Opinion: Toronto needs a green design intervention: Under Gardiner?

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Once a big city starts a ball in motion, it's hard to make sure the ball doesn't eventually crush the city. Innovation drives change. From days of horse-powered transport to Toronto's now complex topology of transport. 

Spoilers: Toronto commute times are the worst. Seems Montreal and Vancouver need a similar intervention? With the demographics of our city under constant peeks and pokes, cities must adapt to more traffic and towards a future green economy. A city's growth is a real-time history lesson of hundreds of years of tiny changes. Change shapes a city.

Modern design understands that poor choices made decades ago cost our present. 

With a handful of Toronto projects bubbling in the pot of dysfunction, I think Federal, Provincial & Municipal folks need to rethink and chart a smart future for Toronto. A long-term evidence-based plan. Our history of dubious city planning served the dubious. Our city needs less conflict of interest to survive. This is a new global game now, how well we perform globally matters.

Toronto needs safe green spaces, safe biking routes and green transportation that form a new highly efficient corridor of slow-moving people, quickly. Sounds complex because it is. Toronto has too many sore spots to patch, time for a new circulatory system

The recent Under Gardiner design announcement, at first blush, is a great simple concept; using wasted public space and make it people space. Smart! Real estate in Toronto is expensive so let's use wasted space. Let's start the ball rolling, and let it flourish? Ideas like this feel romantic and fresh; a new creative space to showcase Toronto. I admit I can imagine the buzz and the Toronto style, even I like it. But, is it a big enough idea? Will it impede our big rolling ball?

Let ruin this idea for you immediately. When we think of the current maintenance on the Gardiner, how will the excellent and lovely Under Gardiner impede expensive repairs, changes or upgrades to the Gardiner? Will it solidify the current Gardiner topology? Is this a smart long-term investment? Is it a chance for John Tory to help stimulate the road work economy? 

In design-speak, this potential space has a few concerns, all of them real. This potential space is located: 

  • underneath dynamic overhead acoustic pollution source, enclosed area concerns.
  • underneath an old highway with a concerning track record.
  • underneath an air pollution source which can cause damage below on smog days.

Immediately I predict higher overhead safety costs and extra sound dampening materials to make these spaces tolerable for workers. If a sewer pipe pops, how easy is it to fix? If a seal leaks water, will it drip into your organic soup? Just how complex will this new space be? If we add up all the twists, bends, stairs and ramps which make the design extra cool, one must take notice of the pesky and expensive roof. In the long term, this project will probably result in wasted materials, extra repair costs, versus going back to the drawing board and bringing Toronto into the 2100's. Seems the UnderGardiner will underperform, in the long term, but it does have short-term sizzle. Did you know that air pollution is ~416.5% worse than bacon?

For what it does, the Gardiner corridor is good for what it is, a patch to keep Toronto's big ball rolling. Toronto commutes rank as "worse". Toronto has areas of higher toxic air pollution. We need a new plan. A big plan. No, not a Big Dig, we need a plan that can quadruple, with modular expansion, the volume of “people flow”. We need a well-tuned design so our transport can orchestrate a better tones at commute time.

Seems we need a greener roof for the Under Gardiner to help sprout and flourish, as it should.

Toronto needs a design intervention. All the city planners and politicians should be sent to Hamilton for the day and scientists redesign Toronto's big parts, really quickly. Toronto takes an economic hit from poor transportation. I remember some person once mentioned a large figure, that I no longer remember. Is Toronto's economy more important than using wasted space more effectively?

Toronto's Metrolinx electrification is a big zappy mistake just waiting to shock taxpayers. All these big projects need to work together more effectively but allow growth without stopping our big rolling ball. Our ball needs to do much better.

Toronto needs a balanced and optimized design solution that can adapt and grow well with future traffic volumes. The recent Toronto mayoral election demonstrated two things, first that there is no innovative long-term transportation plan for Toronto, secondly, crack cocaine is probably very bad for you. 

We also need Toronto's plan to take into consideration for emergency preparedness and Canada's first responders. When we lose power, when we are flooded, we need something that still works. Our climate will now deliver 1000-year storms every 100 years and 100-year storms will seem more annual. Time for an extreme weather make-over? Toronto needs to get smart before it loses its chance to keep our only ball rolling.