Examining Equity and Sustainability in the Green Line Park Proposal: The Limits of Progressive Planning in the Post-Industrial Parks Movement

Nicole Beuglet, 2016
Vol. 22 No. 4 ISSN 1702-3548 (online)

The Green Line is a proposal to transform the hydro corridor that runs between the intersections of Landsdowne and Davenport to Macphearson and Dupont, into a five kilometer continuous park and trail network by using naturalization and improved pedestrian designs. The hydro corridor crosses through a variety of neighbourhoods in various stages of deindustrialization and across middle to upper-class neighbourhoods, Toronto Community Housing and Co-Op residences, long term care facilities, warehouses and industrial neighbourhoods and alongside the CP Rail line. The Green Line proposal is part of a growing trend in North America of transforming post-industrial or fringe lands surrounding infrastructure into parks, for example the High Line park in New York city and the recent “Under Gardiner” park proposal in Toronto. These park projects have come to be viewed as the corner stone of progressive planning for their forward looking sustainable designs and incorporation of arts and cultural place-making. The Green Line proposal is conceptualized by the project’s planners as advancing equity through improving the quality of the environment in a growing dense urban area and increasing access to park space in areas that are low in park land and increasing community participation in the planning process. This paper critically examines the planning and design process for the Green Line through a lens of environmental justice, evaluating the potential of the park project to advance equity. My research demonstrates how the planning processes used for the Green Line has relied on a postpolitical planning method that avoids conflicts over the space and assumes that the benefits resulting from improved environmental sustainability will benefit all members of the site equally. This has been exercised in combination with a community-based planning practice where participation is limited to elite community members who are actively shaping the landscape to reflect their social values and protect and improve their real estate values. Thus, the planning practice for the Green Line is exclusionary to the most marginalized community members, and it places the project within the broader urban development processes in Toronto where investment in parks and cultural place-making through public-private partnerships are used to tame “problematic” neighbourhoods in order to attract reinvestment and middle and upper class residents. Finally, the paper ends with recommendations for the Green Line to incorporate environmental justice into the planning practice through the main tenants of the right to the city.