A significant part of MVVA’s urban analysis in the Lower Don Lands Master Plan included understanding how the origins of Toronto's two dominant park typologies—rectilinear parks shaped by the urban grid and irregular parks shaped by the topography of the extensive ravines—might be used as precedents for the kind of urban/park relationship that was going to be established in the Lower Don Lands neighborhood. Instead of creating naturalized banks along the straight course of the existing channel connecting the Don River with the lake, as was originally suggested in the project brief, MVVA’s design keeps the Keating Channel as an urban artifact and neighborhood amenity and creates a new mouth for the river that flows logically from the upstream source, bypassing the abrupt right turn created by the channel. A large new meandering riverfront park becomes the centerpiece of a new mixed-use neighborhood.
In the vision for the park at the heart of this urban estuary, the social program was recognized as important as the ecological one. As designed, the landscape will teem with activity: active sports in the four regulation-size fields, informal pickup games, kite-flying on the mound overlooking the Inner Harbor, jogging and in-line skating on the trails, and bird-watching, strolling, and contemplation along the more secluded paths. Within each neighborhood, the design has planned multiple opportunities for social interaction on broad tree-lined sidewalks, in cafés, in the squares, and during games on the play fields that are tucked in throughout the park. Rock climbing, markets, festivals, and restaurants will energize the impressive colonnade under an elevated expressway that had previously cut the site off from the city, providing a memorable backdrop for a new expression of urban life.
The Lower Don Lands was selected as one of 16 founding projects for the Climate Positive Development Program, a project of former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s Climate Initiative and the U.S. Green Building Council. The Lower Don Lands plan also received the 2011 Excellence in Planning Award
from the Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI), the 2010 Institute of Transportation Engineers Transportation Achievement Award, the 2009 BEX International Award for Best Futuristic Design, a 2008 ASLA Analysis and Planning Honor Award
, and a 2007 Toronto Urban Design Award.