Highs and Lows in New Public Spaces
Corktown Common and Underpass Park
If you have traveled west across the Queen Street Bridge and looked south, you may have wondered about the seemingly endless construction.Beginning with the 2015 Pan Am Games, a total transformation is coming along the Don River. In this derelict space – once the city’s industrial heart, but then neglected – Toronto’s long-awaited Waterfront Revitalization is taking shape. And the first shape comes in the form of two new parks.
A Two-in-One City Park
Located near the mouth of the Don River, Corktown Common is the name of the high ground you see looking south. It’s a park, but it is also a flood protection to the city, two essential parts of the new waterfront in one.
At the lower end of the Don River, where the river approaches Lake Ontario, the river’s form was altered one hundred years ago, to create industrial land. This affected the natural flow of the river, increasing flood risk in the lower part of the City.
The new park, Corktown Common, is a natural landscape placed on top of an engineered ridge of high ground, designed to withstand a repeat of the worst flooding that Toronto has ever experienced – Hurricane Hazel in 1954.
This goal of flood protection by imitating nature will also be applied to other new waterfront parks. (See Naturalizing the Lower Don, in this issue of BLG.)
Take a walk in the new Corktown Common and you can find meandering paths, natural tree and shrub planting, a wetland with reeds and flowering water plants, and lawns for active play. On the river side of the ridge, an “urban prairie” with native grasses is still being finished. In the worst flooding scenarios,this grassland will allow the river’s water to pass harmlessly towards the lake.
At its highest spot is a graceful pavilion with fireplace,washrooms, adventure playground and water play area.
This new park is winning high praise, designed for Waterfront Toronto by Michael Van Valkenburgh, who has created awardwinning parks throughout North America.
Functional, though, as Corktown Common is, it is beautiful.With construction all around, it can be hard to find, but just follow the new Lower River Street south from King, and you’ll be there.