You might remember the space under the Gardiner as exceptionally dull and unwelcoming. In fact, it was so derelict and harsh that one would have never guessed that just on the other side of this grumpy troll’s bridge lay Toronto’s sunny Harbourfront.
Regardless if you’re a fan of Toronto’s highway or not, it’s there. And it’s not going anywhere, at least anytime soon. So what else can you do with a gross space such as the underpass but be creative. Last year, the city unleashed The Bentway, a civic initiative to transform the space. In its trial phase, the public space runs from Strachan Avenue to Bathurst Street, hosting events and activities uniquely under the tires of Toronto’s notorious city traffic.
Since the construction of the Gardiner, this space has been actively used as a passage to connect to the Toronto’s waterfront, but up until now it’s been an unpleasant walk through this gateway. The Bentway’s approach to developing the underpass has been not only to decorate it with public art instead of concrete, but to make this space an attraction in its own. The Bentway turns into an ice skating rink over the winter and hosts festivals, musical performances, art exhibitions, and more during the other seasons.
More recently, Toronto’s Diner en Blanc, a concept derived from Paris in which all guests wear white and meet at a designated location, only to be taken to a surprise venue for their dinner, was held under the Gardiner.
And just this last weekend, IdeasCity Toronto occurred. Artists and city professionals joined together in the discourse of cities and creativity.
These are only a few examples, but the Bentway has been lively over it’s first existing Toronto summer. The only thing I hope to see is that the space continues to be used to its full potential. While the events are full of people, fun, and attractive, I often walk through the Bentway in its quieter moments and there it is more or less abandoned. Despite having some permanent art pieces on display, and the neighbouring Fort York National Heritage Site, there is not enough traction to the space to fill it up unless there’s word of an activity. I wonder if having a permanent cafe or street food market could solve this problem.
Overall, I think it’s a civic initiative in the right direction. I’d love to see the creative recreation of this space extend further into the other parts of the Gardiner once they figure out how to maximize the potential of this initial phase.