In the post-Highline era, new linear parks and rails-to-trail conversions symbolize big investments in public space (as well as sizable shifts in nearby housing costs). In Toronto, a park opening this weekend has been billed as both a signature new public amenity and a sign of the city’s growth.
The Bentway—named after the columns, or bents, that hold up an expressway—aims to turn infrastructure that normally divides neighborhoods into an amenity. Built underneath a stretch of the Gardiner Expressway, the new linear park will eventually encompass about a mile of trails, public space, and art installations, linking together up-and-coming areas of downtown.
The first section, a 220-meter (720-foot) long skate trail, opens this weekend with quite the reception: visitors can rent skates, listen to live music, watch freestyle ice skating, and take advantage of pop-up curling. Throughout the winter, the trail will host weekly DJ parties.
Urban designer Ken Greenberg had a vision for the park back in 2011. As he watched Torontonians move in around the Fort York historic site, he saw a need for new park space, as well as an empty, covered stretch of ground below the expressway, complete with a five-story tall canopy. When the park is complete, supporters say, it’ll be within a 10-minute walk of 70,000 residents.
Greenberg’s inspiration was a catalyst for others instrumental in the park’s creation, including local philanthropists Judy and Wilmont Matthews, who provided a $25 million Canadian dollars ($20.2 million) grant. The new park will receive long-term maintenance support from the city, as well as the new Bentway Conservancy, a nonprofit overseeing the park.
Local landscape architecture firm Public Work and Ilana Altman, The Bentway’s Director of Programming, will design and curate the experience for park visitors. Playing off the unique nature of the space, organizers envision subdividing the space and hosting programming and events in different “rooms,” similar to how the Chicago Riverwalk contains a series of separate and distinct areas.
While the park has won plaudits for creative reuse of urban infrastructure, and the city council just approved a half-million dollar expansion plan, The Bentway is also opening underneath an expressway that’s in the middle of an expensive expansion, at a time when many cities are removing highways to help reconnect downtown neighborhoods divided by urban renewal projects.