A self-contained urban community will take shape in the coming decades at the 500-acre Downsview Airport Lands, as it's reimagined into a vibrant place to both visit and call home. The site’s revamp will be undertaken by federal corporation Canada Lands Company (CLC) and Northcrest Developments.

Plans for the massive transformation of the storied Downsview Parklands – home to the (in)famous Sars Fest in 2003 – were released in 2021 and the project is said to materialize over the next 30 years through a process called id8 Downsview. The masterplan completely transforms the former airport and surrounding federal government-owned land that was once the site of the Canadian Forces Base Toronto, and most recently a Bombardier plant, into a thriving and easily accessible community.

The largely undeveloped lands will be converted into a series of vibrant neighbourhoods that are connected to each other and feature a mix of housing options. The plan includes a significant investment in affordable housing options. Furthermore, the revamp will bring community facilities and services, access to parks, and a new network of roads and pedestrian and cyclist connections. The community will be linked by a two-kilometre pedestrian street, the reimagined former runway, which will serve as a destination and anchor for programming and amenities, according to Northcrest Developments.

In the meantime, the sprawling piece of real estate is set to see an infusion of creativity and colour in the near future. Case in point: the taxi way is becoming a vibrant canvas with a story to tell.

Northcrest Developments is now calling on artists, creatives, programmers, and event producers to help bring the site to life through cultural events and installations come 2025. In the Beyond the Tarmac: Open Call for Submissions, Northcrest is offering up to $100,000 in funding to help reimagine the taxiway, 600 metres of tarmac leading to the runway, surrounded by vast airplane hangars.

Downsview Airport Lands

The call for talent is open to both local and international collaborators to transform the historical space into “a canvass of opportunity,” according to a press release. This could mean a captivating large-scale installation or an out-of-the-box festival. Northcrest is offering funding for one or multiple projects, with a total budget of up to $100,000. To ensure "a diversity of onsite experiences," they are considering projects with budgets starting from $10,000.

“We’re looking for ideas that are imaginative, engaging, visually-striking, and barrier-free, which will bring people together and build on our vision of creating a new cultural destination in Toronto,” says Mitchell Marcus, Northcrest’s Executive Director of Site Activation and Programming. “We have a unique and inspiring site that is filled with infinite possibilities for creative expression. We see the Downsview Airport Lands as an unprecedented opportunity for new experiences, community, and culture and we are excited to meet the creative minds who will contribute to this vision in the coming years through this open call.”

Beyond the Tarmac is the latest in a series of onsite artistic, cultural and community initiatives that Northcrest has led over the past two years, drawing more than 25,000 visitors to date. Northcrest officially took over the site on April 1, and as they transform it into a series of new neighbourhoods over the coming decades, the developer says its equally committed to creating a sense of creative place through participatory arts and culture, sports and recreation, food and beverage, and community activities.

“For the arts community, opportunities like Beyond the Tarmac represent an exciting opportunity for innovation,” says Michael Vickers, local arts and culture leader and practicing artist. "At an impressive scale and with free reign, this initiative provides a platform for creatives, and cultural pioneers to unleash their imaginations. In a time where creativity and supporting artists is more vital than ever, initiatives like this underscore the crucial role of the arts in revitalizing communities and fostering connection.”

Downsview Airport Lands

In addition to Beyond the Tarmac, collaborations with local creatives and artists on-site are planned for the coming months. A series of murals have been commissioned to bring more public art to the site, including work from celebrated muralist Jacquie Comrie, who will be creating “FLOAT,” a massive 3,900 square foot mural that will adorn the doors of one of the most prominent airplane hangars.

In June, Northcrest will host R.A.V.E. by Me Time— an immersive dance and theatre experience produced by Outside the March and The R.A.V.E. Institute in association with Luminato Festival Toronto. The experience will run for six public performances beginning on June 9.

“We’re delighted to welcome the multi-talented Outside The March, Me Time and the R.A.V.E. Institute to the Downsview Airport Lands for this unique and interactive performance, presented as part of the renowned Luminato Festival Toronto.” says Marcus. “As we work to imbue arts and culture into the DNA of the Downsview Airport Lands long before the first brick is laid or the first hole is dug, we warmly welcome leading cultural partners who can create a range of arts, performance and community experiences that are uniquely imagined for our site and its singular spaces.”

This isn’t the first time Northcrest has called on creatives to breathe new life into the space. In November 2023, a public call for muralist teams was issued to Toronto’s creative community, asking teams to respond in some way to the social and cultural histories and/or possible futures of these lands with original murals that were thoughtful, engaging, and visually striking. AstroSankofa Arts Initiatives, won the competition and will be painting their piece in The Hangar District in spring 2024. The mural will include the concept of time travel and reflect on community through Afrofuturism.