There is a need to utilize public structures and infrastructure more effectively, and a need to create more great public space.
One area that has been greatly underused is the underside of bridges. At Price Tags, we wrote about the incredible performance of Netty Wild’s Uninterrupted under the Cambie Bridge near Cooper’s Park in the summer of 2017. That performance followed the artist’s study of the life-cycle of the salmon, had rave reviews, and was packed out all summer. It was a great use of the space below the bridge, and the use of the bridge’s surfaces in the performance added greatly to the spectacle’s impact.
Toronto has taken things a step further in the innovative public space work on “the Bentway”, a 1.75 kilometre long space underneath the Gardiner Expressway which is maintained by the Bentway Conservancy. With a unique group of public place planners and city builders the project is part of the High Line Network, which works to repurpose existing underused infrastructure into new public spaces.
As written up in Design Boom, “The Bentway offers year-round activities and events, including gardens, a skate trail, recreational amenities, public markets, public art, special exhibitions, festivals, theatre and musical performances, and more.”
The first segment from Strachan Avenue to Bathurst Street connects the waterfront to other destinations and includes part of the Fort York National Historic Site. The Federal Public Transit Infrastructure Project (PTIF) has matched up to $320,000 of funding provided by the City of Toronto.
But more importantly philanthropists Judy and Wilmot Mathews contributed $25 million to the project, keen to see this space revisioned as a public space used throughout the year. Author and urbanist Ken Greenberg and the landscape architecture firm Public Work took part in a vision of a network of initiatives underneath the expressway. All of these public space projects are accessible and participatory and interpret the area’s history.
The name of the project is after the “bents”, the concrete columns buttressing up the expressway above. Using the bents as the design elements, they can “either function together or on their own to offer spaces for a diverse range of programming and events from passive, contemplative spaces to creative hubs and public markets. the expressway provides a canopy at varying heights, while the bents offer structural support for clamps, cables, power and lighting, designed to meet both the requirements of large performance groups and the needs of fringe productions. on the ground, the project knits together public and private land, treats storm water and repurposes displaced soil to establish a new topography.”
Here is a short YouTube recap of 2018, the first year of operation for the first section of the Bentway prepared by the Bentway Conservancy.