Toronto about whether or not the elevated Gardiner Expressway should be removed from downtown and replaced with something else. As recently as five years ago, that debate was centered around removing the eastern portion of the expressway and replacing it with a large surface boulevard.
But that ship has sailed. A controversial decision was made not to remove the “Gardiner East,” but instead reroute it (that wasn’t my first choice). At the same time, wonderful new city building initiatives, such as The Bentway, have started to reclaim the long overlooked spaces that sit underneath it.
Another good example of this is the “West Block,” which was recently unveiled at the northeast corner of Bathurst St and Lake Shore Blvd W. New retail uses (such as the above LCBO) and new public spaces (note the above stair/seating combo) have been tucked underneath the expressway’s structure, creating a beautiful contrast between old and new.
It reminds me of some of the urban spaces that you might find in other dense urban centers such as Tokyo, because this may be the first fully fledged retail space located underneath the Gardiner. I think it is. But here’s what’s counterintuitive: the more we embrace the Gardiner in these ways, the more it will recede into the background.
At some point in the near future, these spaces will be filled with people. People eating outside at restaurants. People sitting on the above steps enjoying an illegal drink (because of our antiquated liquor laws). And when that happens, I’m sure most won’t even consider what’s above their head.