The City of Toronto is replacing a midtown parking lot with a new park.
As a tribute to Joni Mitchell’s iconic “Big Yellow Taxi” song, the effort to create the new park is currently being dubbed ‘The Joni Mitchell Project’ by Councillor Mike Colle after the famous Canadian folk singer.
“I’ve called it the ‘Joni Mitchell Project’ from that iconic line of hers – ‘they paved paradise and put up a parking lot’ – because this is probably the first time in downtown Toronto that we’re actually turning a parking lot into a park, rather than paving over the park,” says Colle.
Located at Castlefield and Duplex Avenues, the new green space was originally to be part of the upcoming The Capitol Residences mixed-use condo development from Madison Group that is set to take over the site of the former Capitol Event Theatre (oh, the memories). The 14-storey, 146-unit development will officially launch this summer.
While the development will undoubtedly become a coveted one to call home, the loss of the beloved former event space comes at a time when the last of the familiar long-time landmarks are increasingly being replaced by towering condo developments in the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood. Density has only soared to new heights (no pun intended) as a result. But the neighbourhood is starved of green space relative to the growing population size. Eglinton Park, as great as it is, can only service so many people.
The new park -- which is currently going through land use re-designation with the City -- almost didn’t happen, despite it being marked as park space in City documents from years ago.
The parking lot had been originally sold to Madison Group for The Capitol Residences before Colle stepped in to question and challenge the sale of the property to the developer by the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA). "I didn't believe that the parking authority did all of its due diligence to get all the approvals to give it to Madison Group," says Colle.
The fate of the parking lot was subsequently the result of a nearly year-long legal battle between the City of Toronto, TPA, and Madison Group to get the space back in City hands. “Now that we have it back, we’re going to turn it into a park,” said Colle matter-of-factly.
But that doesn’t mean there are any lingering hard feelings; the breezy end result is a win for the City, the community, and residents of the upcoming development.
“Through the process of the development application, part of the parking lot was owned by the City and part of it was included in our development,” says Josh Zagdanski, Vice President of High-Rise. “Now, the part that is owned by the city will be converted from a parking lot to a new park designation. Having a park adjacent to where you live is hugely beneficial for the community and for the immediate neighbour. It’s open space that’s desperately needed in midtown and contributes to a well-rounded active lifestyle community.”
The park will sit behind the condo building. Of the existing space, 75% will be a park, and 25% will remain a parking lot. Though it’s too early to know specific design details – they are the result of public meetings, the first of which was last night – Colle says it won’t be a ‘typical park.’
“I don’t want it to be another ordinary park with swings and slides and benches,” says Colle. “I really want to do something one of a kind, like some of the downtown parks in Manhattan where there are a variety of flowers and ornamental trees, places where people can sit and play chess, maybe have a concert in the corner, and definitely some public art.”
A $1M in funds from Madison Group will help to finance the redevelopment.
Colle says that the plans for the park will be fast-tracked when the parking lot is dug up to upgrade the sewer system to accommodate the new condo development. “So, we are much further ahead from where we would have been,” he says.
The park’s announcement comes at a time when access to green space has taken on a whole new meaning as a result of the pandemic and its never-ending lockdown measures. Countless studies correlate being in nature with improved mental health, and a new study from Australia links access to nearby green space to reduced loneliness in urban dwellers.
The park also comes at a time when Toronto is rethinking its parking spaces – from turning a downtown parking lot into an art-filled summertime oasis, to the redevelopment of the outdoor space at University of Toronto's St. George Campus.
Though Colle doesn’t give an exact date, he predicts we can see the welcome new midtown park become a reality within the next "couple of years." After last night's meeting, the issue goes to North York Community Council (NYCC) with a preliminary report on June 23rd as the first step of formally changing the Official Plan to designate the parking lot as a public open space park.
As for Joni Mitchell, though Colle says there are plans to let the singer know, it remains uncertain as to whether the park will officially hold her name. “That takes all kind of public consultation, but the working title is ‘The Joni Mitchell Project,” he says.
Our fingers are crossed that a big yellow taxi doesn't take away The Joni Mitchell Park.