Downsview Park lifestyle opportunities on display at documentary screening at The Keeley
ULI Toronto and mixed-use developer TAS recently brought community members and industry leaders together for an evening that combined a documentary screening of Accidental Parkland, and an expert panel about placemaking opportunities in Downsview Park.
The event took place on the future site of The Keeley, a new midrise development by TAS located at 3100 Keele St., directly across the street from Downsview Park. Plans for The Keeley include a new public park that will visibly connect two very significant urban greenspaces, Downsview Park on the east and Black Creek Ravine on the West.
MORE THAN JUST A PARK
Almost 300 acres in size, Downsview Park over the last several years has undergone major landscape improvements including: A pond that has attracted all sorts of wildlife, a local food movement including an apple orchard and several urban farms, a three-km circuit path, a tall grass project and an urban forest. The new Downsview Park subway and GO station, revitalization of the Hangar buildings, upcoming opening of Centennial College and the sale of adjacent sale of the Bombardier Lands is also turning new attention to Downsview Park.
Moderated by Jane Farrow, public engagement specialist, Dept of Works and Deeds, the panel included two spokespeople from the documentary – Christopher Glaisek, vice-president for planning and design, Waterfront Toronto, Chandra Sharma, director, watershed strategies at Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), and Mazyar Mortazavi, CEO of TAS.
“Downsview Park sits in the middle of two very important water courses, says Charma. “On the east is the Don River on the West is Humber Valley and Black Creek. So, the role this whole area plays is as a vital east-west connection.”
Known for developing projects in up-and-coming neighborhoods, Mortazavi stressed the opportunity he saw for The Keeley with Downsview Park across the street, and more importantly, the ravine system as a vital piece of community infrastructure. When you get into the ravine, “you are in a very lush environment,” says Mortazavi. But the ravine also “acts as a fundamental connector. You can get on a bike from behind this property and bike all the way to York University. The bike network there connects to 12 km of bike trails that are being built.” You are then connected to Downsview, the largest urban park in Canada.
Glaisek, who manages park designs for Waterfront Toronto, identified some parallels between Toronto’s Waterfront and Downsview Park. Like the waterfront, not many people in the city are familiar with things to see inside the park. Both are also very large-scale, multi-generational projects.From a marketing point of view, Glaisek says, “getting people to understand the gems that are there before they have all been enmeshed in the bigger vision would really help keep Downsview in people’s consciousness.” He also stresses the other component of great parks is the programming diversity within them, and how neighbourhood and stakeholder consultations are critical to developing a program and design.
MOMENT OF CHANGE
Farrow asked some questions of key stakeholders and city building influencers who were in the audience, including, Al Rezoski, manager of community planning for North York, James Cox, senior director of real estate from Canada Lands, and Julian Sleath, CEO of the Bentway. One of the points discussed was the value of parks as huge benefit to society to improve mental health. Sleath expressed how other cities are channeling health care money to large projects, such as parklands and rejuvenation of public space, and seeing health care programs diminish.
Downsview Park is at that moment where things are starting to change, Mortazavi says. “The biggest piece of all this is that we need to have a different kind of conversation focused on collaborative partnerships. We all want the same outcomes – we just need to be talking with each other more.”