Corktown Common is a 16-acre park and urban design infrastructure project built for Waterfront Toronto. The first phase, completed in 2012, is the centerpiece of Toronto’s fast-growing West Don Lands neighborhood, where 6,000 units of housing are being built. The core development has been kick-started with 1,000 units for original use in the 2015 Pan Am Games. Residents will begin moving into these new residential towers that edge Corktown Common in the spring of 2016.
The post-industrial site was previously flat and barren, but Toronto’s recent expansion has repositioned it at the edges of the city’s rapidly growing downtown. Even so, the site is dominated by remnants of its industrial history: the railroad bounding the site to the east and south, the Eastern Avenue and Queen Street bridges, and three 30-meter high hydroelectric towers. Situated on the banks of the Don River, the park is located on a concurrently built 5-meter-tall flood protection landform that has allowed for the development of the West Don Lands by protecting the neighborhood against flooding. The park’s topography adds an additional 5 meters at the high points.
MVVA’s design for the new park combines robust new topography, a rich planting palette, and a variety of program to create a vibrant and verdant urban park that celebrates the juxtaposition of infrastructure and ecology in the city. The project is particularly unique in the way that storm water and water-play wastewater is collected and is first passively treated in a constructed marsh on the site, and then stored for park irrigation. The combined volume of water saved represents approximately 550,000 liters per day in the peak season.
As a brownfield with no existing horticultural resources, the now verdant site is a thoroughly constructed and re-constructed landscape. Through the work of Toronto Parks horticultural staff, the artifice is growing into a living natural system. Unique habitats, including a marsh and woodlands, are underlain by 50,000 cubic meters of manufactured planting soil. Different soil types and depths were designed to support marsh, edge woodlands, and prairie, the range of which provides for experiential variety and wildlife habitat. The plantings are a mix of common and specialist plant species. Native wildflowers known to self-seed now grow throughout the park in areas increasingly of their own choosing, and support an array of butterflies and other pollinators through the seasons.
The expansive urban prairie on the river side of the berm provides walking and cycling trails and frames the more active areas of the park. To the west, lawns, marshes, and woodlands will provide settings for walking, sledding, sports, sunbathing, and public art, with a multifunction pavilion designed by Maryann Thompson Architects at the center. As it is located within a rapidly expanding neighborhood with many children, the park affords several play options with embankment slides, swings, sand play and interactive water play.
A Gorgeous Park Designed With a Double Purpose: Flood Protection