The Five Coolest Transformative Urban Projects in Toronto

28 April

In high density cities like Paris, New York and Toronto, every speck of land counts. So when a once thriving area becomes underused, urban planners, architects, and politicians often come together to think of creative ways to revitalize the space. For example, after the 19th-century Vincennes railway viaduct in Paris closed in the late 1960s, it was later converted into a 4.7 kilometre stretch of gardens and walking paths known as the Promenade Plantée, the world’s first ever elevated park. The innovative project inspired New York City’s own aerial park, the High Line, which attracts nearly 5 million visitors annually.

Similarly, The Bentway will transform the underused area underneath the Gardiner Expressway into a bustling multi-use urban trail that will connect seven neighbourhoods, from Exhibition Place to CityPlace. While The Bentway is the first project of its scale in Toronto, the city has a rich history of converting desolate areas into flourishing parks, trails, and even beaches. Here, we explore five of Toronto’s coolest adaptive reuse initiatives.


Jill Anholt’s 2011 sculpture Light Showers, at Sherbourne Common North. "IMG_1886" by wyliepoon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Sherbourne Common
As part of Waterfront Toronto’s grand plan to revitalize the city’s lakeshore, Sherbourne Common is equal parts water park and skating rink, depending on the season. Located east of Lower Sherbourne Street on a former industrial site, the 1.5-hectare park features an open green lawn, a splash pad that doubles as a rink, and dramatic water sculptures by B.C. artist Jill Anholt. Although the park has picked up plenty of design awards since it opened in 2010, it’s more than just a cool space: it integrates a stormwater treatment system that releases clean water back into Lake Ontario.


The bright yellow umbrellas of HtO Park, silhouetted against a midsummer sunset. "Waterfront" by Tania Liu is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

HtO Park 
With Toronto’s most famous beaches located either on the island or in the east end, downtown condo-dwellers can find a sunny, sandy reprieve at HtO Park. On summer days, you’ll encounter bikini-clad sunbathers lounging underneath bright yellow umbrellas, kids playing in the sand, or families picnicking on the grassy knolls. Designed by Janet Rosenberg & Studio, the park opened in 2007 at Queens Quay West between Spadina Avenue and Rees Street, a former industrial site that required intensive soil remediation to create a safe foundation for the park.

Underpass Park’s basketball courts, before the colourful murals were painted. "Under the Bridge" by Sam Javanrouh is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Underpass Park
Underpass Park beautifully transforms a derelict space into a bright, inviting community hub for the burgeoning West Don Lands neighbourhood. A giant children’s playground, two basketball courts and a skatepark are all located under and around the Eastern Avenue, Richmond, and Adelaide overpasses in the burgeoning West Don Lands neighbourhood. The space is further animated by public art, such as Toronto artist and architect Paul Raff’s installation of octagonal mirrored stainless steel surfaces attached to the underside of one of the underpasses and colourful commissioned graffiti covering the concrete columns. Designed by Vancouver-based PFS Studio, Underpass Park is the most extensive park to ever be built under an overpass in Canada.


At Canoe Landing Park, the public art of Douglas Coupland takes centre stage. "IMG_9344" by wyliepoon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Canoe Landing Park
Canoe Landing Park is artist and writer Douglas Coupland’s love letter to Canada. The 3.2-hectare park contains massive sculptures of an abstract beaver dam, colourful fishing bobbers and a large red canoe that overlooks the Gardiner Expressway. Along with two sports fields, which are often home to pick-up soccer games, the park features a commemorative Terry Fox running trail. Although the park was originally designed to create a social heart for the CityPlace condo community, its whimsical presence attracts Torontonians from all across the city.


With easy access to the Bloor UP Express Station, cyclists, pedestrians, and commuters alike make use of the West Toronto Railpath. "West Toronto Railpath" by wyliepoon is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

West Toronto Railpath
Back in 2001, a community group of residents, cyclists, activists, and environmentalists came together with the goal of transforming the old railway corridor that runs from Dundas West to the Junction into a multi-use path. After nearly a decade of planning, the first phase of the project—now named the West Toronto Railpath—opened in 2009 and has since become beloved by pedestrians, cyclists, and runners. The second phase will extend the current path southbound to the Dufferin Street Bridge.


Article by: Samantha Edwards

Header Image: The painted pillars of Underpass Park, with art (L to R) by DENIAL, Jabari “Elicser” Elliott, Recka, Kirsten McCrea, Adrian Hayles, SPUD, Jason Botkin, and SKAM. "Underpass Park" by Rick Harris is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0