CityPlace Community Building Updates

As our community grows, we must focus on building neighbourhoods and not just condo towers. In CityPlace, we have the advantage that the neighbourhood was master-planned back in 1994, so some thought was given to appropriate infrastructure and community facilities. But 1994 was quite some time ago. And as CityPlace has rapidly developed and grown to near completion in recent years, we have seen how everything is working in practice and, like any other living community, where there is room for improvement. As a result there is a lot of work underway to ensure CityPlace is a thriving, liveable, desirable neighbourhood and a strong community, and I want to provide updates on many of the projects and issues that people ask about frequently.

Rail Deck Park

In 2016, Mayor Tory and I announced Rail Deck Park: a new 21-acre public park over the rail corridor. The size of 16 football fields, it will be a new and critical resource for our neighbourhoods, and a new central park for all of Toronto. City Council quickly approved taking the first steps to move this bold and ambitious plan forward. Along with detailed implementation plans, cost estimates, and funding options, we initiated an Official Plan Amendment process to formally review re-designating the space above the rail corridor as parkland.

This past December, City Council approved moving ahead with Stage Two of work on Rail Deck Park including advancing the financial strategy, launching an international design ideas competition, and continuing along the path to legal acquisition of the air rights for Rail Deck Park. This approval was supported with new funding of $6 million for project development. City Council also approved the re-designation of the space of the rail corridor as parkland. And perhaps just as importantly, City Council has also refused an entirely inappropriate and unacceptable private development scheme for the rail corridor – more on that below.

Building Rail Deck Park won't happen overnight; it will take years. And it will represent a significant investment for our City. However, to build the city we want – a city that is equitable, liveable, and sustainable for all our friends and neighbours – we must invest in the services and infrastructure to do it, like affordable housing, libraries, community centres, child care services, and new and creative park spaces. These first steps to build Rail Deck Park and protect the area for public parkland in perpetuity will change the shape of our city for the better for future generations, like the creation of High Park or the fight to stop the Spadina Expressway.

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Rejecting the private 9-tower development application over the rail corridor

After the plans for Rail Deck Park were announced, the City of Toronto received a private application to change the Official Plan to allow a large new development above the rail corridor, including a parking structure for 1,225 vehicles and 9 buildings up to 59 storeys tall.

From the very beginning, I completely and strongly opposed any private development over the rail corridor because it would diminish the size and usefulness of Rail Deck Park. The application also raised many concerns about traffic congestion, privacy and shadows, and whether there would be sufficient community services and utility capacity to support the population.

There are plenty of other sites downtown for more towers, but there are no other sites for a new 21-acre downtown park.

Following a public meeting in September that made it very clear the vast majority of neighbours support Rail Deck Park over the private tower proposal, City Council formally rejected the application in December.

City Council's refusal decision has since been appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB), a provincial tribunal with the power to overturn any of City Council's planning decisions. We are preparing our best legal case to defend City Council's decision and protect Rail Deck Park.

Lower Garrison Creek Park

Construction on the two-acre Lower Garrison Creek Park (immediately North of the Fort York Library in CityPlace) will start later this summer! It is fully funded with $11 million set aside for design and construction. Located at the historic outlet of Garrison Creek where it met Lake Ontario, this new park will reinterpret that lost landscape and form a critical link in our local parks system. From the west, it will connect to Fort York, the Bentway, and via two new bridges to the future West Toronto Railpath extension. From the east, it will connect to Northern Linear Park and Rail Deck Park. The new park will reach underneath the heritage Bathurst Street Bridge to knit together both sides.

The design of Lower Garrison Creek Park is dynamic and innovative. The Panorama Lookout will provide high views over the park to Fort York and the downtown skyline, recreating the former promontory landform that used to mark the mouth of Garrison Creek. Down in the main body of the park, a limestone "shingle beach" and marsh-like area will be a play space for children that reflects the pre-urban environment in the area.

Formerly known as "Mouth of the Creek Park," it will be formally named Lower Garrison Creek Park this spring to strengthen the connection with other parks along the course of Garrison Creek, which is now largely buried beneath streets and parkland including Trinity Bellwoods Park and Christie Pitts Park.

The Bentway

The Bentway is an exciting partnership that is creating a new public landscape under the section of the Gardiner Expressway from Strachan Avenue to Spadina Avenue. The project has already begun to transform more than 10 acres into vibrant community spaces that will host community programming, a 1.75 kilometre multi-use trail, a pedestrian and cycling bridge over Fort York Boulevard, and more.

This exciting project was made possible by a very generous $25 million donation from Judy and Wil Matthews, and leveraging $2.6 billion invested by the City of Toronto in repairing the Gardiner and ensuring it is in safe condition.

This past January, I was delighted to join Judy and Wil Matthews, Councillor Mike Layton, and countless community members to officially open the first portion of The Bentway Skating Trail! The very first piece of The Bentway to open, it immediately attracted impressive crowds of skaters enjoying the cathedral-like setting beneath the Gardiner.

The first phase of the project originally included only the area between Shaw and Bathurst, with future phases continuing east. However, in December 2017, I was pleased to announce new funding of $500,000 from local Ward 20 sources to extend The Bentway Phase One east of Bathurst into our community, with an additional $500,000 to come before the end of this term.

The second phase of The Bentway will include completion of the multi-use pathway all the way to Spadina Avenue, with the potential to tie this into the existing pathway on the south side of Lake Shore Boulevard that connects to Yonge Street and beyond. There are also large open spaces underneath the Gardiner between Dan Leckie Way and Spadina Avenue with equal potential for creative, vibrant community spaces. One of the key opportunities and local needs that has been identified from the beginning is a destination off-leash dog run, similar to the high quality facility that New York City has built as part of the East River Esplanade, which is also under an elevated highway in Manhattan.

Canoe Landing Community Recreation Centre, new schools, and new child care facility

I couldn’t be more excited that construction is well underway on the new $77 million integrated multi-use public facility in CityPlace, formerly known as "Block 31."

I was proud to be joined by Trustee Malik, Trustee Davis, MPP Dong and Mayor Tory for the ceremonial ground-breaking late last year. This partnership between the school boards and the City of Toronto will include:

  • Canoe Landing Community Recreation Centre
  • Canoe Landing Child Care Centre, serving 10 infants and 42 toddler and pre-school children
  • Bishop Macdonell Catholic Elementary School, serving 550 children from kindergarten to grade eight
  • Jean Lumb Public School, serving 550 children from kindergarten to grade eight
  • Addition of a flexible event and market space facing the park, to be operated by a non-profit organization

This integrated multi-use facility will help ensure that families living in CityPlace and the surrounding high-density neighbourhoods will have access to the amenities and services necessary for a thriving, liveable, equitable community. For families in condos and apartments, the park is your back yard, and the community centre is your living room.

Through public meetings and working group meetings in 2015 and 2016, the facility was designed in close collaboration with the community in order to respond to the particular needs and desires in a vertical neighbourhood. For example, to make the best use of a compact site, many interior spaces like gyms will be shared between the schools and the community centres, and the rooftop will have space for activities including basketball, planting beds, and a running track. The school playground will be open to the public after hours, on weekends, and during the summer – effectively enlarging Canoe Landing Park.

The flexible event and market space was designed and added to the project as a direct outcome of the feedback we received during the public consultations. I secured an additional $5.4 million of "Section 37" community benefits funds to expand the budget for the community centre so we can have an animated, publicly accessible space operated by a non-profit agency opening onto a plaza beside Canoe Landing Park, with a year-round weather-protected home for a farmer's market.

We are on track to have the new schools open in time for the fall 2019 school year.

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New Child Care at Front and Draper

As part of the redevelopment of the old Globe and Mail lands, I secured space for a new non-profit childcare near the corner of Front Street and Draper Street, just across the yellow Puente de Luz Bridge from CityPlace. There will be space to accommodate 62 children. Construction has already started with excavation below ground, and will be completed in the next few years along with the rest of the comprehensive redevelopment of the lands.

New Aquatic Centre planned at foot of Bathurst Street

Following a comprehensive review of community services and facilities downtown, the City of Toronto has confirmed the need for a new public indoor pool in the area to serve the growing population of CityPlace, the waterfront, and the Fort York neighbourhood. Work is underway to finalize funding details for the estimated $22 million project. As part of the recently-completed Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Plan, City-owned lands adjacent to the Waterfront Neighbourhood Centre and the Canada Malting Silos at the foot of Bathurst Street have been identified as the preferred location for the new pool. I am looking forward to announcing confirmed funding along with design and construction timelines soon!

Canoe Landing Park improvements

In December 2015, I co-hosted a meeting with the CityPlace Residents' Association to discuss parks and open spaces in CityPlace, and this was followed up with an online survey open to the community.

This meeting was an opportunity to learn more about the new parks planned and under construction in the neighbourhood, ask questions, and help shape the future of parks in CityPlace. City staff from the Parks, Forestry & Recreation division were also present to discuss the current state of parks in the neighbourhood, including Canoe Landing Park, and hear any concerns or issues that residents had.

CityPlace has been growing rapidly and, as everyone living in a condo or apartment knows, in a vertical neighbourhood the local park serves as everyone's back yard. This means that our parks are asked to be a lot of different things all at once, from the home to major community events like CityFest to a space for quiet contemplation and relaxation. It's important to sustain an ongoing conversation about what's working and what could be improved, to be sure that our local parks are great parks.

The top three suggestions for improving Canoe Landing Park (respondents were not limited to one answer) were:

  1. Create a fenced space for off-leash dogs,
  2. Better control of off-leash dogs, and
  3. Add more and better play structures for children.

We immediately started work on plans to add a small fenced off-leash area to Canoe Landing Park, in order to help reduce the conflicts between dogs and others in the park. It was a tight squeeze to find suitable space in the park that would not conflict with the ice rink, splash pad, public art, artificial turf playing field, or future school play areas!

As a second phase of this work and in cooperation with The Bentway, it will be possible to build a large destination off-leash dog run by extending Canoe Landing Park south into the open space sheltered by the Gardiner Expressway, which is presently covered with rocks. With this additional space, we will be able to provide more amenities for dogs and their owners, as well as a larger area for running and the opportunity to provide a protected space just for small dogs. A similar high quality facility has been built in New York City as part of the East River Esplanade, which is also under an elevated highway in Manhattan.

The timeline for Phase Two is dependent on completion of the overhead maintenance work on the Gardiner Expressway to make it safe for another generation. These repairs have been completed west of Bathurst Street where The Bentway has already opened, but most of the necessary work east of Bathurst is not yet finished.

In the coming weeks, a fence will be installed around the artificial turf field in the lower south-corner of Canoe Landing Park. We hope that this will help to clearly define the fact that this is a sports field, and new signage will also be remind everyone that dogs must be kept on a leash unless they are in the designated off-leash area. It is very inconsiderate to allow any dog to relieve itself on the artificial turf field where teams of adults and children play sports and may come in contact with the soiled turf. When the elementary schools next door open in the fall of 2019, they will use the field for lessons during regular school hours.

The City's Municipal Licencing and Standards division fields by-law officers who are responsible for enforcing most local rules, including the requirement that all dogs be on-leash unless in a designated off-leash area. In the past, by-law officers have struggled to provide adequate coverage in our neighbourhoods. However, with new funding approved in the 2018 budget, several new by-law officers are being hired, which will allow for a reorganization of the division that means in practice more officers on the ground in the community. With increased presence and visibility, officers will be able to undertake more preventative education and focused enforcement of by-laws.

We have also been working to add more and better play structures for children in the neighbourhood. As more residents choose to stay in CityPlace to raise a family, the lone splash pad in Canoe Landing Park is not enough, particularly as it is seasonal. New parks in planning and under construction will help to fill this gap and provide more opportunities for families with children to play in the neighbourhood, including Lower Garrison Creek Park, the outdoor play areas associated with the new elementary schools, an indoor playground contained in the new community centre, activities and programming along The Bentway, and the rooftop gardens and amenities above the community centre.

Work has also been ongoing to identify a technically suitable location in Canoe Landing Park for traditional children's play equipment such as swings or a climbing structure. Due again to the fact that the park is very tightly packed with existing activities, public art, challenging slopes, and underground utilities, it has taken some time to resolve these underlying issues. It has become clear that a conventional, off-the-shelf play feature is unlikely to fit in Canoe Landing Park, so we have to be more creative and innovative.

City staff are currently completing underground investigations and consultation with the original designer of Canoe Landing Park. They anticipate releasing a procurement call for a landscape architect with experience in creative play design to help come up with plans for new children's play equipment that is seamlessly integrated into the existing park activities, design, and public art. A public meeting will be held once some suggestions have been prepared for community members to review. We would also like to expand the scope of this consultant to cover any other minor improvements to Canoe Landing Park that might be required, such as modifications to the new off-leash area gates.

Traffic safety improvements

Planning and investing in our infrastructure to promote the safety of all road users is critical. We need a city-wide focus on these investments, through the accelerated implementation of the Vision Zero road safety plan. While this work moves forward, I have been working together with residents and businesses in CityPlace and across the ward to build safer streets.

After hearing concerns from community members about confusion and risky driver behaviour at the intersection of Dan Leckie Way and Fort York Boulevard, I pushed for approval of new traffic lights at Community Council and advocated for installation as soon as possible. City Staff initially opposed the signals based on out-of-date methods of evaluating traffic safety. However, I moved a motion to install the signals, which was unanimously approved, and City Staff then worked with my office to expedite implementation, designing and installing the new signals within that year. The traffic signals are now in operation and the intersection of Dan Leckie and Fort York is much more predictable and safe for everyone.

Last month at Community Council, I moved a motion to create a new intersection at Queens Wharf Road and Fort York Boulevard. Currently, the raised median is a physical barrier for pedestrians and vehicles travelling north and south, cutting off a number of condo towers from destinations on the north side of Fort York Boulevard like the library. Creating a new intersection and all-way stop here will improve walkability in the neighbourhood, make it more accessible for people who can't climb over the median, and shorten travel times on foot.

As part of the Cycling Network 10 Year Plan approved by City Council in 2016, bike lanes will be added to Dan Leckie Way, connecting Queens Quay to the yellow Puente de Luz Bridge, as well as new bike lanes continuing north from the bridge along Portland Street. In addition, the bike lanes on Fort York Boulevard are planned to be extended along Bremner Boulevard to the existing cycle track on Simcoe Street. And a new cycle track will be constructed on Navy Wharf Court and Blue Jays Way, connecting to the core network on Peter Street, Richmond Street, and Adelaide Street.

Spadina Avenue is currently a major barrier and bottleneck for pedestrians travelling between the east and west parts of CityPlace. The road is too much like an expressway and does not fit into the urban character of the neighbourhood that has grown around it. There is only one pedestrian crosswalk at grade between the Gardiner in the south and the railway in the north, with an additional underpass via Northern Linear Park. This issue will only become more important when the schools at Block 31 open, to be attended by 1,100 students every day. I have been working persistently to urbanize Spadina Avenue but unfortunately so far any improvements have not been supported by City Council or Transportation Services, due to the potential impact on commuter traffic congestion.

There are three critical problems with Spadina Avenue through CityPlace: (1) the ban on pedestrians crossing the south side of the Spadina/Bremner intersection, (2) the unprotected pedestrian crossing of the off-ramp from the Gardiner on the east side of Spadina, and (3) the lack of any pedestrian crossing signals on the west side of the intersection of Lake Shore and Spadina. After much effort, Transportation Services staff have finally started another review of all three of these issues, to try to find a way forward that will make the street safer for everyone while also winning support at City Council. We will receive updated pedestrian and vehicular counts of the Spadina/Bremner intersection this summer (to account for the potential effect of the reconstructed Simcoe off-ramp and the King Street Pilot), a review of safe crossing options for the Gardiner off-ramp is underway, and City staff are designing new traffic signals to allow pedestrians to cross the westbound on-ramps from Spadina.

Working together to manage development

In 2015, a two-tower re-zoning application for 23 Spadina Avenue raised a lot of concerns for neighbours in CityPlace. I hosted a public meeting in March to hear from you, and later that year the matter was appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) by the applicant.

I was deeply proud to work together with the community leaders and activists who stepped up to defend local interests and try to achieve the best possible outcome through the broken and undemocratic OMB process. It is a clear sign of a flourishing, thriving community when people are willing to invest so much time, energy, and personal resources in advocating for the neighbourhood.

Together, we were able to achieve real and meaningful changes to the development proposal, despite the OMB appeal. Each tower was reduced in height by 10 storeys and reoriented to reduce shadow and privacy impacts, and as a consequence the amount of density was reduced by about 20%. The mix of unit sizes was greatly improved, with a better proportion of larger and family-sized units. The publicly-accessible open space proposed at the north-west corner of Bremner Boulevard and Navy Wharf Court was increased in size and quality. And the building was set back further from the street to widen the surrounding sidewalks.

CityPlace-Fort York BIA

It has been my pleasure to work with our ward's newest Business Improvement Area (BIA) representing the CityPlace and Fort York neighbourhoods. Since 2016 when it was formed by a successful poll of local businesses, the BIA has been making a measurable and significant positive impact in the community.

BIAs are tremendous partners for building vibrant and attractive communities. They are self-funded by local businesses and can undertake such initiatives as street festivals, special events, marketing, services like graffiti-removal, and public realm improvements. You may have enjoyed in recent winters the ice skating rink that the BIA has provided in Canoe Landing Park, or the summertime movie nights in the park. I am looking forward to continuing to work with the BIA as they take on additional projects and continue to make the neighbourhood more successful and vibrant.