Keep it natural.
When all their voting dots were counted, that was the key advice local residents gave designers of a new city park planned for the quarry lands at Victoria Park Avenue and Gerrard Street East.
Making up roughly a quarter of the 19.7-acre site that Build Toronto plans to develop on the quarry lands’ western side, the unnamed park will be shaped like a ‘T’.
One parcel, the base of the ‘T,’ will extend north from Gerrard and Coalport Drive. The other parcel is an east-west strip running parallel to the CN rail corridor.
Once part of a gravel and sand quarry in the 1940s and 1950s, the park land is now home to grassy fields, stands of sumac and sapling trees, plus a strip of mature trees beside the rail line.
“In my mind, the quarry lands is an example of natural regeneration,” says local resident Bernadette Warren, who recently surveyed the plants and animals in the quarry lands for an environmental science course.
“Nature has been working away, detoxifying that site for 50 years,” said Warren, noting that while the city pays millions to “green” other derelict areas, such as the Leslie Street Spit, the old quarry has done it for free.
“Honestly, on a summer night, you can’t hear yourself think for the birds,” she said at the meeting, to loud applause. “It’s incredible to be five minutes away from your house and feel like you’re in the middle of the country.”
Besides preserving some of the land’s natural state, others among the roughly 60 residents gathered at Malvern Collegiate suggested the new park include ice skating trails or a rink, night lighting, off-leash dog trails, or heritage signs.
To recognize the many Bangladeshi families in the area, one resident also suggested building a replica of the International Mother Language Day monument in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Plans for a farmers’ market or vegetable gardens left the residents split, with some concerned about attracting unwanted wildlife, such as raccoons.
Taking notes during the two-hour session were staff from Evergreen, a Toronto-based environmental charity called in to run the March 18 meeting and report the results back to Build Toronto, which will in turn advise the city’s parks division, which is responsible for the park’s final design and management.
Evergreen director Stewart Chisholm said since it was founded in 1991, the charity has become known for restoring asphalt-heavy school yards to a more natural state, and for turning the defunct Don Valley Brick Works into an environmental centre with its own farmers’ market and vegetable gardens.
Before residents broke into small groups to sketch park ideas on maps and charts, Chisholm and other Evergreen staff noted a few things they learned about restoring green space in Toronto – it’s important to preserve city heritage, even industrial heritage; to involve the community directly; and to look beyond “catalog” items like play structures and bread ovens to the sort of all-season, all-ages programs that make city parks thrive.
Southwest Scarborough Councillor Gary Crawford said his office wanted Evergreen in to lead the March 18 workshop because of its strong track record.
“From a planning perspective, we have a lot of parkland in our area, but we don’t have a lot of new parkland,” Crawford said.
“We have to make sure that we get it right.”
One thing Crawford said he would not talk about at the meeting is the long-standing plan by Gerrard-Clonmore Developments to build 1,452 apartments in a set of high-rise towers on the quarry lands’ eastern half.
“From my perspective, that’s not going to happen,” he said. “Tall towers will not be part of any conversation I’m having as we move forward on this property.”
Tim Weber is president of the Concerned Citizens of Quarry Lands Development, a residents’ group that has opposed the towers plan since 1972. Without going into detail, Weber said the CCQLD recently met with Jennifer Keesmaat, the city’s chief planner, to talk about what options remain to avoid the towers.
“We’ve got strong support at city hall,” Weber said. “It’s really nice to have the chief planner solidly in our corner.”
Given that Build Toronto is planning three-storey townhomes and four-storey apartments for its half of the quarry lands, Weber hopes Gerrard-Clonmore Developments will see low-rise is the way to go.
“I’m not an architect. I just know what doesn’t fit in our community,” he said, noting that Build Toronto’s low-rise residences and park plan, coupled with the three-storey townhouses Centreville Homes wants to build east of the site are giving him reason for optimism.
“This is all about leading the way, in part by example, and keeping high-rise towers out of the quarry lands,” he said.