“Last October, some 30,000 Toronto residents descended on the Bentway, the city’s newest urban park, to experience a nighttime illumination by Dutch designer Daan Roosegaard that rippled like an oceanic current overhead. Titled Waterlicht, the LED projection was a poetic way of bringing awareness to rising water levels.
It’s hard to imagine Waterlicht’s happening at that spot a few years ago. For decades, this mile-long ribbon of unused land—the underbelly of the elevated Gardiner Expressway that aggressively cuts the downtown core from its prized lakeshore—was a virtual dead zone to everyone but the homeless and vandals. The turnaround was sparked by the thinking of urban planner Ken Greenberg of local firm Greenberg Consultants, who envisioned its potential as a kind of shared backyard for the high-rises springing up around it. He brought the idea to philanthropists Judy and Wilmot Matthews, who jump-started the project by donating $19 million. Now a charitable organization, the Bentway receives additional funding from the federal and city governments to help with maintenance and to support a robust all-season program of activities and events.
Designed by local landscape architecture firm Public Work, the 10-acre site links seven neighborhoods, home to approximately 70,000 condo dwellers. Principal Marc Ryan describes it as “the knuckle,” where pathways for pedestrians and cyclists connect to a host of formerly disjointed public assets, including the CN Tower and Fort York National Historic Site to the north and Harbourfront and Lake Ontario to the south. “It’s very porous,” says Ryan. “There’s really no front door—you can enter the park from any direction.”’