Monday, July 09, 2007

Unsung Love Song

I want to sing a love song: I love the Gardiner Expressway. I decided it was necessary to start singing yesterday whilst browsing through the latest issue of Spacing (which looked quite good by the way). An article, albeit interesting, about the loss of "South Parkdale" to said expressway, and I realized I was so tired of Gardiner-bashing. It takes us nowhere, which, the Gardiner, my friends, decidedly doesn't.

The facts are these and I know them: that in this day and age, we no longer build expressways right through neighbourhoods. That Jane Jacobs was right. That the expressway network into Toronto is decidedly rubbish, as anyone who's ever tried to drive out of the city around five o'clock will realize. That the reason the expressway network is so crap is because it was never actually completed (thanks to the efforts of Jacobs et. al), which is a good thing. And yes, also a bad thing, if you happen to drive a car.

So a good thing and a bad thing: such is the story of the Gardiner Expressway. Indeed it's very bad, and we all know why. It's crumbly, ugly, creepy underneath in midafternoon let alone the dead of night, cuts the city off from the waterfront, encourages driving when public transport should be an object, it's noisy, etc. But the flipside is there-- the song I want to sing.

As a pedestrian, a cyclist and driver who owns two legs, a bike, but no car, I think I've got no bias. And to enter Toronto from driving east on the Gardiner provides one of my favourite views: cityscape against the sky, the CN Tower just off to the south. Whizzing along on an elevated road right out of a retro imagining of the space age. The Gardiner is a relic from a future that was never to be. No highway has ever made me feel more like Judy Jetson. I live in a city and here it is, glimmering in late-afternoon sunshine. A cousin to the CN Tower, built of the same sensibility. When the future didn't always just mean an apocolypse.

The Gardiner might not have been built with the pedestrian or cyclist in mind, but then I wonder: how fantastic is an expressway that can be crossed this safely? Isn't the Gardiner an amalgam of pedestrian and driver interests, no matter how skewed? Definitely it stands as a physical barrier between our city and the waterfront, but that barrier is also something of an illusion. The advantages of this sort of road have hardly been taken advantage of. The problem of access to the waterfront is not the Gardiner's, but rather a confused plan of interests: industrial, port, rail, upscale-residential and parkland, none of which seem to complement each other. In terms of all the problems presenting by the unfortunate lack of planning in this area, the Gardiner seems to me one of our most advantageous.

I guess we could bury it, but wouldn't years of construction represent a far more formidable barrier to the waterfront? It would also cost too much money, and, oh, never ever happen. And so, I say, the solution is to love the Gardiner instead. Sure we can mourn South Parkdale, and we can miss the history that was lost with the thoughtless planning of yore (through disregard for the past and too much zealotry toward the future), but it's far more important to learn to live with what we've got. For the city to maintain the Gardiner so it continues to serve its optimum purpose. For plans for waterfront development to work with the expressway, rather than ignoring it. And for those with urban interests to stop knocking it; you are boring, and I know all you say already. It would be far more interesting, I think, to look for reasons to love the Gardiner instead. It's a more sensible strategy, and if you look, the reasons are there.

(Oh yes, and I found that image here).