The Downsview military lands were supposed to be recreated as Canada’s first planned urban park – but here it is seven years later and the feds have stuck us with a dismal plateau of concrete and broken dreams.
To convert a derelict former air force base into Canada's first urban national park, between Keele and Allen south of Sheppard.
What the Downsview site has going for it
644 acres of primo real estate in the centre of the city, fed by two nearby subway stations (Wilson and Downsview).
Tributaries feeding the two largest river systems in the city, the Humber and the Don, originate in the park.
It's on one of the highest points overlooking the city.
A seven-phase design plan over 10 years at a cost of $40 million. "A unique urban recreational greenspace, a safe and peaceful place developed according to the principles of environmental, economic and social sustainability... a national showcase," or so says Downsview Park Inc.'s board of directors' vision statement.
Only 7 per cent of the site, some 45 acres, will be dedicated to reforestation. Two hundred-plus acres will go to residential and commercial development, and the rest, some 250 acres, will be for "recreational and cultural uses" like a swimming pool, skateboard park and amphitheatre.
What's there now
A whole lot of scrub land around an indoor sports complex, film studios, the Toronto Aerospace Museum and buildings left by the Department of National Defence when the Canadian Forces Base at Downsview was decommissioned in 1994. Did we mention the picnic areas and butterfly garden? Truth is, you'd hardly notice them amid the soul-destroying desolation.
The weird thing
The four soccer fields and beach volleyball courts on the site are - wait for it - indoors. No laughter of children wafting in the breeze here. More pavement and parking than inviting public spaces.
So what's taking so long?
The development of the proposed park is contingent on revenue from residential and commercial development on the site.
Seven years after an order in council authorized the setting up of Parc Downsview Park Inc., the "environmentally sustainable" development the park is looking for isn't happening. In fact, no specific proposals are currently in the works.
The good news
Phase one of the project, the planting of Tree City, the creation of renowned designer Bruce Mau, is scheduled to begin this fall.
That development needed to finance the park plan will eventually overwhelm greenspace and the promised legacy for future generations.
A 30-acre chunk at the south end of the park has already been sold to big box stores Home Depot, Costco, Best Buy, Krispy Kreme and the LCBO.
Three separate federal auditor general reports have raised concerns that "the process by which the urban park was created and funded effectively excluded Parliament from the decision-making process."
The eco challenge
Much of the land on which reforestation will take place has lain fallow for 50-plus years and undergone soil compaction, so it will be a major challenge for anything planted to grow there. The added dud The runway, which is next to the lands designated for the park, stays, so it won't be as "peaceful" as promised.