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The Beach Triangle Residents Association, Toronto, Ontario

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Lake Ontario Park

By Chris Blythe

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Big changes are coming to our waterfront, as a capacity crowd discovered January 17 past.

The event, in an overflowing ballroom at Harbourfront’s Radisson Admiral Hotel, was the official unveiling of the Lake Ontario Park concept plan, an ambitious project that encompasses all the waterfront parkland from Cherry Beach eastward to the Scarborough Bluffs – including Ashbridges’ Bay Park, Woodbine Park, Pantry Park, Kew Gardens, the Eastern Beaches and even the R. C. Harris Water Filtration Plant.

Twice the size of New York’s Central Park and stretching along 37 kilometres of shoreline, the 925 acre park, as currently conceived, boasts 14 km of paths and trails, 24 acres of “swamp forest,” 60 acres of wetland, 140 acres of “recreational dunes”, 2 km of new beachfront, a new water playground, and many, many other features. It proposes bringing several neglected waterfront areas into active parkland and is also expected to encourage redevelopment of some areas of the Portlands, Lower Riverdale, and Leslieville.

Several public bodies are involved in the project. Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation (TWRC) is the master developer, but Toronto Region and Conservation Authority (TRCA) is playing a major role as design partner. The City of Toronto Parks and Recreation department, the Toronto Port Authority, various provincial bodies and Parks Canada are also all very active in the project.

As you can see in the enclosed, full-colour, concept plan – generously provided by the TWRC (www.towaterfront.ca) – the project is far too large and detailed to cover here in its entirety. So let’s concentrate on the section most effecting us.

Eastern Beaches and Ashbridges’ Bay
Our beloved Eastern Beaches currently work so well that very little change is planned as they become part of Lake Ontario Park. Some general upgrade and refurbishment of existing facilities perhaps, but no major design initiatives.

And, we are told, the existing development plan for Tommy Thompson Park – the plan already finished and in place -- will remain as-is, seeing only minor changes to harmonize the ‘look-and-feel’ with the rest of Lake Ontario Park.

The Ashbridges’ Bay area, on the other hand, sees huge change. In fact in this iteration of the plan it becomes a formal gateway to the park. The As you can see in the enclosed, full-colour, concept plan – generously provided by the TWRC (www.towaterfront.ca) – the project is far too large and detailed to cover here in its entirety. So let’s concentrate on the section most effecting us.

Eastern Beaches and Ashbridges’ Bay
Our beloved Eastern Beaches currently work so well that very little change is planned as they become part of Lake Ontario Park. Some general upgrade and refurbishment of existing facilities perhaps, but no major design initiatives.

And, we are told, the existing development plan for Tommy Thompson Park – the plan already finished and in place -- will remain as-is, seeing only minor changes to harmonize the ‘look-and-feel’ with the rest of Lake Ontario Park.

The Ashbridges’ Bay area, on the other hand, sees huge change. In fact in this iteration of the plan it becomes a formal gateway to the park. The sailing facilities are extensively repositioned and expanded and a major re-engineering of the bay itself addresses the age-old raw sewage and odour problems, while reducing the need for regular, costly, dredging.

Clappison’s Cut (the mouth of the bay) is finally bridged, opening the waterfront trail from Tommy Thompson Park to Woodbine Beach. Even a water’s edge “performance bowl” and a rowing/canoeing channel are proposed.

Keep in mind though, this is simply an initial concept. Nothing is engraved in stone yet. It is simply an integrated initial look at what could be done. It’s meant to generate comment and stimulate new ideas.

Time Line
The design of Lake Ontario Park began just over a year ago, when Toronto hired New York-based international design firm ‘Field Operations’ (www.fieldoperations.net) to bring several ongoing design projects into one massive park development.

As you can see by looking closely at the attached concept plan, much has been done in that year.

The next stage, currently in process, involves evaluating and integrating changes and new ideas into a ‘Draft Master Plan,’ which is expected to be presented at Public Meeting #3 late this summer or early autumn.

Comments and concerns from that process will then lead to the ‘Final Master Plan’, expected next year.

Note also that this is a ‘phased’ project. It will come together in several stages spread over many years. This early in the design process no one knows just how long, but we hear a ten to thirty year time-frame mentioned often during informal discussion.

Concerns?
As planned, the concept has generated much comment. Most, we hear, is overwhelmingly supportive. But there are also concerns.

To date local sailing interests have been the loudest, voicing concerns regarding water access and security. Thus, yellow ‘Outer Harbour Sailing Federation’ T-shirts literally overran the January 17th workshop.

And our local councillors are very involved too.

Local (Ward 32) Councillor Sandra Bussin calls the concept a “great plan” but points out that there are many complex issues that must be ironed out – especially in the Ashbridges’ Bay portion, where several long-standing initiatives are already on the drawing board. These include – from a long list -- water treatment, recreational sailing and funding issues.

Councillor Paula Fletcher, whose ward encompasses the Western portion of the new park, has expressed concerns regarding tree removal, park character and its relationship to other greenbelt areas.

Your BTRA
The BTRA is watching carefully too. One touch-point at present conjures up memories of the brewery sponsorship issues that surfaced as the new Woodbine Park was being completed. Two major beer makers jostled to brand the new park. Quick action by the BTRA and councillor Bussin managed to deflect both comers, but there may well be reason to expect even more intense pressure with a project of this magnitude. Well-serviced parkland stretching across the entire Eastern waterfront could be seen as an unparalleled marketing opportunity for some. But we feel our parks should provide residents some respite from commercial influences, so -- once again -- we’re on watch to fight off corporate initiatives that aim to sell-out our waterfront to the highest bidder.

Globe and Mail writer John Bentley Mays put forward an interesting opinion very early in the process. In a June 22, 2006 piece he notes that: “Whatever else Lake Ontario Park may be or do … it should provide tranquility and an opportunity for spiritual renewal within the hectic grid of Toronto life. It should not be forced to provide a space for every interest or sport… Rather,” he adds, “the park should be more of what it is already; a margin of wild nature between the city and Lake Ontario, a zone where water and land meet in a wonderful variety of ways.”

An Integrated Whole
As large as this concept is, Lake Ontario Park is only one of several, inter-related projects currently underway that, together, will forever change the way we see and use our waterfront. It is important, therefore, that residents be informed and become involved.

After all, it will be our legacy for generations to come.

An Exciting Evening Event
Thankfully, a special opportunity to become involved is imminent in the form of a fun and engaging social event.

The Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation and the Royal Ontario Museum’s Institute for Contemporary Culture are hosting a free evening: “Leading with Landscape” How parks and public spaces are defining Toronto’s revitalized waterfront. It’s a presentation and panel discussion featuring the internationally recognized landscape architects at the forefront of four projects that are transforming our waterfront.

James Corner, Principal of Field Operations (the lead design firm for the Lake Ontario Park project) together with the lead designers of three other, related, projects: Adriaan Gueze, concerning the Central Waterfront Promenade; Greg Smallenberg, regarding Sherbourne Park; and Michael Van Valkenburgh on the Don River Park. Each will provide an overview of their respective project.

So get involved -- Tuesday, May 8, 2007, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 pm at the Royal Ontario Museum. The event is moderated by the museum’s Director & CEO, William Thorsell.

And for more information on Lake Ontario Park or any of the related projects, please contact the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. at 416.214.1344, www.towaterfront.ca or e-mail lakeontariopark@towaterfront.ca.