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Creating a Hub for Community Underneath the Gardiner

Jul 6, 2016

Creating a community space under the Gardiner Expressway.

By Jake Tobin Garrett

Project: Under Gardiner – the space under the expressway soon to be renamed The Bentway – is a very urban space. Buildings have sprouted around this western section of the Gardiner so that now it weaves its way through some of the densest, fast-growing neighbourhoods in the city. There aren’t, however, a lot of retail or commercial amenities nearby to serve many of these new residents. 

Seven neighbourhoods connected by the new public spaces under the Gardiner.

That’s why part of the Bentway, closest to Fort York Neighbourhood and CityPlace, is envisioned as a community link and amenities section – tying current and new residents together through a connected trail, but also providing an exciting new space that can become an outdoor community hub. While the community amenities section would be a future phase of the project, linking up with some of the private development currently in progress there, the trail connection should be completed as part of phase one by July 2017.

The Gardiner Expressway weaves through some of the most dense and fast-growing neighbouhoods in Toronto’s downtown.

The Gardiner Expressway weaves through some of the most dense and fast-growing neighbouhoods in Toronto’s downtown.

On the four guided walks I have led through the project, one of the most consistent themes that came up was the use of the space for pop-up retail, food trucks, farmer’s markets, and other micro-retail. People were enamored by the idea of using what is essentially a covered space as a way to provide a spot for entrepreneurs.

One man pointed out that it would be a good space for the kind of small eclectic market that has for the second summer in a row popped up in front of the Club Monaco on Bloor Street across from the ROM. That market includes vendors that sell flowers, ice cream bars, coffee, and other treats and has helped animate the street.  

Another person spoke about the possibility of creating a shipping container market like Market 707, the space that Scadding Court Community Centre has set up to provide start-up space for new retail that couldn’t afford a conventional streetfront retail space.

Tying all these ideas together was the recognition that the Bentway was a uniquely urban space that cried out for retail that was more experimental, geared towards small businesses start-ups, and offered something different than what you would find on nearby King or Queen Streets. I can’t wait to see how people use this space and watch it evolve over time.

What could you see happening here?

post contributor

  • Jake Tobin Garrett

    Jake Tobin Garrett is a writer and public space advocate in Toronto. He works as Manager of Policy and Research for Park People.