Let’s Turn Ontario Place into a 21st Century Park

by Ken Greenberg, Urban Designer, Author of Toronto Reborn and Member of Ontario Place for All

Over the past few decades, we have learned that the sharing of green spaces in dense cities is essential to our well-being as human beings and social creatures. This has increased the desire for public parks and public space, but the means to address this unmet need are still lacking. In order to close this gap, we need a new definition for parks in the 21st century and new stewardship models on how to run them.

Fortunately, a new form of urban park is emerging that is no longer separate from the city but integrally interwoven into it. As Betsy Barlow Rogers, the former executive director of New York’s Central Park Conservancy, puts it: “As the city becomes more park-like, the park becomes more city-like.” This means new activities and uses within the park, including some commercial and cultural uses while preserving its essential publicness and free access.  

These new hybrid parks that are appearing in cities around the world are being asked to play powerful new roles – improving the quality of life, stimulating the competitiveness of the local economy, healing the environment, reclaiming no man’s lands and overcoming barriers between communities.

Ontario currently has an extraordinary opportunity to turn Ontario Place into a leading international example of just such a 21st century park, particularly if it is integrated with Exhibition Place and the built and landscape heritage on the site is creatively adapted and reused.  

Ontario Place would then become a critical part of an emerging public realm on the waterfront. This consolidated “Lakefront Park” would be a grand new gathering place on the waterfront and major tourist draw, offering an expanded array of activities, including swimming, fishing, skating, major annual events, theatres, marinas, restaurants and cafes and heritage sites. Improved regional and city transit and local shuttles and trail connections would improve accessibility and encourage active transportation.  Ontario Place’s attractive landscapes would be preserved as part of a freely accessible “Lakefront Park” that would extend like an emerald arm across the waterfront.

As development intensifies on the waterfront, Ontario Place would also serve the needs of the expanding nearby population for vibrant cultural, commercial and tourism activities.  Just as Sydney, Chicago and Barcelona and other future thinking cities are planning their waterfronts, a series of linked parks would draw populations from the surrounding city to the water’s edge and create a seamlessly connected lakefront. 

A land bridge to Exhibition Place would connect Ontario Place to the fairgrounds of the Canadian National Exhibition and parking, hotels, restaurants and transit. The southern edge of Exhibition Place can be interwoven with Ontario Place and a reworked shoreline as a great park-like attraction on the water’s edge. 

If we integrate Exhibition Place and Ontario Place, we would be unleashing a new synergy on the waterfront, with attractions such as a new soccer stadium, boat races, a water park, shops, theatres and marinas. The combined site would be transformed into an exciting and re-energized public attraction on the waterfront, serving Ontarians and drawing visitors from around the world.

This new consolidated park would be powerful new image for the city and the province. 

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