Contrary to what you may think, The Green Line in Toronto does not refer to a line in Toronto’s subway network. It is the name of a competition launched in December 2012, dealing with the empty space under one of Toronto’s overhead electric transmission lines. Organized by Workshop Architecture, the design competition aims to demonstrate the potential of the site and to foster discussion on the public use of this neglected part of the city.
Where is the Green Line
The site for the Green Line competition is a 5km long patchwork of mostly empty space. It starts at Earlscourt Park; meanders southeast to Geary Avenue; continuous running east, parallel to Dupont Street and north of the rail line; and ends at the Bridgman Transformer Station where Davenport Road and Macpherson Avenue meet.
What is there?
The site crosses residential neighborhoods, leads to cultural landmarks such as the Toronto Archives, and the Tarragon theatre and passes industrial buildings. There is not a lot of commercial activity along its length – besides a number of car repair shops located along Geary Avenue, you can find a few bars and restaurants, a costume store and some plumbing supplies –but the site is close to the economic activity on Dupont Street. The potential of the Green Line as an important urban infrastructure is clear.
Yet, the many street crossings, fences, level changes, and rail underpasses make the Green Line into a disconnected piecemeal of mostly underused sites. While some sections seem friendly with trees, benches and playgrounds, others have been turned into parking lots and some just seem completely abandoned. The path connecting the sites varies from a well-maintained park trail to a little dirt path between tall grass and barbed wire fences. Often the rhythm set up by the transmission towers is the only visible connection along the Green Line.
For all the potential the Green Line seems to have as a green ribbon through the city, its current condition is not inviting. One local resident told us: “I normally avoid the hydro corridor, except for Bristol Ave Parkette that I sometimes cut through to cross the train tracks at Bartlett. Overall, the area is difficult to navigate, deserted, and unwelcoming. I avoid it even more so at night. “
Why is the land not developed?
This strange linear infrastructure in Toronto is not unique. Many other Canadian cities have similar lengths of continuous, mostly vacant land. And this empty terrain is not about to be built up due to the guidelines for construction around transmission lines and towers. These guidelines set up by the public utility company Hydro One, center on four principles:
1. 15m around each of the transmission towers has to be kept clear for maintenance and repair of the towers.
2. To be able to access each tower, a 6-meter wide path must be provided along the entire length of the corridor.
3. Permanent structures are not permitted.
4. Any temporary structure and vegetation near the power lines has to be less than 4 meter high.
In addition to these rules, there are health concerns that have stopped anyone from building on the land around the power lines. The magnetic fields created during the transmission of electricity, is a possible carcinogen. Levels of magnetic fields around transmission lines vary, but are usually highest directly underneath. For this reason, the city allows only recreational uses that limit people’s exposure time and offer health benefits that can outweigh potential risks of exposure.
And what now?
The competition challenged architects, landscape architects, planners, artists and community members to come up with ideas that would present a comprehensive vision for the site, while addressing issues like active transportation, sustainability and community. Entries were due on February 4th and a jury of experts will be announcing the winners on May 4th. The winning ideas will not be built, but they will be published in Spacing magazine and exhibited at Geary Avenue Parkette . The purpose is to start the discussion on the future of the Green Line and similar sites across Canada.
The call for ideas is sure to spark some interest from the local community and should become part of a larger debate on urban design. In the words of one neighborhood resident:
“The thought of having the area re-worked to include a bike path, trees, gardens, and more welcoming parks is like a dream come true! The neighbourhoods that the corridor cuts through would benefit greatly and I think it could foster a greater sense of community instead of dividing sections of the city as it currently does. The area is part residential, part industrial but has amazing potential for incorporating green space to be utilized by citizens both living and working in the area. BRING IT! and FAST! Please!”
All entries can now be seen at http://www.greenlinetoronto.ca/entries.html. Proposals include allotment gardens, sculpture parks, cafes and exercise zones. Some add more sustainable power sources such as wind and sun to the existing power infrastructure. And a few, that I find very poetic, entered proposals that celebrate the transmission of electricity, through the use of light and sound. Take a look and be inspired!
All images: © Green Line Ideas Competition
Ellen Gedopt is an architect in Rotterdam who has lived, worked and studied in Montreal, Quebec. She explored Canada coast to coast and canoed into the heart of the boreal forest.