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Toronto now knows what its new downtown park will look like, but it’s still years away

A former parking lot, now an outdoor patio, will be the site of downtown Toronto’s newest park and the city’s just decided what it’s going to look like.

This week, the city selected the winning design for 229 Richmond Street West, which is currently on lease and operating as the RendezViews patio. The park which will feature not only trees and grass, but an art exhibit, light projections and a raised balcony running over the centre for performances.

Shelley Long, the company’s landscape architect and project lead for West 8, the Dutch company that won the city’s design competition for the site, said the company wanted to name the park with the Indigenous peoples of the area in mind, since so many of Toronto’s place names have colonial origins.

“Toronto has a long tradition, and many Canadian cities do as well, for having very European place names,” said Long, whose company has, for now, named the park Wàwàtesí, which means means firefly in Anishinaabemowin. “We consciously chose for a name that comes from a local language of local nations.”

A natural firefly habitat is part of the design.  

A permanent name for the park will be decided later, with consultation from the public.

The winning design for the future 241-square-metre park, which takes up about half the space of a basketball court and sits directly between mid-rise buildings, was chosen from several submissions by a jury of experts in landscape architecture, urban design and climate resilience, among other fields.

The city also required designers to work with an “Indigenous design partner,” which in the case of West 8,was Ontario-based Minokamik Collective.

The seven “stepping stones” that the park path runs by, for instance, are based on the traditional seven Indigenous teachings, Long says. 

A graphically designed park in the day, crowded with people enjoying themselves. City buildings surround the park.
A mockup of the park shows the raised balcony in the background, where performances can be staged and media can be projected onto a canvas beneath it. (Submitted by West 8)

Shelley Charles, an elder member of the Chippawas of Georgina Island, was one of the who consultants on the project and says Indigenous values were key to every step of the design.

“It’s really part of the project from the very beginning: how does that connect to Indigenous knowledge? Interconnection with the environment? And also with the people in the community?” said Shelley Charles, an elder member of the Chippawas of Georgina Island who consulted on the project.

Need to keep adding green space, says city

The city has been looking to turn the lot into a park since 2020, when it bought the land, according to the city’s director of parks planning, Paul Farish. Farish says the park will be a small green island amid the downtown’s sea of cement, where new space for parks is extremely limited.

“We need to keep adding that kind of green space wherever we can find it,” Farish said. 

The area around the park is rapidly growing, the city said in a release, 16,000 people living within a half-kilometre radius of it, and another 52,000 people working in that same area. As more people move to the area, Farish says, they’re forced to share a small number of parks downtown.

For an area that’s seen a lot of residential growth, Farish says, it hasn’t seen a lot of growth in green space.

It will still be a few years before the park is opened.

The design is now being finalized, something the public will be able to comment on later in the project, and construction isn’t scheduled until 2025. That means the project won’t be completed until at least 2026.

Farish says things are moving about as fast as expected.

“I don’t see it as necessarily that long (a timeline) given the complexity of how these things go,” he said. 

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