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-led 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 Street, 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.
Almost 300 acres in size, over the last several years Downsview Park 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-kilometre circuit path, a tall grass project and an urban forest. The new Downsview Park subway and GO Station, revitalization of the hangar buildings, the upcoming opening of Centennial College and the sale of the adjacent site 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, and Chandra Sharma, director, Watershed Strategies at Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), as well as Mazyar Mortazavi, CEO of TAS.
“Downsview Park sits in the middle of two very important water courses,” says Sharma. “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 neighbourhoods, 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,” he says. 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,” he says.
Farrow unexpectedly shook things up by throwing some questions out to key stakeholders and city building influencers who were in the audience including, Al Rezoski, manager of Community Planning for North York, James Cox, Sr. 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 a huge benefit to society to improve mental health. Sleath expressed how other cities are channelling health-care money to large projects, like parklands and rejuvenation of public space, and seeing health-care programs diminish.
Some community members who attended the event also joined the conversation, expressing the importance of community consultations and the need for clearly marked access points.