Taking a cue from Toronto to create the Southbank M1 Undercroft

Taking a cue from Toronto to create the Southbank M1 Undercroft
Laurence DragomirNovember 29, 2015

In the age of High Lines, Low Lines and everything in between, cities across the world are investigating ways in which to improve underutilised or abandoned infrastructure and the spaces associated with them. One such project is Under Gardiner in Toronto which seeks to give back to the city by turning the underutilised space beneath the Gardiner Expressway into a long park that would reconnect the neighbourhoods below it.

Transforming more than four hectares of land beneath the elevated portion of Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway into a series of public spaces, a 1.75-kilometre multi-use trail and 500m connection to Exhibition GO Station will also be included. By reclaiming this forgotten space Under Gardiner will create a series of rooms formed by the spaces between columns, reimagining the area beneath the expressway as a place for people.

As cities densify, we begin to view lost or underutilized spaces in new ways. This proposal is a visionary approach to celebrating and inhabiting a spectacular, dramatic space, stitching together a series of existing areas to provide a front door to Fort York, one of the Toronto's most significant historical resources.

Jennifer Keesmaat, City of Toronto Chief Planner

The project is based on a transformative framework design by urban designer Ken Greenberg plus Marc Ryan and Adam Nicklin of landscape architecture firm Public Works. The vision for the project includes the continuous multi-use trail, a bridge over Fort York Boulevard for pedestrians and cyclists, a grand staircase at Strachan that will double as seating for an urban theatre and a series of flexible, year-round performance and programming spaces that can be used by the community.

Taking a cue from Toronto to create the Southbank M1 Undercroft
Aerial of Under Gardiner Master Plan. Image courtesy of PUBLIC WORKS

Each of the public "rooms" formed by the highway will become part of a network of public spaces for everything from farmers markets and concert venues, to summer camp. The designers will work with residents to decide how to use each part of the park with a trail will connect each of the spaces and reconnect a network of bike paths across the rest of the city.

This is a project that cuts through about seven different neighborhoods that are all in a way fragmented. They don't see themselves as unified in any way.

Marc Ryan, co-founder of PUBLIC WORKS

What is most interesting about this project is the fact that while the Gardiner Expressway currently acts as a barrier severing connections between neighbourhoods it also has the potential to provide the solution by re-stitching the city.

How might such a project like Under Gardiner be of relevance here in Melbourne?

With the City of Melbourne advancing plans for City Road, Southbank Boulevard and Dodds St as part of a series of initiatives identified for development within the Southbank Structure Plan 2010 document, the next cab off the rank in terms of improvement and enhancement of the public realm within Southbank should be the Westgate Freeway Undercroft.

An opportunity exists to connect Southbank not just with itself but with the Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Project.

Taking a cue from Toronto to create the Southbank M1 Undercroft
Westgate Freeway aerial. Image courtesy of Nearmap.

Southbank suffers from a lack of accessible and high quality public open space: there is currently 4,800m2 of green open space and as Southbank’s resident and worker population grows, addressing this issue becomes more and more critical. In addition to this there is currently a scarcity of pedestrian and cyclist routes through Southbank that are attractive, continuous, safe and of high amenity.

It's worth noting the Southbank Plan seeks to "establish new parks within the area and deliver a finer grain of attractive public gathering spaces."

The approach to the CityLink Tunnels was also identified as contributing to the disparate nature of Southbank. The Southbank Plan proposes to stitch together the northern and southern fragmented ‘halves’ of Southbank by decking over the void with new development to create a connected and continuous mixed use area which provides the opportunity for new public open space.

Delivering new public open spaces of any significant size in this area is difficult and would involve the conversion of private, developable land for public, noncommercial use with an associated high acquisition cost. The exception includes the M1 undercroft which is an opportunity to provide a linear park in the western end of Southbank.

The CityLink Deck precinct offers a new opportunity to provide a new large public park within this development site. The location of the Arts Activity Precinct at the intersection of the new Sturt Street spine and Southbank Boulevard emphasises the imperative to deliver the linear parkland within Southbank Boulevard.

Southbank Structure Plan 2010

While the CityLink deck could be considered a much longer term proposition, it would also make sense to act as the 'exclamation mark' or termination node for a linear park and walking/cycling network as part of a revitalised M1 Undercroft. As the extract above points out, acquisition of private land comes with a significant cost and this was recently highlighted with the State Goverment paying $19m for a development site on Buckhurst Street within the Montague precinct of Fishermans Bend to allow for the provision of a future park for the precinct.

Developer contributions would go some way to helping deliver the vision for an improved, accessible and safe M1 Undercroft with the subsequent benefits and opportunities provided being immense. A good indicator will be the Kingsway Undercroft works associated with the City Road masterplan; this should be used as a case study to investigate and test the best uses and subsequently provide direction for any potential M1 undercroft project.

Hopefully Southbank won't have to wait too much longer for meaningful and usable open space. In the meantime I look forward to seeing Under Gardiner develop over the next few years with an eye toward what it could show Melbourne in the process.

Taking a cue from Toronto to create the Southbank M1 Undercroft
Under Gardiner proposed spaces. Image courtesy of PUBLIC WORKS

Laurence Dragomir

Laurence Dragomir is one of the co-founders of Urban Melbourne. Laurence has developed a wealth of knowledge and experience working in both the private and public sector specialising in architecture, urban design and planning. He also has a keen interest in the built environment, cities and Star Wars.

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