Monday, November 19, 2007

"Under-the-Gardiner", Toronto's next tourist attraction

Finally, I read an article which comes close my own views on the fate of the Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto, a perennial source of argument and dissent, even if little ever comes of those arguments.
The conventional wisdom has, for years now, been that the Gardiner is an eyesore and an anachronism and that in some way it prevents access to our beautiful lakefront. Anyone who expresses sentiments to the contrary is frowned at and considered anti-progress, pro-car and, in some obscure way, undemocratic.
I have always felt that something more could be done to beautify the concrete jungle below the raised highway, or at least to make some practical use of it, rather than just saying "rip it down" which has always seemed a bit defeatist and negative to me.
Given that it carries 200,000 cars and trucks a day past and into downtown, dismantling the Gardiner would mean that 200,000 cars and trucks a day would have to be accommodated in central Toronto's already congested grid system, which at the very least would necessitate a significant widening of the Lakeshore Avenue alternative, which would in turn have much more impact on access to the lakeshore than the current status quo.
The argument about access to the lakeshore has always seemed spurious to me anyway. The huge Hong Kong-esque developments which have been allowed on the downtown lakeshore have done much more to block access and views to the lake than the Expressway ever did. No-one is suggesting (thankfully) that we move the railway lines which run parallel to the Gardiner, and which present just as much of a barrier.
And even if any intrepid tourists do venture down to the lake, there is so little to do and see there (and now, since the condo developments, so little space and opportunity to provide anything in the future) that many would probably wonder why they bothered anyway.
A grand opportunity has already been squandered. So why not make the best of a bad thing and create "Under-the-Gardiner", a funky little neighbourhood of cafes, small specialty stores and street art, with pedestrian walkways and parkland, to replace the wasteland of dust, exhaust fumes and beggars that tourists currently have to negotiate.
Just because San Francisco and Boston ripped down their elevated highways doesn't mean that we have to copy them exactly. We just need to think outside the box a little.

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